Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Quitting your day job...y/n?

So here's a popular topic. Should a debut author quit their day job? Common sense generally says NO, and yet, I know quite a few debut authors who did. I'm one of them. I have now been a full-time author for 16 months, and I'm not sorry, but I've also made some mistakes, so I thought I'd talk a bit about the lessons I've learned.

Lesson #1: Be prepared for delaaaaaaaaaaaaaays.For one thing, a brief rundown of the past 2 years:
Aug '08: Sold book.
Feb '09: Saw first advance check, 1/2 each of two books in a two book deal.
June '09: Saw second half of Magic Under Glass advance for turning in final edits.
Mar '10: Sold Magic Under Stone.
July '10: Saw first half of Magic Under Stone advance.

Note that I went for over a year with absolutely no new income. And that I still haven't seen the entirety of the advance from my original deal, almost two years later. And that it took six months to get my original advance check. And this is with my books coming out in a timely fashion. Not everyone's do. And I sold another book in a timely fashion. Not everyone does. The hardest part about being a full-time author who does not yet receive royalties is, you have almost no clue when your next check is coming. Your editor might indicate some loose time frame and it will turn out TOTALLY WRONG. It is wise to try and behave as if you'll never get a check again and you need to stretch what you have out as long as possible. But, that's hard sometimes, because...

Lesson #2: If your writing income is a decent improvement over your non-writing income, don't expect to stick to your old budget. When I first got my advance check, I had sensible plans for it. 1/3 would go into savings. I would stretch it out over the next two years. I had spent my entire adult life until that point working part-time in retail and my earnings were pathetic. I was the budgeting QUEEN. So, needless to say, there were a lot of things I couldn't resist buying when I had more money. I spent more in one year than I had in three years updating my TV and couch and going to the dentist and taking vacations and all sorts of things.

Lesson #3: If you're going to quit, have either relatives you can borrow from, a job you can return to, or hopefully both. I had both when I quit. And I did have to borrow from my mom, briefly, before the Magic Under Stone check came, although I still had a little stash of stocks I could cash if I had to.

Lesson #4: It may be hard to get used to working from home. This was my biggest surprise. I was homeschooled. I love being home! Yet, when I first left work, I was accustomed to being at work 3 or 4 days a week, and for some months I wanted to be out in the world a lot. But it was hard to think of things to do for free all the time. So I spent a lot of money being out. Eventually this wore off and I'm content being home a lot again. If you can, commit yourself to social activities sometimes even when you're not in the mood, so you won't end up stir-crazy.

Lesson #5: Don't forget taxes! As soon as I got paid, I went to TurboTax and plugged in my income. It wasn't the right year's TurboTax, and I didn't know what my deductions would be, but it gave me an idea, so I put aside a LARGE chunk of money for taxes. Save your receipts and don't feel bad about indulging in a little writerly travel and some books... (Maybe I should call this "Potential Lesson #5" because thank goodness, I didn't screw this one up.)

That's what I've learned. This year I'm back to a strict budget. (Of course, I also have a new couch now. It doesn't feel as dire.) It's kind of an uncertain place, being a full-time writer. But I'm not one bit sorry I left work. Somehow, when I follow the path of my heart, things manage to work out somehow, cheesy as it may sound.

Of course, everyone who leaves work to write has different considerations and challenges. If other full-time writers, debut or otherwise, want to share what they've learned, comment away!


  1. Great post and something I admit that's been on my mind lately.

  2. Lots of wisdom here. When I eventually get to that stage (is dreaming of in the next year or two) I won't leave my day job! Not for a bit :)

  3. Great post, Jackie!

    I hope to leave at least one of my day jobs. I think my biggest challenge will be the budget. I don't make much as a preschool teacher, so any book deal will probably at least cover what I make. But, having a chunk of what I now get paid in installments (bimonthly paychecks) will be a tough temptation.

    Thanks for the tips!

  4. Thank you very much for this post--I've been wondering about what life after being published is like for a long time. And even though it's probably different for every writer, it's great to hear details--the ups as well as the downs.

    I think most aspiring writers hope for your kind of success--that their books will sell and be published quickly and the checks they receive will finally allow them to become full-time writers...

    But hearing about the good and the bad in your experiences is inspiring and also a really good reality check. I've got a decent job keeping me afloat right now so I'll probably not let it go until a really lucrative opportunity presents itself to me *cough*like writing a super-duper best seller*cough*
    But I'm not gonna hold my breath waiting for that to happen either. If I get published (soonish hopefully), I'll probably play the cautious card and keep my 9-to-5er for a while just because I'm a big chicken. ^^;

    That said, I really admire that you took the plunge and just decided to make writing your sole income. You're obviously pulling it off marvelously so congrats to you! It must be a wonderful feeling knowing that your hard work has finally paid off and your career is also your passion.
    I can only hope and strive to achieve that kind of success myself someday. *fingers crossed*

    Thanks for the advice again. The reality check actually makes me want to try harder because now I feel more prepared to face whatever uncertainties lie ahead on the path of writing. :)

  5. Thank you so much for this info, Jackie—I had no idea advances were split up like that (and that they took so friggin’ long to get to the author!). Honestly, how do they expect an author to survive on such a random payment schedule? @_@ I guess I see why Jim Hines keeps his day job…

    I think you have the ideal artist’s life—free from overbearing financial obligations like kids or aging parents or (worst of all) student loans—living a no-frills but full life… Basically being free to live off and for your art… that’s really awesome. Not everyone could do it, but I think that’s why you’re going to write more transporting and timeless things than a lot of folks would be able to. Good for you!

  6. Great post! I'm looking forward to getting published one day too and your experience is very helpful. Will retweet the retweet I was sent.

  7. Great thoughts, Jaclyn! I'd wondered about taxes before, so thanks for the Turbo Tax tidbit!

  8. I think if you're contemplating quitting your day job you need to consider how good you are with unscheduled living. Also (possibly unpleasant) surprises (like getting your advance late). Some people just need more structure in their lives, and some are good with driving their own course. I think that you need to be good at creative living, as well as creative writing, to make it work. (And you are good at both, so it certainly seems the right path for you!)

  9. Larissa: Yeah. That's the hard part. The chunks. I have not yet learned not to bounce between "OMG VACATIONS PRESENTS EATING OUT" to "I hope you like eating a lot of chicken thighs and carrots".

    MoogleChan:'s true. Knowing my fulltime job is my dream job is an amazing feeling. But the financial uncertainty does add some definite stress to what can already be a stressful job, rewarding--so rewarding!!--as it is. I guess you can't win entirely, though, because working a day job that isn't your passion is obviously stressful too.

    Redcrest: And some author's advances are split into three payments! (Or even more...but that's usually if your advance is big.) It is true, it helps a lot that I don't have kids. Or want kids. I also live without a lot of monthly expenses other people have. I am trying to ignore the call of the iphone...

    Kathryn: You're welcome!

    Rose: That is true. The lack of structure is kind of nerve-racking sometimes, buuuut...I'm so relieved not to go to work that I'm willing to deal with it.