How to write full time / make money as an author.
Five years into my career as an author and I’m finally at the stage where I write full time and I need only submit an opening chapter and synopsis to my publishers in order to get a book deal. I make money as an author. I don’t take that for granted. I’m aware that next year I could be in the position of not being able to sell a book to any publisher (this doesn’t scare me that much as I’ve already self-published and would do so again).
It’s become harder than ever to get a book deal. I’ve seen my advances shrink over the last four years. And they were never exactly big to begin with. Publishing is a difficult business to be in. It offers very little in the way of security or certainty. Between worrying about reviews, sales, whether your next book is going to be any good and whether you’re going to be dropped by your publisher there are days I find it hard to summon enthusiasm for writing.
And let’s not glamorise being a writer. It’s a job. It’s how I pay the bills. It’s my only source of income. I work 12-15 hour days a lot of the time, mainly on PR and marketing. My writing takes up less and less time as I struggle to make a name for myself in an increasingly saturated market place.
Someone asked me yesterday how it’s possible to quit the day job and become a full-time writer. My advice would be not to. Don’t quit your day job. Not unless you –
– Have a private source of income to sustain you during the lean months.
– Are the one in a million author who signs a seven figure deal for your first book, alongside a major film deal.
– Have a partner who can pick up the slack in the months you are waiting for your advance to get paid.
– Can move somewhere like South East Asia where you can live on a lot less (this is what I did!).
How do I manage to write full time on an author’s ‘salary’?
– I live in Bali. There is simply no way that I could live on what I earn in the ‘west’.
– I have a husband who earns more than me and who can pick up the slack when I’m broke.
– I earn extra money by running workshops on writing and retreats.
– I sold the option for Hunting Lila to a film production company (highly recommend this!).
– I learned screenwriting and was paid to co-write the screenplay for Hunting Lila.
– I got myself a film agent off the back of spec writing several scripts and my rep as an author and am now moving more fully into screenwriting (that’s where the real money is and I enjoy telling a story through this medium).
– I stopped providing free content or giving my time away unless there was a valuable return (fundamental lesson: value your time).
– I write books that are as ‘filmic’ as possible in the hope that they get optioned (you’re looking at between $5000-10,000 a year just for option rights, so if you can get it this is a brilliant passive income stream).
– I write fast. I am prolific. I write 3-4 books a year. And I now have two publishers, meaning that I can publish around 3 books a year (remember a publisher will normally only publish one book a year). If you are going to spend ten years writing a book then forget being able to live on the advance.
People are always remarking on how successful I am. Yes, from the outside I am successful. Eight books in four years with major publishers, worldwide translation deals, a film deal, a life in Bali. I’m incredibly blessed. I love my life. I travel, I have no ‘boss’, no 20 days holiday a year, no working for ‘the man’. But I also have no security and no savings. Would I change that? No. Never. I love my life and my job.
To anyone who wants to become an author though and visualises a life of glamour and riches I hope this post has given a more truthful look at the reality. I do live an amazing life. What people aren’t seeing however are the evenings when I lie on my bed crying and demanding to know from my husband that everything is going to be OK. They also don’t see the 15 hour days spent slogging.
To be a writer requires not just the skin of a rhinoceros, it also requires nerves of steel and the ability to accept uncertainty and thrive on that (oh, and a talent for social media). ☺
Sarah writes young adult fiction for Simon & Schuster UK & US. Her novels include: Hunting Lila, Losing Lila, Fated, The Sound, Out of Control and Conspiracy Girl.
She also writes adult fiction for Pan Macmillan under the name Mila Gray.
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