How to Avoid Poverty And Still Write
Some writers earn a lot of money from their books. The sad reality is that most do not. In my last post, I promised to share some of the mistakes I made in my quest to achieve an income from writing.
Fortunately, there is one mistake I failed to make – I never left my day job. I still work part-time, and probably will for as long as my workplace will have me!
Why do you need a day job?
Well, for a start, I need to eat! But I also enjoy my job – I have lovely colleagues, the work is always different, plus its a relief to step out of my head.
Perhaps one day I will earn enough so the day job isn’t so important. I certainly know other writers who earn a good salary from writing. However they’ll tell you that their success didn’t come overnight, and it didn’t come easy, and sometimes they miss their workplaces!
I just got a huge advance. So I don’t need to work!
Good for you! But before you get too excited, just remember: an advance is precisely that – an advance on earnings. It’s like an interest free loan. An advance does not equal cashflow and like all loans, it has to be repaid. And before you go squandering it – some publishing houses have taken authors to court to recoup their advances.
An acquiring editor of a large NYC house once told me: ‘we advise our authors to never give up their day job until they’ve sold at least three titles.’
I would suggest otherwise.
I would suggest don’t give up any day job until you’ve got sustainable income for at least three years, over multiple platforms.
Why so cautious?
Because writing is a tournament marketplace. And tournament marketplaces are tricky places to generate sustainable incomes in.
Tournament marketplaces are characterised by:
- High numbers of players
- Low average earnings per player
- Very small number generating profits
- However, profits for a tiny number of players are extremely high
- These extremely high profits act as an incentive for new players to join the marketplace
Other examples of tournament markets include professional tennis players or (get this!) merchant bankers. Seriously. (I once read a whole economics paper on this. Personally, I would have thought merchant bankers did okay, but apparently not. Poor things… )
If you want to get rich, DON’T join a tournament market. Instead, be an engineer or a doctor, where both the average earnings and the profits per player are high.
However, you may still have a dream of being a paid writer. Like me, you may even know in your head that the chances of making any money are incredibly low. So, if you decide to enter a tournament marketplace, do it with your eyes open.
That’s why I always say to start-out writers: keep the day job.Unfortunately, managing work and writing (especially when you’ve got kids) is challenging. I’ve tried it all: full-time, part-time and contract based. Here’s my thoughts on each option.
Options for Day Jobs
1 Project-based work
- If you’re self-employed, you can offset costs against your taxable income
- You may have flexible hours
- You can use times of paid work to save for times when you’re not working.
- You don’t get paid holidays or sick leave
- You can quickly get behind on income-related savings, such as superannuation payments.
- You may need to take out income insurance
- If you’re based at home, you may feel isolated
- You’re vulnerable to marketplace changes
2 Part-time work
- You get paid holiday, sick pay and colleagues
- Superannuation schemes are maintained
- You may be able to increase the hours worked if your boss has a shortage.
- Your work may have skills/tools you can leverage to help your writing – like printers and reliable internet!
- Salary levels of workers who traditionally look for part-time work (i.e. mothers with children) can be low
- Not every workplace allows part-time work
- You may be perceived as ‘less valuable’ to an organisation than your full-time colleagues.
- Part-time hours can easily creep to full-time
- Personally, I find it better to have a couple of writing days, and a couple of work days – this saves me having to juggle projects
- Very flexible.
- You can, to a certain extent, set your own rates.
- You can acquire work online. Platforms include: fiverr; upwork; yourVA.
- Your costs are tax-deductible.
- You may be able to leverage writing-related skill sets. For example: editing, marketing, copyediting.
- You need to have a marketable skill set
- You’ll be running a small business, so you’ll have to be comfortable with working as a business-person
- You may be competing against low-wage economies. A designer based in Bangladesh has a lower cost of living than a designer in London.
- Not all professions allow freelance work
- It can be isolating
- You may be vulnerable to platform changes or marketplace shocks
- Payments may be lumpy, so cashflow can be a problem
- Can take a while to gain traction
Learning to Juggle
Trying to write while working a day job can be really, really tough. A writer with a day job has to learn to cope with a messy house and saying No. Here’s a tip: If you’re a working writer, do NOT join a PTA.
Do you have any tips for fitting in writing with a day job? How have you managed the juggle?