Are you ready to write full time?
In the past I’ve warned authors against quitting their day job and writing full time. But maybe you’re raring to go and convinced that this is your time! And you know what? Maybe it is. Before you put in your two weeks, check out these 13 tips from full-time author RJ Blain. There is SO much wisdom in this post - and I urge every serious author, whether you’re ready to make the jump or not, to read through it carefully.
Being a full-time author is tough. When do you make the dive? Is making the dive the right choice for you? I love writing, but there’s nothing quite as stressful as spinning your wheels and going nowhere fast. There have been years where I failed to make a profit—or a living. I am one of the lucky ones: my husband works full time, and if my job fails to pay the bills, we can make it through.
Now that I’m on the right side of the ‘making it work’ line, there are a lot of things I wish I’d known before diving into being a full-time author. Here’s my list of tips I wish someone had told me when I’d switched from hobby writing to making a full-time living as an author.
Tip #1: Know exactly what you need to earn every month, down to the penny. Every time you go over that in profits, put as much away as you can for a rainy day. There will be rainy days.
It’s really tempting to spend money you have the extra money, banking away useful items for authorial work away for future rainy days. I do this, but I do this cautiously.
For example: I have a stockpile of covers available for future use if the money dries up; covers make up a large portion of my expenses, and I always have extra on hand so I can keep working even if there’s a long stretch of rainy days.
Those long stretches of rainy days happen. Not every book will be a success—and there are times where the books you expect to succeed will just fail. Sometimes, it’s because of something as simple as forgetting school starts at a certain time of the year and you release a book the same week parents are buying school supplies and they don’t have the extra money to buy your book. Other times, it just wasn’t meant to be.
Plan for those rainy days.
Tip #2: Account for expenses and taxes from the start, and constantly put things in separate accounts for life, expenses, and taxes. Don't get caught with your pants down at tax time.
Tax rates vary from location to location. Some states have no income taxes. Some do. The tax issue is one of the hardest to deal with because the rates vary so much.
As of August 2019, if you made less than $400, you are not required to play self-employment tax. After that, you’re required to file. If you are not sure how taxes work, hire an accountant with experience working with authors in your state.
Here’s the gist: every quarter, you will need to pay money to the IRS and your state to cover your tax liability. I use tax software, which I update once a month at the end of the month, to get a clear picture of how much taxes I will owe every quarter. (I also put my future earnings into the software and then replace them with the actual monies earned when they come in to help make sure my quarterly taxes are paid on time.)
Honestly, this is the thing I wish I’d been warned about from the start. Managing your tax bill can remove a huge amount of the stress of being an author.
There’s nothing quite as terrifying as getting to the end of a year, realizing that you owe the government your taxes, and then being hit with an extra penalty because you didn’t pay quarterly when you needed to.
(Yes, I have made this mistake.)
Tip #3: Account for your health insurance; it gets expensive when you're self-employed, and insurers don't play nice with you.
My husband who works for Apple, and his work covers my health insurance, which saves me a LOT of money per month. Just be aware of the health insurance issue, because it is a big one.
And yes, even when self-employed, you will have to pay the government for your share of FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act.)
Tip #4: Stand your ground with everyone around you; people will NOT take your new job seriously, and you must be like a rabid badger about it—even to your family members. You'll have to impress upon them that work time is work time.
This will be hard, and I don't know how to handle it, I just have cats, and they're a lot easier to get to leave me alone than a human child is. My husband is trained to not interfere with my work time.
But being serious, there is a mentality among people that just because you’re a full-time author, you can do all of this stuff for them because ‘you’re home.’ You need to stand firm. If someone asks if you can watch their children, you need to say no. More importantly, you need to say, “I can’t help you. I’m working.”
Stand your ground.
Your job is valid, and it is not uncommon for your friends and family to feel otherwise.
Writing full-time is a valid job. Writing full-time is a valid job. Writing full-time is a valid job.
Tip #5: Schedule your day.
You need to know how much you can realistically do in a day, and it's really important that you stick to a schedule that is SANE and productive. I'm on break right now, but once I'm off break and have gotten through my current preorder to-do list, I'm going to be doing things in a much saner for me way—it's hard to not push myself to near death trying to keep afloat. It's really hard.
But, being serious—embrace your schedule. Discipline is a basic requirement for success when full-time writing. Luck comes and goes, but if you’re working hard, publishing, and marketing, even if you have a hard, long, and uphill climb, it’s possible to get to where you’re going.
But if you’re not working, you won’t get to where you need to be.
I am very goal oriented, and I know myself pretty well. This is a consequence of having worked full-time as a writer for years.
I know I can, with not too much effort on my part, write 2,000 words a day. This is minimum Monday-Friday writing goal. If I have not written 2,000 words a day, I am not doing my job.
I feel accomplished if I write 3,000 good words in a day.
I cap out at around 12,500 words in a day if the stars align, I am in the groove with the book I’m working on, and I have zero distractions on a twelve-hour work day. These days are few and far between.
Get to know yourself, and make sure your minimum words per day is something that works for you. Some authors write 500 perfect words in a day and need little editorial. Some authors write 5,000 words a day and need to completely rewrite their books several times.
There is no right way to write a book. Do you. But do you in such a way you can publish books and feed yourself and your family.
The money really does matter, and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.
Tip #6: Treat your work like a day job with a boss who hates you and will kick your butt if you don't get your stuff done. Self-discipline is critical.
If you don’t write your books, you won’t get paid, and not getting paid hurts when you’re the primary breadwinner.
Do whatever you need to do to make sure you work, even if you have to recruit a friend to play boss. (P.S.: Recruit a friend to be your boss if you’re having trouble. It can be hugely helpful. And if you don’t need a boss breathing down your neck, recruit a friend to be your cheerleader.)
Writing is lonely work a lot of the time, and having that person to help keep you on track can really help.
I have a PA (Personal Assistant) who plays boss when I need one.
Tip #7: If you're a slow writer, master marketing. If you like marketing, master ALL the things and write slower and have your marketing carry you through.
I wish I had all of the space and time in the world to give you a lengthy guide on how to master marketing. Marketing is a fluid skill, and I’ve learned this from bitter experience: what has worked really well for one book has been a complete failure for other books.
It will be easier on you if you accept that you’ll have to get in and get your hands dirty.
I spend roughly $35,000 a year (or more) on advertising ventures. One year, I spent over $50,000 on advertising. My goal is, at a minimum, earn twice as much as I spend at the minimum. (The year I spent around $50,000 on advertising, I earned $150,000, and I view this as a success; I made enough money after expenses and taxes to support my household.)
Right now, my goal is to spend less to make more.
Your ROI (Return-on-Investment) is king when you’re writing full-time. If your marketing isn’t earning back, it’s bad marketing.
Tip #8: If you're a quick writer who loves writing and hates marketing, master marketing, but master doing as little as possible so you can keep writing.
See above. it’s a little wordy so you might need to read it twice.
Tip #9: Seriously, marketing. It's so important. And it sucks to do.
I like BookBub featured deals as the core of my marketing, because I can focus more on writing. I do this job because I adore writing.... and I'd rather not market but I need to so I try to do as absolutely well at one thing as I can so it's limited.
After Bookbub featured deals, I will do week-long advertising blitzes, typically with a budget of $10,000. I will do this several times a year to boost my backlist. I find this method to be least disruptive to me as an author.
Tip #10: If you can afford one, PAs (Personal Assistants) can be HUGELY helpful.
I love mine.
I actually have several, and they all have different specializations.
One handles my audiobook proofing because I have a sensory-input issue with audiobooks and have anxiety attacks whenever I try to listen to an audiobook. (I view it as a splash of color to my already colorful personality.)
I have another PA who handles market research for me. (This means she will go out and find authors and books that are doing things similar to me and evaluating what is working for those books, and then she comes back with keyword lists and other useful information for me to use when I’m building an advertising campaign or trying to write to a new market.)
My third PA helps with my street team for specific tasks.
Finally, my primary PA handles a lot of tasks from piracy management, street team management, contract management, and even just checking on me to make sure I’m doing what I need to be doing. Any task I need that will take up too much of my time gets sent to her, and she bills me accordingly.
Right now, between all of my PAs and various tasks I need to have done, I’m paying between $500-750 a month. It depends on how many audiobooks I have needing to be proofed; I pay for audiobook proofing by hour, and this can majorly fluctuate my monthly bill.
Tip #11: If you're relying on it as your only income, make sure you're writing SOMETHING to market with a higher odd of selling well.
This is important, because you'll need at least one or two money-maker series; once you're making money, you can do labor of love projects that don't make much, but you always need to have your money makers around.
If you can, pen names are not a bad idea because diversification can really, really help; and if you're a super quick author, you can control your production rate because unless you're in KU (I'm not) people can only afford to buy so many books, so if you can tap different audiences for different books, you'll have a more robust career. It's hard, though.
No matter what type of author you are, some books will do well. Some just won’t. It’s hard to avoid relying on specific books for income. I just did this, and the book didn’t sell as well as I had anticipated.
I’m expecting a lot of rainy days in the future, as I was expecting income that didn’t manifest. But this is okay, because I banked away for rainy days. I’ll regroup, cry into my tea, dust off, get back to my feet, and keep on trucking.
It’s okay to fail. Failure will happen in this industry. Just make sure you get back on your feet and keep trying.
Good things happen to those who refuse to quit, even when the going gets tough and all you want to do is give up.
We don’t know each other, but know I’m rooting for you from my corner. We’re all in this together.
Side note: Writers aren’t your competition. We can all thrive together. There are millions of readers, and you CAN find your tribe—and your readers. (And who knows, maybe your readers will read my books, too, and we can be book siblings.)
Stranger things have happened. But in a job this tough, try to keep it positive, because you’re going to have a lot of hard days ahead. (But you can do it!)
Tip #12: Don't get sucked into social media time wasters. Learn to turn off the internet or somehow avoid distractions. It's REALLY easy to get distracted. Ruthlessly kill distractions.
I use the 50/10 method. This means every hour, I put in 50 minutes of hard work. Then I take 10 minutes to do whatever I want. Sometimes, it is doing chores because the chores need to be done. Sometimes, I go to my corner, dig out paints, and make spatter marks on a canvas because I’m frustrated and want to cry because writing is hard.
But those 10 minutes are sacred; they’re my reward for working hard.
Some days, I fall off the bandwagon. And that’s okay—I work hard to make it up later.
And then there are some days where I forget I’m supposed to take breaks, or eat lunch, or…
The takeaway here is this: do whatever you need to do to get your work done.
Oh, and sometimes, those 50 minutes do involve doing social media work, but there is a huge difference between working the social media circuit and scrolling on facebook looking for cat pictures. (and I do enjoy scrolling on facebook looking for cat pictures.)
Tip #13: I scratched at this above, but find your tribe. Find your cheerleaders. Find the people who are willing to glare down their noses at you when you aren’t doing what you’re supposed to be doing. Your tribe is your circle of professional (or even casual) associates in the writing world who understand what it is to be a writer.
Writing full-time tends to be a lonely job, and your tribe can help you through a lot of things—even if it’s an understanding ear when life sours on you.
It took me a long time to find my tribe, but my life has been much better for having them—and when the going gets tough, I know I’m not alone and have an ear.
And after a long day of work, my fellow writers can be my saving grace.
I wish you the best of luck with your writing.
~RJ Blain, USA Today Bestselling Author of the Magical Romantic Comedy (with a body count) series.
RJ Blain suffers from a Moleskine journal obsession, a pen fixation, and a terrible tendency to pun without warning. In her spare time, she daydreams about being a spy. Her contingency plan involves tying her best of enemies to spinning wheels and quoting James Bond villains until satisfied.