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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Can I really Write for a Living?

Please welcome guest blogger Elle James

Some of you may already know the story of how Elle James aka Myla Jackson and her sister Delilah Devlin greeted the new century with a challenge. We were babysitting computers at the turn of the century (Y2K) where we both worked as the clock ticked off the minutes toward midnight and the end of the world of computers as we knew it (which didn't happen, but that's beside the point). We asked each other if this was what we wanted to do the rest of our lives. I was turning 40 that year, had been in the computer field for sixteen years and couldn't see myself doing that for the rest of my days. I'd successfully written skits and plays for various projects at work, but I'd never considered making writing my living. How could I give up a fabulous salary, benefits and security?

When the Going Gets Tough

On that late night, my sister and I answered that question of is this what we wanted to do for the rest of our lives with a resounding, "Hell no!" Still, letting go of the paycheck wasn't easy. The software industry helped us move toward our ultimate goal. With the trend of outsourcing and off-shore software development, I soon learned that no job in the corporate world was "safe". This turned out to be a blessing. Because when the going gets tough, you really look at what you have and make decisions you might not otherwise have made. You might be willing to take more risks.

Hard Work

Deciding to be a full-time writer didn't come overnight. For several years, our jobs teetered on the uncertain. During that time, I fell in love with writing and honed my skills by writing, writing and writing some more. I entered and won contests, submitted manuscripts and finally sold my first book. The lesson here, was that I worked hard and submitted manuscripts. You can't just write, you have to get your work out there. Thick skin is a necessity in this business. I received rejection after rejection, but I didn't give up. I knew if I threw the noodle against the wall enough times, one day it would stick.

The catalyst for change actually came in the form of my husband. Call it mid-life crisis, coming to terms with mortality or just jumping off the deep-end, he'd hit his limit in the corporate world and wanted out. We sold the ranch, packed up and started a new life. My oldest two children had moved out and I only had one left at home to feed and clothe.


As scary as it was to give up all that "security", fortune smiled on me at that time. I sold my first book! This had to be a sign that I was meant to write full-time. But one sale does not a career make. I went an entire year before selling my second book and this time to Harlequin Intrigue. That was my big break into making a living as a writer. I owe it to a lot of hard work, persistence and LUCK! I hit the editor's desk at the right time with the right project, which was there because I submitted and kept submitting!

Building an Income Stream

We were fortunate, we had enough money from the sale of our property in Texas to live on for a while. That gave me time to establish my credibility with my editor and build a writing income stream. Although I had contracts with Harlequin, I chose to diversify and write for other publishers as well--the old saying "don't put all your eggs in one basket" reverberating in my head. I sold stories under my pen name Myla Jackson to Ellora's Cave, and sold novellas to Kensington Aphrodisia and Avon Red. The hard work is paying off, but I'm not there yet. I haven't hit the NYT best seller list, I haven't sold another single title. I'm still working the angle of diversification. The hard work has only just begun. I still receive rejections. As of the tenth year into my writing journey, I'm making a modest living at my chosen profession. It's modest, but livable.

Questions to Ask Yourself

I'm not suggesting everyone jump off the deep-end like I did. Choosing to write full-time is not a decision to take lightly. You have to weigh a lot of factors. Here are just a few:

1. Are you ready?

http://rosescoloredglasses.com/Assets/Question.gifAre you at a point in your life you can fully commit to writing as a career? I know that when my children were small, I didn't have the attention span of my two-year-old. I couldn't have dedicated hours to writing and miss out on their formative years. Other authors manage to juggle the multiple hats they wear and make it work. Only you can decide what's right for you. Don't feel guilty, no matter your decision.

2. Is writing a hobby or your life?

It's okay if you just want to write as a hobby. Don't beat yourself up if you're not like your obsessed writer friends who are rabidly racing toward the publication finish line. But be prepared when those who are obsessed get published. Envy can taste very bitter.

3. Are you financially prepared to take the leap?

http://rosescoloredglasses.com/Assets/Money.gifWriters are like starving artists. Not everyone makes it big. So many of us are just barely making it from paycheck to paycheck. Some have to keep their day jobs and write on the weekends or in the evenings. When my husband and I decided to start over with our new careers, we down-sized considerably (much to my teenage daughter's dismay). We sold our big house and moved into what I'd call a "starter" house. We paid off our cars and are going to drive them until the wheels fall off. And don't forget about health insurance. It's a huge cost and you really shouldn't go without it.

4. Can you live with uncertainty?

There are no guarantees in the publishing industry. Sub-genres go in and out of vogue at the drop of a hat. Editors jump ship to other publishing house, or freelance or become agents. What your old editor liked, your new one might hate. You may become an orphaned writer and lose your "in" with a publishing house. With today's crazy economy, who knows what will happen with print books or e-sales. Can you live with that kind of uncertainty? If not, maybe writing full-time isn't for you.

Alternate Sources of Writing Income

If you decide you really can go full-time as a writer, but you'd like to have some kind of a paycheck while you're building your name, explore all the options.

1. Confessions
Write short stories for the confessional magazines like True Love, True Romance, True Story and True Experience.

2. E-publishing

There are so many e-publishers out there now, do your homework. Talk to writers who have published with them and get a feel for what's involved.

3. Workshops
Teach workshops for pay. Are you good at characterization? Do people ask you how to establish goals, motivation and conflict? Teach it!

4. Freelance
Write articles for magazines. You may have expertise in organizing or computers, or something others want to know. You can go to your local library and study up on topics and write brief articles based on your research.

What do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

Do you want to be a writer? Look at me...I'm making it. It isn't easy, but like anything you want badly enough, you'll survive and be a better person for all the hardships. You might make it big, or you could be like me and be quite happy to make a modest living out of writing. How many people do you know who can actually say, "I know what I want to be when I grow up?" I know what I want to be, and I am...A WRITER!

Loglines, Premises, Queries and Synopses, presented by Elle James & Delilah Devlin, runs from July 5, 2010 through July 26, 2010


Berinn said...

Thanks for a great post!

Alexis Morgan said...

I enjoyed your post. I started writing when my kids were still in Little League and music lessons and I was still working another job.
Gradually the demands of juggling working, contract dates, and having a family life got to be too much. I could keep up with the writing, but the promo and stuff could be too much. Deciding to quit the day job was a major one. Walking away from that paycheck, etc, was hard. But it was the right decision to make.

That was three years ago--and I haven't regretted the decision.

Anonymous said...

Wow. What a great post! Thank you for sharing your story. Gets me thinking.

Harper said...

Thanks for such an honest post. I work the mines by day and come home to write, dreaming about the day I can do it full-time. Your post showed the realities, but also the possibilities.

Thanks so much!!!

Elle James said...

Quitting the day job is huge. I didn't take it lightly and I don't recommend anyone take it lightly. It's a decision involving the entire family. If it's not the right time in your life to do it, don't beat yourself up.