If you’re going to become a professional writer, you need to make sure that you can support yourself while you write your novels. That’s because once you write a novel, it might take time to sell it, to edit it, and to actually publish it—and even if you end up with a bestseller, your royalties won’t arrive for many months after the fact.
For some people, financing a creative project is easy. I’ve known writers who live with mom and dad, or who have a spouse or some other patron to support them, and that’s great.
Most people have to take a day job to help finance their writing projects. That’s the way that I did it. I worked as an editor and writer during the days, and wrote at night.
I’ve even known authors who put huge amounts (in excess of $100,000) on to a credit card to meet their expenses.
No matter how you do it, you have to be able to make a plan that will hold you through.
Now, let’s say that you want to write a novel. It might take you six months of hard work if you work part-time. At the end of that, you typically have to find a publisher, unless you’re already working with a good publisher. Once you find a publisher, the publisher normally will pay you an advance, either upon acceptance of the novel, or upon its publication.
If you’re paid on acceptance, that advance comes to you within a couple of months. That’s because the legal department has to draw up the contract, get them signed, and so on, and that will normally take a few weeks. So that big “on publication check” won’t be available immediately.
Then the publisher will schedule your book for publication. That normally doesn’t happen immediately. The publisher needs to put the book into their catalog for an upcoming season and try to sell it to bookstores and book clubs. Normally, the books will be scheduled for release about 9-18 months after it has been accepted, and you won’t see royalties (if you do) for months thereafter.
So let’s say that you write a book. You start writing it today in your spare time. You get it done six month from now. Do you quit your day job when it’s finished? Not at all. You’re still a long way from your payday. Even when you finish your novel, you have to go sell it to publishers, and some books take years to go through agents and editors and earn a decent publishing contract.
This means that you have to plan for that. You don’t quit your day job until you’ve got money in the bank—lots of money. Most authors try to keep a minimum of two years of income in the bank.
This means that if your living expenses are, say, $7000 per month, you’ll want to sock away $170,000. To some people, this might sound unbelievable. They can’t imagine having that much money come in at once. But if you get a decent advance on a novel, and it goes out and starts racking up foreign sales and perhaps a movie option, you can find yourself with a nice nest-egg pretty quickly.
Now, why do I bring this up? I mention it because too many authors don’t “protect their kitty.” They don’t get the money and keep it in the bank. I’ve been guilty of that. About ten years ago I decided to invest money with a friend that I’d known for years, and put the money into a land deal. Guess what? When the recession hit in 2008, my “kitty" disappeared, and that wasn’t the only time that I lost money. I had a pile stolen in 2013 by a book distributor who went defunct, and so on.
I’ve known writers who have lost money in numerous ways. In one case, a publisher went out of business while owing a friend hundreds of thousands of dollars. In other cases, I’ve heard of literary agents who’ve stolen an author’s money. Sometimes, authors loan money to friends or family members, hoping to get paid back.
Let me give you my rule of thumb: they’ll never pay you back. If you loan out your kitty, it’s the same as flushing it down the toilet. You have to think of it this way. Only loan out money that you can afford to throw away.
Nor should you look for investment schemes. This isn’t investment money, it’s your pay check until you get paid for your next deal. If you do get a windfall, put it in the bank. You never know when you’ll come down with some long-term illness or discover that you need to find a new publisher, or (as happened to me in 2005) your house burns down.
Remember that the only investment that an author needs is in himself!
Now, some of you will be thinking, “Oh, but there’s crowdfunding sources and Patreon!” Good luck with those. From what I’ve seen, searching for funding for a project takes a lot of hard time and effort and work, and most people don’t seem to be able to get what they need.
So protect yourself.
A writer friend, Liz Colter, just had her debut novel release today. Get A Borrowed Hell here. Lost in a barren alternative world, July Davish has two options: Confront his hellish past or be trapped there forever
We now have an official hashtag for my writing workshops: #storydrworkshop If you are a past student or a present student, or someday future student, you can use the hashtag to connect with others, share quotes, or writing endeavors.
My online writing workshops have reopened, so if you would like to register, now would be a great time.
We have two new live workshops set up for Montana and Texas. You can learn more about those here.