publish.me: Building a Writing Life
Writing: it is a work of love. It may or may not result in riches, but the process in itself should be satisfying. Literally there is blood (oh those paper cuts), sweat, and tears as the words find their way into the public ether. So it’s natural to feel the drive to “give up the day job” when going down this path. This is my gentle nudge that it’s better to ease oneself into such a position vs. backing out at a breakneck speed. There’s a life beyond writing, and both are dependent on the other to ensure success.
Writing, just like any other talent, needs time to become better. It’s understood that any person who accelerates in a sport, getting to a professional caliber, will work years to reach this goal. Unfortunately, some writers do fall into the trap of not considering the time, money, and education required beforehand. This should be innately understood beforehand, as the more you write and the more you improve your writing, the goal of “giving up the day job” can become more tangible.
It’s all about the baby steps. What are some that you should take along the way? Do you really need to give up the day job? Or is it more about a life adjustment, and finding ways to diversify your income?
First things first, look at your writing resume. Have you been published before? It doesn’t matter if it’s fiction or nonfiction—building a strong publication history takes time. There will be the writing, the rejections, and the persistence to keep submitting your work for publication before progress will be made. Those little successes may eventually piggyback on newer and larger successes, which will confirm you’re on track to building your audience. Some publications DO pay, by the way, which means there will be some extra income and confirmation you’re doing the right thing.
Get to know other writers—support them too. I have stated this many times, but I feel the need to keep repeating it. Taking the time to build a strong network of writers you trust and can collaborate with will lead to future publication opportunities. Additionally, they will celebrate your successes with you, and spread the word when these happen. The only requirement is that you do the same in return. It’s a great emotional investment, and the value is priceless.
Keep writing! Don’t stop at book number one! Any agent will assume you have more than one book in your stockpile. We’re going to assume you’ve written many books, well in advance of meeting you. Generally, it’s not the first book we’ll read—it may easily be the fourth or fifth book, as your writing will improve with practice. Once that first book is sold, we’ll want to learn about your new ideas, or perhaps those ideas you’ve been sitting on. Once the second one is sold, we’ll circle back to this discussion. It takes a few books to really see the profits. With the time it takes to reach shelves (one to two years after signing a contract), and payment cycles from publishers (on average every six months, after an advance is earned out), it’s not going to sustain a person on the front end. Ensure you can take care of the basics in your life while this clock ticks down.
We all know many writers, and some who’ve reached major success. Don’t forget that their experience may be different than yours. For those who are writing full-time, there may be other streams of income support; this includes the possibility of a partner supporting them, a writing grant(s), or the rare unicorn who is independently wealthy. Instead, it’s normal for writers to have a regular job(s), maybe in other creative segments, in schools, or in a nine-to-five weekday job that pays the bills. That’s nothing to be ashamed about, as this reflects not only a commitment to writing, but a willingness to ensure the rest of your writing life is taken care of too.
If your heart is set on writing full-time, enjoy the small successes along the way. And when the possibility becomes a reality, when your writing can be a full-time gig, write even more.
Dawn Michelle Frederick is the owner & literary agent of Red Sofa Literary, established in 2008. Red Sofa Literary is a celebration of the quirky, eclectic ideas in our publishing community. Dawn’s previous experience reflects a broad knowledge of the book business, with over a decade of experience as a bookseller in the independent, chain, and specialty stores, an editor for a YA publisher, and an associate literary agent at Sebastian Literary Agency. Dawn earned a BS in Human Ecology and a MS in Library & Information Sciences from an ALA-accredited institution. She is also one of the founders of the MN Publishing Tweet Up, which brings writers and publishers together over a monthly happy hour. Red Sofa Literary was voted as one of the Best 101 Websites by Writer’s Digest in 2012 and 2013.