From the time I began writing my first novel, I harbored the hope that I would one day be able to write full time. Like so many, I’d read those articles or seen those clips on TV about famous writers who make a ton of money. By this time in my career, however, I knew that very few authors make a ton of money. The majority of writers are below poverty level in terms of income. But I also knew that it was possible to make a reasonable living from writing if an author has consistent output.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, my most recent advances were only $2000. (FYI, most publishers pay an author an advance against royalties. An author must “earn out” her advance before she is paid additional royalties, and those royalty statements take years to earn out and pay out.) Anyway, those advances I was getting were a very small percentage of what my annual salary was as an office administrator for a financial services firm. It certainly didn’t look to me like my “big dream” would come true any time soon.
Nonetheless, I shared my goal with my new agent. Remember, she was big on career planning and helping her authors reach their goals. I told her if she could get me an advance equal to a year’s salary (after her agency fee) to put in the bank that I would quit my job. I didn’t believe she could do it (oh Robin of little faith) as that would be a substantial increase over my previous advances. It took quite a few books to go from $1000 to a whopping $2000! I was certain my publisher would never make the increase required. So the coward in me who liked the security of a paycheck every other Friday felt pretty safe. What would it matter? I could go on working and writing in the evenings. Safe, secure, insurance, regular paychecks.
I remember well the call I received from my agent that fall. She’d done it! She had an offer that would put a year’s salary into the bank upon signing the contract. Not a fortune by any stretch of the imagination, but it was an amount equal to what I needed to pay the mortgage and utilities and other bills (including taxes and business expenses). Now I had to follow through. It was so scary. I had just bought a home. I had a job that I loved and I worked for the best boss I ever had. If I quit my job and the writing didn’t pan out, I was fairly sure I could find another job, but interesting, challenging jobs working for a boss who valued me and listened to my thoughts and opinions were rare. Very rare. And after my divorce many years before, I had been on the brink of bankruptcy. Financial security was a fragile thing and something I desired. Could I really do this? Should I do it?
I gathered my courage and gave my notice. It took two months to hire and train my replacement. But finally, the month that my 9th novel was released, January 1990, I was thrown a farewell party and joined the ranks of the self-employed.
Is it ironic that my 9th book had the word “dream” in the title? Hmm.