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  • Writer's pictureLaura Perry

Don't quit your day job

When people find out I'm a writer, they tend to tell me I'm lucky. "Oh, you get to stay home all day doing what you love!" "Wow, I wish I had it that easy." They have no idea.

It would be great if I got to spend every day writing. I'd probably finish three books a year with time left to spare. But that's not how it works, especially not these days.

The publishing world has changed dramatically since my first book hit the bookstores in 2001. For one thing, I got advances on my first two books. That just doesn't happen anymore unless you're already a huge success. In fact, all the costs of publishing (editing, typesetting, printing, shipping, warehousing) have increased dramatically in the past 15 years so in addition to no advance, I get less per book than I did back then. Publishers are squeezed as tight as the rest of us these days and the smart ones know not to take financial risks if they still want to be in business 15 years from now.

What takes up so much of my time that I can't be a full-time writer? Paying the bills, for one. My writing buys a nice dinner out every now and then; it doesn't pay the bills. That's true for the vast majority of authors, unfortunately. Most of the authors I know have paying jobs of some sort or else they're lucky enough to have a partner whose job supports them. To pay the bills, I work for a publisher (Moon Books - they're pretty awesome) and I'm also a freelance editor. I'm also lucky to have a husband whose job provides us with some financial stability but we still need my income as well.

My 9-to-5 work takes up a lot of my days. But I get to spend all the rest of my time writing, right? Wrong. Another large chunk of my time goes to marketing my books. Keeping myself in the public eye. Being active on social media. Writing articles for print and online magazines. Doing interviews. Anything so that people will see me, see what I'm doing, and maybe be interested in my books.

This is also an aspect of the publishing world that has changed dramatically since I was a 'baby author' 15 years ago. Back then, the publishers had the budget and the staff to do a lot of marketing for each author. Not so anymore. Money is tight everywhere and publishing staff is often overburdened, doing their best to complete enormous amounts of work in not-quite-enough time because there aren't enough people to do it all with ease. So it falls on the authors to publicize their own books. And in a cyber-world already swimming with millions of faces and titles and ads, that's not easy. I spend about as much time marketing and maintaining exposure as I do writing.

I bet you think I'm trying to talk you out of being a writer, don't you? I'm not. But a lot of the general public's impression about The Writer's Life comes from the way things were some time ago, maybe decades ago. In the mid-twentieth century, a decent writer could make a decent living churning out genre boilerplate novels (murder-mysteries, romance, sci-fi, and so on) or even non-genre fiction. A few still do, but it's no longer that easy.

So if you want to be a writer, I think you should go for it. But you should also take a moment for a reality check. Writing itself is hard work. And then there's all the non-writing stuff you have to do if you want to actually sell your books. If writing means that much to you, then you'll be willing to put in the time and effort to do all the other things, too. Because all the business paperwork, all the marketing, the time you spend at your day job - these are the things that allow you to write. And ultimately, that's the most important thing.

#ethics #writing

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