Are You Ready to be a Pro?

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What if you developed a great hobby you really loved? Say, baking cakes. You bake a creative cake for your child’s birthday party, and everyone oohs and ahhs. Then you bake another fabulous cake for your husband’s birthday. More oohing and ahhing. And so on. Until a party guest says, “Hey, you could make real money doing this. I’ll be your first customer.”

You agree. You bake the cake and buy a new pair of shoes with the proceeds. Turns out, this isn’t a fluke. Soon your talents are well known You print business cards. Your shoe collection doubles.

But then comes a Tuesday when Isabella breaks up with her boyfriend, Max is kicked off the soccer team, you forget Lily’s appointment with the pediatrician, the dryer goes kaput, and Fido throws up all over the white sofa. The latest cake, due to be delivered tomorrow, isn’t cooperating. You phone for pizza and you’re about ready to bite Hubby’s head off when he walks in the door from work. And he’s about ready to yell, too. Even he’s getting tired of Chinese takeout and pizza. He wants his wife back.

What began as a labor of love and a fulfilling hobby has ballooned into a job with many deadlines and obligations. And quality is a must. Before, if a cake fell, your family could laugh it off. A paying client won’t.

You ask yourself, “What, oh what, have I done?”

I’ve seen this happen to many writers, though I used the cake illustration to show how moving from a hobby to a job can be an exercise in frustration regardless of your chosen profession. If you have been fiddling with the idea of taking your writing to the next level, I suggest you may want to consider:

1.) Do I want to write as my full-time job, or do I want writing to be only part of a larger picture for me? With either answer, it’s still a great idea to contract with a literary agent. We are accustomed to working with a wide variety of authors with differing schedules, expectations, and needs. One of the many things an agent can do is help you strategize so you can reach a level of commitment that is comfortable for you and your family.

2.) If I want writing to be my secondary income, will I be able to handle the responsibilities of my day job and writing books? See #1. And I also suggest using a calendar to mark a typical week or month for yourself. Be honest about the hours you put in at work. Then show the time you need for your family and to manage life. How many hours are left? Are you willing to devote those to writing? Whether you decide to give up television or to rise at 4 AM to write before the day begins, be sure to stick to that routine to be successful.

3.) Am I willing to put my career in the hands of my agent, publisher, and editor? Traditionally published authors are accountable to agents, editors, and publishers, and of course, to their readers. It’s one thing to know this in the abstract and quite another to live the reality. All of these partners are on your side, wanting nothing more than the huge success of your book. But it does mean give and take on all sides.

4.) Am I offended if I am asked to change my story because that feels like demanding that I dye my newborn’s hair neon green? Even the most successful authors I know are asked to make changes. Sometimes those changes are tweaks that take moments. But even bestselling authors might be asked to rewrite manuscripts. Then revise the rewrites. Then revisit the rewrites. A career author needs to be ready to hit the edits hard when need be, and get them in on time to keep to the publisher’s production schedule.

5.) Do I mind putting in some time on social media? Once in awhile I run across an aspiring writer who doesn’t even have a Facebook account. Whether you hope to be published with a legacy publisher or you just want to put up books on Amazon yourself, you still need to use social media to build up a readership. Like it or not, reclusive authors have gone the way of the VHS tape.

6.) Why am I writing? If you are writing to entertain yourself and your friends, that’s great. Have fun, and know that lots of excellent, life-affirming writing is never published in any form. But if you want to see significant income from writing, be prepared to get serious.

Your turn:

Are you on the cusp of going pro? What are your specific concerns?

What advice would you give a hobbyist ready to break in to the market?

Did I leave out any questions?

19 Responses to Are You Ready to be a Pro?

  1. Jackie Layton October 10, 2013 at 3:49 am #

    I’ve wanted to write for years, but I was raised to make “practical” choices. So I’ve worked at a job that helped bring in a steady income to my family. (My husband has always worked in the non-profit sector.)

    I dreamed of writing since I was a teenager. I remember finishing a book and telling my mom that together we could write a better story. She’d smile and agree. So I tinkered with the notion for years.

    I finally got serious four years ago. I’ve taken classes and written. I’ve edited my stories and moved on to the next story. When I go back over my old stories I can see how much I’ve learned over the years.

    Yes I’m serious, and my youngest child is in college now. I’ve got more time, and hubby is supportive.

    So I’ll keep working until God’s perfect timing. And then maybe I can cut back on my day job.

    Have a great day!

    • Yvonne Lezama October 10, 2013 at 9:51 am #

      Yes I am very serious about writing, I had a stroke two years ago and has decided to write about my experience.

      I am about to take classes on writing, because I’ve started my second book.

  2. Amory Cannon October 10, 2013 at 5:48 am #

    Great post. I’m fortunate enough to be single at this point in my life, so I’m only balancing work and friends with my writing. It’s still very difficult, but it really makes me admire the commitment from authors who are working and balancing a family. I’m serious about improving my writing and making it to the next level, although I’ll probably always keep my day job.

  3. Jeanne Takenaka October 10, 2013 at 6:06 am #

    What a practical post, Tamela. It’s always good to count the cost before embarking on a new endeavor, especially one that will require a lot of a person. Your post really outlines what writers need to consider before moving to the next level, as you put it.

    I am moving toward publication. That being said, it’s good to know agents are open to “part time” writers. As a wife and mom with two elementary aged boys, I’m figuring out what I can reasonably produce in a year at this stage in my life. My family is supportive of me, but I try to keep family, or “real” life in balance with writing life. It’s tricky sometimes. 🙂 I’ve given up many outside activities, but that’s okay.

    For a hobbyist, I would encourage them to figure out what it’s going to require of them to “go pro” and make the decision based on that. I’ve learned so much from your blog, and others’ that has helped me gain a clear picture of what’s required pre-,mid- and post-publication.

    Thanks for this today!

    • Meghan Carver October 10, 2013 at 7:21 am #

      I’ve done that too, Jeanne — figure how long it took me to write the latest novel and then project that into the future. Can I write two books in a year? Three? Balancing family with writing can be tricky, but their support is key.

  4. Peter DeHaan October 10, 2013 at 6:14 am #

    I’m still working on figuring out the first two questions. (Sometimes it depends on the kind of day I’m having.)

    But I’ve worked through the other four – at least I think so!

    Thanks for asking!

  5. Jan Cline October 10, 2013 at 6:42 am #

    I’ve been ready for some time to go pro, and I think many of the writers I meet are ready. But the question remains…is our writing ready? The thing that would make me waver is the conflicting opinions I get from agents/editors on the quality of my writing and other writers I know. But there is always room for improvement – this might be the biggest obstacle for some writers – working on the craft. It’s an ongoing process and a huge commitment. Other than that, my only concern is the time it takes for me to direct my writers conference. Although it is an advantage for me in some ways, it’s a distraction from my writing too for a few months of the year. However, it’s my way of giving back for all the help I have received, and a great encouragement to keep going.
    I really like this post, Tamela. Thank you.

  6. Ann Shorey October 10, 2013 at 7:40 am #

    Great analogy, Tamela! Spot on to the writer’s life. I’m ever grateful for a supportive husband–and the guidance of my wonderful agent. 🙂

  7. Nancy B. Kennedy October 10, 2013 at 8:17 am #

    I once met a woman at a writers conference who was there because she wanted to find a writer who could write her book for her… because she didn’t have the time! That’s the most extreme example I’ve ever encountered of someone who misunderstood the commitment that writing takes. That said, the commitment to write isn’t burdensome if you love writing. It also helps if you view all the other aspects of publishing — finding an agent/publisher, writing proposals, marketing yourself, maintaining social media, speaking about your books — not as a burden but as a challenge to be met.

  8. Christina October 10, 2013 at 8:34 am #

    I am absolutely at this place. I have a grace period in which I can focus and produce good writing without disrupting my life and family too much. I’m taking a lot of small steps to learn and accomplish. Sometimes, the hardest part for me is the journey. I see where I want to be as a writer and I want to know if I will succeed or fail at it. But the truth of the matter is that I have to take each step to discover how far I can go. When I remember that, I enjoy every word I write and each small victory. In fact, it’s time to get to work right now.

  9. Heidi McCahan October 10, 2013 at 10:12 am #

    I would like to “go pro” and treat it like a job rather than a hobby. My children are under the age of 10, so I’m not sure what’s reasonable at this point. One thing I struggle with is spending time on social media AND writing. Haven’t figured out that balance, yet. Great post!

  10. Esther McDowell Thompson October 10, 2013 at 10:47 am #

    I keep plugging along hoping my book will be published someday. I love spreading the Christian message through fiction and hope it will change someone’s life. Thank you for the excellent advice.

  11. Angie Dicken October 10, 2013 at 11:24 am #

    Good post, Tamela! Three years ago, I thought I was ready to “be a pro”…and thank the good Lord, He said, “not yet”. In hindsight, I would have probably been very similar to your example mama. Now, after much soul-searching, working at the craft, and contracting with a great agent, all I can say is “bring it on”! Patiently waiting for the next step! 🙂

  12. Ann Gaylia O'Barr October 10, 2013 at 1:11 pm #

    I now consider myself a full-time writer and write several hours a day. I find marketing harder, though my regular blog is fun. Marketing for an introvert takes more effort than writing!

  13. Evinda Lepins October 10, 2013 at 3:03 pm #

    Tamela,
    loved this post… though I don’t like cooking that much, I so related to the analogy. I began writing a few years ago, finished my first novel, and from that a blog, from that a ministry that helps people unpack the junk from their trunk, aka, get physically, emotionally and spiritually healthy and we do this through workshops, trench classes and merchandise with a message. I had no idea that so much could evolve from a book! That being said, I would love to take my writing to the next level. I am published thru a publisher that as Steve says, is just one notch above self-publishing, and I had a very important question to ask you: Would u be willing to look at the first two chapters of my fiction novel and let me know if they should be switched? I know; a crazy question but something is telling me it would be a great move but wanted an expert’s opinion! I realize that I am but a needle in a haystack of authors, and He will have to pluck me out to pierce the hearts of those whom He chooses. I’ve just been wanting to ask you this for a while and after reading this post, I thought it was a great opportunity! Again, thank you so much for your posts, and those thoughtful questions. I value and embrace getting constructive critique….
    Blessings

  14. Effie-Alean Gross October 10, 2013 at 9:24 pm #

    In many respects, I have gone pro; however, I am still teaching English at a community college. Over the course of many years, I’ve been published about 200 times in numerous markets, both secular and Christian. Now, I’ve decided to stop teaching and write full time. So, yes, I’m on the cusp of going pro (for real)as of the end of this semester.
    Since I’m a widow, I’m concerned about how my personal finances will survive the transition of an uncertain future. I’d also like to find an agent who shares my vision and passion for historical fiction with a Messianic Jewish character.
    My advice for hobbyists ready to break in to the market is to be a constant learner of proven techniques. Write regularly, join critique groups, attend conferences, and NEVER give up. Mostly, maintain a close relationship with the Lord and seek His leading. Read in your genre and read outside of your genre…read. Pray for fellow writers. May God surprise us with His goodness. Hope in Him.

  15. Jenne Acevedo October 11, 2013 at 2:42 pm #

    I recently got back into writing after a year off due to spinal surgery. Before that time off, I was going strong. Lately, I’ve been trying to figure out my next steps.
    This post helped me see that finding an agent might be the best thing for me now. However, I assumed most agents want to work with full-time writers. Since that is not possible for me in this season of life with 3 elementary/JH-aged children, I thought I should finish my non-fiction book about my journey through anxiety before contacting agents. But, I would love to have an agent to help me strategize and be the best I can be.
    Perhaps now is the time to query?

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