Don’t Quit Your Day Job

Many years ago, when Hector was a pup (look it up), I made the fateful decision to start writing full-time. Sounds like a dream, no?

Well, in some ways, it was. But several things made that transition possible. First, I had already enjoyed some success as an author, having published my first book and contracted (if I recall correctly, and that’s never a given) my next two books.

Second, one day I got two phone calls within minutes of each other; each one offered me a few paying writing opportunities. I had said yes to the first call, but told the second caller, a BIBE (“big important book editor”), that I’d have to get back to him. I was confident I could accomplish the first caller’s projects while working my low-paying, time-consuming, full-time job; but the two callers’ projects combined seemed too much. I would have to turn down the second caller’s projects.

Upon hanging up from that second call, I was a bit crestfallen. My wife sat next to me on the couch and, after I related the content of the calls, asked, “If you were writing full-time, would you be able to do it all?”

“Well, yeah,” I said.

“Did they mention money?”


“Would the money support us?”

Altogether, the combined contracts exceeded what I was making in my full-time job. “I’m pretty sure.”

She might’ve rolled her eyes. “Well? What are you waiting for?”

A few days later, I gave my notice; and a month later, I was a full-time writer. But there was one more factor that contributed to quitting my “day job.”

Third, I wasn’t making much money at my day job.

Those three factors—a bit of a track record, a few solid offers, and the fact that we’d been living around the poverty level already—made me a full-time writer. And I’m happy to report that, since then, I’ve added to my track record, continue to get occasional solid offers, and continue to flirt with the poverty level.

But my story is merely descriptive, not prescriptive. I routinely warn writers against quitting their day jobs. It takes a long time to build to a point where some combination of advances, royalties, work-for-hire, and plasma donations supply enough income to pay the rent (or, in my case, the Dunkin’ Donuts line-of-credit).

Around the time I started writing full-time, I was chatting with another author, a novelist who is much smarter and more accomplished than I am. He said that when he made the decision to write full-time, he took a page from his family’s experience starting and running a restaurant. He said that, for the first two years, a startup like that meant 12- to 16-hour days, every day, 365 days a year, in order to build the foundation of a successful business. So that was roughly the kind of schedule he set for himself in order to produce the output that would blaze the path for his later writing efforts.

I said, “Wow.” After further thought, I said, “Wow.”

That’s not a route everyone could or should take. My brain doesn’t function a full 16 hours a day, let alone 365 days a year. But it apparently worked for him; he’s published something like a bajillion books and won a number of impressive awards.

So, having written all that, I’ll conclude with the answer I sometimes give when someone asks, “When can I quit my day job?” I say, “When you’re making as much money writing as you are at your day job. Or maybe more, since you’ll have to buy your own health insurance and fully fund your FICA contributions.” Not exactly Solomonic wisdom, I grant you. And maybe not all that encouraging, either. But consider the source, and take it or leave it.  

Leave a Comment

Authors Still Struggle to Make a Living

The above doomy headline is intended to catch your attention. However, it is merely a reflection of a report released on February 19 by the Authors Guild called “The Profession of Author in the 21st Century,” written by Christine Larson, Ph.D., an assistant professor of journalism at the University of …

Read More

Where Is My Money?

Before I became a literary agent I had no idea how much energy this profession spent being a “collections agent.” Recently someone asked us the following questions (use the green button to the right to ask your question!):

What do you do, as an agent, when a publisher does not pay advances on royalties on time as per their legal contract?

What if a publisher is consistently late (months) saying they have cash flow problems and will pay when they can? Shouldn’t authors be able to count on getting paid the amount and on the date stated in their contract?

Is this common and is there anything that can be done or said regarding what seems to be a breach of contract?

This is an excellent series of questions. The full non-answer is “It depends.” Generally publishers are very good about making the payments according to contracted schedules. The above situation is much more dire and is a good reason to have an agent who know who to talk to inside the publishing house. There are ways to approach the situation that gets results, just remember, “Don’t Burn a Bridge.”

However, there are a few possible reasons that authors should keep in mind before getting impatient with a tardy paycheck.

Read More

What Are Average Book Sales?

by Steve Laube

We recently received the following question:

“What does the average book sell today? An industry veteran at a writers conference recently said 5,000. What??? I know it all depends….but … nowhere near 5K, right?”

My simple answer?

It’s complicated.
It depends.


Average is a difficult thing to define. And each house defines success differently. If a novel sells 5,000 copies at one publisher they celebrate and have steak dinners. If a novel sells 5,000 copies at another publisher you find staff members fearing for their jobs and in total despair.

Let me give you some real numbers but not revealing the author name (and there is a wide variety of publishers represented):

Author 1: novelist – 3 books – avg. sale = 8,300

Author 2: novelist – 12 books – avg. sale = 19,756

Author 3: novelist – 3 books – avg. sale = 7,000

Author 4: novelist – 7 books – avg. sale = 5,300 (Two different publishers)

Author 5: non-fiction devotional – 5 books – avg. sale 10,900

Author 6: non-fiction – 2 books – avg. sale = 5,300

Author 7: novelist – 4 books – avg. sale = 29,400

Author 8: non-fiction – 3 books – avg. sale = 18,900

Author 9: fiction – 7 books – avg. sale = 12,900

Author 10: non-fiction – 5 books – avg. sale = 6,800 (three different publishers)

So you can see it DOES depend. Depends on the author and publisher and topic or genre.

Read More

Who Gets Paid in Publishing?

With all the talk about Independent publishing vs. Traditional publishing and the talk about how writers can get rich if they follow a certain plan…I got to thinking. Maybe we should do a quick look at the Economics of Publishing to see if anyone is making off like a bandit. Sorry for you non-numbers people, but it is critical to understand the infrastructure (i.e. the lifeblood) that keeps your ideas in print.

The detective in the movie says “Follow the money,” so we shall. But first a disclaimer. These models are estimates based on years of reading contracts, profit and loss sheets, spreadsheets, and royalty statements. Your mileage may vary.

Read More

Should I Write for Free?

Writers write, right? Often, however, writers are invited, asked, pressured, or even hornswaggled (look it up if you have to) into writing for free. Sometimes that’s good. Often it’s bad. How can you know which is which? One word: strategy. What is your strategy? Do you even have one? Or, …

Read More

How Authors Make Money

So, you’ve written a book. Good for you. Now the money will start rolling in, right? Not exactly. There are a number of ways authors make money, but writing a book is only one step in a long and arduous journey. And, though the details vary widely from one author …

Read More

Don’t Sweat the Big Stuff?

Author Richard Carlson and his 1996 book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff encouraged a generation to put priorities in order and prevent someone from missing the forest for the trees. I am afraid many aspiring authors are doing just the opposite by not worrying about the big stuff either. Everything …

Read More

The Minimum Wage Author

Most authors earn less than legal minimum wage writing books. Most do so for their entire writing careers. (U.S. Federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. A full time person working 40 hours per week would earn an annual revenue of $15,000 at that rate.) In fact, they work for …

Read More