Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Wanna Be A Full-Time Writer? How Good Are You With a Budget?

Being a full-time writer: Is it my dream? How do/will I pay for "life" and write too?

vigorously rubs face

Well, I am a full-time writer, which sometimes translates to living at or below poverty depending on sales.  Shocked? Don't be. Like most creative professions, less than 1% achieve the success that's portrayed in popular entertainment. 

Look--I say this from experience--anyone who is going to walk away from a steady paycheck that affords a middle-class existence (or better) has to accept strict budgeting and lifestyle-reduction changes. This is not an avocado toast soapbox; that's a wholly different discussion. I'm talking about living within seasons of feast and famine. I'm talking about going from having a percent of monthly income being "disposable" after paying essential bills and investments to cutting out things that aren't utilities, rent/mortgage, groceries, car payments, and health insurance. It's a hell of a shock to the system to shift from stability to insecurity. Monthly mani-pedis? Gone. Thursday drinks with the gang? Not every week you don't. That vacation to the Con you attend every year? Eh...maybe. That's now a business cost, so maybe, but you've got to generate enough annual revenue in order to be able to take that as a tax write-off. 

As James mentioned yesterday, US health insurance is an obscene cost of living to which you then have to add actual health care costs--ya know, the list of stuff insurance requires you to pay on top of your premium and deductible and the even longer list of stuff insurance simply doesn't cover. Yes, health insurance costs more than my mortgage. Yes, for the moment, I'm a relatively healthy person. However, health insurance is an inescapable cost at my age, and it's not like I can get a roommate to help share the costs of health insurance (adding a person to the policy would triple the costs!). And predicting the annual increase in premiums? Fugetaboutit, which makes it a bitch to budget. Alas, I can't control the capitalist death-panels that are the US health industry, so I do things like drive a 20yr old car that's paid off and live in a state that doesn't charge an annual property tax on vehicles. Some months are ramen months, and others are chicken thighs. I take the savings where I can when I can. 

Finally, there's the actual business costs. As an indie author, my costs of publishing are incurred upfront (editing, art, marketing, etc.). So if I want to release a book, I have to budget for that. Then I have to estimate when I'll recoup my costs and start generating a profit. Sometimes release dates get pushed because I don't have that couple of grand on hand. There's a reason many authors turn to Kickstarter or the like to fund their indie books. Writing is a constant hustle. You've got to keep producing to keep a market presence. If you lose market presence, you've got to start over to rebuild it, which means recouping your investment is going to take longer. The upshot of being a novelist, however, is that our backlists continue to generate income (assuming we own the rights). The theory is the bigger your backlist, the bigger the financial cushion, the bigger the breath you can take because you can actually pay your bills...and maybe pay to replace that busted water heater.  Warm showers are a wonderful thing, after all. 

None of this is to say you can't have fun and hang with friends while being a full-time writer, but the lifestyle of financial instability does require tradeoffs and often saying "no" to invitations you simply can't afford anymore. For someone who had success in the corporate world, it can be a bitter pill to feel like you're starting over on the bottom rung of life again, even though you're changing careers to something you love. If you're not honest with yourself about everything the change entails, you're going to be in for a world of hurt and embarrassment. Don't pull the "I quit" switch until you've got a plan, a budget, and a slew of reasonable expectations for the next 10 years. 

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