Becoming a Full-time Writer

Lots of people want to quit their jobs to become full-time authors. It’s one of the subjects I get asked most about. So, I thought I’d write a quick post detailing my experiences.

Twelve years ago, I was a marketing manager for a large European business software company. I had a small team of direct marketing people under me and co-responsibility for a £ half-million marketing budget. When the company restructured and my role became impossible, I left because a) I was sick of the stress and b) I wanted to write.

(Annoyingly, if I’d have stuck it out for another eight months, I would have been made redundant and received quite a nice redundancy package, as I’d been at the company for ten years. As it was, I left with nothing. But at least I didn’t have a heart attack or stress-related nervous breakdown.)

Since then, I’ve written and published 12 books, numerous short stories, and a fair few articles. I’ve also been a stay-at-home dad for my kids.

However, it’s been a financial rollercoaster. I’ve done freelance work as a copywriter and journalist and done some part-time work for local organisations in order to bring in some money, and there have been periods of barely scraping by, accompanied by many sleepless nights.

I don’t think I would have survived the past two or three years without the support of my awesome Patreon community, who have been extremely encouraging and loyal.

But since Embers of War was published in 2018, money has started to trickle in from foreign sales, royalties, audio rights, and TV/movie options. Not megabucks, and certainly not as much as I earned in my previous job, but enough to provide a little breathing space.

So, if you’re thinking of giving up a reliable income in favour of an artistic life, think long and hard about what that means.

The average advance for a novel is somewhere around £4k-£5k, and that’s not usually paid all in one lump sum. You get half when you sign the contact and half when the book is published, which might not be for another year, depending on schedules. So, after spending a year writing your debut novel, you could be looking at an annual income of £2,500, which is certainly not enough to live on.

An agent can help. They might be able to negotiate a better deal, and they will let help you hang onto your foreign publication rights, which can then be sold to generate more income.

But you are still going to need to find a way to generate more income, especially if you have dependents and a mortgage. So, you may have to consider a part-time job, or spend part of your writing time hustling as a freelancer.

You can also look at diversifying your channels. If you’re primarily a novelist, you might also consider writing comic scripts or screenplays. If your novels are traditionally published, you might consider self-publishing some shorter fiction.

Once you start to get established, you may be offered a fee to attend a literary festival, or host a writing workshop. But you have to accept the first few months, and maybe years, are going to be an uncertain time – unless you have a patient spouse with a well-paying job.

It’s taken me twelve years to finally start earning decent money in this business, and I’d still be lost without Patreon. So, think carefully, make a plan, and diversify your income streams.

And the best of luck to you!

Author: Gareth L Powell


2 thoughts on “Becoming a Full-time Writer”

  1. I guess you would have to have saved up quite a lot before transitioning to becoming a full time writer.

    In your experience, of from that of people you know, is it really possible to write ‘on the side’ of a full time job? What would you say are the benefits from focusing solely on writing?

  2. I’ve always harboured ambitions to write novels; in fact, at this moment, I have one book fairly advanced, another around four chapters in and I did try self publishing a novel I completed while engaged in National Novel Writing Month back in 2012. The book in question was a children’s story with a difference, there were nods to Philip K Dick and it was all a bit strange. Ultimately, it was based on stories I used to tell my daughter at bedtime. In all honesty, while I think it’s a good story it could do with somebody ‘in the know’ reading it and telling me straight whether it’s worth pursuing. The other story, the one that is ‘fairly advanced’ is pretty good, again, in my opinion.

    There are so many questions I have on writing. I write for a living, editing magazines, writing leaders, I blog a lot and write just for the hell of it, especially when travelling: I can’t think of anything better than sitting in my hotel room blogging, or finding a Starbucks in a big US city like Chicago and sitting there writing about what I see or what I’m thinking, it’s therapeutic.

    However, reading your very honest blogpost was a wake-up call. I need to have a regular salary coming in, not that I have a mortgage, but I still have bills to pay. In many ways I’m a bit of a fantasist. When I read that advances were only £3,000 or thereabouts I couldn’t believe it; I was always under the impression that if you became a published novelist you’re made for life, you could spend the rest of your days listening to Radio Four and drinking tea. Whenever I ride my bike at the weekends, heading out on 20-mile jaunts into the sticks of Northern Kent, one of my chief fantasies (there are many) is winning the Booker or being invited to Hollywood to negotiate a fat fee for one of my as yet unwritten novels. Obviously I need to get real. I’ll stop there as I could ramble on all night and, as I said, I have so many questions about writing. Great blogpost. My blog, incidentally, is all about, well, quite a few things. It started off as a cycling blog, then morphed into a travel blog, there’s satire, politics, everything, but I’m not trying to sell it to you, it’s just a hobby that I enjoy, although I haven’t posted anything this week. I’m off to bed.

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