Being a professional writer sounds awesome. You get to sit at your desk, or at a coffee shop, and dreamily type away at that future-bestselling novel as you take sips of coffee. You live off royalties and occasionally are paid to read from your current-bestselling novels. You wear great hats.
At least that’s how it looks in the movies.
Over at Kidlit.com, Mary Cole offers a little glimpse of reality for everyone who thinks that once you sell your book, you’re set. Her advice:
“Keep your day job. If your day job makes you miserable, get a better one. Only 3-5% of published writers make a living on their published writing income (advances and royalties) alone*…
That said, most writers do end up making a career and an income with their writing, just not by publishing books alone. They teach workshops, they teach at a school or university, they freelance for newspapers and magazines, they write nonfiction, they copywrite, they edit, they tutor…there are lots of trades that use a writer’s skillset.
More often than not in today’s publishing world, I see people who have fingers in lots of different pies and who cobble together a cohesive livelihood from lots of separate but related income streams. And not just writers or illustrators do this. I know of agents who freelance edit and editors who teach classes on the side, too.”
Part of me wants to say “that’s what the writing life is nowadays” but it’s not true. Even William Faulkner had to supplement his income by writing Hollywood screenplays–and this guy got a Nobel Prize! In a way, it’s refreshing to hear that. Even extremely talented, extremely successful novelists write magazine articles or teach workshops. Everyone is trying to make a stable career out of something they love. However they can do it is fantastic.
For all the writers who can live solely on their books, more power to you. It would be great to get there someday, but for the most part being a writer means cobbling together an income.