5 Steps I Took to Leave My Stressful Job and Earn $50K a Year as a Writer
I'm not exactly a huge New York Times best-seller success, but I do fairly well as a writer and novelist. I've found a comfort zone balancing craft, business and family.
Some invariably call me lucky. Some wonder who gave me a leg up. Some say I don’t have to really "work." And so many think the average person cannot achieve what I have.
Sorry, but I am the average person.
No writer is an overnight success. Nobody gets discovered without tremendous effort, diligence, and trial and error. Luck only goes so far. Success takes maintenance and continued aspiration to be better.
So, what steps did I take to make money writing full time?
1. I Set Up a Record System.
Income and expenses. Money in and money out. As a lover of spreadsheets, I kept track of dollars, submissions and travel.
Even if I lost money, the negative aided me tax-wise against my day-job income, but my goal was to operate in the black, leave the day job and learn how to manage my taxes as an independent contractor.
I've recorded my monthly and annual incomes since 2000.
The first year? $1,540.30. The second year? $2,046.43. The third year? $2,675.94.
Then I went full time, and in that first year earned $12,264.31.
Last year, I crossed $50,000 working my own hours, in my home, selecting who I wrote for and what I wrote.
2. I Set Up a Plan to Quit My Day Job and Go Full Time.
My job as the administrative director of a federal agency was stressful and political. Writing took me away from it all, so for three years, I juggled two jobs.
I told my family this was just as important as anything in their lives or mine, to earn their respect. Once the habit took root, I reported to “work” each and every day. Slow and steady.
Like many corporate workers shifting to working from home, I put a plan together so I could quit my job without wrecking my family. Every freelance dollar went toward paying off bills and building an emergency fund. The car had to be reliable and paid for.
Health insurance was crucial, which meant a significant other providing a plan — or in my case, leaving with enough years vested from my day job to carry my health insurance with me. Research the health insurance industry for the best opportunities if you have no policy.
3. I Diversified to Determine What Works.
While still writing part time, I submitted work to magazines, websites and print publications. I entered contests. I wrote a novel during my spare hours. Ultimately, I could not sell the novel to a publisher; knowing that without a fan base I would not self-publish well, I turned to freelance writing and created a newsletter.
Whether you write romance novels or corporate biographies, your platform is critical. I still wanted to write mysteries, but I needed to become known as a writer first. Analyzing my strengths, I picked a topic to build a reputation upon. I understood grants, so I helped writers find them, as well as contests, markets and publishers. Having a clear niche resulted in FundsforWriters.com and its newsletters.
The newsletter amassed 200 followers in two months; by six months, it had 2,000. Writer's Digest chose it for its 101 Best Websites for Writers list.
Today, FundsforWriters reaches 35,000 readers. Its sister publication, TOTAL FFW, is a more intense paid subscription version of the original.
Today, though I’m a novelist, my income is equally split between book royalties, speaking, advertising (thanks to the newsletter) and TOTAL FFW subscriptions. I might be living the novelist’s dream, but my other income avenues keep that dream funded.
4. I Watched for Trends.
My spreadsheet system also informed me what times of the year were the best and worst for income, and when to plan for training, novel writing and promotional efforts. They dictated what I did, when I did it and how to spread it out.
For instance in 2011, I was polishing a novel for a 2012 release after landing an agent and a publishing contract for the first of my seven novels. However, the hard writing and editing meant less freelancing, which is more lucrative on a short-term basis. My income dropped from $29,452 to $22,599. However, a year later, with that book out a year, another released and another under contract, my income jumped to $30,660.
In 2010, I noticed summer meant less advertising revenue, but the fall and January showed upticks as my advertisers returned from vacations and holidays. I recognized low subscription months and corralled renewals into four specific times of the year to save administrative time and money.
5. I Marketed Myself Daily.
Writing doesn’t sell itself, and social media is a great base for daily self-promotion. Guest blogging is remarkably successful, and when I release a new book, I binge-blog for anyone who’ll take me.
While keeping your own blog can not only inform the world of your successes but also give you affiliate income, I prefer a newsletter, which pushes notices to readers more efficiently.
Today, with my diversified income and brand names, FundsforWriters and C. Hope Clark, I’ve built momentum and name recognition. My income is steady and continues to increase.
It’s doable to make your way as a writer/author, but diligence is key.
C. Hope Clark is the editor of FundsforWriters and a mystery novelist. Her freelance writing has also been featured at Writer’s Digest, The Writer magazine, Southern Writers Magazine, WritersMarket and elsewhere. Find @hopeclark on Twitter.