How This Mother of 3 Publishes 4 Novels a Year Without Going Crazy
“My husband has always been blessed by solid employment, and we are a fairly frugal couple, so we had savings and no debt beyond a mortgage.”
Her income had always been “expendable,” she explains, so the biggest impact of losing it was that the family was saving at a slower rate. They were also “couponing more often and flat out not getting… frivolous things,” but they weren’t struggling to pay the bills or buy groceries.
Over the next five years, the family added two more children. Lindsey spent years raising them full time, but shortly after their youngest child was born, she began an unexpected journey.
“I wasn’t a big reader [at the time],” she explains, “but I happened upon a novel [Stephanie Meyer’s “Twilight”] that gave me a delightful escape from spit up and diapers, and it changed my life. I knew immediately that I wanted to do that for someone else.”
More moving than the novel itself, says Lindsey, was the author’s story.
“When I learned the author was a stay-at-home mom with three small kids like mine, I thought, ‘Hey, maybe I can do that!’
“In hindsight, the idea was ridiculous, but I… learned that anyone with a story to tell can be a novelist. Before that, I'd assumed I needed a specific degree or background to write for publication.”
Becoming a Writer
In July 2011, she responded to a call for submissions for the now-defunct Turquoise Morning Press, a small Ohio-based publishing house. It published her first romance novella, “Bloom,” in 2012. Her second book, “Love Blossoms,” followed later the same year.
Over the next two and a half years, Lindsey would go on to publish a total of seven titles with the publisher.
Despite her impressive work, though, novel writing is no get-rich-quick scheme.
At first, she earned so little from her books it was “literally not enough per quarter to buy dinner. For myself. At McDonald’s.”
But she loved it. Lindsey describes herself as “painfully hard-headed,” so she was willing to keep at it until the work produced an actual income.
She continued to learn and study the industry -- and, above all, to write. She honed her writing and business skills during her time with TMP and used them to land contracts with two other publishers.
Now she’s written four novels for Lyrical Press, the digital-first side of Kensington, and six for Carina Press, the digital side of Harlequin. Harlequin also decided to print two of her Carina titles as part of the Harlequin Worldwide Mystery line and recently added one to shelves in major retail stores.
“Harlequin was a huge supporter of my work with Carina,” Lindsey says. “[It’s] a fantastic company.”
Last fall, Jill Marsal of Marsal Lyons Lit offered to represent Lindsey and helped her land “a nice contract” with a new publisher -- within a week.
“While my career hasn’t been an overnight success story, it’s my story, and I’m really happy with how the first five years have gone. I look forward to at least 30 more.”
In those first five, Lindsey has published between three and five books every year. As a reader, I look forward to the next 30, too!
What If You Don’t Have an Agent?
Lindsey is fortunate to work with an agent, who acts as an advocate for authors in contact with publishers. That means more time and energy to focus on writing!
For writers who don’t yet have, or don’t want to work with, an agent, she points out several publishing houses still look at an author’s work without going through an agency. Her publishers -- Carina, Lyrical, Harlequin and Kensington -- are just a few of them.
How Much Money Can You Make as a Full-Time Author?
One of the toughest realities about being a writer is how tricky it is to secure a steady paycheck.
“There is no typical year for writing,” Lindsey says.
“My annual income depends on if I’m lucky enough to get another contract [with an advance], what that advance is for, how well the books already out there are selling and about a million other things.”
She doesn’t freelance, so almost all of her income comes from publishing books. That comes in one of two ways:
- Advance: a lump sum of money the author receives from the publisher upon signing a contract to write a book. Depending on the contract, you might receive that all at once, or in a series of payments as you submit parts of a manuscript.
- Royalties: a percentage of sales per book, usually paid quarterly. Royalties are almost always paid only after the advance is paid back with sales. Depending on the size of the advance, many authors never see royalties at all.
“Some quarters, [royalties] can fund my trip to Hawaii, and other times, I’m wondering if the work is worth the peanuts on the check in my hand.”
Bottom line? Lindsey says being a novelist isn’t a reliable source of income.
“Even a six-figure advance isn’t something to quit your day job over,” she warns.
That’s because part of that advance will go to your agent, and you’ll only get fractions of your portion as you turn in drafts of the manuscript.
An advance that large may also be for a multi-book deal, in which case your payouts will be spread across the time it takes you to write all the books -- probably one per year. What looks impressive as $150,000 on a contract could actually mean an annual income around $30,000.
Like anyone running a business, you’ll have to pay your own taxes, so knock your take-home pay down even more.
And, Lindsey warns, “there’s no guarantee you’ll ever get another contract.”
It’s kind of a grim picture.
“If I were a practical person, my advice would be: If you can do something other than writing, then do that instead,” Lindsey says. “Unfortunately, writing is in my blood.”
As most authors will point out, you don’t start writing for the money. You do it, like Lindsey does, because you love it.
Making money doing something you love is just a fabulous bonus!
How Much Does It Cost to Be an Author?
Unlike many businesses, writing for traditional publishers doesn’t necessarily come with hefty startup costs.
Lindsey’s promotional costs mostly consist of travel to conferences and other events. She’s often invited as a speaker, so she gets free registration or even gets paid to attend.
“I generally use money from my advances and royalties to pay for my travel and expenses, which is nice, because I can then deduct those same costs on my taxes.”
Because of “a gracious and supportive mother-in-law,” Lindsey and her husband can leave the kids at home when they travel to attend these conferences.
“Essentially,” she gushes, “my husband and I take a lot of vacations per year and my writing pays for it.”
Author discounts on hotel rooms and conferences that provide entertainment make these fun, productive and affordable trips they wouldn’t otherwise be able to take.
“In some ways, I thank my new career for our happy marriage.”
What’s left over after professional expenses, they save for the kids’ college funds.
Finding Work-Life Balance
“As my family and career have grown, I’ve learned to embrace the chaos and let go of the structure. My husband and I were very regimented people, once upon a time, but that’s gone.”
Her kids -- now 8, 10 and 12 years old -- are in school, which gives Lindsey a solid six- or seven-hour workday, ostensibly without interruption.
After 3 p.m., though, the evening is “a virtual blur of kiddie drop-offs, pickups and teeth brushing.” The kids are involved in special projects and trips through their school district’s gifted program, as well as tennis, competitive swimming, skiing, gymnastics and Boy Scouts.
The days are hectic, but “[the kids are] happy and thriving,” says Lindsey, “and this is why I stayed home -- I didn’t want to miss anything.”
She continues to produce novels in the midst of what she calls “the Lindsey Circus” by sticking to a smart routine:
1. Outline: “I’m a dedicated outliner, so I spend a week or so completing an extremely detailed outline for my novels.”
2. Write one chapter a day -- every day.
3. Reread the chapter -- only briefly! -- then send it to a critique partner.
“It’s a constant struggle between deadlines and family demands,” she admits. “So many things vie for my attention and try to pull me away during those few writing hours, but I’m fiercely protective of the writing time.”
Protecting that time seems to pay off. Once an outline is done, Lindsey says this system helps her complete a novel manuscript in 28 days!
In 2016, Lindsey will see the release of five novels from three presses in two genres.
“I wish I could go back to 2010 and tell that version of me, who typed ‘how to write a book’ into a search engine, that those words were about to change her life.”
Your Turn: How do you balance working for yourself and raising a family?
Disclosure: Here’s a toast to the affiliate links in this post. May we all be just a little richer today.
Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Writer’s Digest and more, attempting humor wherever it’s allowed (and sometimes where it’s not).