Saturday, January 17, 2009

Money Matters: How I Moved From Writing as a Hobby to Writing as a Career: Part I

I had been an elementary school librarian for ten years before I began to write for children. It helped at first to think of my writing as a hobby. That way I could enjoy the process without setting unrealistic deadlines for when I thought I had to be published. I was lucky. I got an offer on a story within a year of the time I began to submit things to publishers. That story became my first picture book, Mommy Doesn't Know My Name, published by Houghton Mifflin in 1990. (The book is still in print as a paperback and has also been published in Spanish and Japanese editions.)

Even though my advance was only $3000 (fairly typical for first-time picture book authors in 1990), I wanted to give myself more time to write by working half-time at my "day job." Elementary school librarians don't make a ton of money, of course, but it was still scary to give up half of a sure thing not knowing what I could make as a writer. If I'd been independently wealthy I could've thrown caution to the wind, but I wasn't then and am not now, either. My husband's income as a musician wasn't enough to support both of us, plus our two young children.

After poring over our finances and much discussion my husband and I decided I should give half-time a try. My school principal let me take a half-time leave for a year so that I could go back to being a full-time librarian the following year if I needed to. Well, one year stretched into two years and two years into three. By the end of the fourth year, I knew I would be okay working half-time indefinitely.

So, did I make a lot of money from my writing those first few years? Not at all. In fact my records show that from 1991 - 1995 my income from writing (and a few school visits) varied from a high of around $10,000 to a low of just $1800. However, there are always ways to cut back on expenses, and my husband and I are frugal (we drive our cars until they fall apart before we replace them, for example), so we were able to get by. So for ten years, from 1990 -2000, I continued to work as a half-time librarian. During those years I published five more books and began to do more speaking at schools and conferences. In my next blog, I'll explain how I finally decided the time was ripe to become a fulltime children's book writer.

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