Sunday, January 18, 2009

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

During the late 1990's my writing and speaking income had increased to the point where I made as much or more from those two things combined as I earned as a half-time librarian. I began to dream about quitting my librarian job, but was nervous about doing so since there was no guarantee that I would continue to sell books and get invitations to speak. However, something had to give. I was doing so many school visits in the spring, scheduled on the days I didn't work as a librarian, that I had little time or energy left to write.

One day I came across a book called Smart Choices (Subtitle: A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions.") I devour (good) self-help books the same way some women devour gothic romances, so I eagerly bought the book. After reading it, I realized that I hadn't identified my decision problem correctly. Instead of asking myself "When should I quit working as a librarian?" I needed to ask "Should I become a full-time writer?" I identified three objectives I wanted to achieve: to further my writing career, to lead a more balanced life (with time for family and friends, hobbies, travel, and volunteering, in addition to writing), and to make an adequate income.

Thinking about my objectives, I realized that remaining in my "day job" was not going to help me further my writing career or live a more balanced life. The day job did help with my third objective, of course. But if I could make an adequate income from writing and speaking, then I wouldn't need to continue working as a librarian. Now an adequate income will obviously mean different things to different people, but for me it meant a minimum of about 30K a year. I could get by with that little because, even though my children were in their teens by now, my husband and I had faithfully put money aside for their college educations from the day each was born. It was the smartest thing we ever did. (But that's a topic for some other day.) When my income shot up in 1999 (see the cool chart my husband helped me make), I took a year's leave from my half-time library job, then a second year's leave, and then I resigned.

Though my income has varied quite a bit in the eight years since I quit my day job (see the blue line), it's only once dipped below my 30K minimum. Overall, my writing income (the pink line) has gone up. My speaking income has declined in the last few years (as it has for most children's authors I've spoken to), but I hope to do more speaking in the years to come.

Here's an interesting thing: six months after I became a full-time writer I sold my first series. Since I hadn't intended to write a series, but was offered one on the basis of the "stand-alone" story I thought I had written, I decided to take that as a "sign" that the universe supported my decision to become full-time. In the last eight years I have published four series, and three more picture books.

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