Monday, December 28, 2009

Keep Your Day Job, Right?

How flexible and understanding are agents and editors about conflicts with an author's day job?
Mine have been very understanding and flexible. Most writers, especially debut authors, have day jobs, so agents and editors know you have things to do besides write all day. They do, however, expect you to be as professional about your writing career as you are about your day job. It's not a hobby anymore, and you have responsibilities to both your "bosses." But life happens and they get that, and they'll work with you best they can.

Do they assume that you will drop everything around the time of a book release to focus on signings and appearances, etc?
Mine haven't. They do expect you to do everything you can to help promote your book and get back to them when they have deadlines to meet, though (which are usually on your behalf anyway). You chose to publish, so you have your share of things to do to help promote your book. You can choose to do nothing of course, but then the odds of there being a book two go down, since fewer people hear about your book and read it. But remember, as a debut author, you won't have a ton of events to go to. They're also usually nights and weekends, and you're the one who picks the times and dates that work for you. On my signings I had several time and date options and I chose what worked for me.

Unless you're incredibly lucky, it takes a while before an author becomes a big enough name to do the tours and whatnot. You'll most likely start small and have a few local appearances, maybe a few festivals or conferences. If you get to the "on tour" level, it's your call whether or not you want to do it. Perhaps you'll be more comfortable doing things that work with your day job schedule, like online tours or radio bits. Or by then your day job boss will be more flexible to you taking time off for a short period to do events. There are perks to being famous ya know -grin-

At what point do you have the conversation with an agent about whether or not to quit the day job and write full-time?
You can always ask your agent day one if you wanted to. They're there to answer these kinds of questions. But I've read/heard that the average is five books or five years. If you're still selling, and are living off the royalties from your backlist (where it stays in print and keeps selling), then you can start thinking about quitting. But not every book makes it to backlist status, so the advance may be all you get. Since you can't count on selling a new book for X dollars every X months, it's too risky to quit.

And what if you don't want to quit the day job?
Then don't. If you can do both, do both. Lots do. Writing is one of those things you can do in your spare time.

Publishing is a business, so naturally there are things your agent and publisher will expect you to do. All jobs are like that no matter what they are. Luckily, writing has lots of flexibility, so it's a perfect side career if that's how you want to go.

On the flip side, it's not something you can start and then ignore if you want to build a career. Although I'm sure there are writers who toss out a book every five or ten years, most aren't going to be in that position. Debut authors don't have the name recognition to draw readers to them, so they need something else to tell reader their book is out there and to go read it. But there are a lot of ways to do that that will fit into all kinds of schedules.


  1. Thanks for the positive words about doing two things, (job and writing). There is so much focus on telling people they can only be or do one thing in life.

  2. This is such a great post, full of sensible advice. Thank you!

  3. Really--this is great. It's something to think about, certainly. And I like the five years/five books plan...

  4. I love this, thanks Janice. I have always wondered about writers who publish and keep day jobs and how they balance it. This is enlightening.

  5. Awesome, informative advice. I've been wandering about this and it cleared lots of things up :)

  6. Thanks for all the great advice in your posts this last week, this week included. I was on vacation with no Internet and this felt like a post-Christmas present. So much practical advice and it really helped me feel like I might be able to handle having a demanding day job and also be able to handle all of the demands of being an author.

  7. Ditto what Cat said. (Well, and everyone.) I was really struck by how positive you were, never disparaging one path or the other, never saying it was "better" to do one or the other thing.

    (Also, unrelated: I love your book cover!)

    Thanks for the great post and the great attitude!

  8. Thanks for answering! These issues are in the distant future for me, but it's still good to hear your thoughts on writing while keeping the day job.

    Thanks again, happy new year!

  9. These are questions I've never actually seen addressed anywhere else - thanks! And I don't expect to be quitting my day job anytime soon --- thankfully, I like it!

  10. Most welcome everyone. I try to be positive abut my experience, both because it HAS been positive, and because there's so much negativity out there on the web. If all writers ever see is the bad stuff, that's what they'll expect. I might just be incredibly lucky, but I'd like to think that my experience isn't too far off from the norm.