If you saw the 2007 movie Wild Hogs starring Tim Allen, John Travolta, and Martin Lawrence, you’ll know what I’m talking about today. Martin Lawrence is a writer and stares at a blank page for a year, trying to start his novel when his wife pops in to remind him that he promised to go back to his job at “The Firm” if he hadn’t completed the book after a year. Turns out The Firm is a sewage pumping company and Lawrence can’t write a single word in 365 days.
Most people, at least for big chunks of time, are like that character: we can stare at a blank page for a long time. The dream to become a big-time author is a great dream, but when there’s a mortgage to pay and kids to feed, it might not be sensible. Of course, authors aren’t usually sensible people. If you ask Google when you should quit your dayjob you will find a plethora of people advising you to quit now—many claim that the added stress of a “must succeed or I will die” mentality will somehow propel you into the upper echelons of the publishing sphere and you’ll never look back.
That’s some crap advice. That’s how you wind up flipping burgers at age 40. Most of the people on those first few pages of a web search who advised writers to quit their jobs list the importance of things like “multiple streams of income” and “Lifetime Value” customers. They are the people who are writers (though I’ve never heard of most of them) but sell other writers online classes, courses, workshops, and programs or mentoring services. That is, they sell much more than books and spend most of their time selling writers a product that most authors I’ve talked to say were a waste of their money in retrospect.
I’m not speaking ill of training courses (heck, I love showing others how to succeed), self-investment, or in writers who offer classes or programs—but when it’s your primary source of income then you haven’t really quit your dayjob to write… you just took an even more volatile dayjob that forces you to muddy up the Indie writing pool with some murky promises about what success looks like.
I’ve always been a big fan of hoping to be the exception but planning to be the rule. There are always the exceptions that we hear about, but the rule is far more likely. I read often about authors who made $10,000 in a month, but we rarely hear about how little they made in subsequent months. The internet is stuffed full of articles about authors who made the leap of faith and became wildly successful. Towards the bottom of so many of those articles you will find a tiny sales pitch about buying their seminar or services—that should be an indicator. One page, put up by an “Indie Publisher” who looks suspiciously like a vanity press claimed “it’s easy, quit your dayjob now and publish with us—follow out simple steps and be a huge success,” or something like that.
Quite certainly I am the unpopular voice in the room when I say “don’t.” There is at least some truth in the above statement that you need multiple streams of revenue to be successful and your dayjob is one of them. Until you’ve made the proper preparations and have achieved a certain amount of success do not put all of your eggs in one basket.
It’s certainly not what most people want to hear—but most people who write a book also want to be told that their book is “the best thing I ever read and I couldn’t put it down.” They want to be the exception rather than the rule. Really, most don’t want to hear, “I found a spelling/grammar error every third page or so, one of your supporting characters has no personality, and there are major plot-holes and inaccuracies in chapter eight.” That same sentiment carries over and is why we want to hear “you can do it! Quit now!” rather than the truth: this is actually hard work and takes a lot of planning, commitment, wisdom, and effort in order to succeed and profit margins will be razor thin for longer than you want to know.
One of the wisest pieces of advice I’ve received on the topic has been “don’t quit your dayjob until you can no longer adequately do both jobs well (and your writing is able to carry your financial burdens.)” I’d echo that sentiment. Until you are a proficient swimmer, don’t jump into the deep end without your floaties on.