Can you be a writer?

It’s easy to think of writers as a special breed of human, as profoundly gifted individuals who, through prodigious talent, star-defying luck, and the right connections manage to turn their love for the written word into a career.

This is, of course, partially true. It does take a modicum of talent, luck, and knowing people to establish a successful writing career. But these pale in comparison to the importance of working hard. Can you be a writer? I can’t answer that for you. What I can tell you is this: If you answer “yes” to the question, “Can you finish the book?” you can answer yes to the question, “Can you be a writer?”

But you, of course, know this. It’s pounded into you at writer’s conferences, on blogs, and in author interviews. Perhaps, for you, the more relevant question is, “Can you be a financially successful author?” After reading this fascinating article on Indie Plot Twist about the feasibility of making a living as an indie novelist, I’ve spent some time thinking about how our clients can move toward becoming full-time writers. Perhaps this has also been at the forefront of my mind because I’m in the midst of an important transition: As of July 23rd, I will be entirely self-employed, with all of my effort going into Quill Pen. It’s a great feeling.

This morning, I asked a question on our Facebook and Twitter pages: “What would it take for you to be able to write full-time?” At the time I’m writing this blog post, every single answer has centered on finances. This didn’t come as a surprise to me–in fact, it’s what I expected to hear. Most people are not in the position to quit their jobs to pursue a creative venture, especially knowing that their creative income may never match their corporate income. Some writers are blessed to be independently wealthy or to have a spouse who makes enough money to support their creative endeavors. Most are not quite there. But, it’s possible to get there with focused effort. Here are a few thoughts on how you can get yourself in the best position to pursue what you love.

1. Get your financial house in order.
Do you have a ton of debt? A shoestring emergency fund? Little to nothing in the way of retirement savings? You won’t ever be able to quit if you’re living paycheck to paycheck. Get yourself on a budget that you can stick with that allows you to pay off debt and save money. While I don’t agree with everything Dave Ramsey says, I swear by the baby steps in his Total Money Makeover. First step to work on while you’re waiting for the book to arrive? Save $1000 as a mini-emergency fund so that if something goes wrong, you can cash-flow it. You’ll want to be debt-free with at least a year’s worth of savings in an emergency fund and a fair start on retirement before you make the leap (and if you don’t have a spouse bringing in at least a little money, you’ll want more than that). It sounds daunting, but you can do it if you’re working from a written budget!

Also, realize that living the creative life may entail a few sacrifices. You might have to scale down from cable to Netflix (or, if you’re really hardcore, only watch the free stuff on Hulu). You may need to downsize into a more affordable mortgage. You could even sell some things you don’t use anymore to help beef up your emergency fund. Some creatives live in multi-million dollar mansions, but most of us who have successfully escaped Corporate America have done so by living simply. It’s a lot easier to live the creative life when you don’t have to worry about making a $2000/month mortgage.

2. Build your online platform.
Focus on building an online platform so that you can really build a buzz around your book launch. Indie writers get much better royalties on their books than traditionally-published authors do, so you don’t need to sell as many books to make a profit. Make sure that you have readers following your pages, and utilize them to get the word out about your book when the time comes.

However, don’t just sell your work online. Commit yourself to in-person self-marketing at signings and conferences, and try to network with readers in your area. You’re not just a writer. You’re a business owner. Take responsibility for marketing yourself.

3. Think about passive income streams.
As you’re building your platform, consider additional ways you can monetize it to help finance your writing career. If you’re linking to a book on Amazon, use an affiliate link so that you get a little money if someone purchases it. Scrivener also has a pretty good affiliate program. Don’t abuse affiliate links–you need to build trust with your followers, so only use an affiliate link on something you’d wholeheartedly recommend even if you didn’t stand to make a profit from it. Make sure to put ads on your blog (you really can monetize blogs without ads from those obnoxious scam sites) so that you’re compensated for all the hard work you put into it. (Don’t expect to make a ton of money from the blog, however. You’ll be slaving away at far less than minimum wage on it. You’re primarily using it to build your readership.)

4. Don’t give up the dream.
While you don’t want to jump off the cliff before you’re prepared, don’t live your life as if you’re stuck on a treadmill, unable to commit yourself wholeheartedly to the work you love. If you want to live the creative life, you can fight for it and make it happen. It might take a few years, but in the era of indie publishing, it’s far more feasible than it used to be. So roll up your sleeves and write. Join a writer’s group to help you hone your skills, work with an editor, whip your budget into shape, build your platform, monetize the internet to the best of your ability, and never give up. We believe in you. You’ve got this.

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