The Unpredictable Nature of a Writing Career

Photo credit: free pictures of money on Flickr
A few days ago, a coworker asked me about a writing career. "You don't have to answer this if you don't want to," she said, "but in terms of a writing career, do you think the money's, like...worth it?"

I laughed a little.

The unpredictable nature of a writing career means when it comes to making a living, it's hard to lay out long-term plans. A writer's income comes from advances and royalties—neither of which are predictable. How many deals you'll get, and how much the advances from those deals will be, what kind of rights you sell, and how long it takes to earn out your advance (so you can start getting royalties), etc. all vary really widely.

There are, of course, other streams of income a writer can pursue—appearances at conferences, schools, and libraries can bring in speaking fees and extra book sales, and signing copies at local bookstores can boost sales, and writers with a penchant for editing can offer freelance editing services. But even those things aren't steady, predictable work—events come and go and how much they pay vary, and you can't predict when someone will hire you for a project or an event.

For someone like me who is very plan and schedule-oriented, that my chosen career is so unpredictable in terms of supporting myself complicates matters. This is why a lot of writers pick up full time jobs unrelated to writing—for them, the security of having a steady paycheck to pay the bills frees up mental stress that makes creativity easier. It's also why many writers writing full time (or trying to) also pick up part-time jobs to help make ends meet every month.

When I try to imagine what life might look like in 2018 or 2019, it can be hard to guess much of anything. Right now, the only thing that's certain is what I know: that I'm contracted to publish a book a year until Fall 2018. That in and of itself has given me some peace of mind, because I've got at least two definite projects on the horizon that I'll get to share with the world. But will there be more? The truth is I have no idea what 2017 holds for me in terms of other book sales or plans down that road.

The truth is, a writing career is incredibly unpredictable. With so many factors out of our hands—from what sells on submission, to how much it sells for, to how it performs in the market (which then affects book deals in the future)—what's important is to work on what we can control—the writing—and hope for the best with everything else.

"Well, you don't go into writing for the money," I told my coworker, and it's true. But as unpredictable as a writer's career is, I couldn't be more grateful for the opportunity to do what I love and get paid to do it, even if I don't really know where it will take me in the next couple years. Money aside, it's worth it to me to do something I love, even with a lot of uncertainty along the way.

Twitter-sized bite:
Making a living as an author can be complicated. @Ava_Jae writes about the unpredictable nature of a writing career. (Click to tweet)

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