Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Don’t Quit Your Day Job

All writers wait for the day they get that big fat advance/royalty check so they can take this job and shove it.

It’s the dream after all. But when is that day exactly? How much money is enough to quit the day job?

Most writers, truly, will not have to worry about answering this question. The good majority of authors out there will never earn enough from fiction writing alone to quit the day job. That’s a basic fact.

But what if?

The big “what if” happened last year for one my authors. Beyond her wildest expectations, she got a “significant deal” advance. A week later, her novel was optioned by Disney. Serious money on the table. Her head was spinning because all the writer dreams were coming true.

First thing out of my mouth when I called to announce the news, “don’t quit your day job.”


Call me fiscally conservative but I think the answer to the above question is only when your back-end royalties make in a year what you need to live on and to live well. Until that day, I wouldn’t be so reckless as to quit the day job and I caution my authors to do the math as well. (Now if her movie option is actually purchased and the work goes into production… well, then we can revisit the whole “quit the job” notion.)

A big fat advance check will only last so long. What does your day job make in a year? 20k, 40k, 100k? More? Less? Even if the advance is large, it will only last a couple of years (minus agent commission and tax payments). What about health insurance and that yearly cost? Retirement plan?

What if the book never earns out the advance and is a big dud? Ugh. What a nightmare but it’s still a reality that should be contemplated. It’s really hard to get another book deal if the first one doesn’t match expectations. Not impossible. But hard and the money certainly won’t be the same second time around.

That day job is looking better and better!

My author was cautious. She hasn’t quit her day job (although she has been asked by a number of people about when she plans to). In fact, she wrote and mailed the estimated Federal tax check to the IRS practically on the same day she received the money (smart girl—the last thing you want to do is get into tax debt with the IRS—although some very successful authors have horror stories of not being as fiscally wise in their heady younger days).

So, unless your royalties are second income, or you are used to living off peanuts, or don’t care about retirement, I wouldn’t quit your day job.