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May 14, 2012 9:22 AM   Subscribe

Should I quit my job now that I am making more money as a self-published author?

I am a self-published author of a number of books, sold largely via Amazon KDP and B&N PubIt. It has taken a lot of hard work and time, but I am now at the point where my income from my writing is more than my income from my job. This is basically a dream come true for me, and it feels great! My wife and I are thinking of moving to another, nicer city, and to that end we have been saving money (about $14000 at the moment).

The caveat? I would have to quit my job, and it makes me nervous. No, that's not right. It makes me terrified. I'm afraid that my income from writing will dry up and I will be left without income to fall back on. My wife works in healthcare and her income alone is enough for us to live on in our current city, but if we move to the new city, our living expenses will go up about 25%. She feels that we would be fine and that I have no need to worry, but I feel as if I am risking throwing away our family's security to chase a stupid dream. Also, all my life I have struggled with feelings of worthlessness as I watched my peers achieve career success that seemed impossible to me, and now that I have a good job that has taught me valuable technical skills, I am afraid to step away from that to pursue a more serious writing career.

Some details: I make about $51K per year at my job. My wife makes about $75K per year at hers. My last three monthly cheques from Amazon have all been over $6000. My last six monthly cheques from Amazon have all been over $4000. My wife's work is in demand and she could find work in her field anywhere at the drop of a hat. My work is technical and specialized but there are places in the new city I could possibly find work if it came down to it. We have no children and have taken surgical steps to ensure that situation remains so. We are renters and likely will always be. I love writing, and I love the security of a regular paycheque. I enjoy my job for the most part. I hate the city I live in. From my point of view, the main draw of the job is a career, skilled work, and a regular paycheque. The main draw of writing is fun, excitement and the ability to keep my own hours and work when I like.

I apologize for this being so disjointed, but I am rather frazzled and this is quite a decision to make. We are not making it tonight or even this week but if we choose to have me quit and then move, we have to get the ball rolling on a number of things. So I ask, is it a bad idea to quit my job and write?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (27 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Congratulations, you're living the dream!

I wouldn't quit my day job, but I'd be looking for a new one in my new locale. I could be more flexible because my spouse has money coming in and Amazon is sending me checks.

Work for another couple of years at your day job in the new city. If you're really making a ton of dough, it's great! Bank it. Once you start making more than your job pays from writing, on a regular basis, that's when you know you can quit your day job.

Is your job something you can do on a contract or temp basis? That might be the answer too.

You don't have to decide right now, but I envy the fuck out of you man.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:29 AM on May 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

How closely do you follow all the current jockeying between Amazon, traditional publishers, and retailers? I've got a single self-pub job on Amazon myself, so I know how the model works, but I'm nowhere near the "quit my job" thoughts. However, judging by everything I'm seeing in the media, I have to wonder if we aren't going to see the whole self-publishing biz go through some serious convulsions over the next couple of years as the industry adjusts to the "new normal."

Do you feel like you have a good set of marketable skills if you need to jump back into the workforce? Have you amassed a decent savings cushion in case things go south?

You're much further along toward a dream I've only recently begun to consider, so massive kudos to you, sir. But yeah, I'd do a lot of "worst case scenario" planning if I were in your shoes, if for no other reason than peace of mind.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:32 AM on May 14, 2012

John Scalzi has good advice on this topic. This is just one of his blog posts about it. I'd search around a bit more. I don't think the financials really change if you're self-published vs. mainstream.

I'm in a similar position as a mainstream published author. I'll be tripling my income via writing over the next two years. I am not quitting my day job yet--it just doesn't feel like I have enough of a foundation to say that my career is in the bag.

Can you move to a cheaper city or the burbs instead? It seems to me that making a sacrifice like that, which will cut your living expenses, would make this much more feasible. It seems like to consider both ditching steady work AND increasing living expenses is taking a PRETTY BIG gamble. I wouldn't take it, but to each his own.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:33 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd enlist the help of professionals.

What springs to mind is I'd want to sit down with an accountant and figure out what your writing income really means and how it compares to your current job and potential prospects. Because at the moment, it's fun and the money is just extra income. A financial professional would help you get a feel for going into business for yourself, essentially.

Moreover, I'd talk to writers who are making it work as full-time writers. Contact other writers who are publishing full-time through Amazon and B&N and find out how it's working for them.

Lastly, I'd consult with people who have worked in small/home businesses. They have the experience to nail down these uncertainties that come with making your own paycheck.

The facts will focus you on the right things.
posted by Mercaptan at 9:35 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

First of all, congratulations on your success! That's just fantastic. People must be loving your books. Yay, you!

Okay, now the tough love:

Unless you can absolutely live on your wife's income without you contributing a dime, then now is not the time to quit your day job.

PhoBWanKenobi beat me with the Scalzi recommendation. You should be even more cautious with self-publishing than with a commercial publisher, because if you get ill or caught up in a family emergency and can't promote your books your backlist sales stream will suffer even more than if it was with a trade publisher.

The general rule of thumb for writers is that you shouldn't quit your day job until your writing income has equalled or surpassed your day job income for three years. Three years.

Maybe going part-time at your day job is a reasonable compromise? As long as the numbers work for you and your wife.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:38 AM on May 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

I would make it a function of my savings. When I had a full year or more of savings of your salary, then I would quite my day job if the publishing income is still flowing it at a decent rate.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:45 AM on May 14, 2012

Oh, also: taxes. Have you spoken to your account about your new freelance windfall? Are you paying quarterlies? Are you prepared for a big bill come tax time?

You should be. A check for freelance writing is not the same as a payroll check and you're going to be forking over money to Uncle Sam at some point to make up the difference that your employer would be paying.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:46 AM on May 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have a friend who quit his job to do exactly this.

He found out very quickly that the sales tend to be very whimsical, almost diabolical in the way they torment him. Some days his numbers would tank, some days they would be outstanding. He got frantic and wrote a bunch more to keep his numbers up since writing was paying his rent, only people noticed the lack in quality compared to previous volumes. Some months he made more than enough to live on, some months he made enough to go to a movie, some months he didn't make a damn thing. He could find no rhyme or reason to it and stared at his numbers like a doomed Poe or Lovecraft hero trying to divine sense from a nonsensical universe.

The lesson he's learned is that if you're going to do it full-time, you're essentially running a small business rather than just writing for fun and profit. If you want your income to grow or stay stable, you have to keep churning out new things. You have to promote yourself regularly to stay visible and keep customers coming in. You have to figure out how to optimize your web pages and social media presence for more purchases. There's a whole lot of not-writing that supports a writer making regular income. I know a lot of would-be writers that are horrified they have to learn about things like (gasp!) marketing and promotions rather than churning out prose for adoring fans. How comfortable are you with all these things?

What's the tax situation in new city? I do a lot of freelancing and so I pay my own taxes, but that also means I'm very Republican in trying to keep my taxes down. I currently live in Texas. I would prefer to live in California, but the mere fact of me moving to California means I'm making 3-5% less just to cover income tax on top of the cost of living increase. Something to consider when you're moving around.

You have, as they say, "fuck you" money coming in where you don't have to put up with any bullshit since you can theoretically support yourself with writing and your wife's income, but you seem to enjoy the notion of working. Why not keep plugging away on the writing thing, find a job you really like in the new city (and a lot of jobs are much more enjoyable when you can just walk away from them when you get sick of them), and stash the extra money for savings or travel or your eventual leap to writing full-time?
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:53 AM on May 14, 2012 [11 favorites]

I'm guessing from the combination of "cheque" and dollars that the OP is in Canada. Revenue Canada is, as I understand it, pretty enthusiastic about taxing sole proprietorships, so that's another piece to take into account. With an accountant.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:14 AM on May 14, 2012

Have you thought about the opportunity cost of leaving that job? By that I mean, let's say you leave this job=you get 8 hrs a day to work on building your "business". You could think of sequels to your book, target niche markets, tie up with other affiliates, promote your books etc. All that helps you to make more money.

Make a game plan on what activities you could do to increase your income by x% (you need definite numbers) and then see if it is doable or not. If you find that by leaving your job you could easily work and raise x amount of $$ then maybe you have a better argument there to leave
posted by pakora1 at 10:28 AM on May 14, 2012

OK, I'll take the other side of this. Yes, do it.

You have managed, while working full time, to establish and profit from your writing. Imagine what you could do while devoting yourself to it fully? You have a spouse who is ready, willing and able to pick up the slack during the transition. You are thoughtful, rigorous in your thinking, and responsible. You seem content with living well within, maybe even below, your means (no homeowner money pit to worry about). You're in an ideal position to seize your dream job -- very few opportunities like that present themselves in life. Yes, go for it.
posted by thinkpiece at 10:30 AM on May 14, 2012

I have thought about this kind of scenario a lot lately, though I'm not quite there yet.

The only really key question, IMO, is: How hard would it be to get another job later if you had to?

If the answer is, "not too hard" then by all means, go for it! The best case is you never work a shitty job again; the worst case is you get another job in a few months or years and maybe it's better anyway.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:39 AM on May 14, 2012

you seem to be in a really good position to try switching your day job to something more flexible - like working from home, or just 3 days a week - if there is any way that you could keep working part-time in your usual line of work, and make yourself more free time to write, you could get the best of both worlds
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 10:40 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, could you freelance at something, or work part-time if needed?

We all like to picture that, "I reached my dream, screw you boss! walk out with the middle finger in the air" moment, but sometimes phasing out the day job little by little may be more realistic.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:41 AM on May 14, 2012

Congratulations, and how wonderful that your wife is encouraging you to follow your dream!

I like the idea of part-time work, telecommuting, etc., if that's something you can negotiate. You'll have a lot less pressure on you if you can keep up a day job, but on your own terms, plus whatever benefits (like a 401k) your job offers that writing does not.

And yeah, I'd definitely see a financial advisor, because I'd be thrilled/terrified, too!
posted by misha at 10:58 AM on May 14, 2012

QUIT. Worst-case scenario, you have to significantly scale back your standard of living if things dry up with your self-published work. Unless you're indebted to the hilt or planning to live somewhere you can't afford, you should be able to get by in the United States on just your wife's pay. $75k is good money.

I spent more than a year agonizing over whether to quit my day job to focus only on my freelance writing, and had less in savings and less in side-job income when I finally took the plunge. Despite that, and the fact that we're having to be slightly more thoughtful about some of our expenses now that my pay is lower, it's the best, happiest, most rewarding professional decision I've ever made.

Most people who dream of writing should not quit their day jobs. They may not have the necessary skill as writers, they may just not have enough dedication and work ethic to make it work. But you have already proven that you can do this. Now put your happiness first and quit.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 11:15 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your 2 hours a day at $120 will not expand to 8 hours a day at $120.

I feel the current level, even boom, in ebook sales will slow down in a few years. Penetration of ebook readers has not hit max yet and new users are still enchanted by the new possibilities. There will be a slowdown or even a crash, imho. This could be 2 years or 3 or 5. I think shorter rather than longer.

Do not quit your day job unless you have enough saved to retire from the working world forever, or are certain you can find another job when the ebook bloom fades.
posted by caclwmr4 at 11:27 AM on May 14, 2012

Do not quit your day job unless you have enough saved to retire from the working world forever

Holy mackeral, that's crazytalk! And who's to say that the OP won't be able to adapt to whatever the next thing is, and the next, and the next in the ever-expanding world of content-creation?

"Each man should frame life so that at some future hour fact and his dreaming meet." - Victor Hugo
posted by thinkpiece at 11:38 AM on May 14, 2012 [7 favorites]

I think you kind of have to go for it.

But here's the deal. Be prepared for the possibility that it may not work out. Five years ago, I sold a screenplay that let me quit my day job. (I also had substantial savings in the bank at the time.) These days, I'm still working as a writer, but my savings have taken a big hit, and I do a lot of freelancing for my previous employers to make ends meet. It is possible I may have to go back to the office full-time in the future.

Having said that, I don't regret my decision at all.
posted by roger ackroyd at 12:13 PM on May 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

Wow, go you!

If I were you, I would start planning to do this.... but plan to do it in another six months or so, after you've had a year of steady writing income, and you've banked most of it. I would not feel comfortable making this move without at least $40,000 in the bank.
posted by bq at 1:13 PM on May 14, 2012

It does not make sense to quit your day job and move to a new city where your wife's salary couldn't support the both of you. Either quit and stay put for the time being or look for work in the new city.
posted by 6550 at 1:29 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

It sounds like this is a great opportunity for you to take a stab at making this a full-time gig. No kids, no mortgage down payment to save up for, your wife has a good job in what appears to be a stable industry, you dislike where you currently live.

Do it!
posted by benbenson at 2:27 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't forget that your wive's wages may invrease if she were to find another job in the big city.
posted by KogeLiz at 5:01 PM on May 14, 2012

posted by KogeLiz at 5:01 PM on May 14, 2012

From a purely financial perspective, I don't think it is possible for you to quit your day job. I am not your financial planner, and don't have complete access to your finances, but from what you have shared quitting your job would be a bad move.

You say that you have saved 14,000$ towards moving, but then say that you have earned over 20,000$ in the past six months from Amazon. As far as I can tell that means you are currently spending more than you and your wife's combined salaries right now. You also mention moving to a new city that is about 25% more expensive, which leads me to believe that you would barely be able to make ends meet there with two full time salaries plus your extra pay.

Since I don't know all of your financial details this is just conjecture, but remember it is incredibly hard to change financial habits, and, in general, no one wants to 'downsize' their life. On top of that, moving to a new city will probably be more expensive than expected as you will not only have to resettle, but it will take time to find cost effective ways of comfortably living (inexpensive markets, moderately priced good restaurants, etc.).
posted by Literaryhero at 7:05 PM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Feel free to move cities, but keep a day job, even at reduced hours.

I don't remember where I got this number (please correct me if I'm being forgetful), but I think only 2% of all traditionally published writers can afford to live off their writing. The self-pub stats are the same or less. That means 98% or more of all writers making money off their writing will always have day jobs.

You may be making money now, but will you be making money in 1 year? 3 years? Or 10? Readers are fickle, popular genres change all the time, and until you've amassed a fan base that have given you a reliable source of income over the duration of many years and several very different releases, keep a day job. It's good that your wife has has such such an in-demand job, but will that also be the case in 10 years? What would happen if she were to fall ill?

I'm not saying that you shouldn't dedicate more time to writing--you can, especially when you're making lots of money from it. But transition to part-time/telecommuting day job work, rather than quitting it altogether, because it's easier to transition to full-time work if you need that money again.
posted by Hawk V at 7:56 PM on May 14, 2012

Do it.

I have about a quarter of my office salary coming in from a business that has similar sale model as yours. I'm even looking into doing self published books as a tie in to my existing business. So my plan is to be in a position where I would be able to consider the same thing you are considering. However we have no intention of moving any time soon so even when I'm in that position, I may not quit.

But the bottom line is that you guys think you'll be happier in a new city, so you want to quit anyway. So quit, then work on your business (that's what this is, as others have said) and give it a real honest shot. Spend all your working hours creating new material, revising old material, interacting with your customers (a forum or blog), just generally growing your business.

If it doesn't work out, keep trying.

If it really doesn't work out, get a new job then.

Make sure you save as much as you can from your business and that taxes are covered. That's all I personally would worry about, but your accountant may have other advice.
posted by airways at 5:04 AM on May 16, 2012

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