Four years ago today, on December 22, 2013, I left my day job as a psychologist to write full-time.
Today, I thought I’d look back and see what lessons I have learned since then and what things I wished I had known when I started. So here’s what I learned in the past four years:
1. It’s possible to make a living writing lesbian fiction
Lately, I’ve seen a lot of discussions about how hard—or even impossible—it is to make a living if you’re writing lesbian fiction. Going full-time as a writer was a big, scary step to take, and I wasn’t 100% sure I wouldn’t one day be forced to return to my day job.
Well, the good news is that it is possible to make living writing lesbian fiction. But I’m not going to lie—it’s not easy. It’s actually getting harder every year even though I thought it would get easier.
The publishing landscape is constantly changing. With “flat-rate” reading programs such as Kindle Unlimited, falling e-book prices, and more books being published every year, it’s becoming harder for each individual book to get the attention it needs to sell enough copies.
2. Patience is key
If you want to make a living with your writing, patience is key. For most writers, it won’t happen overnight. Writing is definitely a marathon, not a sprint. While some of my books sell better than others, it’s the size of my backlist that enables me to make a living as a writer. I currently have sixteen novels in English, eleven novels in German, and four nonfiction books available for sale.
3. It’s not enough to just write
When I was still working as a psychologist, I envisioned life as a full-time writer as eight hours of uninterrupted writing every day. But that’s not reality. Being a full-time writer doesn’t mean you write full-time. Even if you’re with a publisher, you’ll have to wear a lot of different hats. While setting aside time to write is vital, you also have to promote your books, network, and take care of the business side of writing.
This year, I spent endless hours rebuilding my three websites, and I spent about 200 hours in November and December putting together a Lesbian Book Bingo for readers.
4. Life as a full-time writer is a constant learning process
Writing for a living is a constant learning process. You have to learn not just about the writing craft, but also about marketing, social media, and the publishing industry, all of which are constantly changing and evolving. This year, I mastered Pinterest and Instagram; I learned more about how to build a reader newsletter, and I’m constantly trying to improve my writing and editing skills.
5. Having a day job is easier in a lot of ways
I know a lot of writers who wish they could give up their day jobs too so they could write full-time. And while I admit being able to write full-time is a dream come true for me, there’s something to be said for the security of a day job. You’re paid every month. You have weekends off.
As a full-time writer, I am working more hours than I ever did in my day job, yet my income is an unpredictable up and down.
Even with that said, it’s definitely worth it. I love my life as a full-time writer and wouldn’t change it for the world.
6. Be a professional
If you are asking readers to pay money for your books, you owe them a high-quality product—a book that has been professionally edited, proofread, and formatted. It’s no longer enough to write a story with a lesbian main character. We owe our readers the same standard of quality they would expect from a mainstream read.
If you interact with readers online or in real life, you owe them friendly yet professional behavior. That starts with the look of your website, and it also means you might want to avoid sending emails with a plethora of spelling mistakes or ranting about a bad review on Facebook.
7. Don’t rely on the muse
One thing that I learned early on when I went full-time was not to rely on my muse. Instead, I rely on building good writing habits—and sticking to them. If you want to make a living writing, you have to treat it like the job it is, and that means getting your ass in the chair and writing, even if you aren’t in the mood or you have a cold or the sun is shining outside.
If you want to make a living as a nurse, a plumber, or an accountant, you can’t afford to say, “Oh, I don’t feel inspired, so I can’t work today,” so as a writer, you shouldn’t sit around waiting for inspiration to strike either. Once I get started on a manuscript, I write every day.
8. Achieving a work/life balance is a constant struggle
My biggest struggle, however, isn’t not working enough—it’s working too much. If your job is also your passion, it’s hard not to be a workaholic. Plus I love helping other writers by beta reading, mentoring, and editing their work.
I’m still learning to say “no” more often. In January, for example, I’m scheduled to edit three manuscripts, in addition to translating Backwards to Oregon into German, writing a short story, and organizing the Lesbian Book Bingo, so I had to say “no” to taking on another mentee for the GCLS.
9. Don’t compare yourself to others
It’s tempting to compare yourself to other writers, especially when it comes to daily word counts. I see writers post about the 5,000 words they wrote today or about writing 1,200 words an hour, and it’s a little frustrating for me since I know I can’t produce word counts like that.
But I’ve learned not to compare myself to others. Their writing process might be totally different from mine, so the end result is too. Since I’m an editor, my first drafts tend to be very clean, and it’s only natural that it would take me longer.
10. You can’t do it alone
As a full-time writer, you need a network of supportive friends and family members.
I’m lucky to have amazing people in my life—my sister who proofreads my German novels; my friends who are always there to cheer me on; my beta readers who give feedback on the first drafts of my books; my fellow writers who help me work out plot problems, and thousands of loyal readers who buy my books and encourage me to write more.
Thank you for your support over these past four years!