Be a Full-Time Writer – How to Make the Transition from Part-Time

What’s your idea of the day-to-day life of a full-time writer?

Mine was getting up when I wanted (which has always been pretty early), walking to my local coffee shop, reading the newspaper, then jumping into an exciting assignment. Do you know what? That’s pretty much how it turned out.

Here’s how it happened for me, and I’m hoping my path will give you ideas for walking your own.

Have a Clear Goal

My goal was to write for magazines then eventually get a book contract.  Instead of blanketing the world with query letters I focused on areas I knew well or where I knew I had good resources:

  • medicine
  • travel
  • history
  • genealogy
  • San Diego
  • computers
  • astronomy

Even then, I tailored my initial queries to magazines I knew well or to editors I had met at two writer’s conferences. My very first assignment was a behind-the-scenes look at a doctor’s office. (You can read more about it here).  Getting one article accepted gave me the confidence to get multiple queries out every week. The second article came quickly, then the third, fourth, and I was on my way.

Initially the money flow was iffy. Some magazines pay on acceptance (my favorites) and some pay on publication. If the latter, that meant I could wait a good six months before getting paid. Not a great way to have a dependable income so I concentrated on magazines that paid on acceptance.

Your Take Away

Whether you want to write for magazines or websites or well-known blogs, or be a ghostwriter, get clear about your long-term goal. Ask yourself:  Does this particular project get me closer to my goal?

Next, keep an idea notebook listing all the stuff that interests you and all the stuff that interests your friends and family because they can be a great resource. It’s okay for your goal to be specific, for example knowing exactly what magazine or website you want to work for, or knowing the niche you want to dominate.

And, if you need instant income, don’t focus on projects that will pay six months to a year after completion.

Be Proactive

My first book contract came from a personal hobby. It may sound weird to you, but I belonged to AAVSO (American Association of Variable Star Observers). As part of the program I counted sunspots using a solar filter and my small telescope. I won’t bore you with the details of why I did it (!), but what I do want you to know is that I approached the head of the sunspot program about co-authoring a book on solar observing for amateurs. He said yes and I went to work looking for a possible publisher.

I queried the publisher of other amateur astronomy books. My query letter wasn’t a full-blown proposal; rather it was a brief letter giving him background and the idea, asking if he’d like to see a proposal. He phoned me, asked questions, I put together a proposal and we did the book.

I eventually ended up doing a second book for this publisher, this time written with my friend David Cortner.  David is a fabulous astrophotographer – check out his site if you want to see some stunning images.

Around the same time I started writing for a history magazine. I noticed their website lacked any interesting information, so proposed that I write a daily blurb on “this day in history”. They accepted the idea and I started a consistent stream of freelance income that lasted nearly two years.

Your Take Away

Be proactive! If you want to write for the web, analyze your favorite websites to find a way that your writing can add value to the site. Have a hobby that would make a good book? Write a book proposal or query letter. Until you get established, editors will not come to you.

Once you are established in a specific niche, editors – especially the ones you’ve worked with – actually will come to you. My last three traditionally published books were the result of the editors coming to me.

Know How Much Money You Need (and Have a Backup)

Do you know exactly how much money you need to make the transition to full-time writing? I knew how much money I needed to make in order to go full-time. Now I just had to calculate how many articles I had to sell each month to meet that goal. At that point it was a simple math problem.

For example, if you need $3000 a month to quit your job, you know that you have to generate that much income each month, on average. That could come from various sources:

  • $800 Kindle books
  • ten web articles at $100 each
  • two magazine articles at $500 each
  • $200 in Fiverr.com gigs

By plotting out how much you need and how you potentially can reach that goal you have a baseline you can check weekly to stay on target.

Your Take Away

Calculate your exact needs, then calculate the variety of projects that can meet those needs month-after-month. And realize that your income may vary greatly over the course of a year. For example, you may get a book advance for a small niche publisher that covers your $3000 for the month, or you may have a $1000 month. Do you know how you’ll make up the difference on the down months?

This is why you need a backup plan. Some authors suggest having a year’s income in savings before launching into full-time writing. I can’t speak to that because I don’t know your specific financial situation. You may have a spouse whose income is your backup; you may have parents who will kick in and help.

Final Thoughts

Actually I have a lot of final thoughts but the ones that I think will help you the most are these:

  1.  Don’t chase the latest and greatest topics based on what some software guru tries to sell you.  Write what feeds your soul as well as your bank account.
  2. Read, read, read! If you want to write for a magazine read several copies. Trust me on this one; the editor will appreciate it if you can reference something from a past issue or what’s already been on the website.
  3. Think about added value. How can you add value to an existing website with your writing?
  4. Educate yourself on your craft, the marketplace, marketing, SEO, and social media.
  5. Enjoy the life. Don’t let disappointment or rejection de-rail you. You have chosen a great life – so get out there and live it.

Let me know if you have any questions about going full-time. I’m happy to add more to this blog post. Leave a comment with your question.

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