Monday, August 27, 2007

My "Living" Portfolio

This is a bit of a vent. It might be useful, if you’re considering a life without a day job. It might not. And it’s a long post. I could be wrong about things, but this is just my experience, my research, my knowledge. Just warning you.

This weekend was frustrating. My frustration really started a week ago, when I watched my pseudonym sit down and just write. She writes so easily in comparison to my real name. Just gets the job done, and loves it.

My real name has struggled. Part of my problem, is that I’m seeing NY as this big, horrible beast who makes it impossible to make a living. So when real name sits down to write, she’s constantly fretting about breakout this and good enough that and this may not make any money.

So when a post about getting to NY, making it, and getting screwed over was posted again, it was the last straw. (All I’ve read lately are negative posts!) I’m having enough trouble handling the pressure I’m putting on myself, not to add to it everyone saying that once you make it, you’re almost definitely going to get screwed!

And when I posted on a group in my frustration, begging for something positive, hoping for some wisdom, a bunch of unpublished writers just told me not to quit my day job!

Okay, that’s funny today. In the midst of a frustration freak-out, it just irked the heck out of me.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe every single pitfall and every single horror story.


This morning, I had a good talk with myself. My pseudonym and my musician sat down with my real name, lent some perspective. And it was such a relief to read Making A Living As A Writer and Mark Terry’s List of Helpful Posts.

Fact is, I’ve had a day job for a whole six months of my life. Um, actually, five months. So I fantasize about a day job, because, you know, the grass is always greener.

But the grass isn’t really greener, because if it were, I’d’ve hopped over the damn fence. Don’t misunderstand me, for many people, a day job is wonderful. It’s their life, their lifestyle.

It’s not mine. I fantasize about health insurance, about no self-employment taxes, about a regular income and a steady paycheck. It’d be wonderful to know exactly how much money will come in next month, and not a round-about figure.

But the truth is, I can’t imagine a life where you can’t sit around dreaming up ways to make more money. I can’t imagine a life where I’m limited to one, single venue in which to depend on, for the roof over my head. I can’t imagine a life where someone else sets my schedule, where I have to report to someone, deal with someone who could fire me and leave me without any means to make money. Where I can’t decide when to go on vacation, how many weeks I want to work at what, how much time I want to spend on this project or that. My whole livelihood is not in the hands of a company that doesn’t care at all about me.

Quitting a day job is not a big deal. It’s just another choice in one’s life. It’s a life of constantly being creative with your business planning, a life of loving to think up different ways to make money. It’s a life of variety. It’s a life of not-so-much security, but not as little security as a day job. After all, you’re not going to fire yourself. And there’s always something to do to make money, if you’re creative.

For some bizarre reason, people working a day job think that "success" is doing one thing. I’ve made that mistake. I let myself make myself crazy, teaching music all the time, because I bought into the whole idea that you’re a success if you can make your living from just such-and-such.

When my pseudonym, my musician, and my real name sat down, we had a good laugh about that. We laughed at ourselves, because we all have bought into that ridiculousness at various stages of our lives.

See, a self-employed freelance life is like investing. You’d be absolutely nutso to invest in only ONE stock. You’d be an idiot to put all your eggs in ONE basket.

The safer you want to make your money, the more you need to diversify.

Sometimes this means that I work all the time, on a ton of different projects. But kids don’t seem to be in my crystal ball, and what else am I going to do?

And anyway, I’m not really spending my life working. I’m spending my life doing exactly what I choose to do. I can choose to work less. I can choose to work more. I can choose to play some, teach some, write some, and that’s cool.

And I get to make money from it.

A life without a day job is like the stock market. Diversifying is the key. (Okay, that’s the only thing I know about the stock market, so take my analogy with a couple grains of salt.) When someone doesn’t pay me from teaching, writing saves me. When writing falls through, music saves me. When one publisher disappears, the other one magically needs something.

This means I’m oftentimes overwhelmed by the sheer number of baskets I’m
balancing, but that’s cool.

I’m diversified. Diversification, in itself, is a security. Did you see Shakespeare in Love? Well, there’s a great quote, where it’s a few days before opening night for the play, and the financers are freaked out, wondering how things are ever going to come together in time.

The director just shrugs, laughs, and says, "It’s a mystery!"

Self-employment is like that. Things just work out. One way or the other.

With a day job, if you get fired, laid off, quit, whatever, you’re pretty much screwed until you find another job. Not so, with self-employment, if you’re diversified.

Whenever I decide to pursue a project, I have to weigh the risk, the possible profit, the possibility of failure, the time involved, and the impact on my other projects. Everything’s a calculation.

I’ve downright failed, at times. I’ve made mistakes. But they were my mistakes, my choices. I’m making money for me. I’m making my life, I’m making my decisions. I’m not making money for someone else, growing someone else’s business. I get to make all the decisions, whether I fail terribly or whether it’s a good call.

To me, deciding to query NY isn’t just a dream, it’s a calculated risk. I try to see how pseudonym name’s writing compares (she’s not a good judge; she really doesn’t know), I try to look at other people’s failures and other people’s mistakes, analyze the cost/benefit ratio, and I try to get a handle on the reality of NY.

So what frustrates me, lately, is the impossibility of getting a reasonable grasp of the reality, because the only people who are dishing out reality are the ones with bad experiences. I hear PLENTY of people complain about sub-5,000 advances who never earn out their advances, but I hear nothing else, UNLESS it’s the huge sales that are a bit like a lottery win.

Sure, I buy lottery tickets, but they don’t figure into my business planning, LOL.

Writing is how I live my life. I’m not gonna dream about it, I’m just gonna do it. And if my pseudonym is the only one who can make money, fine. NY isn’t a dream for me, it’s like ... a potential investment for my life portfolio. It looks like it’s got a higher risk, but a better return for my time and energy.

Getting a book published in NY? I bet I know exactly what it’ll be like. It’ll be hundreds and hundreds of hours of writing, probably a big bit of stressing, and another ton of promoting, some money, and somewhere in there, there will be about twenty hours of flying high and about an hour of squeals. Sure, there’s a dream element, but ...

If only my pseudonym writes, fine. I’m writing. If I looked at my writing and thought I wasn’t ready for NY, I would wait. I’d figure up the costs of continued education, practice, time, and weigh them with the possible gains in the future. And when I think of when to write that NY novel, I have to look at my budget (both of money and time) and factor in the rest of my "portfolio" obligations and possible earnings.

I assume (going on pseudonym’s career, LOL) even NY-published authors who are living exclusively on writing novels are diversified: several novels making royalties, some current contract/s, probably future novels. They’ve got to consider past royalties, the pattern of their past royalties and guesstimate on future royalties, past contracts, current contracts, probable future contracts. Consider the worst-possible scenario, the dream scenario, and the most likely scenario. Consider if they want to diversify further, or focus more of their energy in one direction, etc.

Living without a day job means that you’ll sometimes fail, sometimes make wrong choices, sometimes trip on a streak of luck, sometimes plod along a nice, predictable road.

So NY. Yes, my real name expects to make money from NY, just as much as Donald Trump expects to make money from everything he invests in. I might not, and I know he doesn’t. It might be another failure, something I’d try to invest again in
another year or two. Or maybe it’ll never happen.

It doesn’t matter. I’m diversified. And I’m living my life my way, on my own terms. That’s the joy of living a life without a day job.

So, if you want to quit your day job, just do it. Just diversify, plan, calculate, and do it. It’s not the end of the world, LOL. If you fail, you think up more venues to make money. You create your own jobs, make your own corner in your field.

And, for goodness sake, if someone asks, don’t tell them to not quit their day job! Everyone has to choose their own life.

5 bonus scribbles:

Edie 8/28/2007 08:39:00 AM  

I've been in a critique group of 8 writers for 3 or 4 years (I'll have to check, lol). During that time, 6 of us have went from unpubbed to pubbed. Four were pubbed by NY biggies (one is a NY Times bestseller!). Another is pubbed by Harlequin and another by Samhain.

Two of us are still sending out, but it will happen. I've seen lightning strike for the others, and I know it will happen to me.

It will happen to you too, Natasha.

As for stories, go to the Authors' Journeys on You'll see a lot of writers who were sending out and sending out ... and then The Call came. :)

spyscribbler 8/28/2007 09:38:00 AM  

That's a great site, and I love the stories!

But see, they're part of the problem. I'm not going to write eighteen novels for myself, not when my pseudonym can nearly make a living at it, you know?

I don't write for myself. I write for readers. Not just for, but to communicate with my readers. I just want them to accept themselves, as corny as that sounds. But that's why I sit down and write.

It's all a struggle, I guess. I suppose the whole ease at which pseudonym writes has made me question everything. It's frustrated me, it really has!

Edie 8/28/2007 11:54:00 AM  

You'll have to find your own way, Natasha. I think of Allison Brennan who had a full-time day job and five kids--one a baby!--and she made it. If she can do it, so can we.

Kate S 8/28/2007 11:16:00 PM  

Thanks for this, Spy. I recently quit my day job (last day is Friday) to try the self-employment/live your dreams route. It's scary. However like you said - diversity is the key. I recommend the book "Making a Living Without a Job" - it gave me the courage to try.

And I figure, hey, if it doesn't work out, I can always temp until something else comes up. You're right - it all does seem to work out somehow.

spyscribbler 9/01/2007 12:20:00 PM  

Yeah, Edie. I just gotta put my blinders on.

Oh, Kate! Good luck! Do you know, you made a post about that book awhile back, and I saved it? "The Power of Hope," I think you called it. :-) It's in your folder in my blog reader, LOL, so I read a new post of yours. I've searched for that book, but I need to order it, I think.