Being a Full-Time Writer is the Worst Job
Buckle Up for Some Tough Love
I am still editing my book but the finish line is in sight! I’ve been mulling this extremely hot take for a while, though, and just had to get it out to you today.
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I know many of you long to be a full-time writer. To have no side gigs or day jobs and just sit at your keyboard and write books all day. You might even know that it’s a hard job to get—and to keep—but still long for the day you don’t have to squeeze in writing at 5am and 9pm, and can tell your boss to take this day job and shove it.
Sorry, but I’m here to burst your bubble. Being a full time writer is the worst job ever.1 Here’s why.
No Salary: When you’re a full time writer, you don’t get a salary. I know you’re thinking but Kate, what about the book advance? Yes, that is your payment for writing a book, but it’s not a salary. You’ll get checks on ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ schedule in ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ amount, and there’s no guarantee you’ll make that next year, either.
No Stability: You might sell one book, maybe two, or three! But after that? There’s no job security or stability. I have full time writer friends who’ve been writing for more than a decade talk about getting a day job just so they can stop worrying about pitching their next book or guessing what the next royalty payment will be. Yes, you can pivot to other genres if something isn’t working but there’s no guarantee for anyone, anywhere.
No benefits: No health insurance, no 401k, no paid holidays. You have to buy all the snacks in the break room. Your schedule is flexible, which is the best perk of the whole gig, but when you can work anytime, you end up working all the time. You have to be your own manager and dictate your own working hours. If you don’t finish your work on time, your boss will be so mad. (You’re the boss.)
No job description. You might think your job is writer, but in fact, it’s also accountant, HR, admin, social media manger, research & development, professional development, marketing, publicity, travel agent, oh, and writer. Many writers who go full-time lament all the things they have to do that aren’t writing, but that’s just the job these days. Should publishers do more of these things? Yes, but everyone’s over extended (including you). You are a better social media manger for yourself, anyway. The publisher sucks at the job for you. Can you hire experts to help? Yes, but they come out of your salary.
No ladder to climb. Your advances might go up as your career progresses, or not. Your books might get more publicity, better marketing, fancier covers, or not. You might get sent on nationwide tours and cash big royalty checks, or not. There’s no ladder to climb that takes you from one level of writer to another. It’s more like Chutes & Ladders—sometimes you land on the square that takes you right to the top of the board and sometimes you slide right back down to where you started.
Really Harsh Performance Reviews: You think your last performance review was bad? I once saw a book review that said this kids’ book about bugs “should have been squashed.” OUCH. A professional review! Not a Goodreads review! These are your performance reviews when you’re a full time writer, and they can come anytime, from anyone, oh and people might tag you to make sure you see them.
I could go on, but I think you get the point. I know this is depressing! I know you’re mad reading this, that you think I’m being unfair, that this might happen to some writers, but it’s not going to happen to you. You might think you can avoid these pitfalls with sheer grit and yes, I hope you can. If you’ve experienced some of these things, you might feel like it was your fault, or the publishers fault or some other reason out of your control. And you might be right! But the truth is that everyone’s susceptible to these things, even if you’ve hit The List, even if you’ve sold a million copies, even if you get a movie made of your book. It doesn’t last forever. There’s no pension for successful writers, no not even those royalties that may roll in for the rest of your life. Maybe sometimes that happens, but there’s always a day when the checks go from $32,000 to $3,200 to $32.00.
So, what do you do in the face of all this, instead of tell me fuck off? Should publishers pay writers more? Of course I agree! Should the government support artists? YES. Should real estate developers be so heavily taxed that they have to sell all their holdings and the market is flooded with affordable housing, nationwide? Y E S. But on top of all that, you should think about your writing career with open eyes. If you want to write full time, remember that your job is not only writing, but all that annoying other stuff, too. That there’s no clear path and no guarantees. If you don’t do well with insecurity or instability (and whomst among us) then you have to consider what you need to do on top of writing books to bring that security and stability in your life. Will it eat into your writing life? Yes. Will you be more creative and productive if you aren’t worrying about rent money? Probably.
I know it’s not as easy as saying oh I’ll just go out and get a high paying part-time job with a flexible schedule that will give me two weeks off for book tours. I know that’s not how it works. That is ALSO unfair! I have no solutions here. That’s why writing full time sucks so much! It’s not fair and it’s not equitable and there’s no easy solution! The point of this newsletter today is to make sure you’re aware of the realities of this profession so you can decide for yourself if it’s worth it for you. Writing books is wonderful. Reading amazing books others have painstakingly written is bliss. The world needs art and artists and books and writers and thinkers. But it’s not easy. And you deserve to know that, to understand that, and to not be misled by what you might infer from TikToks and movies.
I want million dollar advances and lifelong bestsellers for all of you. But more than that I want you to understand how the system works, so you can make the best decision for yourself. You might not get to be a full-time writer. I know I will never be. That doesn’t mean you or I have failed. And that doesn’t mean writing can’t be our passion. Sometimes it’s ok to make your passion your job. And sometimes it’s not.
With tough love XOXOOXOXX,
Yes, I am aware there are actually way, way, WAY worse jobs than being a full time writer. You don’t need to roll up in the comments and well actually this. Just go with the conceit of this newsletter, in the context within which it was intended.