When I announced on Twitter last year that I had quit my job to become a full-time author and editor, it felt like I went viral.
I didn’t actually, but the tweet got hundreds of likes and dozens of congratulations*–more than I’d ever received on anything before.**
But amongst all those ‘that’s awesome, congrats!’ and ‘good luck!!’, there was one comment that… shall we say deflated my excitement a little?
It was short. It was ‘SO lucky!’
The reason it annoyed me is because luck had nothing to do with it. BUT it did show me one thing:
There’s a big misconception around what you need to ‘make it’, whatever that means to you.
I’ve been full-time self-employed for a little over six months now, and while I love it and would rather cut off a limb than go back to working for someone else, it’s definitely not for everyone.
Think you might like to go the self-employment route? Here are a few things you’ll want to consider first.
Disclosure: I’m not a pro in any way. I didn’t study business at university. This post is based on my own experience after six months of being self-employed.
*I felt downright famous, friends.
**Just goes to show that, if you want to be popular on social media, you have to quit your job. Shame we can’t do that every time, eh?
Have a Financial Safety Net
It sounds like the most obvious thing–of course you’ll need money, you have bills after all!–but hear me out. Have you thought about how much money you’ll really need every month?
In my experience, people fall into one of three brackets:
Those who think they need a fortune
You definitely don’t need a fortune, so that’s good news! You do need a financial safety net, but it may not need to be as big as you think.
Have a look at your monthly expenses–things like food and bills–and add them up. Then add a little more, just in case something goes wrong.
Those who don’t realise how much they really need
It’s super easy to make this mistake, because there’ll always be something you didn’t consider, no matter how well prepared you are.
You’ve calculated how much money you need every month for your regular expenses, but what about other things you may need money for?
What if your car breaks down?
What if the cost of your bus pass goes up?
What if your dog gets sick and needs surgery?
What if you get sick and need surgery?
What if there’s a leak and you need to call a plumber to fix the mess?
What if your boiler stops working?
What if the client that promised to hire you in two months decides not to?
It’s unlikely all of those will hit you–maybe you’ll get lucky and none of them will!–but chances are something will happen. Will you be all right when it does?
Build your financial safety net a little thicker than you think you need, just in case. Maybe you won’t need it, but if you do, you’ll be grateful you have it, and a little extra never hurt anyone!
Those who actually are prepared for every eventuality
You might think that’s you–I thought it was me too, until I quit on a difficult client and another, large project was delayed, meaning I lost out on two payments I’d been sure I’d get–but in reality only a small percentage falls into this category.
To be honest, I have my doubts that anyone really falls into this one. There’s always something we didn’t see coming, isn’t there?
Unless you have several thousand quid to spare, chances are it’ll get a little rough sooner or later. Are you ready for that?
Expect the Lows and Steel Yourself
Since I went full-time self-employed, it has amazed me several times how fast I can go from ‘shitshitshit’ to ‘everything is fine’.
It can get tough for your nerves fast.
To use myself as an example:
Last December, I expected to have a returning client (let’s call them Author 1) and edit their book, say, around April/May.
I expected to have another returning client (let’s call them Author 2) this month and start their developmental edit.
Author 1 turned out to be a nightmare to work with, so I walked away rather than take more of their money. Yes, I could have done with the payment, but I decided to put my mental health first.
It wasn’t an easy decision (even though it should have been), but I can’t work if I suffer a mental breakdown. Neither can you, so never put your health second.
Author 2 wasn’t quite ready, so we decided to do a smaller (and much cheaper) manuscript critique first, so we can figure out what’s missing from their book before we tackle the developmental edit.
So, while I did have money come in from Author 2, it was nowhere near as much as I had expected. Say, including both authors, roughly 1k less?
Add to that my SO’s graduation, his birthday, and that my own book is ready for my editor (who–you guessed it–also needs to be paid), and I hit the ‘shitshitshit’ part of this business.
But then another author hired me for this month, another booked me for next month, and yet another said they’d send me more money because I work hard and deserve it (and, let me tell you, my heart has never been as full as it was when I read their message), and suddenly I’m at ‘everything is fine’.
This change happened over night.
Equally, I know that nothing is stopping the authors who have booked me from changing their minds, or from telling me they need another month or two before they’re ready.
I could hit ‘shitshitshit’ again with just one email or two.
Being full-time self-employed is my dream, but it’s also a roller coaster. Are your nerves ready for that?
Have a Backup Plan
My goal is to be a full-time author. Until that happens, I’m unlikely to make enough money from my books alone to pay the bills every month.
(We can talk about why people might not be buying your book another time!)
Depending on your main goal (and I’m guessing it’s to be an author, since you’re on this blog), you might struggle to make enough money for years too.
So, how else can you bring in money?
Now, you might think, ‘But Sarina, if I get a side hustle instead of actually being a full-time author, why not just stay in my current job?’
For me, being an author, editor, and self-publishing coach (and freelance academic writer, as of this week!) is much preferable to being hassled by spoiled students who think they’re entitled to more rights than all other students in the bloody university.
(oh, the stories I could tell you!)
Since you’re reading this post, I imagine there’s something about your current situation you’d like to change, so consider this:
Would you rather be your own boss and work from home during hours you set, or continue as you are?
I still have to split my time, but instead of splitting it between working on my books in the morning and working at the library in the afternoon (where I tried to cram in as much blogging and editing work as I could find free moments), I split it between working on my books and blogs in the morning and working for my authors in the afternoon.
It’s more relaxed, and I haven’t felt like I don’t have enough time for everything since January. There are moments, of course, but it doesn’t compare to the near-panic I had last year!
The thing I struggled with the most before I left my job was time. I only worked part-time at the library (5 1/2 or 6 hours a day, depending on the day), so I did have the mornings to work on my books and editing jobs, but it was hard, and I take my hat off to all of you who are making this work while working full-time.
There was never enough time to do all the things I wanted.
I neglected my blog.
I had to take my editing jobs to the library with me, working on them a sentence at a time whenever I could.
I’d print my drafts and sit at the query desk with a highlighter and red pen, so I could cut and take notes whenever the students left me alone for a minute.
The deadlines I’d set myself were forever taunting me.
I’ve never had a panic attack, but I think my super supportive SO would agree that I came close a few times.
How do you avoid it?
You may not like to hear it (I know I struggled to accept it), but you may need to give something up so you can focus on reaching your goal.
There’s really only one thing to consider: your end goal. What do you want to be? What do you want to achieve?
If something else you’re working on doesn’t actively help you get there, it might be best to take a break from it while you focus on the thing you really want.
I know it’s not easy to hear, but think about it this way:
If you focus on the one thing you want more than anything else now, you’ll get there faster.
I’m not saying you need to set this other thing aside forever–just until you’ve ‘made’ it and can re-evaluate where your time can go.
You don’t need to quit the thing. You’re just taking a temporary break, so you’ll have more time for it in the long run.
Still not convinced? Consider this:
Would you rather do two things well, or five things okay-ish?
In January 2018, I took a new position at my job. It meant (slightly) more hours and less money, but it was also term-time only, which meant I had three months off over the summer.
Instead of taking any time off, I took on more editing jobs to save as much money as I could.
I didn’t get a break, but I did get to return to work in September and tell my boss that I quit!
(He was in denial for a few weeks until it sunk in, bless him.)
Are you self-motivated enough to show up every day and do the work when no one holds you responsible? Many people assume they’d be fine, but it’s actually a lot harder than it sounds.
When you’re self-employed, no one calls you to see where you are if you’re not at your desk by a certain time or on a specific day. That becomes your job too.
One of the freedoms that comes with being self-employed is being able to take time off and call it a day whenever you want–but don’t forget that the work does need to get done.
Don’t leave it to chance. Create a routine for yourself and stick to it. You can adjust the things that don’t work, but give it a chance first. Routines can take a few weeks to set.
Ironically, it’s not just showing up every day that needs extreme dedication. Taking time off is much harder for me, because there’s always another deadline I could be working on.
You’d get holidays in any other job, so make sure you schedule some weeks off here and there too. Take bank holidays off to get long weekends. Look after yourself and you’ll get more done, because your mind will be healthier.
Have a set time every day after which you don’t do any more work.
Take the weekends off.
I know it’s hard–there’s always the temptation to reply to this email or just quickly do that thing–but your mind is your most important asset. Don’t overwork it.
In the wise words of V.E. Schwab:
As a hyper-driven, self-employed, Type A creative Slytherin, it is really, really hard to accept that self-care isn’t an indulgence, it’s a necessity.
I asked on Twitter and Instagram for the one thing that’s holding you back from quitting your job and going full-time self-employed. Here are your questions and my answers:
Q: Money! How do you make sure you have enough to cover bills?
A: The first thing you need to do is figure out how much you need every month. What would you need to do to make that figure? This might be book sales, affiliate sales, or new clients booked.
Second, look at how you can get that figure. To stick with the above example, how can you get enough book sales, affiliate sales, or find new clients?
Make sure that whatever it is you want to do is working before you quit your job. If you can’t find new clients now while you’re still working full-time, you can’t be sure you’ll do any better once you’re self-employed!
Have a side hustle besides your chosen career (for me, that’d be editing and coaching)–something that you know will make you money even if you don’t sell any books.
Build your safety net first, so you’re okay for a few months if things don’t go as expected. I had enough saved to get me through six months should no one else hire me and my bookings were cancelled, and it still got a little rough.
However much you think you’ll need, save a little more.
Q: Is it hard to sell books and make a profit off them as a self pub author?
A: Incredibly hard. There’s a stigma around self-published authors–many readers assume we only self-publish because no agents want to work with us. If our books aren’t good enough for the big publishing houses, why should they bother?
Then there are the readers that won’t start a series until they can buy the complete box set.
I read somewhere that readers don’t pay any attention to you until you have at least three books published, but I’d say it depends on other factors too.
Would you take an author seriously who has five series starters out there but no sequels, or would you wonder why he starts things but doesn’t finish them? Readers don’t want to get involved if there’s a chance you won’t finish what you started.
It takes time to build trust and it takes time to build a career. To be an indie author, you need a great deal of patience, perseverance, and–yes–a thick skin.
Consider the cost of hiring a cover designer, editor, and maybe also a cartographer if you’ve created your own world. How many books do you need to sell before you break even?
It is possible to sell well with only one book published, but it’s hard. It gets easier once you have one finished series or several standalones, but it still depends on your marketing. Easier doesn’t equal easy in this case.
Mentioning that you have a book out on social media a few times a month won’t make you a profit. You may need to spend money to make money, and that’ll take time while you experiment with what works and what doesn’t.
You’ll likely lose money initially, but if you do your research and are willing to learn, it’ll also likely pay off in the end–just bear in mind that said end is likely several years away.
If your strategy doesn’t work, try something else.
Don’t be discouraged if your debut novel doesn’t sell even 100 copies. Keep writing and publishing, and learn how to market your book effectively.
With an awful lot of dedication and perseverance, you’ll get there, but it’s definitely not a get-rich-quick scheme! (or even just a get-rich scheme)
Q: How do you explain to the people around you that this is what you want?
A: This was my biggest fear. Telling my parents was easy–I called them as soon as I realised that I could quit my job and do this–but my mum has been self-employed for almost twenty years herself. I knew she’d be thrilled.
Telling my SO was a lot harder. We live together and he was studying at university at the time, so I was the only one making money when I made this decision.
I was afraid he’d say no, that we needed the money so me quitting my job wasn’t an option–and he’d have been justified in saying so. It was a massive risk (and it always is, no matter how well prepared you think you are).
I psyched myself up all day, considered how I’d respond if he said no. I was so nervous my hands were shaking when I asked him if we could talk.
And you know what he said? ‘Okay.’
Honestly, I think I cried. I was so relieved, and I was making my dreams come true with his support.
But here’s the thing: it’s a sad truth that not all families are supportive. I have so many author friends whose families don’t support them. If that’s your family, there are two things you can do:
- You’re not alone. Get yourself on social media, follow other writers and people in the same profession as you, and make connections. We all get it, and we have your back even if your family doesn’t. Find me on Instagram, Twitter, and maybe even join my Facebook group for indie writers!
- Prove to them that you can do this. Find courses that teach you the necessary skills. Get your numbers ready, so you can show them that you know the finances involved. If they still don’t support you, do it anyway and prove them wrong.
In many cases, the reason our loved ones don’t support us isn’t because they don’t believe in us–it’s because they know how hard this is and because most new businesses fail within two years.
If you’re living with your partner and you’ve explained to them why you want this and showed them how you’ll get it done and they still won’t support you, give them time and consider their point of view. Are they making valid arguments?
If they’re not, won’t come around, and insist you don’t follow your dreams, consider if that’s someone you want to be with–after you’ve carefully thought about their points and set your emotions aside to approach the conversation from an unbiased side as much as possible.
I hope I’ve answered your questions and clarified a few things, but if there’s anything else you’d like to know, hit reply below and I’ll get back to you!
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