As many of you know, my biggest life goal (besides obtaining a signed first-edition copy of David Gemmell’s Legend) is to make a living telling stories that I love. Accomplishing that goal is no small task. For the last five years, I’ve been focused on that goal like a hellfire missile, and as of right now it continues to elude me.
I’m getting closer, though. I’ve got 14 ebooks out, hopefully 18 by the end of the summer, and they’re actually selling. I won’t go too much into specifics, but my gross income is about 30% to 40% of what I’d need to cover all my expenses without another job.
Granted, I’m a young single guy with good health and no dependents, living on a shoestring budget in the cheapest housing in one of the cheapest states in the US, but that’s not an insignificant accomplishment.
Right now, I’m reinvesting all of that into the business, in order to boost sales and to avoid self-employment tax. But if I have a difficult month and need something to fall back on, my books are generating a fair amount of passive income, and that income is growing. If I keep doing what I’m doing, and things stay on more or less the same trajectory, I expect that I’ll be making enough to support myself in one or two years.
That’s actually a little better than the timetable I set a year ago, where I determined to go full-time by 2016. Then again, I also set a goal to be married by then, and I have no idea how that will change things. I suppose my spouse’s income would be able to supplement my own, but then there’s insurance and taxes and all sorts of other expenses that I can expect to go way up.
(At the same time, I have this wild dream of running off with my wife to some remote part of the world and spending a couple of years on some crazy-insane adventure, like trekking across Mongolia, or joining a Bedouin tribe, or couchsurfing across Europe. The world is a very different place outside of the US, and the cost of living in much of the world is significantly lower. Especially in the developing world, people know how to make do and be happy with much, much less.)
Even if I suffer a major setback, like an irreversible drop in sales or a technological shift that made my current business model obsolete, making a living is no longer a pie-in-the-sky sort of dream. It’s within reach, and I think I have a pretty good idea how I’ll get there.
First of all, it’s probably not going to be a sudden, earth-shaking event. It’s much more likely that I’ll ease into it gradually, first as a fallback for months when work is slow, and then as a way to pay off my bills while I keep a part-time job for spending money. One day, I’ll wake up and realize that it’s been five or six weeks since I’ve done anything but write, and then I’ll open up my budget and realize that I’ve arrived.
As I get married and start a family, my expenses will no doubt rise, and I or my wife may have to take another job for a while to make ends meet. Then again, if book sales continue to snowball with each new release, then we might be able to time it so that the kids start arriving just as the writing income really starts to take off. Even then, book sales fluctuate so much from month to month that until we have a significant amount of money in savings, we’re always going to feel like we’re a couple of weeks away from having to find another job.
And then, with the writing bringing in a comfortable six-figure income, we might finally be able to afford a house. It’s almost impossible to get a mortgage as a self-employed freelancer, so I fully expect to pay for most of the house up front. Good thing I don’t want to live in a city.
Of course, it’s also possible that the writing will never bring in a six-figure income. Science fiction is a relatively small genre, and the only stories I really care to tell are the ones that take place on other worlds. But that’s okay–as long as I’m able to support myself and my family, I’ll be happy. Anything above that, and it’s not about the money. In fact, it’s really not about the money right now.
The point of all this is that I don’t expect there to be a moment where I’ve suddenly “arrived.” If anything, it’s just going to be a continuation of what I’m doing right now, scaled up to meet life’s changing demands.
And you know what? I’m okay with that.
My resume might look a bit checkered, and job interviewers may raise their eyebrows when they see that I’m a college graduate, but these odd jobs give me a lot more flexibility than a stable “day job” with insurance and all that. I like being able to take a week or two off to do nothing but write, even if the off-time is unintentional on my part. I know how to be flexible, and I’m quite comfortable living a lifestyle where I don’t know where I’ll be getting my next paycheck.
And to friends and family who are concerned because I’m almost thirty and don’t have a full-time job … don’t be. I’m following my dream, and my dream is within reach. Everything else is just a stepping stone. I have a career, I’ve taken full responsibility for it, and I’ve turned it into something profitable. If making a living as a writer is a bit like making grizzly bear soup, I’ve already killed the bear.
In related news, I learned this week that I’ve been pirated in Japan. I’m not sure whether to be flattered or alarmed, but since my books are 1) available from multiple retailers 2) relatively inexpensive, and 3) DRM-free (on all the sites that allow it, anyway), I’m not too concerned about it cutting into my income. I am worried about people downloading my books from an unsafe site that might give them a virus or something, but people will be people and there’s not much I can do about that.
If anything, it’s just another sign that I’ve arrived–or rather, that I’m exactly where I’ve wanted to be all along, and it’s just a matter of making things work.