Don’t Quit Your Day Job

25 Aug

Today’s Dose Of Reality is Provided By:

Sarah J. Maas


Like most writers out there, when I daydreamed of my first book deal, I dreamed BIG. Ferraris, a mansion in Maui and a villa in Tuscany, a live-in chef to make me gourmet mac and cheese whenever I wanted. No joke. I fantasized about making enough money off my books that I could write full-time and never have to work again.

Well, let me tell you two things:

1. Writing IS work, so even if you’re writing full-time, it’s not like taking a permanent vacation.

2. For most writers (myself included), even if we get a pretty awesome book deal, it’s not enough to permanently quit our day jobs.

Yeah, it sucks. But it’s a reality we have to face. I thought I’d get out of college and never have to work. HA. Funny.

See, unless you get a ginormous deal that will make you financially set for LIFE (which is extremely unlikely, I hate to say), you’ve got to be able to support yourself. While that initial advance might last you for a few years, what if you never sell another book again? Until you can say—without a doubt—that your writing provides enough income for you to live comfortably (no ramen diets, please), don’t quit your day job.

There are other reasons, of course, not to quit your day job. Like…being social. Not just from a writing perspective (because real life experiences translate into real good books), but also from an emotional one. Meeting people and getting out there is healthy. Believe me, I’m a bit of a hermit by nature, and I still have to force myself to go outside—and you know what? It’s good for me.

Also, there’s the emotional strain of not having a steady paycheck. The money you make off your books doesn’t come every two weeks. I got my book deal back in March, and I have yet to see the first installment of my advance. If I didn’t have the income of my day job to fall back on, I’d be freaking out. My husband would be freaking out. My DOG would be freaking out (no more treats and toys for her! Boo.). My house would not be a happy place to live.

But, Sarah—if I have a job, won’t it interfere with my writing?

No. You will be tired, and you will be stretched thin, but you can do it. Don’t whine, and don’t make excuses. If being published is truly your dream, then a 9-5 won’t kill it. Maybe it’ll be a lesson in discipline—which you are going to NEED if you someday want to write-full time (you wouldn’t believe how tempting daytime TV is). And everyone loves a good rags-to-riches story—think of how cool it will sound when you tell Oprah that you slaved in a corporate prison for years before you had your breakout book!

But my writing is really, really good! I’m sure I’ll get an agent/book deal really quickly!

Don’t count on it. No matter how awesome your writing is, you could easily spend months, if not years, querying, and then even longer on submissions. And again, even if you sell your book right away, you might not see any money for months.


No buts. You are not the exception to the rule. Unless you’ve got a fantastically wealthy family or spouse to provide for you (and if they don’t MIND providing for you, which is also key), you need a day job. Not necessarily a career (unless you want one), but a day job. Something to keep the electricity running.

It sounds harsh, I know. Honestly, I was the Queen of Buts (…maybe I should re-title QUEEN OF GLASS…). And in the 18 months after college—during which I was unemployed, but writing full-time—it WAS an emotional burden not to have a job. Even if I wrote….6 books in those 18 months, there was always that pressure. It’s not fun.

So, be patient. Serve your time. You’re in good company. Most of the successful authors you see on shelves had to work multiple jobs before they could write full-time. Finish college, get a job (however miserable), and keep your eyes on the prize. You CAN get there someday—but until then, just don’t quit your day job.


Sarah J. Maas is the author of several novels, including QUEEN OF GLASS, a YA fantasy retelling of Cinderella that will be published by Bloomsbury in late 2011. Sarah resides with her husband in Los Angeles. You can visit her blog here.

16 Responses to “Don’t Quit Your Day Job”

  1. Samantha K. Walker August 25, 2010 at 2:02 AM #

    I still want to know what YOUR day job is. Hmmmm? 🙂

    • Aurora Blackguard August 25, 2010 at 10:49 AM #

      I’m with Samantha on this 😀

      • Sarah J. Maas August 25, 2010 at 2:13 PM #

        lol, I had no idea you guys were so curious about what I do with myself between 9-5! 😛

    • Sarah J. Maas August 25, 2010 at 2:13 PM #

      Haha, I’m a super spy! No, really–I’m like the female James Bond.

      • Samantha K Walker August 25, 2010 at 4:54 PM #

        I had a feeling that was it! Does this mean you know the queen?

        • Sarah J. Maas August 25, 2010 at 4:55 PM #

          Yeah, we go for margaritas every Tuesday.

  2. tymcon August 25, 2010 at 4:28 AM #

    “Queen of Buts”…lol say that out loud:P Good advice.

  3. Rowenna August 25, 2010 at 8:44 AM #

    And on the flip side…if you’re a writer who’s still working full-time, you’re not a failure because you’re working full time. You’re only failing if you give up–and that’s 100% up to you, not to your job 😉

    Even though I’m probably far from publication, I don’t know that I would want to quit my job. Well, maybe my current job. But I would always want to have something–a part-time gig, even volunteer work if I didn’t have to or couldn’t work a paying job–to keep me grounded in the real world. The people here are even better than the characters in my head sometimes 🙂

    • Sarah J. Maas August 25, 2010 at 2:14 PM #

      So true!!!!

      And yeah–keeping yourself grounded in the real world is SO important. I get so much inspiration just by getting outside and DOING stuff/seeing things/meeting people!

  4. Gabriela Da Silva August 25, 2010 at 5:19 PM #

    I always thought that signing a book deal meant you were somehow signed “for life”, and thus you could “relax” and concentrate on your writing.

    And then Vanessa introduced me to this blog 😉

    Very interesting post! I think I would add something else:
    For many people, writing is a one-man (woman!) activity.
    Some people can endure this very well, but for some others – like myself – the loneliness gets to be too much at some point. At those times taking a walk won’t help, you need people and activity around you.

    Your day job is the one that helps with that. As long as it’s not something you absolutely loathe, your day job should balance your alone (writing/researching) time.

    Of course, if you can find a job that will actually help your writing, then all the better! Me, I believe nothing is suited to writing better than teaching… and so I teach 😉

    • Vanessa August 26, 2010 at 9:10 AM #

      Yeah, when I was younger, I thought the same thing – that writing a book would mean being set for life!

      But thank god for! Otherwise we never would’ve met Gaby!

      And I completely agree – writing is a one person activity. I could never JUST write – I will always need more in my life. Even IF (and that’s a really big if) I end up with a deal like J.K. Rowling, I could never quit my day job. I love it just as much as writing, and could never give it up!

  5. Chantal August 25, 2010 at 10:51 PM #

    I think it’s every author’s dream to do a J.K. Rowling…… sadly, this is not usually the case.

    Excuse me while I go back to answering phones and scheduling patients!

    (I am also mega curious about what Sarah does in her 9-5, just saying!)

    • Savannah J. Foley August 26, 2010 at 9:46 AM #

      We told you, she’s a spy. You think that’s her real picture?

  6. Joan August 26, 2010 at 7:57 PM #

    First of all, Sarah you look SO pretty in that picture x)

    I think that if writing were my full-time job… I would never finish another book :S
    Right now, I’m taking a gap semester and doing nothing but lounge around at home makes it hard to concentrate on writing. I get distracted SO easily and I keep looking for ways to procrastinating from writing (when before writing was procrastinating from school).

    I think having a day job also helps inspire you. If you’re out there interacting with people, living your life, it can be very helpful to come up with new ideas!
    Besides, it encourages you to write: you have less time of the day so you’re pushed to write more quickly!

  7. Theresa Milstein September 4, 2010 at 10:15 PM #

    This is a good reminder. While we all hope to be the one who gets the lucrative offer and be set for life, that’s not the reality for most of us. I’ll just keep writing as often as I can and see where it takes me.

    Good luck with your book.

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