Playing the long game

Keep writing. Lots of things. Different things. Always have something new ready to market.

That’s the advice I garnered from a recent conversation I had with a friend of mine who is a published writer. He wrapped up a series with one publisher this year, and has just sold another to a different publisher. He’s also starting to shop around a third project.

It all sounds so glamorous, at least until you consider the business side of things. That’s a long run with little income. Even with what writers do get paid, that money is usually paid out over years. For example, when a writer sells a novel they’re usually offered an advance. But that advance is only partly paid out before the writer begins serious work on the manuscript. Another fraction of the advance is paid out when the manuscript is delivered, and the remainder is often paid when the book is released to the public.

There may be two years or more between the sale of the novel and the final publication and release. Even large advances get spread pretty thin over that long a time. Successful novels may go months beyond that before they begin earning royalties–if ever.

If the goal is to be a professional writer then chances are a writer can’t work only one project at a time. They need, like any entrepreneur, more product to sell. They need to have multiple projects in the queue. Focusing on one book at a time, while perhaps easier to concentrate, is going to make it difficult to survive.

Instead the most successful writers are usually the most prolific, turning in a manuscript and immediately begin work on the next project, pausing only to deal with edits from their editor as needed. They want to get the next project out there as soon as they can to keep that income stream flowing steadily. They can’t afford to sit around and wait for the money to come in from just one project. Being a starving artist, however romantic, stinks.

In short, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. A writer who wants to “go pro” needs to be working as many project as they can handle. They need to make sure there is little actual down-time, because down-time means no money coming in. And while writing shouldn’t have to be about the money, thinking about the money is how writers survive to publish their next work.

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom is a Utah transplant, works for a regional bank, and spends his lunch hours working on his latest novel. His wife, three kids, and four pets find him amusing and somewhat useful, so they keep him around.