Guest Elizabeth Vaughan on Not Quitting the Day Job

Elizabeth Vaughan is the USA Today bestselling author of the Chronicles of the Warlands fantasy series, as well as a long-time member of the Writer's Symposium. Beth is a strong member of the writer community, always willing to help new writers and support her colleagues as she can. Her level-headed and sensible approach to writing have made her a valuable part of the Symposium, especially as a read and critique judge and panel moderator. Here, Beth shares some advice about day jobs and writing, and why she still has a career in addition to writing!

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When I got my first book contract, I did not quit my day job.

When freshly published writers float over to me, starry-eyed with hopes and dreams and say “I can now quit my job to write full-time. I say ‘Sit down and let’s talk about this dream of yours.’

Caveat: I am not a freelance writer. But I have been self-employed at the day job for over 25 years. I have some street cred.

No, what I am going to tell you about is what I have been taught early on and what I have seen over the ten years that I have been writing.

Freelance writing - actually any form of self-employment - is not for the faint of heart. It requires a lot of time, energy and effort. Not only do you have to be working on current projects but you also have to be drumming up future sources of income. Multiple sources of income. Novels, sure, but also short stories, articles, reviews, gaming material. Whatever it takes to meet your monthly living expenses each month.

And you have to make sure you get paid.

During my early years of going to big cons, a well-established full-time freelancer offered to show me how to work a con. “Let me take you around the Dealer’s hall,” he said.

We met up outside one of the dealer’s room the first day of the con, after the morning rush. He was studying the map displayed by the door. He had a small notebook, a pen, and a handful of business cards. “Things are slower,” he said. “Crowd’s down. But never get in the way of them doing business.”

We started hitting booths.

He took the lead. If he knew them, he’d introduce me, there would be some small talk, then he’d get right to business. “Looking to see if you need anything.” More often then not, they’d nod, take his card, maybe start talking about a project down the road. My teacher would make notes in his notebook. It didn’t take long, they’d shake hands, and he was leading the way to another booth.

Sometimes, it was a regretful shake of the head, and a ‘no’. My teacher would nod, thank the person with a smile, and move on.

Sometime we’d hit a booth and they’d be swamped. He’d walk on, making notes to return. Sometimes, he’d catch someone’s eye, and he’d pass them a card. “Gonna be in the [bar] later,” he’d say.

“Ill catch ya then.” was the invariable response.

[Note: There are more deals, contacts, networking done in the hotel bar after the Dealer’s Hall than you realize.]

After two hours, I was exhausted, and offered to buy him lunch if only to get a chance to sit. We talked as he went through his notes. He had leads for stories, a gaming novel line, and magazine articles. “Not a bad start,” he said.

What wasn’t in the notes was all the contacts he’d made, both with old associates and new contacts. For the new contacts, I’d noticed that he’d always seemed to have done his research, knew something about games, the story line, the characters.

Prepared. Professional. Persistent.

Why am I blogging about this?

Because writing, being published, having your words, your stories read by other people is one of the greatest joys of my life. But–

[There is always a ‘but’.]

Writing as a full-time career is damned hard. I want you to know that it takes time and energy. It doesn’t just mean sitting at home typing on your computer. [Yes, you do have to do that. You can’t sell a blank page.] It means networking, building relationships, and knowing the market that you are operating in.

It means having an understanding of business, and invoices and what the heck a 1099. It means watching the language of the contracts you sign. It means educating yourself about the aspects of the business of publishing. Yes, yes, you may have an editor or agent to help you but no one will care more about your career and financial well-being then you will.

It means having multiple streams of income, from a variety of sources, so that in the bad months you still can pay your utilities and buy food. It means keeping a six month supply of toilet paper and feminine hygiene supplies in your closet. [I still do this. Harshly ingrained force of habit.]
Because the checks won’t come in regular like and book contracts pay royalties twice a year, but the damn electric bill comes every month.

If this sounds like I am trying to stop you from going full time and freelancing, I am not. But when an aspiring writer looks at me with wide child-like eyes brimming with hope and says “I am going to be a full-time writer,” I look to the heavens for patience, and then I pull out a chair.

“Sit down, and let’s talk about that dream of yours.”

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About Elizabeth Vaughan:

Elizabeth A. Vaughan is the USA Today bestselling author of the Warlands Chronicles series, now available from Berkley Publishing. She loves fantasy and romance novels, and has played Dungeons and Dragons since 1981, both table-top and the online game. Her most recent book, WarDance, is now available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/WarDance-Elizabeth-Vaughan-ebook/dp/B06WVVJFB1/re... You can learn more about her books at www.writeandrepeat.com.