The Fantasy vs Reality of Becoming a Full-Time Author

Two years ago this week, Lee Winter took the plunge to become a full-time author of lesbian fiction. She learnt way more than she ever bargained for.

Finding yourself at a major life crossroads can be as much fun as hugging barbed wire. For me, two years ago, I’d been made redundant from a journalism job of three decades and faced a stark choice. Get right back in the financially secure rat race, or give the big, bold dream a go and write novels for a living.
I told my publisher I’d try an experiment of being a full-time author for two years and then decide whether it was worth it. At the time, when I said “worth it”, I meant financially. I had no idea how many meanings those two little words could have…
My two years were up this week. So, what did I learn? What’s the verdict? Do I need my head read? And should you take the plunge too? I know there are many, many people out there with this same dream.

THE FANTASY VS REALITY OF BECOMING A FULL-TIME AUTHOR

THE FULL-TIME AUTHOR FANTASY

Being entirely responsible for your own workflow and motivation is like being cast adrift at sea. It’s an odd sensation. You have a lot of power, you have a lot of powerlessness, and you have a boatload of expectations. I even wrote a blog about my plans two years ago, and the wonder of all the extra time I’d just discovered. Back then, being a full-time writer felt like a surreal dream. Did it stay that way? Not exactly…

THE CONS OF BEING A FULL-TIME AUTHOR

Let’s get the negatives out of the way first… There’s a reason they call it the writing dream. It’s a fantasy more than reality. You have to be a self-starter. You haul your ass to your desk daily and commit to producing creative content for many hours on end. If you can’t do this; if your pajamas and TV soaps are calling you instead, or if the lure of your BFFs or romantic squeeze is more appealing, then you’ll crash and burn.
Interestingly, the top thing people say to me upon finding out I’m an author is: “I could never do that. I’d just stay in bed all day.” And I always reply: “You’d be amazed how motivating it is to get out of bed and write when you need money to eat and pay bills”.

MOOD SCHMOOD

Boy, it’s hard writing when you’re not in the mood. It’s the pits trying to scribble glorious prose when your creative bones are feeling brittle. It can feel draining and a lot less fun than when writing’s just a hobby. That goes with the territory, though. You do get used to a set routine and it gets to a point where writing on cue when you’re not feeling it seems a little less evil. Like, a civilized evil—Dolores Umbridge instead of Voldemort.

IMPOVERISHED ARTISTS

That poor, struggling writer shtick exists for a reason. If you’re weighing up whether to take the plunge yourself, you should be prepared to be poor from the outset. In Jae’s excellent blog on deciding to become a full-time writer, she explains “Book royalties can be pretty unpredictable, so save up at least six to twelve months of living expenses before taking the plunge.”
Unpredictable is the word. From what I’ve seen, only the freakishly talented, massively popular, or thoroughly mainstream authors will make a mint from this crazy gig. Nine times out of ten that’s not a lesfic author, either.
There are exceptions, but they’re as rare as femmes called Frankie. Add to that the growing book piracy problem, and it’s super tough getting your incomings higher than your outgoings. It’s nuts how little most authors earn despite the countless hours invested. It’s usually below the poverty line. But most of us do it for the love of writing and the hope it’ll get better, financially, as we write more.

YOU’RE NEVER OFF THE CLOCK

I found it a lot easier to compartmentalize my writing when I had a main job. When writing IS that job, it can become all-consuming. My brain seems to kick into a state of constant creative vigilance, eternally churning over any plot point I’d been mulling over when I was officially working. Throw in urgent emails from publishers, artists, editors, and readers, and bye, bye weekends, evenings, hobbies…
Maybe it’s just me!
The other downside is I’m so engrossed in all that furious, fabulous writing, I never remember to take vacations (because, hey, deadline, and oooh, cool plot twist, must.write.now) until my body’s ready to drop. So bottom line, brains can go into writing overdrive, and my planning seriously sucks!

WAIT, WHAT ARE HUMANS?

Despite being a bit of an introvert, I really enjoyed the social interactions I had at work. They were so easy and immediate. The strange little vortex of being a stay-at-home writer means you sort of shrink into a smaller and smaller pool of people you deal with, until you’re only left with those you live with. You have to be aware and make time for your friends and family, or embrace Skype at the least, or you’ll forget how to interact with your fellow man. (Guilty, as charged.)
The flip-side of this is the take-advantage creep factor, where people in your life, especially elderly relatives, work out that you’re home all the time and therefore, in their minds, are totally available for whatever task they think someone who just sits around all day is free for. Learning to say, “no, sorry, I’m still at work”, is both awesome and necessary.

AUTHORS ARE VERBAL CLICKBAIT

One thing nobody tells you when you become a full-time author is that everyone has an opinion on it. Not kidding, this profession is verbal clickbait to strangers. You become more exotic than the Lilac-Breasted Roller bird. They want to know everything. However this leads to fun times when they inevitably ask, “So, what sort of books do you write?”
Hmm… to explain to my endocrinologist or not the psychological and sexual hijinks of lesbian ice queens? Decisions, decisions.
My most common reply is, “I write all sorts of books”, because some days, tbh, all you want are your test results. Besides, I also hate that speculative expression that comes with a more thorough and accurate answer. It’s a look that implies, “wait, lesbian books… oooh, so you’re smut writer”… hyuk, hyuk, titter, titter.
Sigh. No, Roger. In your dreams.

THE PROS OF BEING A FULL-TIME AUTHOR

Well, from those cons, you may conclude that I’m a hopeless human being, prone to forgetting my own name, friends, hobbies, and general existence, beyond books. While that’s somewhat true, I’m also a happier human.
That’s not just because of the non-existent commute times, later getting-out-of-bed times, only rarely having to fill up my car, and the optional dress code, although these do improve my mood. And my blood pressure has gone from high to almost low. Okay, that was unexpected.
What’s indescribable is how it doesn’t feel like work when you do what you love. When you’re in the zone and the words are flowing, you feel like you’ve landed your jet after breaking the sound barrier, and just spotted Kelly McGillis waiting on the runway in a leather jacket.

It’s also so freeing when you’re not trying to squeeze in a block of writing time before the next interruption for your important, main job. Because this is the main job.
On the ‘unexpected side effects’ ledger, all that scribbling for two years non-stop made me a better writer. I’m startled to see the evolution now I look back. Structurally speaking (as opposed to content),  my latest book feels like far and away the best thing I’ve written. Although it makes sense: If you do anything non-stop for two years, you will improve.
Finally, there’s the intangible. Authors exist in a dream world, a fantasy of our own spun thoughts and imaginations. It’s a surreal and exciting place to dwell. As kids we’re told to get our heads out of the clouds. Now, as adults, we get to put our heads into clouds and keep them there.
There’s no feeling more sublime.

CONCLUDING THE AUTHOR EXPERIMENT

So what’s the conclusion? The two-year test to see if I could make a go of writing was meant to be about making ends meet. And, okay, last financial year, by the thinnest of margins, I broke even. Woot! That’s largely due to my publisher also selling my books in German and audio book form (it all adds up) and readers loving The Brutal Truth in surprising numbers. Thank you, kind readers.
Emotionally, the positives of the highs I felt from writing full-time outweighed the cons of occasionally straying into becoming the clichéd socially reclusive writer.
Right, so, what’s the verdict? What will I tell my publisher?
I’ll do one more year to see if this breaking-even thing was a fluke, but if it wasn’t, I’m a lifer.
Now I’ve decided on that possibly insane course of action, I probably should get my head read. And when they ask why I’m there, I’ll just explain: I write books for a living.

Lee Winter  is an award-winning author. Her new novel, Breaking Character is now available from the Ylva store. 

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About the Author : Lee Winter

26 Comments

  1. orlafsmith November 21, 2018 at 08:11 - Reply

    Woohoo! Fingers crossed for many more years of financial success. (Totally selflessly, obviously)

  2. Renate Ziesche November 21, 2018 at 08:15 - Reply

    Lee, please keep your Head in the clouds..your writing style and stories are an exciting read!
    Good to hear that „ Under your Skin“ will also be a audio book.
    I am absolutely sure that you will be a lifer!👍

    • Lee Winter November 21, 2018 at 08:18 - Reply

      Thanks for that lovely vote of confidence, Renate. 🙂

  3. Jules Worth November 21, 2018 at 11:40 - Reply

    You’ll be back for another year and much much more! You’re a superb writer and I’ve spent far too many hours with your delicious ice queens to give that up. Thank you for writing this blog. I should stick to my day job as I don’t have half the discipline and drive to make writing my next go to dream. Still a dream.

    • Lee Winter November 21, 2018 at 12:20 - Reply

      Thank you for the beautiful encouragement, Jules.

  4. Bugs November 21, 2018 at 16:05 - Reply

    First off, thanks for sharing us your thoughts about your fascinating endeavour! CONGRATS on becoming a full-time lesfic author!! Hats off to you for taking the plunge! Wishing you all the fab, positive stuff! One thing – ALWAYS BE having FUN and ENJOYING what you do, mate! 😀 Good luck!

  5. Q November 21, 2018 at 17:49 - Reply

    Oh thank God we get another year of awesome fic from you. Love love love your characters (ahem ice queens) and the awesome people they get to (reluctantly) fall in love with. The Brutal Truth made me go back and read all your other books.

    Thank you!

    • Lee Winter November 22, 2018 at 01:43 - Reply

      ALL my books? Wow, Q, that’s commitment! Cheers mate!

  6. Lisa November 21, 2018 at 18:26 - Reply

    While reading this blog, I was anxiously awaiting the verdict and am so happy you are continuing as a full-time writer!! I have read each of your books many times and buy the ebook, paperback and audible versions. I look forward to the stories to come!

  7. Peggy Golk November 21, 2018 at 19:14 - Reply

    Hi, I really enjoy reading your books. I like the depths of your characters. My favourite so far The Brutal Truth.
    Looking forward to read more from you.
    Why did you decide to go with a publisher instead of self-publishing ?

    • Lee Winter November 22, 2018 at 02:34 - Reply

      Hi Peggy, glad to hear you’re enjoying my books. So I’m a bit unusual in that the decision on publishing was made for me, in that my publisher saw a fanfic I’d written and asked if I’d be interested in writing her a book. I did and the rest is history. 🙂 Truthfully, before that, it never occurred to me I could write books!

  8. Trinity November 21, 2018 at 19:26 - Reply

    a writer contemplating the leap to full-time also has to decide whether to be with a publisher or go indie/hybrid, pros and cons to all approaches. .

    • Lee Winter November 22, 2018 at 01:42 - Reply

      Yes, so true. I’d love someone who has tried all different types of publishing to blog about those differences.

  9. Carolyn McBride November 22, 2018 at 15:15 - Reply

    Lee,
    I am a die-hard fan. I think I’ve read all your books except for the Brutal Truth, and that’s on my TBR pile. I love everything of yours that I’ve read so far and I can honestly say your newest, Breaking Character, really is the best of your work. I hope you keep writing, and I’m so glad you decided to give full-time writing a go.
    You are an inspiration. Thank you.

    • Lee Winter November 22, 2018 at 23:27 - Reply

      That’s wonderful to hear, Carolyn. And I’ve discovered people who love Brutal Truth loved Breaking Character, so maybe the reverse is true? Enjoy your reading!

  10. Mai-Britt Knudsen November 23, 2018 at 17:16 - Reply

    It’s very interesting to read the process, pro and cons of becoming a full time writer…and it looks like you are really succeeding!! Way to go!
    You are an awesome writer/author. Who’d have thought it’s burning hot to read about ice-queens.
    Your build up to the point of no return is made in such a captivating way. After reading maybe more than 50 lesbian fiction books, The Brutal Truth is absolutely by far the best.
    I’m now about to read Breaking Character and I can’t wait to be swept away in the world of Lee Witnter’s hijacking writing skills.
    Thanks to you Lee Winter for making the escape from reality (serious work, the brutal world) so pleasant.

  11. Jess Lea November 26, 2018 at 22:43 - Reply

    Such a fascinating post. I can’t really imagine the work and guts it would take to go full time – very inspiring stuff!

    • Lee Winter November 27, 2018 at 02:30 - Reply

      Hopefully it could inspire you too, Jess? Some day? Thanks for the comment!

  12. Donna December 4, 2018 at 17:53 - Reply

    Hi Lee, I’m new to your fan list. I must tell you – I love, love, love your writing style. Catherine Ayers and Elena Bartell captured my imagination. Hopefully you’ll pen further about them. I liked this blog since I also write and know the commitment it takes. ( those moments an idea strikes you and your away from you computer shopping with a friend who now has your undivided attention) Unlike you, I’m not published yet. Just submitted my first manuscript a month ago so I’m waiting – but continue writing in the meantime. I once read an interview of James Patterson and, in it, he said he has thirty books going at any one time! I can’t imagine, but I’ve several on my computer at the moment working to improve the imperfections I find. I’m wondering how you found beta readers who were committed. I had two, then three and am down to one who is very committed. Life caught up with the other two (a flooded house and move, the other a so-so commitment to start) so I’d appreciate your view on finding beta readers. Also, I’m wondering if you’ll do a sequel to Requiem. I can’t imagine your emotional state if you were involved with your characters as I’ve become. Requiem is such a complex character that I feel I need to know more about her. What’s she doing now? Will she relapse? What about Ayers and Bartell – what are they doing now? Any sequels in the works? I’ve read Under Your Skin, but want more. I’d also like to know, have you ever considered crossing to mainstream writing. Perhaps a novel that hints throughout of a relationship the main female character has with another woman while constructing a story around her. I honestly feel you’d have a shot at it! I am a voracious reader (staying up all night to finish a four-hundred page novel if it grabs me from the start) and need to tell you – you are so very talented! I’m overjoyed to read you will continue to write! I look forward to reading your latest and many more. Much success to you!

    • Lee Winter December 5, 2018 at 02:32 - Reply

      Hi Donna, thanks for your kind words. To answer your questions: Have you read my short story sequel to Requiem, Love is Not Nothing? I have no plans for a full-length novel though… it’s quite an exhausting genre to write in. I have to be in a happy place!
      No other sequel plans on my other books, but keep your eyes out for occasional short stories, and spin-offs involving other characters.
      No, I have never wanted to go into mainstream writing. I’m just not interested enough to finish a book. Tried once. Got as far as one chapter before I gave up in boredom. 🙂
      As for beta readers, you won’t know how committed they are until you start with them. It’s trial and error. And even the most dedicated betas will have a life, and issues come up, and that’s just the way things are sometimes. To find a new one, try putting a call out on social media, or gather them from reviewers or friends in the fanfic world. Make sure you find honest ones, as they can really help your writing. All the best with it! Lee

      • Donna December 5, 2018 at 16:10 - Reply

        Ty for your answer. I will be sure to checkout the short stories. I’m sure you would need to be in a good space to write about Requiem. Definitely I can understand the boredom factor of mainstream publishing but who knows – maybe one of yours will cross over! As for beta’s, my first two were very honest for which I was grateful and yes, it did help my writing. Ty for the suggest where to find them. Someone also recently told me to try a book club, but I’m not certain they would be ready for my material! LOL. All the best to you!

  13. JED from Florida December 5, 2018 at 17:59 - Reply

    Lee, I wish you much success this year and hope your income grows much higher than breaking even. Considering how excellent “Breaking Character” is I’m anticipating it will. You also are an editor for Ylva, yes? What percentage of time is that in your schedule, compared to work on your own fiction? Also, now that you write full-time, does it take less time to conceive, write, edit and market a new book than it did when you were writing part-time? In other words, I’m guessing since your writing has improved, editing takes less time??

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