My mysterious shoulder/neck pain has returned with a wrathful vengeance. It turns out that sitting upright at a desk is the very worst thing I can do at the moment. Unfortunately, this is a basic requirement for both of my jobs. Usually, being unable to do dayjobbery would be a bonus, but I can’t really get anything done at home either. I can sort of write in contorted recumbent positions, as I’m doing now, but the deep distracting pain isn’t letting me concentrate on creative goodness.*
Thusly, I blog.
I mentioned a while back that for various reasons I’ll be taking a year away from dayjobbery starting this September, to concentrate on writing stuff that you might like to read. I’ll have eleven months to make of that what I can. In a perfect world it will be a successful year, and I’ll be able to consider making the change permanent. In a worst case scenario I’ll end up returning to the sort of work I do now – which isn’t really a worst case scenario at all (which is a nice position to be in).
Many years ago, long before I was ready for such a thing, I wrote full time for about a year. By most standards it wasn’t a successful experiment, as is most clearly demonstrated by the fact that it stopped. On the other hand, it wasn’t a bust either. I made some money, but not enough.
Looking back, it was never going to work out because I had no plan. The way I see it – the way it might work for me now – is that becoming a self-employed writer is identical with starting up your own business. It needs clear thinking, and a plan. It needs detail, and structure. It needs, in some ways, to resemble the same day job that a potential freelance writer is actually trying to move on from. I didn’t know any of that back then, and dived in. I tried to do more of what I loved doing, in the same way I was doing it, and hoped it would somehow work out. I treated it like a hobby I had more time to do, instead of the business it should have been.
I learned a lot along the way, and many more things since then, so maybe this time will be different.
This week I’ve been starting in on that plan. It’s April, the start of a new financial year which will act as a perfect test period for whether I can make this work. In order to know whether I can make it work though, I need goals. Practical markers. Something I can measure. That’s got to be income. Can I, by September 2014, be earning enough to cover the costs of business and pay myself enough to meet my bills and a fraction more.
This is trickier to work out than you’d think, especially because I haven’t lived in the UK for a while but will do in September 2014. it’s difficult to work out what my outgoings will be, so I’ve done some generous guessing, rounding up despite the temptation to round down and make the marker of ‘success’ easier to hit. Mortgage, my contribution to bills and food, tax and national insurance, actual insurance, extra for ‘stuff’ (bits and pieces – it’s tempting to mark this figure down, but not realistic – ‘stuff’ happens, whether you want it to or not). I think I’ve got my target income – less then I earn now, but not so much less that it looks easy . It’s a bit frightening, broken down like that. I can hope I’ve overguesstimated some of these costs, but it’s more likely I’m still missing things that will inflate it.
Then there’s the cost of business. At least I’ve got records for that, because I don’t anticipate them changing from what they are now, although the publishing industry is in such flux there’s a bigf ‘dunno’ to factor in. At least these things can be claimed back on tax to some degree – everything from the costs of running a website, to subscriptions, computer equipment, postage, and much more. It all adds up, little by little.
So, I’ve an idea of costs. and how much I need to earn over and above them to make life as a freelance writer viable. I’ll be honest, with those figures written down the task is immediately daunting. It’s oddly exciting too, giving some sort of shape to what has been an ambition for a long time. I’m also in the lucky position of not having to meet this figure on day one of the experiment. The aim has to be hitting or bettering it by September 2014, or calling the attempt a worthy failure. I think it’s possible though. That’s exciting too.
Technically, the experiment has begun. With the new financial year, I’ve started tracking income, expenses, tax, and other things afresh, as though I were already self-employed. So far my income from writing this month (payment from Amazon for Cuckoo and Thy Fearful Symmetry sales) doesn’t balance out my expenses – but these are a little higher than usual, as I’ve paid for some upcoming advertising. I don’t do that sort of thing often – it’s an occasional expense that sometimes pays great dividends (a spot that ran in the BookBub newsletter for Cuckoo a few months ago produced startling results, and a tidy profit), though it can sometimes bomb too. Speculate to accumulate, and all that. I’m hoping that the books I publish independently may end up being the base on which my income is built, and even after two years I’m still working out how best to tell people who want to read them that the books are there.
That reminds me – I haven’t worked out what my monthly promotion budget is. I need one. This is the thing that’s becoming clearest about a switch from professional hobbyist to plain professional – I can’t treat these things as I do now. With a decent dayjob income, I don’t have to think too hard about the occasional additional spend on promotion. I can absorb it without much thought. In terms of self-employment though, those outgoings count much more, and if there isn’t a budget that I stick to they could break things before I even get started. That budget is going to be below what I can spend now. That’s going to take a lot more thought about what is and isn’t good value.
Hm. It’s useful writing these things out. Pins down what’s in my head. I think I’ll make this a regular series, actually. If you want to watch me try to go freelance over the next eighteen months or so, keep an eye on this site every Sunday (or subscribe by email/RSS/all the usual toys), and we’ll talk. All comments welcome, positive or negative. What you say have to offer might make all the difference, and any questions you have will very likely make me think of things I haven’t.
On Sunday, then, I’ll cover motivation. Why do I want to do this in the first place? Gary McMahon, one of my favourite contemporary horror writers (who by any comparison is doing better business than I currently am in the same field) wrote a splendid piece recently in which he explained why freelancing full time holds little interest for him. If I’m doing this, I’d better be prepared to answer the question ‘why’, and my answer had better be something other than ‘it would be cool’. Come back on Sunday – who knows, after a couple of days thinking about that question, I might abandon the whole thing before it even gets going. If the answer doesn’t hold up, aborting now would probably save a hell of a lot of time and misery later…
I’m reading The Freelancer’s Survival Guide by Kristine Kathryn Rusch at the minute. This is my default first instinct whenever I start some major project – read a book! Need to overcome alcoholism? Read a book! Want to run a marathon? Read a book!
Books are cool.
Although the book is about freelancing in general, Rusch is a freelance author, and is drawing on years of personal experience to inform her book. It’s a great read, personable and very, very practical. I recommend you browse it if you’ve any interest in freelancing (as a writer or in other fields). If you want to do so then she has the whole thing up on her website. While you’re there, if you have anything to do with the publishing industry, subscribe to her weekly blog series The Business Rusch. It’s incredibly insightful, and looks into all sorts of interesting and important areas.
*update for spine lovers – I have now been to the doctor – physiotherapy lies in my future, and possibly an MRI because the pain is upper rather than lower back, and keeps sending not-fun pain down my arm. I suspect my plans to run the Rishikesh half marathon at the end of May are in jeopardy.
Currently reading (non-fiction): The Freelancer’s Survival Guide by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Currently reading (anthology): Chiral Mad, edited by Michael Bailey
Currently reading (anthology): The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stores, edited by Anne and Jeff Vandermeer
Currently reading (non-fiction): The Anatomy Murders by Lisa Rosner