Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Bird in the Hand? (Quitting the day job)

I earn a good living as an insurance broker . . . been at it for over 35 years.

Should I quit my job to write full time?

That's a heady question. If I quit, I am walking away from financial security in a job I have come to hate. My clients are the only good thing about this business. Insurance companies could not care less about the people they insure. It's all about profits. My unhappiness is because I care about people, so I often find myself angry at one company or another about how my clients are being treated. It's gotten so bad that I don't want to start my day every morning. Being a responsible adult, I grumble and "go to work" with knots in my stomach.

Back in 2009, I tested the writing business by releasing my first ever science fiction book, Space Chronicles: The Last Human War. What a thrill! Writing and editing the book never felt like a chore. I couldn't wait each day to get my insurance work completed so I could plunge into my fantasy world and add to it.

When It came time to seek a publisher, I made a bold choice. I would build my own publishing company and produce the book.

Contracts had to be negotiated with Barnes & Noble and a national wholesale distributor. Neither accepted "self-published" books at that time, so I registered the American Writers Publishing Company with Bowker, bought ISBN numbers, contracted with a publisher and purchased cover art. In addition, I bought necessary software . . . CoverPro, CorelDraw and InDesign. I had over $3000 into the company before I held a single book in my hands.

I pulled the trigger! Using all those programs I had acquired, I "made" a real book--not an eBook or plastic binder book, but a for-real paperback book with full-color covers, perfect binding and some kind of special UV coating that the printer snookered me into buying. He said it would prevent the cover colors from fading. I spent $4,000 for 1000 500-page books that were priced at $12.99. Now what?

Lesson # 42:  books don't sell themselves.

Yep, I opened a cool website about the book and watched for three days for the orders to start rolling in. They didn't. Ooops. Another failure.

At that time, I had spent over thirty years marketing insurance, so I did what I do best. I started advertising. Bought some internet ads, put fliers in store windows and even put an ad in the local high school yearbook. I checked the computer twenty times a day to count all the sales coming in through my PayPal account. NADA!

That's when I figured out that selling books was going to be a hard job. I bought "How-to" books on paperback marketing and followed the advice. Some things worked a little, some things did not. Then, I discovered the magic formula. Ironically, the solutions - there were two of them - came from 1) one of the earliest things I learned in the insurance business, and 2) from a friend who owned an indie book store. Between Centers of Influence marketing and creative book signings, I managed to sell most of that first edition over a six-month period. Even made a small profit over all my start up expenses and after donating some to Books for Soldiers, an organization that ships books to soldiers in combat zones.

I have just released my second book, Ghost of Lost Eagle, and I am learning that marketing eBooks is vastly different than I expected. Nevertheless, I am determined to be successful.

Now, for the big question. Should I quit my reliable, but unhappy, day-job to invest all my time in marketing and writing. If I do, I will go from a comfortable income to zero. Yes, I can live on savings and investments for a couple years, but the starving artist gig can't last forever.

I plan to make that big decision by the end of the year. What would you do?


  1. I've heard that the litmus test is to get debt-free (except perhaps a mortgage), then put all your full-time job income into the bank for six months. If you can live without touching that money, subsisting entirely on your other incomes, then you're ready to walk away from your job.

    I wouldn't do it just yet, knowing you'll be draining your savings and investments, but that doesn't mean there's no middle ground. What about taking up a full-time job you don't hate?

    Good luck!

    1. Hi Elia,

      I meet some of your conditions...debt free other than mortgage. Own my vehicles, don't live on credit cards, and have decent long term savings. The real problem seems to be lifestyle. To chase my dream means giving up considerable "pleasures" of life, things like going out to dinner, buying nice gifts for others on a whim or not worrying about the cost of gas for travel. Can I do without the extravagances for the privilege of writing full time?

      I am leaning toward selling my business at the end of this year to take the plunge. It's exciting and frightening at the same time.

      Thank you for your thoughts...Dean.

  2. I'm at a different spot in my life than you, Dean. I have two daughters, 8 and 15, and do not have enough years in to retire, nor the savings required to make it that far with what I feel are obligations/responsibilities to support my daughters and wife.

    Whatever choice you end up making, I'm confident it will be the correct one.

    1. Terry,

      Family is why I stuck it out in a business I hated all these years. I love my family, so I suppressed my angst and kept pulling the plow. I would do it again for them without hesitation. Now, after all my family are grown and successful in their own lives, I have the opportunity to change my circumstances. It will mean a change from a comfortable lifestyle to one with financial limitations, at least in the short term. How long? Ahhh...that is the big question. One or two years, no problem. Indefinite "starving artist," I don't think so. Therein lies the rub. How long will it take me to generate adequate revenue from writing? Am I confident? I would like to answer, "yes," but the mere fact that I am wrestling with this decision suggests that I am not quite as confident as I thought I was...LOL

      Thank you for your comments...Dean.


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