On Being a Professional Writer

Some thoughts on writing for a living.

I make my living as a writer. And I make a very good living.

When people ask me what I do, I tell them I’m a writer. The next question is usually, “Oh, have you had anything published?”

Hello? How can you make a living as a writer if you haven’t had anything published? After all, the money comes from the publishers. It doesn’t come out of thin air just because you spent time putting words on paper or in a word processor. Or in a blog, for that matter.

I’ve written 58 books since 1990. True, most of those books were revisions. Like my Mac OS books, which have been bestsellers since the very first edition. That was about Mac OS 8 back in 1998. I revised it for 8.5, 8.6, 9.0, 9.1, X, 10.1, 10.2, and 10.3. I’m going to start work on the 10.4 edition soon.

I learned very early on in this field that if I wanted to make a living as a writer, I had to write a lot and get it all published. So I learned to write my computer books extremely quickly, giving my publishers just what they wanted pretty darn close to the day they wanted it by. Publishers like that. They don’t want to work with prima donas who won’t do things their way. They don’t want to work with writers who can’t deliver on time. Because I met the needs of my publishers, they gave me a lot of assignments. I always had work to do. And since these books only last 12 to 18 months (on average), I needed to keep working. Even a bestseller doesn’t pay a dime when it’s out of date.

I had two bestsellers: the aforementioned Mac OS books and my Quicken books. The Mac OS books continue to do well. I’m extremely proud of the latest edition, which is over 600 pages long and full of great information. The next edition will be even better. The Quicken books aren’t doing as well these days. I think the market is saturated. I have other thoughts on this, but I’ve been advised to keep them to myself and I agree it’s probably a good idea.

Bestsellers are nice. They generate big checks. I wish I could have 10 bestsellers, all at the same time. Then maybe I’d have a little house on top of Howard Mesa instead of a camper with a pair of bad batteries.

If you’ve been reading these blogs, you know that I have a summer job as a pilot. It isn’t quite over yet, but it will be soon enough. Some people think I got the job because I needed the extra money. In all honesty, the job is a money sucker. The pay is terrible and I probably spend as much money commuting to work by helicopter as I earn each day. (But heck, it sure beats the 40-minute drive in the Jeep.) And every day I’m away from my office is a day I can’t work on a book. So I’m losing money when I’m flying. Good thing I enjoy doing it.

This summer, I worked a 7 days on/7 days off schedule. But I fiddled with that a bit and got it set up as 5 days on/9 days off for much of the summer. As a result, I was able to go home and work on books. I revised my Quicken book in June. I worked on my new Word Visual QuickProject Guide in July and August. And this month, I started my new Excel Visual QuickProject Guide. I have another Word book (a revision) and my Mac OS X book (a revision) lined up after these. So there’s plenty of work to do.

I also got some work writing articles for a Web site. I can write those when I’m away at my summer job. I use my laptop. They don’t pay as well as a book, but I can knock one off in a few hours. And it’s kind of nice to write about a bunch of different things rather than just one main thing.

There are lots of people out there who want to be writers. I’ve met many of them. I was even pretty good friends with one or two. But they just didn’t get it. They didn’t understand that if you want to write for a living, you must write what the publishers want so they’ll buy it. If the publishers don’t buy it, you won’t make any money on it.

And don’t talk to me about self publishing. I have a friend who went that route and still has a garage full of books. Five different titles! Self publishing is risky. There’s a huge cash outlay involved and if you don’t know how to market (or sell) your book, you’ll never make any of that money back.

Yes, the key word here is sell. Sell your writing, sell yourself.

If you do it well enough, you can have a very nice lifestyle. After all, it’s nice to be able to make your own hours, work in your pajamas, take vacation anytime you want. Those are the perks of being self-employed. But you have to work to earn those perks. Pay dues, so to speak.

What a disjointed blog entry this is! But sometimes it’s nice to write something that you don’t have to sell. I guess that’s what these blogs are all about.

2 thoughts on “On Being a Professional Writer

  1. Thanks for sharing how you make it as a writer. I have always had the dream of being a writer, but just never seem to get with the program.

    This is America so I ask my self why not write. I really don’t have a style of my own yet so it will be easier for me to do things the way that publisher want them done.

    I just need a topic, or an area of intrest. I heard it said that after you get a topic you will write. (Hope this is true.)



  2. Very nice post. It forces to stop and reevaluate current position and direction. It forces to think about way of living and money earning. Not all people are able to earn money such way. They need someone to push them. The key is self motivation and that is the most hard work we have to do. Without self motivation any genius ideas is ash.

What do you think?