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  • Writer's pictureStuart Grant

Job security and being an indie author

A quick warning before you start. The point of this post takes some background to set up, so it’s not a 60 second read.

My first post laid out the fact that I’m doing a life experiment to see if I can become an indie author. In my mind, I’ll claim success when I have a novel available for purchase on at least one online retailer. From a pure achievement point of view, the retailer doesn’t matter, but let’s be honest. If an author is only going to chose one platform, it’s got to be Amazon. Right?

But I haven’t yet talked about why. The answer to this question has two dimensions.

The first dimension is really about personal accomplishment. It’s about trying to combine two things I love.

The first thing is story. I love a good story. In pretty much any format. I mentioned this last time. And when you really like something, it’s natural to ask yourself if you can do it. I often asked myself if I could tell stories that others would find entertaining. My answer was usually a resounding “probably.”

The second thing I love is writing. Getting words down in a way that the message is easy to understand. I would say I’ve done a lot of writing. But until I decided to embark on my experiment, I hadn’t written fiction since I was in high school.

I’ve done an immeasurable amount of writing in my professional life, all of it non-fiction. Graduate theses and countless drafts of academic research papers occupied a decade of my life. A move into the consulting world introduced me to writing in a business setting, which is quite different from academic writing. My current job in a Fortune 500 company requires a high volume of written communication. Again, this has all been non-fiction.

So the first dimension of ”why” is all about writing a novel. It’s not a vanity exercise. I have no hidden belief that I’ll write the next To Kill a Mockingbird, Harry Potter or The Hunger Games. There may be no one who reads my novel that doesn’t know me.

And that’s perfectly fine as it relates to my first dimension of “why.”

But that outcome wouldn’t be fine for my second dimension of “why.”

That’s because this dimension is about making the experiment a career. And a career carries an array of pre-defined expectations about investment and income, with the bottom line being the ability of writing to provide a sufficient level of income. The definition of “sufficient” is very personal and subjective. In my mind, “sufficient” would start to look real when my indie author income could replace ~75% of my corporate income. Maybe more. Maybe less.

There are several topics worth discussing about how to go about building an indie author business for the first time. There are many tactical and operational details that are critical, and there’s no shortage of resources available to assist a new author. I will definitely spend some time (a lot, really) on these topics, but not in this post.

What I’d like to touch on is the trade-off decision. At least how it looks for me. Note that there are many authors who have shared stories on how they have “clocked out” from their so-called day jobs. I’ll just touch on how I’m considering this potential decision.

Probably the first thing I should state is that this decision is so far hypothetical. I don’t have a single published novel, let alone enough to generate enough revenue where clocking out is even an option.

But it’s a decision I’ve devoted some mental energy toward.

Now, no job is perfect. There are elements to every job I’ve had or thought I’d like to have that have something that’s not enjoyable. That includes writing. Some days it is painful to get the words out. When I need a new scene, my brain can spin and spin and not come up with something I can grab on to. There are also so many components to self-publishing that it can at times seem paralyzing.

But those instances when progress is made feel great. It could be a run of thirty minutes when the words flow and before you realize it, you’ve deposited 1,000 words into a manuscript. And they’re good. Or when you figure out how to add a feature to your website that had been preventing you from making progress. These things are very satisfying.

The prospect of creating something is alluring. It dangles itself in front of you, sometime just out of reach. But it’s there. You know you can do it if you focus. And you can be in control. Yes, you need (and should solicit) expert help on those topics where trying to become an expert makes no practical sense. But you can call the shots on your creations. Who doesn’t like calling their own shots?

Let me come back to the trade-off.

By most objective standards I have a very good job. I never expected to be a millionaire and I was right. But I could never complain about my income. That would be an insult to people who work as hard or harder than I do and make less. Maybe much less. I am very thankful for what I have.

But corporate life is not perfect.

There are instances when, with a small group of people, we can do something truly energizing and impactful. We can make a difference. Without the bureaucratic bullshit large corporations are known for.

But these are often few in number.

A more typical situation is trying to solve a problem, seeing a viable solution and a path to attain it, only to fail because the combination of antiquated business processes, stakeholder alignment and unclear decision making authority grinds progress to a halt. It is more common than not to have the entire participant group of a meeting agree that our corporate culture and processes is the single biggest thing in the way of progress. And nothing happens.

Then there is the whole concept of having a boss. Some bosses are really partners. Colleagues who try to enable and empower their teams for success. This is good for business, good for team morale and good for personal development.

And then there are those for whom the word boss is taken literally. They feel it their duty to literally boss their teams. They dictate. They bully. They complicate. This is much more common than it should be in the 21st century.

So why don’t people like me just leave? I have something I’d much rather do. I mean, I’m already doing it on the side. It’s important enough to me to get up at 5 AM every morning to make sure I write every day.

To answer, I’ll use an term I heard from someone else: golden handcuffs.

For those who haven’t heard this term before, here’s what it means to me.

When one’s total compensation and benefit package is such that it would be hard for a different career to replace it, one is effectively “handcuffed” to their job and industry. Sure, you can change jobs within a company, or move to a new company in the same industry (that’s where your expertise resides, after all). But moving industries is very hard to do, unless your skill set is uniquely portable. The longer you remain in an industry, the less portable your skills become.

So just walking out of a solid corporate job just isn’t realistic.

A question you may have (and one I have asked myself on countless occasions) is why the hell would I want to leave?

That depends on what’s really important to you.

If money is the most important element of your career, then working in an industry like mine is a good choice. It is certainly possible to make much more than I do. So if money is a primary driver for you, it means you are comfortable with corporate bullshit and having someone being your boss. With all of the negative elements that come with it.

However, if true enjoyment of what you do to make money is your primary driver, then industries like mine are not for everyone. There are many things I truly enjoy, and not all of them can lead to an income. But writing checks both the enjoyment and income boxes, at least in theory. Will I ever make enough as a writer to walk away from my corporate job before a typical retirement date? I don’t know.

That’s why I’m doing an experiment.

Next time: My indie author experiment so far (Part 1)

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