When I was fourteen, I determined I wanted to grow up and write for a living. School counselors laughed. So, as a high school senior, I enrolled at Arizona State University, majoring in aeronautical engineering. I dropped out of school, went back several times, and after a series of jobs and “careers,” which resulted in an extensive collection of hairnets and nametags, I finally got serious about being a writer, and figured out the first obstacle to working at home full time: money.
Make no mistake: determining to be a writer full time is starting your own business. You should evaluate if you have what it takes: a clear plan with realistic and achievable goals, a network you can count on for support, and a realistic definition of success. In establishing these things, I established what I call the Three Legged Stool Approach to successful writing entrepreneurship. It’s slightly more involved than that, but I will outline my path briefly here:
I Had a Clear Plan with Realistic and Achievable Goals
In 2005, I determined I wanted to write full time at home, and started writing articles for content mills. I learned to write meaningful content fast. The faster I wrote, the more I got paid. Since I was still holding down a full time job, this was really important. Second, I learned to release my writing by a deadline. Even if it wasn’t perfect, it was as good as it was going to get with the time I had.
In 2009, I set goals for a five-year plan to be completely independent without a day job. Through writing books and taking on research contracts for a museum, and then directly for government entities and other businesses, I was working at home full time in just three years. This was made possible by my three legged stool.
Leg 1: Writing
I wrote both technical papers, research, and analysis while at the same time authoring fiction works, from short story collections to my first novel that was worth anything, titled Redemption.
Leg 2: Editing
I took my skills as an author and an editor of both fiction and nonfiction and began to take contracts with publishers and independent authors alike. This created both residual income from publishers, and instant income from private editing contracts.
Leg 3: Research/Consulting
Building on the research I had done for a museum (my day job at the time) and the success I had with nonprofits, I began to consult with organizations regionally about fundraising and other issues, and began to do the same kind of historical research I had done for the museum on a private contracting basis.
A Network You Can Count On
In this process, I met other writers, editors, and consultants taking similar approaches to mine. We exchanged clients, ideas, and business plans. Since there is plenty of work out there in our fields, we were not competing with each other. Instead, we cooperated so all of us could achieve more.
I networked in all three areas of the stool: became a member of the Idaho Editors Association, the International Thriller Writers Organization and other writing organizations, and joined the board of the Idaho Museum of Mining and Geology, along with becoming a member of the Idaho Association of Museums. The networking brought me more work.
The definition of success is nebulous at best, but as a writer, determining what is a dream and what’s realistic is very important. Selling a million copies of your novel and scoring a movie deal involves a lot of luck, and you don’t gamble with the grocery money as they say. So, while that may be the dream, more realistic goals are in order.
Things like being able to pay your bills while working at home, eating out a few times a month, and upgrading your car are more realistic.
The pros to a three legged stool? Well, if one area, such as fiction sales, are slow, more money often comes in from another, like editing. And, if all three areas are doing well, you have a really good month or even quarter.
The cons? You’re busy. Really busy. And, if one area starts to lag, it is your job to go out and hustle up more business. Being a solopreneur means you do all the work, all the time, at least until you can afford to hire help in the areas of accounting, public relations, and marketing.
Can you do it? Well, if I can do it, almost anyone can. Tell me about your success story and your methods for getting there in the comments below. I hope my success inspires you toward yours, and I look forward to hearing from you.
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Troy Lambert is a freelance writer, editor, and author of thriller novels who lives and works in Boise, Idaho with his fiance, son, and two dogs. He is a hiker, skier, cyclist, and horrible golfer.
Redemption by Troy Lambert
What do prison and church have in common? In both places you can learn of your need for Redemption…
7.625 STRATEGIES IN EVERY BEST-SELLER - Revised and Expanded Edition
At this moment, thousands of would-be authors are slaving away on their keyboards, dreaming of literary success. But their efforts won’t count for much. Of all those manuscripts, trade book editors will sign up only a slim fraction.
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Read more here:
Thanks for the inspiration. As a full-time employee, I’ve felt like I’m getting the short end of the stick when I accidentally come to find out that the freelancer sitting to my right—hired to do part-time work that’s exactly what I’m doing on the very same project I’m working on—is getting paid an hourly wage that’s three times higher than mine.
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I just don’t see how you divide up your time, or how you get it all done. I’ve got six traditionally published nonfiction books out, and I can hardly keep up with the secretarial work of presentations, publicity, a blog and signings. I took a year off to write a novel.
Interesting take. I am just starting out – a veritable newbie. As I peruse the many and varied writing sites I, again, realize how daunting the idea of being a legit writer is. But because the prospects and opportunities are seemingly limitless I figure there has to be room for me somewhere. And enough room where I can grow and thrive. The trick from my little staring line is finding the “somewhere” out there. Let the adventure begin.
I enjoyed your article, especially that word solo….. but I’ll stick to the easy road – Sell my first best seller, then publish the four other books I have waiting – one of them at least will make a great movie – and bask in the sunshine with my fiancee whom I will marry if she’ll have me! I love the creativity of writing – don’t want a supervisor, though, between editors and the landlord (His name is Caliban) it often feels as if I do have bosses, and my own fiction and research and seeking publishers certainly keeps me full-time busy. Besides, I’m retired and have a lifetime income and full time for writing. Good luck to you on retirement, old chap. All the best,
Incidentally, I served in Vietnam with a sergeant named Lambert, whom we all despised as a “lifer.” I’m ashamed of that now. In subsequent studies I’ve seen how often the name Lambert (t silent) appears in French literature and history. All the best to you and the old sergeant.
Pedro. Go Warriors!
Great insight. Very helpful. Thanks for sharing.