New Year’s 2017 is here and I’m looking back at how I went from fabulous England to the Midwestern prairies four years ago.
2013: I had a baby and my husband’s enlistment in the military ended. With no interest in re-enlisting, we moved from England back to the United States with an infant, no clue where we would find work, and the hope of living in a very specific place.
We had saved enough cash from deployments and also taken out two small personal loans, since the bank wouldn’t give us a mortgage. We bought a house that wouldn’t fall down, though it definitely needed work. My husband got a job a few months after we got home. The job and pay were awful, but it was something. My income from writing and editing helped, but none of it was enough. He found a better job closer to home and although we struggled financially, we got through the end of 2013 with the hope that 2014 would be better.
2014: We realized we needed a second income, even though daycare would sap away at least half of a second paycheck. So I found a job by June, stopped writing, and stopped editing. The job paid better than my husband’s job. Although my husband loved his job, his boss was terrible. One day when he couldn’t deal with his boss anymore, he told his boss’s boss that his boss had been violating a certain rule (smoking in the vehicles at work). Rather than things getting better, the higher-ups decided to demote my husband, decrease his pay, and change his hours at work. They knew we were sharing one vehicle, so the change in his hours would create a hardship on one of us getting to work every day.
Rather than fight this obvious retaliation, my husband walked out on the job and never returned. My husband stayed home with the children, and focused on his college education. His G.I. Bill helped alleviate some of the financial stress. I was able to support my family with my job and it remained a paycheck-to-paycheck struggle, but we were much happier.
2015: We bought a second vehicle. I resisted the idea, because I didn’t want an auto loan payment on top of the two personal loan payments. But I knew a pick-up truck with 4-wheel drive was essential for me to make it to work in the winter. We used our tax return to make the first expensive update to our house, hiring an electrician to replace our potentially-faulty, subpar electric breaker panel with a brand new one, and to upgrade our amp capacity to ensure my husband could run shop-grade power tools on it.
I got a promotion at work in March, which included a nice little pay raise, and I was pretty happy. Though I also realized I missed writing, so I went back to dabbling at it here and there. But I didn’t take it too seriously. Instead, I focused more on our garden and expanding into a mini-farm/homestead that would allow us to be more self-sufficient. I wanted to be able to spend more time at home than working outside of it, but I couldn’t quite figure out how we would “get ahead” to the point where that would happen.
I got another promotion in December, this time with a significant pay raise. And I was happy about it at the time…
2016: We used our tax return to make the next big update to our property, building a 16 x 20 workshop with attic storage.
The more time passed, the more I realized how much I hated my job. It was stressful and soul-sucking. It wasn’t at all what I’d hoped or expected, and I spent every day wanting to be home with my family. I dreaded going to work, because everything about my new position completely contradicted my feelings about humanity and our world and the life I want to live.
I had been a member of the Absolute Write forum for a while and followed all the “usual” writing blogs, but I finally joined a paid writing forum at the recommendation of a friend. Pay to belong to a forum? Seemed chancy to me, but I did it because my friend knew I was miserable and she knew I wanted to write again. However, writing had never earned me significant income. Not enough to support my family, certainly. I decided to try the thing everyone thinks is easy money – I tried to write romance and it went nowhere. Still, the forum, devoted specifically to writing romance, was full of fantastic information, so I stayed and learned all I could from the people there.
One day, I stumbled across a particular thread that interested me. I contacted the person who had answered many questions in the thread about what she writes, what she earns, and what she thinks people want in that particular genre of romance. Even though people had asked many questions, no one had reached out to her directly, but me. And she was happy to answer more detailed questions and recommend certain goals to attempt to achieve. We were discussing a very non-competitive category/niche, yet one in which a writer could earn a living. She said it was very possible for me to go from $0 to $3000 a month, and she said if I gave it a try, I’d be quitting my job in 6 months, because writing would pay the bills.
$100 a day? $3000 a month? That is my magic number. I needed to quit my job and focus. Even after taxes, that was all I needed to pay the bills, buy food, put gas in my vehicles… And 6 months to build up to it? Could that possibly be true?
I took the plunge, paid an artist for professional cover art, and wrote the book. It came to me in a flash of inspiration and I couldn’t stop myself. The genre was one I’d written a short story in, but never really explored. Just writing the story was incredibly freeing for me.
I hit the publish button on Amazon in October and then I watched as the book rose in its category. The goal was to get in the top 100 – nothing more. The author who encouraged me gave me a shout-out on her mailing list. And then the book rose to the top 100, then the top 20, and then it was #1. It even managed to hit the low 400s on the entire Amazon store.
The author who was mentoring me invited me into a chat channel with her and another author, and the three of us formed a small circle to discuss writing/craft, marketing, earnings, strategy… And my title remained at #1 for nearly 2 weeks.
And the money? The money was beyond my expectations. I didn’t just earn $3000, a monthly income that would equal my work income. I doubled it.
Even better were the emails I started receiving from readers, telling me how much they loved my book. It made them happy. It gave them warm-fuzzies. All the feels. Me? My writing was making people happy? That was all I ever wanted.
I put out my second book in November and it soared to #1, sitting alongside my first book as it “fell’ to the #2 spot. With that, I tripled my income.
I QUIT MY JOB
It was a chance and my boss asked if I wanted to take that chance now, rather than a few months from now. I told him I appreciated his concern and, yes, I was 99.99% certain I wanted to take the chance.
In December, I released my third book. It was a chancy time to do it, because all the big names in romance put out pre-holiday releases, so I held off until just after Christmas and crossed my fingers. In competition with the heavy-hitters, my book made a slow climb over its first week, broke into the top 20 – where my other two books were still hanging out! – and moved up into the #3 spot. I’m still watching it fight it out to move higher.
But December left me with no doubt that I’d made the right decision to quit working outside the home at a job that was killing my heart and spirit.
On December 29, I took my first month of big royalties (ever in over 5 years of being published) and paid off my first personal loan.
And as I look at those sweet, sweet zeroes, knowing I will pay off the second, larger loan on January 29, I know those first few years of struggling to make it have been about me getting where I want to be.
New Year’s 2017
2017: As we enter New Year’s 2017, this is a story yet to be told. If you could see my desk at home, you would see lists of plans, goals, and strategies. You would see a calendar plotting out every book release planned this year. And for the first time in a long time, I’m carrying around a planner again.
A planner doesn’t seem like a big thing, does it? Just a spiral-bound book of days, weeks, months…
But for me, the necessity of carrying a planner has always been because I control my own life 100%. I’m not answerable to a boss or other outside entity. Just me. The planner is my way of saying, “This is what I’ll be doing with my days.”
*Note: How did we manage from 2013 to 2016? By being frugal. How will we manage in 2017 with our income double-to-triple what it was? By still being frugal, self-sufficient and making smart financial decisions. Once we’re debt-free, the “extra” money goes into the kids’ college savings plans, retirement and renovations.
So if you think we’re going to be big pimpin’ just because we’ve actually got money to spare, nope. We want to enjoy life, but we aren’t going to be irresponsible. The gardening continues. The DIY continues. The tax returns probably cease when we file our 2017 return in 2018. I have to ensure I’m setting aside money to pay our taxes. But the extra income? We are saving it.*