We've all heard that publishing is a dog-eat-dog world, that Amazon is the 800 lb gorilla of Internet booksellers, and how if you swim with sharks you can expect to get bitten. I've heard that actors despise working with animals, but for many writers, working with animals is part of the dream. Sure, there will always be the metropolitan authors who dream of a brownstone in Manhattan and maybe a few apartment getaways in London, Paris and L.A. But I think more authors, including the famous ones, prefer the gentleman's farm or old New England town, often choosing Vermont for its beauty or New Hampshire for it's taxes.
I thought the "good life" would make an interesting backdrop for a video about fiction writing. The extras refused to cooperate and I swear they maneuvered me into the shade so they could look good at my expense. After the twelfth take, they laid down on the job (literally) so I had to go with what I had:
The publishing industry is full of animals, but you don't have to become one to live the dream. If you write fiction, however, you may want to start out living the dream part time. Writing books for a living isn't a cake walk, even for nonfiction writers. As with all self employment, there are no benefits, no unemployment insurance, and no job security. If you've never been self employed, you might not realize that "no benefits" means; no paid vacation (not even national holidays), no paid jury duty, no paid sick days, no free health insurance, no pension, no 401K matching money, and nobody to blame for your career frustration but yourself! If you have a family and your only income will be from self employment, it means you better have a couple years expenses in the bank if you don't want to find yourself back back begging for a job. Generating an income from writing books has a long lead time. Whether you are self publishing or working as a trade author, if you write several commercial flops in a row, you may find it impossible keep going.
I'm one of those writers who started out by writing short stories and moved on to a bad novel, in part to prove to myself I could write at length. I did it when I was in my early thirties and had saved up enough money to go a year without working. When I realized that I wasn't going to be able to make any money writing fiction any time soon, I couldn't face going back to work at a real job. So I limped by doing contract work in my old field for a few years while getting a nonfiction writing career off the ground. Once I was making a living as a trade author, I shifted to self publishing. But I never went back to fiction, except for the occasional blog post, and unless I stop writing nonfiction and start doing other work for a living, I really doubt I will.
It's a mistake for authors without a long track record to assume they'll be able to earn a living writing books. Writing part time while holding down a real job is the safest bet for keeping the coyotes from the door while pursuing your dream. It may even prove to be a better way to develop your fiction skills in the long run. Writing nonfiction for a living, if you can manage it, may drain you of the creativity and focus that writing fiction requires. I think fiction writing is best suited to part time authors with salary jobs they can leave at the office, or full time fiction authors who have solved the income puzzle. I'm aware that quite a few famous authors mixed and matched fiction and nonfiction (especially travelogues and science writing), but you need more discipline than I have to live that sort of dual life.