What it’s really like being a full-time romance author
A few weeks ago, I was chatting to a lovely new acquaintance, who asked me what I did for a living.
“Um, I’m a writer,” I mumbled, self-consciously. “I write things. Books, mostly. I write books.”
“Wow,” said New Acquaintance, looking much more impressed by this than my meagre book sales could possibly warrant. “That’s amazing! What kind of books?”
I paused, sensing I was about to disappoint this nice woman, who probably thought she was speaking to the next Margaret Atwood, or, I don’t know, maybe even a Sally Rooney, or a Taylor Jenkins Reid, perhaps?
But no: it was just me — and, so it was that I was forced to admit that I write trashy romance novels, that are unlikely to ever be made into a Netflix Limited Series, no matter how hard my husband tries to convince me otherwise.
“Oh, wow,” New Acquaintance said again. “A romance author! That really suits you!”
Then the conversation was interrupted (probably by kids), so I wasn’t able to ask her what it was about me that made me suit the title of ‘romance author’ — which was a shame, because I will now spend the rest of my life wondering about it. I know it probably wasn’t my appearance at the time, because when I went to the bathroom a few minutes later, I realized I had my dress on back-to-front (Look, it was a knit dress, OK? They kind of look the same whatever way round you wear them?), and looked like I hadn’t slept in about a year, but, then again, that is the kind of thing the main character of my first book would do, so maybe it was that?
(OK, it’s either that, or it’s that I come across as a bit vapid or whatever other stereotypes people like to attribute to people who like romance novels. So lets just hope it’s the back-to-front dress, hey?)
I don’t know. The thing is, though, I don’t really feel like a romance author most of the time: mostly, I think because, before I started doing this for a living, I always imagined authors (romance or otherwise*…) as having this dreamy kind of lifestyle, in which they would wake up in their beautiful home, then spend their days wafting around, drinking coffee and reading books (for research, obviously…), before settling down at a desk with a view of the ocean to write a few, carefully-crafted words, with absolutely no time constraints, and — it goes without saying — with all of their clothes on the right way around.
(*Maybe not crime or thriller writers, actually. I like to imagine them sitting with a white cat on their laps, cackling evilly, while day drinking. Please don’t ruin this for me if you write thrillers…)
Or something like that, anyway. A romantic lifestyle, as befits someone who writes about romance for a living, basically. Or, actually, now I come to think of it, maybe just the lifestyle of one of those ‘slow living’ people I follow on Substack, who seem to spend their days sipping coffee on their picturesque doorsteps, before snuggling up in a blanket to while away the afternoon with a good book?
(Side note: the ‘slow living’ people absolutely fascinate me. I so badly want to be like them, but I can’t seem to figure out how to do a ‘slow’ school run, or ‘slow soft play’, say, so it looks like I’m doomed to live fast instead. No one’s writing newsletters romanticising that, though, are they?)
What I don’t imagine is someone living in an ordinary, suburban house: one with piles of laundry all over the place, and a Lego model of the Titanic in the living room, because her 6-year-old wanted it for Christmas, and there’s nowhere else to put it. I don’t imagine leggings and sweatshirts (Not even that really cool Cornelia Street one my mum got me…), and I definitely don’t imagine there being a 6-year-old singing Viva la Vida by Coldplay on repeat at all hours of the day, and sometimes long into the night. No, I do not.
(Can you die from being made to listen to Coldplay on repeat, do you think? Because RIP me, if so…)
But such is the reality of life as a self-published author, unfortunately. For one thing, there is no ‘wafting’. None at all. I’m not even sure I know HOW to ‘waft’, actually, that’s how little wafting there is in my life. There are no sea views, either. My desk (Yes, I work at a desk, not curled up in a cosy armchair by a log fire…) looks out onto the houses opposite us, and I have to have the blinds lowered most of the time anyway, otherwise the sun shines right into my eyes and gives me a migraine.
Instead of only writing ‘when the muse takes me’, like I thought I would, I write every day from Monday to Friday, more or less from 9-5pm, with a break for lunch, and normally another one to deal with the aforementioned piles of laundry. So, like a standard office job, basically, which is something worth thinking about next time you consider ditching the 9-5 in favor of… a different 9-5. Yes.
When I write, I have a set word-count which I know I have to hit every day in order to meet my deadline. If, for some reason, I don’t manage to make this word-count …. well, nothing really happens, to be honest, except that I feel horribly guilty and a little bit panicky, because I know I’m going to have to write even more the next day to make up for it. Fortunately for me, though, I don’t find it hugely difficult to make the word-count, because I’m a plotter: I don’t meticulously plan out every single aspect of my books, but I do know everything that has to happen in order to get me from the beginning to the end, and what order they have to happen in, and that makes it a whole lot easier for me to sit down every day and crank out dem words.
Like most of the authors I know, though, writing books isn’t the the only thing I do to earn a living, and this is because writing books is so badly paid (In my case, I mean: your mileage may vary…) that
only very rich people can afford to do it full-time I would definitely be in that Victorian workhouse I’m always banging on about by now, if I was relying on it to pay the bills. So, most authors I know have other jobs or side-hustles, too.
In my case, I also have my blog and Instagram (Which, bizarrely enough, people still sometimes pay to be featured on, even though I’m pretty sure only my mum and dad ever see it), my Substack newsletter, and, when times are really bad, freelance ghostwriting. Which, OK, still technically counts as writing romance books for a living, but which feels a lot more like working for The Man, because most employers go out of their way to make it feel like that.
Just like any other form of self-employment, there are no paid holidays or sick days, and no one to take over if you fancy a day off, or your child is sent home from school with a mysterious illness that miraculously clears up as soon as the school day is over and he wants to go out to play with his friends. On the other hand, though, there are no demanding bosses, annoying office politics, or weird colleagues who chew gum with their mouths open all day, and, to be honest, that last one alone makes it worth every moment of financial uncertainty and crippling anxiety about what people might be saying about me on Goodreads.
So, does it suit me?
Most of the time, yeah. All things considered, I feel pretty lucky to be able to escape into a completely imaginary world every day (Well, every Mon-Fri, between the hours of 9-5pm, anyway…) and call it “work”. I’d consider myself even luckier, of course, if I was making a huge amount of money from it, and was able to read books all day for ‘research’ purposes, but, hey — you can’t have it all, can you? No job is perfect, but writing books (While also blogging and Substacking) is as close as I think I’m going to get to it in this lifetime: even if I do sometimes find myself doing it with my clothes on back-to-front, and a Lego model of the Titanic in my living room…
(This feels like a good time to tell you that my next book will be released on January 26th, and you can pre-order it here. Because that would make me feel very lucky indeed…)
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