Adjusting To Being A Full-Time Author – Part 1


I’ve had a number of folks ask me about my experiences in transitioning from a career day job to working as a full-time author, so I thought I’d give you some of my impressions here, for what they may be worth. I’m breaking this up into four parts and this, of course, is part 1.

Now, keep in mind that I’m speaking from the perspective of a self-published author who’s now supporting his family entirely on those royalties. So some things may apply more or less to you, depending on your situation (e.g., you have a second income, etc.).

As a quick recap, I was a career government employee working for the National Security Agency (NSA) for twenty-five years, and was a GG-15 (the highest grade on the regular pay scale) when I decided to leap into writing full-time after SEASON OF THE HARVEST was published in February 2011. That was literally the turning point for me, because sales of that book took off and took my previously published books with it. The money that I made during the summer of 2011 from my book royalties convinced me that I’d be an idiot not to pursue it full-time, and so I resigned from NSA in mid-August.

Six months have passed since then, which actually comes as a bit of a shock: it seems like I just left work yesterday! Anyway, here are some impressions I’d like to pass on in hopes they may help someone else down the line who’s at the threshold of taking this particular leap of faith.

Health Insurance Coverage

You probably weren’t expecting this, were you? The reason I wanted to talk about this is that it was a huge issue for us in transitioning from a federal plan to a “regular” health plan, because it’s something I don’t believe people should be without (the FUBAR’d health care system notwithstanding), but depending on your situation, this is a potential show-stopper for becoming self-employed.

At NSA, I was covered by one of the federal government plans (the same as our friendly neighborhood congress-persons have). We paid about $400 a month for family coverage, while Uncle Sam (through your generous tax donations) paid another $800, for a total of right around $1200 a month for a state Blue Cross HMO. We had copays of $20 or so for office visits and whatever the formulary cost was for prescriptions (which were generally very cheap), and that was it – no deductible, no coinsurance. It didn’t matter if we went to the doc for a sniffle or if I needed a brain transplant, and there were all sorts of other bells and whistles. In short, for $400 a month and a few twenties now and again, our family didn’t have to worry at all about health care coverage. Best of all, the providers couldn’t drop us, screw us over on preexisting conditions (if we’d had any) or jack up our rates. They can’t do that for people covered under a federal plan. Sweet.

When my wife and I started seriously looking at me leaving NSA, I had to research alternative health care plans, the kind that “regular people” not working for the fed have. Holy crap. All I can say is that anyone who says we don’t need massive health care reform in this country is certifiably insane. I’m not making a political statement, just stating a fact.

After weeding through all the bazillion different plan options, which on the surface give the impression of offering choice, but compared to what I was used to only differed in the degree to which I was going to get screwed, I finally settled on one that had a premium of $600 a month and had a $2700 per person ($5400 family) annual deductible and no coinsurance. Just to compare those two, our federal plan cost us maybe a total of $5,000 a year for everything. Just the premium on the new plan is over $7000, and we could get stiffed over $12,000 if we had enough to eat up the family deductible. Yummy.

Of course, the insurance company didn’t want to cover me for 10 months for something they deemed was a preexisting condition, even though it hadn’t been an issue for over two years. So I had to sign a waiver for that, stating that the insurer wasn’t responsible for anything related to that condition for 10 months. Anything for that had to come out of my own pocket. Nice. Then, of course, they can later on “reevaluate” our coverage and raise our rates, etc. Welcome to the Matrix.

So, health care is a huge potential cost that you may or may not already have in your financial calculus. If you have a serious condition, you simply may not be able to afford insurance on your own.

Next up: Keep The Faith, But Don’t Count On Next Month’s Income…


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22 thoughts on “Adjusting To Being A Full-Time Author – Part 1

  • Jo VonBargen

    Spot on. A very serious issue indeed, for most of us. Take the time to thoroughly investigate before taking the leap. Looking forward to this series, Michael! Very helpful indeed!

    • Michael Hicks Post author

      Tom, the situation here is nothing short of criminal. I don’t expect any system to be perfect, because we’re human and we’re not capable of perfection.

      The insurance companies here have literally been sentencing people to death by pricing health care coverage out of reach, or dropping coverage when someone has a serious medical issue. The care providers are little better, because they’re not in operation to provide care, but to make a profit. And the pharmaceutical companies are far worse.

      It’s another topic I’ll be hammering on at http://rebootsociety.org.

  • Sonia G Medeiros

    There’s definitely a lot to consider when going completely independent. We have similar challenges with my hubby’s work. He’s a mortgage lender and works on commission only. The parent company does offer insurance but it’s not as nice when we both worked “regular” jobs. We have a mix of company insurance and independent policies that work for our family. Since I’m already a “stay at home” mom, there won’t be much of a change in that area. Thank goodness. ๐Ÿ˜€

  • Stephen Woodfin

    Michael: It is indeed a huge issue. I just had this conversation with my twenty-four year old daughter who is for the first time beginning to realize that a job with benefits is nothing to sneeze at.

    A gig as a full time writer is just like any other small business, long hours, no benefits.

    I applaud your willingness to address this issue and more importantly your decision to make writing a full-time endeavor.

  • Harper Jayne

    This is one major reason that our planning does not include my wife leaving a regular job for an extended period of time, even if I do end up being very successful. We’d rather have the stability of the one income that we are committed to living off of, and it includes the benefits we need as a growing family.

    Until we’re done expanding our family and our children are a bit older, it’s a bad idea to go without insurance provided by an employer. They have a LOT better plans than individuals can get access to because of the fact that they bargain in bulk.

    So yeah, Michael, we need some better options. I’m with you 100% of the way on that one.

    • Michael Hicks Post author

      That’s a good strategic plan. In our case, we were sort of past that possibility, as my wife left NSA in 2005 to work at home and take care of the boys. So for me it was either stick it out at NSA for another 9 years, which was a most unpalatable alternative, or leap out into space…

      • Harper Jayne

        Exactly, you’re (something like ten years) beyond where we’re at so it made a lot more sense for you than it does for us. I think you absolutely made the right decision. You (arguably) should not have any large medical bills given where each of you is at in life. (Fingers crossed for no unexpected misfortunes of course.)

        With us we’ve got one of three children we plan on, and having a baby under a non-subsidized family plan will get very expensive very quickly! ๐Ÿ™‚

        Plus my wife has no desire to stay at home. She likes working too much, so she may be a while in deciding to quit, regardless of how things go with my career.

  • Michael Gray

    I had this same issue when I went to writing full time. Previous, I had been covered by work, a veterinary pharmacy. When I made the jump to full-time writing, my family suddenly needed independent health care. Expecting a child soon, the situation felt damned near criminal to me. Still does.

    • Michael Hicks Post author

      That’s because it *is* criminal! You can bet if our congressmen had to put up with this garbage, we’d see sweeping health care reform overnight. Ugh. Don’t get me started! LOL!

  • Martin Blasick

    Welcome to my world. I’ve been a freelancer in the songwriting for tv/film game for over 20 years. The idea of getting some novels out there for nominal costs seems like added security no matter what the numbers are. The system is weighted against the self employed.

    • Michael Hicks Post author

      Yes, the self-employed get screwed. In terms of health care, I still don’t understand why there’s no group coverage option available. Why can’t we have state and/or national group coverage, where a bunch of self-employed folks pool their money and get better rates like the government and larger companies? Oy…

      • Harper Jayne

        I had this discussion with my wife yesterday and asked the same thing. The “bulk rate” that companies negotiate could be simply negotiated for all self-employed people in a region who join a collective bargaining unit . . . or am I talking crazy talk?

        • Michael Hicks Post author

          There actually are some group health care options for self-employed, but from what I’ve seen, the discounts aren’t all that much to crow about, or nonexistent. For example, I found one where the on-line quote is for the exact same plan as I’ve got now, and the cost is almost exactly the same as what I’m paying on my own. But no, as far as I know, there’s no organization that has the leverage to manage the same sorts of discounts and plans that larger companies or the government have. There SHOULD be – I saw a survey that indicated that about 25% of workers in the U.S. are self-employed (I don’t know how accurate that is), so there are an awful lot – but there’s no single entity to look out for us, since the government obviously isn’t. ๐Ÿ™

  • Bernard Schaffer

    It’s funny, but I’ve been pondering this exact question lately. With Superbia ranked at #112, I’m thinking that it just might become a real possibility in the near future. I’ve been wanting to contact you to ask you about health insurance and financial stability, but here you have a blog addressing those exact issues. Thanks again, my friend. Keep paving the way. Yours truly, Bernard

    • Michael Hicks Post author

      Bernard – That is AWESOME! I’m so happy for you! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Yes, it’s a big issue. Hopefully the other posts coming out this week will be of additional assistance…

  • Lara Martin

    I am wondering if Indie Authors could get together and start a Writer’s Guild/Co-Op with health care options. Sort of like SAG has to offer. Would that muck up our street cred?

    Most folks will choose health insurance over independence, especially if they have families to consider. It feels safer to be a well-oiled cog in a machine than a loose wrench in the works and the factory owners work hard to maintain that illusion (because there is truth in it).

    I applaud your careful consideration of the health care situation when you made the move from auto-insured to self-insured. You considered your family and their safety within the current paradigm of health care coverage and found a way to move forward as an independent writer.

  • Ruth

    Feeling rather privileged that I never had to consider this issue right now (I’m English.) I gave up work last year to combine full-time writing with being a stay at home mom, but if this had been a consideration I might not have had the luxury. Interesting post.

  • Nancy Lee

    Nice planning both you and your wife! Good luck. One of my dreams included writing novels. Now that I am retired perhaps I Can now devote my dreams! Continue to follow yours God bless you and your family! May you have success on your journey!