I’m delighted to welcome Regan Rose to MCW today, who has thrilling news to share. Like me, Regan juggled writing with her work as a Portland lawyer until last fall, when her life took a sharp turn in a happy direction.
Remember her name, folks, because soon it will be on everyone’s lips when talk turns to talented Maine authors. Her success is a fine example of what can happen when you work hard and keep your goals in focus. I’ll let her tell you the wonderful story.
First, I got my literary agent.
When I told my best friend, who worked at the same law office, she screamed, hugged me, and dropped her shoulders. “This is the beginning of you leaving me,” she said, predicting I’d get a big book deal and quit my job.
I’d read enough articles, interviews, and Instagram captions to know that getting an agent is not synonymous with getting a book deal. I also knew that getting a book deal does not mean you get to quit your day job. The little information I could find online made it clear that the average advance for debut novelist was tiny, not to mention that it would likely be split up into multiple payments made over a year or two. (And don’t forget the agent’s cut and taxes.) Sure, there were blips on the bell curve: lucky debut authors who got six-figure book deals. But even one big book deal does not equal a second and third deal, much less a well-paid career as an author.
“Oh, shut up,” I told my friend. “I am not leaving you.”
In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert urges her readers not to crush their artistic dreams by making that dream the sole source of their financial security. This struck me as very good advice, and it was not novel to me. When I was young, my dad had a sign in the garage that said “Don’t Quit Your Day Job.” I had no clue why he had that thing, but I’ve always remembered it.
My day job was lawyering; not a job one quits lightly. But a few years in, I’d begun to doubt that it was right for me. My original plan had been to work with at-risk children, but I didn’t anticipate the emotional and psychological toll of defending kids charged with juvenile crimes, representing parents in child protection cases, and making recommendations for children as a guardian ad litem.
After a couple years, I switched gears and moved to the civil litigation firm where my best friend worked. It wasn’t the work of my heart, but I was feeling healthier, had awesome coworkers, and was making good money. I got up at 5:00 every morning to write, then went to the office feeling satisfied that I’d made some art that day.
Then I got my literary agent. I quietly basked in the thrill but tempered it with the expectation that nothing would change at work.
A week later, my agent sold the book to Pamela Dorman Books, an imprint at Penguin. My googling about the average advance had not prepared me for the offer. Deserved or not, I was going to be one of those blips on the right side of the bell curve. I went into my best friend’s office, shut her door, and told her. We did so much squealing and jumping around that the partner who shared a wall with her probably thought I was pregnant.
I worked the rest of that week at the office without telling anyone else the big news. I suspected that people would ask me how the book deal would affect my career at the firm, and deep down, I knew I needed to process things before I promised anyone else that I wasn’t going anywhere.
I answered a lot of emails and phone calls about the book. I sat around feeling (and probably looking) dazed. I tried to ignore how hard it was to come into the office and care about the work on my desk. Then Publishers Weekly wrote a buzzy little piece about the book deal. My friend teared up when she read it and repeated her question about when I was giving my notice. Again, I said, “I’m not.” I mostly still believed this.
That weekend, my agent sold the UK publishing rights to Michael Joseph Books at Penguin UK. My family had to do the celebrating for me because I was weirdly stressed about the situation. There is something terrifying about having your dreams come true, and it doesn’t help when it happens like successive shotgun blasts.
It wasn’t just that something new and exciting was beginning. Something else was dying. I knew I didn’t want to rely solely on the book deal for financial support, nor did I want to spend all of my working hours writing, but my time as a lawyer was over. If I was going to be one of those lucky debut authors out on the end of the bell curve, I wanted to go all in on my dream. That meant my work as an author taking center stage and something totally different propping it up . Something related to books…maybe working at a library or bookstore part time.
I talked it through with my husband and my parents, then I texted my friend. It was a Monday holiday, but she was at the office. I asked her to call me when she left. “So you can tell me you’re quitting?” she replied.
I hate when she’s right.
I didn’t feel like I was “quitting” when I told my colleagues the next day. I felt like I was leaving. Quitting sounded bitter; leaving, bittersweet. And happily, I got nothing but giddy congratulations.
I stayed at the firm for almost seven more weeks, winding down work and putting my law license on “inactive” status. One of the partners stopped by my door a few times a week to smile and tell me that he loathed me. The firm threw me a retirement party, complete with speeches, food and booze, and an ice bucket that read: “Regan Rosé all day.”
Thanksgiving was my first day as a full-time author, but I don’t write traditional full-time hours every week. Not surprisingly, there are challenges that come with being your own boss, working from home, and doing creative work for most of the day.
In February, I made good on my silent promise to Elizabeth Gilbert and got a job as a substitute at the library next to my house. The shifts are sporadic, but they help structure my workdays. I’m still experimenting and observing what kind of hours work best for my writing. I expect it will take a lot of patience to find my ideal schedule.
What does it feel like to quit your day job? I’d say it’s tidal. Some days I feel great, like I’m using the privilege I’ve been granted to be the best author I can be. Other days I feel guilty, like I’ve reverted back to my lazy teenage self after more than a decade of being Ms. Responsible. Most of the time I feel like I simply changed careers. I adjusted the amount of brain power and time I devote to my writing by putting it first, and I adjusted that further by swapping lawyering for librarying (let me verb my nouns, okay?)
Right now, the tradeoff feels perfect, but we’ll see. The beautiful thing about a law license is that you can put it on ice for a number of years and return to it relatively hassle-free, which I might do in the future. But for now, the only thing I’m going to reach for in the ice bucket is another glass of Regan Rosé.
What do you think: Have I made a terrible mistake? Have you ever quit your day job, or do you aspire to? If you write, where and how does it factor into the rest of your working life?
Regan Rose’s debut novel is slated for publication in the summer of 2021. It’s currently called A KINDNESS, but there’s a new title in talks. Kate Flora recently wrote all about the fun and headache of renaming a novel here: https://mainecrimewriters.com/2020/02/04/whats-in-a-name-6/
Set in a fictional town in southern Maine, A KINDNESS is equal parts family drama, crime story, and moral thriller. The story alternates between the past, when Julia Hall’s family was rocked by her brother-in-law’s sexual assault, and the present, when Julia is called to the home of the detective who investigated the crime. You can keep up with Regan and learn more about her book at http://regan-rose.com, where all of her contact information is available.