September 21 – 27: “Have you given up your day job to write thrillers full-time?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5Have you given up your day job to write thrillers full-time? This week we’re joined by ITW Members Lisa von Biela, Baron R. Birthcher and Michael Ransom to ask what advice they have for others considering this leap?




BROKEN CHAIN COVERLisa von Biela began writing dark fiction just after the turn of the century. Her very first short story appeared in The Edge in 2002. After working in IT for 25 years, Lisa dropped out of everything—including writing—to attend the University of Minnesota Law School. She graduated magna cum laude in 2009, and now practices law and writes in the Seattle area. On the writing front, she’s made up for lost time since law school and is now the author of the novels THE GENESIS CODE, THE JANUS LEGACY, BLOCKBUSTER, and BROKEN CHAIN, as well as the novellas ASH AND BONE and SKINSHIFT.


hard Latitudes CoverBaron R. Birtcher spent a number of years as a professional musician, and founded an independent record label and management company. Critics have hailed his writing as “The real deal” (Publishers Weekly) and his plots as “Taut, gritty and powerfully controlled” (Kirkus Reviews). His first two Mike Travis novels, Roadhouse Blues and Ruby Tuesday were Los Angeles Times and IMBA bestsellers. Angels Fall, the third installment of the acclaimed series, was nominated for the “Lefty” Award by Left Coast Crime. Rain Dogs, his first stand-alone, was nominated for both the Claymore and Silver Falchion Awards.


Ripper Gene cover_bigMichael Ransom is a molecular biologist and a recognized expert in the fields of toxicogenomics and pharmacogenetics. He is widely published in scientific journals and has edited multiple textbooks in biomedical research. He is currently a pharmaceutical executive and an adjunct professor in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Raised in rural Mississippi, he now makes his home in northern New Jersey. The Ripper Gene is his first novel.



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  1. Well, no. Revenues from my writing have not reached a level where I feel it’s time to even ask the question. Not seriously, anyway. I’m hoping some of my fellow panelists this week have a different point of view to share!

    So meanwhile, I live in a world where there are two of me. During the week, I’m one person, focused on my work and dealing with the commute. On the weekends/holidays and “time pockets” during the week (like the mornings when I’m getting ready for work), I’m a totally different person, focused on my writing. And as we all know, that includes much more than “just” writing. It’s planning, marketing, social media, and all the other support activities that need to happen as well.

    I carry my iPad and a small notepad everywhere, just in case a brilliant idea comes to me in a time/place where I can’t act on it. I can at least capture it for later!

  2. I haven’t given up my day job…yet. I’ve worked as a scientist for almost two decades (longer, if you count my doctoral thesis research). I’ve mentioned this in other interviews, so I won’t belabor it here, but throughout my life I’ve always swung back and forth between primarily pursuing science on the one hand, and pursuing creative writing on the other in my spare time. The two disciplines require completely opposite “sides of the brain”, but that’s always been a badge of honor for me. And in truth, I enjoy both disciplines very much.

    So while I haven’t given up my day job as a scientist, I will be taking a significant break from the workforce in order to find out what it’s like to be a full-time author. I’ve never committed myself to writing full-time, and this became one of my biggest regrets recently. At this year’s Thrillerfest, which ran only a few weeks before The Ripper Gene’s publication date, I was surprised by the envy I felt toward other writers who spoke on panels or in plenary sessions about their “lives as a writer”. I now realize I’d love to be a full-time author myself, I really would. I know that now.

    So will I ever give up my job to write thrillers full-time? Absolutely. It’s just a matter of “when”, not “if”. My advice for part-time authors considering this leap would be to test it out first. That’s what I’m doing. I must admit, at this point in time I strongly “believe” that I want to be a full-time writer… but I will also be the first to admit that I don’t “know” that for certain. In fact, I’m entirely open to the possibility that I may get to the end of this “significant break” and find that I personally can’t be a full-time writer. I may not be cut out for it. I may not have the discipline necessary, after being in an industry for 20 years where you go into the office, have meetings, make decisions, discuss data, and move projects forward. I may need to be a scientist, too. And it may be the tension generated when trying to accomplish both of these “mad pursuits” that fuels excellence in either. I don’t honestly know.

    In science we often run “pilot projects” whenever we find an exciting, new, un-proven technology that just MAY give us the kinds of novel, innovative answers we’re looking for as we explore the human genome to identify markers related to disease or response to therapy. The idea of a pilot project is just that- a test run- to determine if the technology really can work. If the pilot is a success, we often jump in with both feet and throw significant money and resources towards the technology, confident that it will give us the answers we seek. If the pilot fails, then we can walk away with the confidence that we 1) gave it a try but 2) determined that it wouldn’t meet our needs.

    So if you’re able (and I realize that’s a tremendous “IF”)… I’d highly recommend a “pilot project” for any part-time author considering the leap. But the key is honestly “doing it”…not trying it out for a week, kind of, with a little Xbox thrown in for good measure, and a 3 day vacation to the shore, and then saying “yeah, I could get used to being a full-time writer”. Not that. But a real, honest pilot project where you sit down for at least a few months and become a full-time writer, day-in, day-out. Can you motivate yourself every morning to get up, kiss the kids and spouse, lock the door and just type. And type. And type? Can you? Can you push through and keep writing when the muse finally descends and you catch fire in the chair, no matter if its one, two, three or four o’clock in the morning? Can you say “no” to things because you know you need that time to write? Can you sit in that chair even when the words won’t come, when the computer may as well be turned off, because nothing’s coming…and there’s still four more hours of writing time that day? Those are all the questions (and more) that I’m going to be asking, and finding out about myself.

    And I can’t wait.

  3. Michael,

    I’m curious, what sort of length are you thinking for your “pilot”? Seems to me a week, even two, wouldn’t really be enough to get a real taste of full-time writing.

    1. Hi Lisa- I’m planning on 3 months from now until the end of the year. I completely agree with you that 1 or 2 weeks just wouldn’t cut it. I realize I’m very fortunate to be in the position to do this (for 3 months) but that’s what I’m planning.

      I was just emailing another author friend of mine (NYT best seller who gave me great advice at the beginning of my career and told me NOT to give up my day job). I mentioned to her that I don’t know whether I’ll find that I love it or that i really miss the dual career. We’ll see.

      It’s a kind of nice arrangement because there’s not a lot of pressure. If it works out and I somehow am able to become a full-time author, GREAT! If not, then I gave it a try, I know now, and I can go back to dual career. I wanted to make sure I didn’t feel a ton of pressure before giving this a try.

      I will definitely blog about it in the future and (hopefully) come back to this forum and update folks.

      Are you planning on doing a similar trial someday? Your typical work day / weekend writing day scenario sounded awfully familiar to me so I believe we’re in the same boat. If you’re not planning to do so in the near future…would you consider it down the road?

      1. Hi Michael,

        Sounds like fun to me! But no, actually, I hadn’t thought of your pilot idea. I’m not in a position to take that amount of time off anyway. Had I thought of it at the time, maybe I could have done it during one of the summers during law school!

        I think there are two big aspects to the “do I go full-time as a writer” question. One of them is the lifestyle/discipline angle you’re talking about. Can you sit there day after day alone and produce? How will you feel when you’re no longer in the day-to-day rhythm of your work? In your case, will the lack of firsthand exposure to your work have an effect on your fiction, which is clearly biotech in nature?

        But there is the other side of the question: financial. Unless you hit the mother lode of bestseller lists right out of the gate, it takes time to build your name and such in the market to have a hope of making a living writing. Unless you’re very fortunate to hit that, three months, in my opinion/experience, won’t tell you if you can live on the proceeds. But it appears you’re only trying to answer the first question with your plan.

        Good luck and keep us posted!

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