Glass Slippers Glass Ceiling Having a Dream and Having a Job: An Interview with Amy Spalding, Author Anna Swenson

There are very few of us who are lucky enough to do our childhood dream as a full-time career. But rather than giving up that passion entirely, is it possible to do both? Can one have a day job and a creative career? Amy Spalding, marketing professional and YA author, continues to succeed in her career as a media planner after writing and selling three novels (and counting).  Her latest book “Ink is Thicker Than Water” comes out Tuesday, December 3, and she was kind enough to take the time to answer my questions about being a lady in two careers.

Her answers touch on some of the toughest questions a person faces in her career, from how to reconcile personal fulfillment with paying the bills to being considered differently based on how you look. Read on for advice on how to balance day jobs and other passions, when to act like a badass in the office, and the greatness of crab handrolls (and if you like it, read her books, too!)

Q: You’re a successful novelist with two books out and another set to publish in 2015. Why do you choose to also keep your day job as senior manager of digital media for a film advertising agency?

Amy Spalding: To be completely honest, it’s not a choice at this point. Books are great, and I’d be writing regardless if anyone wanted to publish them (and I did for a very long time), but at this point in my life they aren’t paying the bills. . . I’m not someone who is comfortable not knowing when my next paycheck is hitting or how much it’ll be. The pressure a steady job takes off gives me more mental space to be creative.

So with that said, if my writing career gets to the point where it’s a choice I could make, those are a lot of good reasons I would still choose to keep the day job. I feel like there’s a tendency to think that if a writer doesn’t completely support themselves with writing that they haven’t “made it”. There are so many ways to make it! So I try not to think of paring down to one job only as the goal. I do my best to live in the now with my careers.

Q: When starting out as a writer, did you think you would quit your day job at some point in your writing career?

AS: Oh, totally! My dream growing up was to be a writer (well, or direct musical theatre, so you can tell financial viability was not a thing I was super concerned with back then), and the only reason I ended up majoring in advertising and marketing communications in college was I figured I didn’t need a degree to write a book but I would need one to get a job doing whatever paid me while I wrote a book. . . And for quite awhile, I assumed that I’d get paid in marketing until the books happened.

A couple things made me reconsider this. Firstly, the books didn’t happen right away, and even when they did, I learned more about the realities of the publishing industry. Which are, frankly, that lots of books don’t pay big money. And I’m fine with that, but it did require me to readjust how I thought about my dayjob. Which leads me to my second point, which is that once I actually got into media planning. . .I liked it! I didn’t want to aim for a low-level assistant life, just to make my day job SEEM like a day job. I wanted to take on more and advance.

Q: Did you ever encounter conflict in your day job by pursuing a second career?

AS: I’ve had more than one job where I was either indirectly or blatantly talked to for not caring enough about media because I had “this other thing”. And I never understood that. . .because we all have other things! Our lives are rarely just about work. We have family and friends and relationships and pets and hobbies, and yet because I wanted a book published I was seen as not as invested.

So because of that, my advice for women starting out in either the day job or the creative field, is to keep as much to yourself as you can, at least until you have a decent idea of the company culture. My agency is definitely full of people who have creative interests, and so there’s no resentment here that I write books. But I definitely dropped this info slowly at first, basically until I got my first book deal. If I were at one of my previous jobs where I could tell people saw it as some sort of danger sign, I would have been much quieter about it, even after public announcements.

You definitely can’t control your company’s climate, and a lot of the times you really can’t control TOO much where you work. But I’d definitely make it a goal to find a job somewhere that, if not supportive, at least doesn’t mind your second career. (Also that probably means it’s a more supportive environment overall.)

Q: Do you get more satisfaction out of successes in your day job or in your writing career?

AS: Overall? My writing career, absolutely. I’ve been working toward this nearly my whole life, and it feels amazing to have books published and have people who aren’t my friends reading about my characters. That said, it’s nice to have small tasks on an everyday basis with my day job, because the publishing world often moves at a snail’s pace, and I’m glad I don’t have to rely on it and it alone for career satisfaction! Also I have to live with books for a long time, and while that’s great, it’s nice to have this other world where at most I might spend a few months on a film, or as little as a couple of weeks. Switching gears can be a nice palate-cleanser.

Q: You’ve discussed not considering “fat” an insult. Have you encountered reactions to your weight in your advertising career? For young women feeling pressured in their offices because of their size, do you have any advice?

AS: I think it’s been long enough since this happened that I can mention it by name, but I once worked on the advertising campaign for “Norbit,” a movie in which Eddie Murphy dresses up like a fat woman. And basically the whole joke is she thinks she’s attractive and deserving of love and sex. Har har har. I didn’t say a word the entire time, because I worked at a big studio at the time, and I felt inherently I’d accepted I might work on stupid offensive movies occasionally. But afterward, when we were discussing some protesting that had been going on, the senior vice president said, “Spalding, you weren’t offended by any of this, were you?” And I replied, “Uh, yeah, I was offended by ALL of it. I just kept my mouth shut until the damn film opened.”

I’ve also worked one place where I could tell I was getting a once-over from people for not fitting a certain mold or size or whatever on a semi-regular basis. And that was even worse, because no one’s actually saying anything or doing anything you can respond to. (This was the same job where someone saw me remove my glasses for a moment and said, “Wow! You’re actually pretty without glasses! You should get Lasik!” Um, thank you?)

I don’t know what my advice is, honestly. The way I’ve dealt is to call out stuff when it’s said, and to try to act like a bad-ass when it’s unsaid. (My therapist would not agree with this bad-ass move but sometimes I’ve gotta go with the fake-it-’til-you-make-it method.) That’s kind of my fat advice in general.

Q: If you got to order lunch for the office from anywhere in the world, where would you pick?

AS: The media planner cliche in L.A. is Katsu-ya Studio City but it’s cliche for a reason! Baked crab handrolls for life!

Thank you to Amy Spalding for these insightful answers on the many different ways there are to “make it.” I hope it helps a few other ladies out there who have a day job as well as a creative goal in mind. I can’t wait to interview all of you about your new play/gallery opening/invention/latest YA novel.

AmySpaldingHeadshotMore on Amy Spalding:  Amy Spalding grew up outside of St. Louis. She now lives in Los Angeles with two cats and a dog. She works in marketing and does a lot of improv. She has more tattoos than she can count.

Amy would love for you to visit her online at www.theamyspalding.com or on Twitter @theames.

Featured image via Shutterstock. Author photo credit: Jessie Weinberg.

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  1. Thank you so much for this interview. Amy’s words really resonated with me.

    I too am an author, with 29 published books, and I too must work a day job to ensure that the bills get paid on time every month. I wouldn’t trade being an author for anything, but I also rely on the stability of a 40 hour a week paycheck. Not to mention the ever loved health insurance that comes with it.

    As for the environment at work, it can indeed get rough when ‘management’ finds out about outside endeavors. For me, it often feels as if they assume I don’t need a raise since I have so many books published I couldn’t possibly be hurting. Well, they don’t call us starving artists for nothing, lol.

    Thank you again for sharing more about Ms. Spalding. I am very much looking forward to her upcoming book and wish her all the best and many sales on current and future writings.

    XoXoXo
    Dakota Rebel

    • Thanks for reading, Dakota! I’m so glad Amy’s words were helpful to you. Her first two books are available now (THE REECE MALCOLM LIST and INK IS THICKER THAN WATER), and her third book will be out in 2015. It’s inspiring to hear that you’ve written so many books while holding down a day job, too. Hang in there!