Category Archives: Thoughts

How does a Writer make money?

Many don’t. I didn’t for the first five years or so. However, I stuck at it, I kept the day job going but put in consistent writing time too. It isn’t an easy route to being a full time writer (and if I’m honest I’m not 100% there yet myself). All the same, it does seem to work. Step by step, book sale by book sale, copy-writing job by copy-writing job; I am getting there.

But what does it mean to be a full-time writer?

This is where I have to draw the distinction between ‘writer’ and ‘author’.

The real end goal (for me at least) is to be able to write books full-time. This is when I’ll comfortably start calling myself an ‘author’.

For now I’m a ‘writer’ and to be honest I’m pretty happy with that. There’s a lot of interesting work to be done in the sort of wordplay and language use that I’m employed to do as a copywriter.

It makes me a better writer by forcing me to acknowledge the real effects of the words I write (occasionally these are even real-time effects).

What’s more, it allows me to meet more people from more walks of life. I’m reminded daily that it’s important to meet as many people as possible if I want to write believable characters.

So many people, so many characters

My own copy-writing work puts me face to face with dozens of different people on a weekly basis. I’m writing a lot of blog posts and other copy about local businesses in my area.

Our conversations often encompass hopes and dreams, the development of rare and unusual skills, and how they feel about what they do.

It’s a rich experience in character and in stories. Every business is a story, every owner or manager has their own dreams for that business.

They are so passionate about such different things, they know about worlds that I have never encountered; from equestrian husbandry, to jewelry making, to the challenges and triumphs of running a social enterprise.

I wouldn’t dream of simply inserting one of these people directly as-is into my books. It would feel wrong for some unplacable reason. All the same, I pay attention. They are such interesting people.

An entrepreneurial spirit seems to draw them together but their own loves, skills, and passions set them apart from one another. I would be foolish not to see this as a chance to understand a lot more about what makes for a gripping character.

I often get asked about how a writer makes a living, but I’m starting to see that making a living can also go a long way to making me a better author.

But how do I make money?

Here’s the big question. I’m not sure how to answer it simply. I have a background in retail, accademia, and I have a small amount of experience in town management. I’ve used this to set myself up as a freelance copywriter. I’ve got a growing list of contacts who know what I do and know they can contact me to create copy of a certain standard when they need it.

There’s not much room in that sort of business for being introverted (unless you have someone fighting your corner for you). This means that a fair bit of my month is spent chasing down content for clients and looking at new avenues which might bring me more work.

Writing with pen on paperIn short I’m a self-employed writer but a lot of my time isn’t spent writing; it’s spent with people. I interview people for blog content. I visit people to see if they need the services I offer. I try to figure out how to write things that will catch people’s attention. I like people, and I enjoy being sociable, so this isn’t a problem for me.

However, if you suffer from social anxiety or anything similar this path might not work for you. Here would be the stage to look at your list of talents to see which might combine to make writing a source of income. Perhaps a podcast would work for you, perhaps writing reviews for products, movies, music, or books.

There are places where you can apply for a ‘job’ as a writer, some of these jobs might be brilliant, I don’t know. All I do know is that so far I’ve personally found more fulfillment from doing things this way.

On top of the copywriting I also do author talks in schools about my books and about writing in general. This probably isn’t as lucrative as the copywriting but these talks are the times when I get to feel like an ‘author’. It’s me at my most celebratory about creativity.

You need to find a balance where you find a way for your writing to pay, where you still feel like you’re being creative, and where it makes sense (to you) in tems of money earned and time spent. If you’re aiming for this life, I sincerely hope you find a way to make it work.

I hope this post helps. It’s a question I get asked a lot (at school talks etc.) and this is a rough summary of my usual answers.

Thanks for stopping by and feel free to leave questions or comments in the comments section below (or over on Twitter, or Facebook)

 

Respect the Editors

You can be your own worst enemy. It doesn’t take much and you’re either filled with self doubt or over-confidence. A lot of the time I am not in the ‘happy medium’ between these two perspectives, in fact I let these two factions of myself loose on one another, waiting to see which side will win the battle.

The ‘inner editor’

One prominent member of the self-doubt faction is a version of myself that many artistic/creative types might recognise. Writers talk about something we call out ‘inner-editor’; the little voice inside that makes you procrastinate over a single paragraph rather than get on with the five pages you’re supposed to be writing that day.

He was a noisy, persistent, pedantic, and energy sapping presence for years. One day I found National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and with it I learned how to shut him up (for the most part).

The ‘inner artiste’

However, another character resides in my mind. He’s brooding, wildly passionate about everything, and possesses an unbreakable sense of self-worth. Everything he makes is a masterpiece. A sentence carved an finished to perfection, offered up as bountiful fruits to be enjoyed by the generations of humanity to come.This guy is a pillock. However, I need him. At 2am, when I’m just five-hundred words short of my daily goal the ‘Artiste’ pops out, full of certainty that he can create narrative splendour on four hours sleep, a couple of sandwiches, and fifty cups of tea.

The ‘artiste’ is my ace in the hole. My lifeline. He is the only way I know to get the words down in the time I’ve set myself.

However, what he writes often falls alarmingly short of expectations. When this happens my inner editor jumps out, prepared to gouge whole paragraphs (I don’t think he likes the ‘artiste’ much).

The truth is I reach a point where I can go no further with the tools I have at my disposal. I no longer look to an internal editor. At this moment I need a real-world reader/readers to look at my work, with a critical eye but also (I hope) with a degree of enjoyment of what they’re reading. I need an editor.

The REAL editor

I currently can’t afford the services of a real, fully qualified, editor. I honestly cannot wait for the day I can.However, so far I’ve managed to get by with support from a group of people I regard as ‘beta-testers’. Readers who dive into what I write and who I know will be honest. In some rare cases I’m given detailed notes covering grammar issues, lax areas in storytelling, and continuity errors (I’m an awful one for forgetting which characters are at which locations). (My wife is a great ‘beta-tester’, it’s almost as though tearing me a new one is actually enjoyable for her).

The odd thing about a good editor is that they look at a raw piece of work and see what it could be. Not only that but they have the wherewithal to guide the author to change that raw manuscript into something greater than it would have otherwise been.

Editors gain little credit for this. If (like me) you’re the sort of person who reads acknowledgements you’ll be accustomed to seeing editors receiving high praise. However, this is an often skipped section of a book and so, to all intents and purposes, the editor often goes unacknowledged.

Out there somewhere are a host of individuals who have spent countless hours improving some of your favourite works. You might pass them on the street and never know what they did.

The world’s literature is richer, more nuanced, and more engaging, thanks in a large part to the efforts of a group of unsung heroes. The ‘artiste’ might tear shiny rocks from the ground but it’s the editor who cuts them and polishes them in just the right way to make them shine. (To any editors reading this I apologise for the tired metaphor, I am but a lowly wordsmith).

I’d love to hear your own thoughts on the role of an editor in the creation of a literary work. Please feel free to comment below.

As always, thanks for reading,

All the best, John