“No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money” Samuel Johnson
So you’ve published your first novel. You’re swimming in loot now, aren’t you? Lighting fat cigars with fivers and trying to decide which of your Ferraris to drive to Tesco this morning, right?
NO! This is so very not right that I can feel the tears starting. I won’t go into detail about why you’re not up to the eyeballs in lucre the instant your book boings onto the bestseller list on Amazon (325,647th on the list, but hey, still on it). Briefly, it has to do with one or more of the following: laughably small advances paid out over long periods of time; spending so many years writing your novel that even a large advance means you earned the equivalent of 5p an hour; your agent takes 15%; and your royalty cheques, should you get any, will never be mistaken for JK Rowling’s.
Anyway, this is by way of explaining why most published authors still have to work for a living (something our mums don’t always quite understand.) The dream is to find part-time paid work that involves writing, so that you keep your hand in, get money for something you love and do well, and have some time to keep on writing fabulous novels. (Well, the DREAM-dream is for your book to be turned into a massive Hollywood franchise so that you need never work again. But the REAL-dream is to earn while you write.)
I spoke to several Prime Writers who have writing-related day jobs. These include non-fiction books, journalism, translating, academic writing, copy-writing, and screenplays.
Cari Rosen (author of The Secret Diary of a New Mum Aged 43 and a Quarter) has written some non-fiction books, such as Northern and Proud of It. This kind of book-writing doesn’t pay an advance or royalties – the writer gets a standard contract and a set fee. It’s fun to write another book, and is good practice for keeping to word limits and deadlines.
Cari is also a journalist: “I write the odd newspaper piece (though don’t get paid for all of them and when I do, it’s usually not very much). I also had a newspaper column for four years a while back. That also pays just about enough to keep me in ice cream for a week!” So, not a get-rich-quick pathway. Hmm. Starting to suspect that we should all have become bankers instead.
Here’s Cari’s latest piece of journalism, for the Telegraph, and here’s her website.
Louise Walters (author of Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase) had an unusual and not very lucrative money-making scheme: “I used to write poetry and got paid £20 once, by The Rialto.” That’s not going to make a big difference to the Ferrari fund, is it? Luckily Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase was a big hit. Louise’s website is here.
Alison Layland (author of Someone Else’s Conflict) makes her living as a translator: “I translate from German, French and Welsh into English. Translating fits in nicely with my writing. Translators are themselves writers – you have to be able to write well to produce a translated text. Until recently most of my work has been commercial, such as legal texts, technical manuals, and marketing copy. However, it’s always been my ambition to translate fiction, which can be as difficult to get into as getting your own novel published! I began when, as a result of winning a competition, I translated from French a wonderful literary novel, The Colour of Dawn, by Haitian author Yanick Lahens. For a couple of years now, I’ve been translating mainly romances and crime fiction from German for AmazonCrossing, a relatively new publishing arm of Amazon who specialise in translated fiction – which I really enjoy. The most interesting thing I have ever translated is a coffee-table book on Croatia, which originally sparked my interest in Croatia and the Balkans that ultimately led to the backstory in Someone Else’s Conflict. The weirdest thing I’ve ever translated… well, German marketing people love using English words and phrases, not always to the best effect, and you have to find a tactful way of suggesting they just CAN’T call their product that! My favourite is the outdoor pursuits gear manufacturer who wanted to call their high-capacity rucksack ‘Big Dump’.” Read more about Alison on her website, here.
Graeme Shimmin (author of A Kill in the Morning) has an eclectic list of projects. “Writing related things I have got paid for (or been promised money for, not all of it has materialised yet), are a chapter in a Creative Writing text book; a screenplay for a short film; and a reading/Q&A at a university function. I was also asked to write (though the projects fell through in the end) a novella for a hotel, featuring the hotel as a setting, and a short story to be used as the inspiration for a game. Things I’ve been asked to do for ‘a share in the profits’ (i.e. nothing… all turned down), are to ghost-write some guy’s autobiography, ‘collaborate’ (e.g. do all the real work) on ‘really good ideas’ for books, and edit peoples’ books.” Graeme’s website tells all, here.
Jo Bloom (author of Ridley Road) earns a living via internet-writing: “For years I was a communications consultant but now, if I pick up extra work, I mainly write scripts for e-learning companies. It involves working with subject matter experts (I often collaborate with social workers) to turn their content around issues, such as abuse or autism or social care, into interactive training materials. Because I lean towards scenario based e-learning, and need to create lots of characters and engaging storylines, writing fiction in tandem helps get the creative juices flowing!” See more on Jo’s website, here.
Sarah Jasmon (author of The Summer of Secrets) is a copy-writer: “I write copy for small businesses to put on their websites. Recent areas covered have been shed roofing, lorry tarpaulins, ground works and commercial electrical installations. It’s fascinating (it’s really not), but it easily matches my advance instalments, as well as being much more straightforward to write than novels. My latest assignment, for a landscape gardener who builds beautiful garden rooms, was to write an article about him to go in Local Life. The editor wrote back and said it was refreshing to have copy that told you what the product was instead of just saying how brilliant the company is. So, not only does it pay more, but the reviews tend to be positive. Stick that, Goodreads!”
Find out more on Sarah’s website, here.
As for me, I have started to scratch together a living helping other people with their writing. I teach creative writing, which means reading a lot of other people’s work and giving them feedback. And I do one-to-one coaching with people on their books, helping them with structure and character and whatnot. I’ve also started doing a bit of editing. And until Hollywood decide that The Good Neighbour is going to be the next Gone Girl, it looks like these will be my main routes towards saving for that Ferrari.
Actually I’d rather have a Fiat 500.