On being a professional author: good reasons NOT to do it, and better reasons to do it anyway

  1. Sue at Reason CafeA small minority earn a living wage.
  2. Very few find publishers or agents with respect for writing as an art form rather than a nice little earner, and therefore few find publishers they can trust.
  3. Many agents and publishers will try to mess with the writing for commercial reasons – your strong girl should be a boy, your second book must be a sequel, your sentences are too long and your language too literary. A very famous author with a big publisher told us that this kind of interference still happens to him! This is one reason I’ve met and heard of authors taken up by the big boys only to cut and run. Some even revert to self-publishing.
  4. Without a big publisher, however, many writers have to do their own marketing. Promotion eats into writing time, which can demoralise and diminish the author. Most of us find it difficult and even rather shameful, but there are plenty of people eager to take money for relieving us of what we’re assured in today’s social media world is a ‘necessity’ – for a price. And blogging may be fun and a way to make people aware of an author’s name, but I can testify that even a blog liked by thousands on Facebook may not result in sales.
  5. Another time-consuming business is touting for appearances – i.e. chances to sell books. Many authors will appear free. Schools pay me; so do W.I. groups. Writers’ and reading groups may offer, but I’d rather sell a couple of books than be paid a fee. Most authors will fund their transport to any gigs they can get, thus turning opportunities into loss-making ventures.
  6. Authors are judged by their fame and sales figures, not their talent. But a celebrity endorsement doesn’t necessarily sell books, as I discovered when Beverley Knight praised THINNER THAN WATER. A five star review on a site like I Love Reading may not sell books either – I know because I had a wonderful one for this same YA novel.
  7. Few readers feel inclined to post a review, even if they email the author to say they loved the book, and authors really don’t feel inclined to ask – but may steel themselves in the hope that it isn’t seen as begging, needy or evidence of their lowly status. And one negative comment is likely to linger longer in the mind than ten packed full of positives – but that might be me!!
  8. Adults can be critical audiences, and many grown-up readers habitually restrict their reading diet. It’s in school, inspiring children who are open-minded and imaginative, that I experience the greatest thrill as an author: sharing the fruits of my own creativity as a way of inviting them to be creative too. A day of writing workshops is exhausting of course, and without my teaching experience I couldn’t begin, but I come away feeling that I might have made a difference and opened a closed door or two. Great feedback, from teachers, parents and the students themselves, always means a lot, even if it’s reported that an unusually excited low-ability Y8 set told the head of English I’m ‘sick’!
  9. What matters most to an author who believes in the power of the story and the beauty of language is the connection between writer and reader. When it happens, this connection – a kind of love – justifies everything and makes being an author feel deeply worthwhile.
  10. It must be almost impossible to sustain belief and morale without the understanding, faith and ongoing support of someone who not only loves the author but has such a connection with the work. Friends who are artists or musicians can help too because their experience may be equally tough. Without Leslie Tate, the brilliant, charismatic other half of #authorsinlove, I would not be writing still. But together we hold on, rant a bit, sink a bit but remain committed, because nothing matters in the book world but the writing. And writing matters.Peoples Book PrizeTop three in the People’s Book Prize 2012 with TRACES

2 thoughts on “On being a professional author: good reasons NOT to do it, and better reasons to do it anyway”

  1. So much of this chimes with my own experience, especially the time-consuming nature of promotion and author events, and the struggle to even reach the living wage. But I’m not a children’s writer for an easy life, or for fame andriches! (Just as well…) I write for kids because there are stories I need to tell, and because the connection between readers and stories, when it happens in front of your eyes, is magical.

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