Writing as a Business

In my previous post I wrote about following your dreams. What a lot of writers are faced with when deciding that they want to become an author of published work is that following this dream means accepting that writing is actually a business.

In order to have work published there has to be involvement with the publishing industry – and they don’t call it an industry by accident. It’s hard work, whichever route you take. And no matter what you write, somewhere along the line you have to consider that ‘dirty’ word: profit. To follow that dream and be that successful author, you need to earn money from your efforts. Although, if you believe the analysis the average author earns less then £11k a year from their writing. But, note this sentence from the Bookseller article here:

“...many professional authors felt it necessary to supplement their incomes by lecturing, self-publishing and teaching, as well as through income streams such as the Public Lending Right payments, grants and bursaries, income from ALCS, prizes and fellowships.”

So being an author isn’t all about writing. If writing is what you want to do, and all you want to do…then maybe be a writer, not an author; because being an author is all about the business of being a writer, not just the writing itself.

I know it’s going to be hard work to be an author, but that’s my dream. For a long time I was simply a writer, churning out words and stories and ideas and I enjoyed the process. But I’m now in a position in my life where I want to share my words and be recompensed in some way for all the time, energy and imagination I put into it. I love my regular job – a Learning Coordinator at a museum – but I also love writing; and I want to be able to do both. That means earning some money from my writing, so that I can invest in myself and develop my skills.

I’ve already invested in myself over the years by attending an Arvon course, going to York’s Festival of Writing, completing a Comma Press short story course, to name a few. They were excellent ways to scrutinise my writing and see where I could improve; but they aren’t free. If I wanted to take my writing from a hobby to a more professional sphere I had to divert some energy into trying to find resources to support my development.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I think that’s when I realised that writing is a business. It’s about the ladder of investment – I had to improve (through paid means) my abilities to write stories so I could put my work out there into the world and readers could invest in me. Then, I can take the trust these readers have had in me, to continue developing great stories for them to read and enjoy. The more this happens, the easier it becomes to justify time spent on writing, and therefore offers more opportunity for my dream to become reality.

Of course, I used to think that ‘being a writer’ meant writing stories in isolation, sat up in that tower with an ink stain on my fingertips and some lovely person presenting me with the odd cup of tea. In this scenario I would send work out and it would be accepted first time, with adulation and praise, and then I’d go back to writing with my bank balance topped up, with the option to take holidays to exotic places that would end up in my next novel.

This is not how it is.

In my post on How to be Creatively Productive I confessed to writing my own ‘Author Job Description‘ in order to fuel my commitment to the dream of being a published author. That description says more than just ‘Write everyday’. It’s filled with identifying submission windows, reading other fiction, promoting my existing work, submitting to competitions and agents, writing blog posts and, yes, writing too. The main lesson learned here is that I have a strategy for my career as an author, and in order to make it happen I need to branch out from just being a ‘writer’ to being a proactive and professional author.

Essentially, my strategy is based on the steps I need to take to get me where I want to be as an author: a traditionally published author with a decent sales record and a book-deal that will help sustain my not-particularly-lavish lifestyle. It doesn’t quite match the romantic vision I once had, but I believe it in more because it’s underpinned by hard-work and dedication; and that’s the author I want to be known as.

So my writing life doesn’t just have me sit down at my desk and routinely tap out sentences, paragraphs, and short stories. It’s so much more than that. And with a strategy in place that guides what I ought to be doing as the author I want to become, the goal itself feels more tangible; it’s achievable, whereas the isolated writer’s tower is simply a fanciful ideal within my imagination. Suddenly, being a writer isn’t the dream…instead I’m actually an author, building my empire.

 


 

If you want to know more about how writing is a business, I’d definitely recommend Jane Friedman’s book: “The Business of Being a Writer“, which has opened my eyes up tremendously about the fundamental cogs and mechanisms that the writing profession relies upon. 


 

And, in the essence of building that empire, here’s how you could invest in my career right now.
Purchase my short story collection: The Memorial Treecover art edit amazon mod
By purchasing this short story collection you’ll:
  • Help boost my Amazon ratings so others can discover my work (especially if you leave a review and/or recommend to a friend)
  • Bring me a small profit that makes my giving up the Literature Festival work justifiable
  • Receive a selection of 5* short stories that I hope you truly enjoy
  • Get to be a rung on my ladder of investment
All it takes is a click and a download.
Thank you. 

 

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How to follow your dream

We all imagine our lives are different sometimes. Mostly, we project forward and see ourselves living the life we always wanted, whatever that may be. For me, I’m a traditionally published author with a multi-book deal, my best-selling novel is in a prominent position at all bookstores, and I’m at a book signing during my annual leave from the part-time Museum job that I love just as much as writing. (And, yes, my pup Hugo the Destroyer is sat patiently at my feet being adored by my fans.)

But how many of us actually make that dream happen? What have you done lately to take a step forward toward that ideal life you dream about? Me? I’ve just completed my August goal of submitting the complete novel to a selection of agents. In September, the focus is on writing and I’m setting a word count goal to aim for. Small steps, perhaps, but it means that I’m closer to my dream than I was this time last year.

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Make it real
The first thing to do if you want to live that life you dream about, is to admit it: know that you want it and make the decision to actively follow it. It can be scary to stand up and claim your dream life but once you do, and you tap into the desire you have, you’ll find that it’s a great motivating force. The way to do this is to write it down – as this increases the likelihood of it coming true! And if you write down your dream as if you’ve already achieved it – in the present tense – you’re already ahead of the pack, because your subconscious will process as it as though it is happening, no matter how far away it may be. [Note how I described my dream life in the present tense above?]

Break it down
Now is the time to figure out what you need to do to make your dream a reality. Do a bit of daydreaming, focus on what it is that got you to where you are in your imagination. What are the landmarks you have to pass to arrive there? To be a published author, I first have to write something worth publishing; I have to edit and polish that work to make it the best I can; I need to research agents; and I need to send out a professional submission. All of these things are in my control. What the agents decide is not.

Work backwards and make a note of all of these milestones. These are the goals you need to aim for. Now break them down too, one by one: what is it that you can do to accomplish these things? Then, the hardest part is to DO THEM: a lot of people fall down here, me included for a little while. Keep referring back to that  description of your dream life; remind yourself why you’re doing it, and take it one step at a time.

Believe it can happen
The key thing in motivating yourself to keep going in the journey to achieving your dream is to believe it can happen. If you honestly don’t think it can come true, odds are it won’t. And while I might be dreaming of becoming a published author, what I’m focused on are two of the ‘lesser’ goals associated with this: building up a profile (by submitting to competitions etc.) and submitting to those agents. These are the pit stops on the way to my dream life; I might as well enjoy them while I can! For me, that means I’m rewarding myself whenever I accomplish any step toward my dream life. This reminds me I’m consistently putting in the effort into trying to make my dream come true, and spurs me on to make it happen.

What does your dream life look like? And what are you doing to make it happen?


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This was one of my steps on my way to becoming a published author: I published something myself! Click above to view.

 

 

The Fear of No Voice

I’ve heard a lot of publishers and agents talk about this mysterious thing called a ‘writer’s voice’ – even a fair few writers have mentioned it. On a basic level it’s the unique magic that appears in a writer’s narrative – something that identifies those words, strung together in such a way with a certain tempo and beat that means you can say who’s written in within a page or two (sometimes even just a sentence or two!). 

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Often, I am convinced that I don’t have this ‘magical quality’ in my writing. As a writer can you even tell if you have a ‘voice’? Or is it something that other people have to point out for you? If I can’t even identify what it is about my writing that tethers it to me, does that mean I haven’t yet developed a ‘voice’? Can you be a good writer without a ‘voice’?

All these questions and more rattle around my head, forcing out many of the ideas and, sapping my drive, leaving me hollow with the fear of having nothing to offer. I’m sure every writer has felt this way before; early on in their writing journey; in those moments where we doubt our skills; later, when we convince ourselves we can’t write as well as we once did. Fortunately, I’m aware now that such a feeling shall pass; that I will sit down to write one day,  and the doubts will be swept away with a shrug, and I’ll get on with writing regardless.

But we do need to share this fear of having no voice with others. The terror that I lack any distinguishing talent markers in my writing is something I can’t ignore, hoping it will go away. I need to believe that other writers go through this too. Because, after all, if anything could make me feel better – that could jolt me out of this particular valley of doom – it would be to discover that another writer empathises when I own up to my fear that I have no voice. 

‘Voice’ seems like an element in the writing world that you can’t actively search for – an ephemeral being that can’t be seen by looking directly at it. If you do catch a glimpse, perhaps it is then that it turns into fear – because if you’ve found it, you’re always going to be afraid of losing it again. 


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This new collection of short stories features one of my stories – Behind Closed Doors – alongside seven other pieces from brilliant writers whom I met during a Comma Press Writing Course.

It’s a bargain at 99p on Amazon. I promise you won’t regret investing in the stories here; you’re bound to to find something you like.


 

Deconstructing the Book Lover

Well, since I’ve been trying to promote my own book [if you missed the launch of my short story collection, The Memorial Tree, last week where were you?!], I’ve been considering what it is that makes us love the books we rave about. Isn’t it every authors dream to hear readers say that they enjoyed their story, believed in their characters, and admired their effortless writing style? As much as I like sitting at my desk and making things up there’s something magical about discovering that someone has been moved by the words that I’ve put together. I’ve already been lucky enough to receive a 5* review for The Memorial Tree, and I’m so grateful that this reader took the time to mention how she felt the stories were well written and had her hooked!

So, what is it about certain books that pull us into the story and keep us reading? To try and work this out, I’ve looked at five books I absolutely love – all chosen for their very different styles – and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.

  1. Little Women, Louise May Alcott
    Typically, I am not a fan of the ‘British classics’, but this American one totally has my heart – as many of you who may have followed me for some time already know. Her characters are so well sketched and go through such mesmerising changes, that I almost believe I grew up with Meg, Jo, Amy, Beth, and Laurie myself! I must have re-read this more than twenty times, and each time I sob, laugh, and smile with wistful joy at their lives. I find Alcott’s writing plain and honest, and as such believable, so I immediately cherish their family and the ways they try and do good.
  2. The Gideon Smith Series, David Barnett51qwuh6qsbl-_sx325_bo1204203200_Steam Punk. I thought it was a flash in the pan and didn’t pay it much notice until David attended one of our events for Huddersfield Literature Festival (he was actually seconded in when another guest became ill, so a bit serendipitous considering I’ve become a massive fan of his work!). I think I bought the first one because David was so warm and friendly during that event and I wanted to support him as an author. Thankfully I dived straight into his book and barely looked up until I’d finished. Then it was a painstaking wait for the second and third titles each to be released. These stories aren’t just Steam Punk mixed with a bit of historical fantasy, they’re purposefully reminiscent of the old ‘penny dreadful’s and provide a raucous adventure of alternative British Empire in the 19th Century. Fun, fast-paced, and with surprisingly sympathetic characters it’s difficult not to be impressed by how well the author deftly plots his way through so many action-packed scenes. I loved the series so much, I recommended it to my Dad – and he’s now just finished his second read of all of them!
  3. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
    I was ‘forced’ to read this for my A-Levels, but was eventually pleased to realise that I had judged it far too quickly. I didn’t appreciate the narrative drive utilised by the Captain’s letters to his sister, then Frankenstein’s account, and then the creature’s story, followed again by Frankenstein and then the Captain’s final letter. But, after reading it again, I now see it as an ingenious way to lull the reader into accepting the horrors that follow with a suspension of disbelief, allow Shelley to practically have us believe that these things really, truly happened – or at least could happen! If at any point you’ve tried reading Frankenstein and didn’t finish, give it another go – I doubt you’ll be disappointed.
  4. The Princess Bride, William Goldman [*spoiler alert about the book!]172955164How many people knew this was a book before the movie in 1987? I hadn’t heard of it until my OH – when we first met – said how much he loved the movie. Of course, I discovered it was based on a book and immediately chose to read this before watching it, and I’m so glad I did! The thing I love the most about it is not the adventure story (which my OH is drawn to), but rather how much William Goldman completely swindles his readers – not just about the fiction of his grandfather reading him only ‘the good bits’ – remember Colombo aka Peter Falk as the grandfather? – but of the sequel: Buttercup’s Baby. The final section in The Princess Bride book is the first tantalising chapter of this ‘novel’ where Fezzick jumps off a cliff with the aforementioned baby. My OH was devastated when he discovered that no such book exists, or will ever exist, and that even Goldman’s foreword is all part of the fiction he built up around this story. I suppose I didn’t help matters when I laughed at his disappointment and called Goldman a genius, but to be able to carry off such a convincing fiction – that has to be great writing.
  5. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough
    I remember discovering this in a bookshop whilst I was at university and devouring it in a single weekend. I called up my Mum – also a book lover – and raved about it thinking she’d be delighted I’d found such a gem. How foolish did I feel when she admitted she had read the book years earlier when it first came out in the late 1970’s?! Not only that, but there had been a popular miniseries all about it! Granted, I was disappointed by the TV miniseries but I still adore the book. I’m not usually a family saga type of person (Little Women excluded) but, again, I was drawn into the narrative, and started to almost admire the characterful ways of Meggie, and then the fate of her children. Such a sweeping melodrama can only be successful if you create realistic and likeable characters, I think – because you have to be able to root for them across the length of their entire lives – or, rather, an entire book. I think McCullough did this really well, alongside the beautiful description of the Drogheda outback farm where Meggie grows up and meets Father Ralph. Such complex characters can only be built up through time, and in The Thorn Birds I never felt the story dragged. If anything, I never wanted it to end.

Through these five – quite different – books I’ve realised what I love most are character-driven stories that teach me something about the human condition. I want to put down a book and feel that I’ve learned something about the characters, whilst also recognising something in myself that the story has touched upon. What I need to see for a book to interest me enough to recommend it is a character journey – those characters I start the story with should have changed by the end. I like my novels to be meaningful in some way – even if only to me – and to convince me that they could be real, even if they’re fantastical.

Perhaps that’s why I write the fiction I do: this is probably the way I want my readers to feel too. They do say, write the book you’d love to read, after all.


Want to know if my fiction IS like this? Why not download my short story collection from Amazon? You don’t need to own a Kindle – most phones and tables have a kindle app that you can sign in with using your Amazon account. If you do decide to purchase, once you’ve read it – please leave a review if you can.

When did you last go on a people-watching date?

Do you ever go to a cafe, or sit at the station waiting for your train/bus, and just watch everyone else? This is generally considered ‘people-watching‘ and I love it. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the lives of other people that fires up my imagination. Observed idiosyncrasies that might be ingrained habits or a nervous tic, and overheard snippets of conversation give rise to potential scandals and plots.

The great thing is that anyone can do it, anywhere they are. It can be something planned – just find a spot in a cafe somewhere – or it can be a spontaneous decision to simply fill time whilst waiting in a queue at the supermarket, for example. Alternatively, if you’re a homebody, like me, it can be fun to switch on the T.V. turn the volume off and find an unfamiliar show or film; watch the characters, see what you can find out just through noting how they move and their facial expressions when they speak.

Sometimes, when indulging in a bit of people-watching, I can feel like a spy on a covert mission, trying to identify the villain! It’s addictive once I start, and occasionally I can get fixed on a single person and their behaviour and determine their entire life story. When I make the effort to sit down and observe people I notice things I would have missed before; the way a woman bites her lip whilst on her phone, or the tapping of a man’s fingers on his train ticket and the bounce of his knee.

I’ve never been caught people-watching, but I tend to have a number of tactics to ensure this doesn’t occur. I pretend to read a book or a newspaper, surreptitiously peering over the text at people as they come and go. This also works with a laptop – meaning you can keep notes straight into a document. If you’re a veteran, and use this method, you’ll likely use a wing-dings font so that no-one else can look over your shoulder to catch you ‘spying’!

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Mobile ‘phones are also excellent camouflage when people-watching. We’re a society of bowed heads now, with so few people bothering to look up over their screens. Tapping out notes on a phone app can work like a charm; you’ll appear so engrossed in your texting that you’ll fit right in!

As to why I’d recommend people-watching, well, other than being a fascinating anthropological exercise it’s great for building a foundation of observations that can be used for character work. Noting the look of certain people – a long, ski-jump nose on one, while another has eyes set deep in his face – and then combining these to describe an individual character can work really well. Then there is the scrutiny beyond the behavioural features : jut why is that man tapping his ticket and bouncing his knee – is he late? Has he had too many cups of coffee? Is it the first symptom of a disease like Parkinson’s? Delving into the why of the particulars of people’s habits can be a fab way to develop a character.

Then, there can be further character work surrounding how they may feel about the features and habits they’ve been assigned. Has our hero decided to swear off alcohol and the jitters are the first sign of withdrawal? Does he believe he can stay sober, or will he slip into the first pub he sees? What’s his motivation for getting sober – will he be a father soon and he wants to be a good role model for his son? Or does he need to stay sober for his job, as he’s on his last warning?

Once you’ve started asking these questions a story is likely to emerge somewhere, somehow. Usually I’ll get embroiled in these during my people-watching session, and the moment I’m more interested in my story than I am in the crowd around me I know I’ve got the start of something I need to focus on.

Have you got any tips for people-watching? When was the last time you spent time really examining the people around you?

~~~~~

 

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How to handle the bad stuff…

This struck a chord with me today. There is something about realising the part we play in our own self-destructive emotions and our responsibility, not just for how we act, but also how we respond to the world around us.

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When we get angry, or sulk, or even resent other people for what they have and we don’t, then this is a choice we ourselves make. It took me a long time to learn this. Negative emotions such as these may serve an immediate purpose (to identify emotional needs that might be present/lacking) but they need rarely be a sustained response.

It’s easy to get bogged down in frustration and hold onto feelings instead of releasing them. This is perhaps where blame comes in. Often we latch onto external reasoning for why we continue to experience festering emotions. But, if we allow blame to melt away and understand the role it plays in keeping us in a continuous state of bitterness we can realise that, sometimes, our reactions are within our own control. This can be particularly powerful when you’ve spent your life as a slave to such negativity.

Languid skies

This is my view today. I’d forgotten was it was to look up and just enjoy the serenity in the sky. Watching the light, weightless clouds slowly glide past, guided by the breeze.

I can hear the wind in the trees too, swooshing and shushing. If I close my eyes I can almost imagine that it’s the sea gently rolling into the beach.

There’s a word for today. One that encapsulates the mood and action of this lazy Thursday in the sun. Languid. I have no desire to do anything, nor am I really capable; my condition making me fatigued and foggy.

So I laid back, looked up at the sky and felt peaceful and relaxed. It’s refreshing, just staring at the blue and white patterns above, breathing in and out in time with the wind, imagining I could be at the beach. Perhaps we don’t look up as often as we should, just for no other reason that to see the sky that stretches above us all, the same sky we would all see, if we took a moment to look above.

Can you characterise Grief?

Grief can impact different people in a mixture of ways. Some will be unable to hide their emotions, allowing them to bubble at the surface. Such emotional turmoil can manifest in varied ways too; sobbing inconsolably can lead to guilt and then anger, which can be seen in the fervid desire for action in whatever circumstances they may have control over outside the death of their loved one.

Others may do their best to conceal their desperation only to have it show in the furrow of a brow, clench of a jaw, or downcast gaze. Each thought they have – hopeful or distraught – is hidden away deep beneath, but with an indication of it in each expression, like a wrapped present with a corner torn away.

Still, there are those that lie in between, able to contain their anguish in an appropriate manner and take it home with them. Only then may they break down, in solitude, no one to watch or judge or comfort. They are perhaps the people who know that such times are not to be centered upon their particular sorrow, but that focus should be instead on the one who has suffered their final moments and will never again be given the chance to cry, or speak, or love.

Then there are those who are stoic and seemingly uncaring, who do not shed a tear or break down, who cannot sit by a bedside or stop going about their daily lives. These are those who are unfairly judged, I think, as they do not react the way we ourselves would behave. The world for them is more black and white, they see situations where they can do nothing and choose instead to make use of their time in alternative ways. They appear to cope remarkable well, and are able to continue as if nothing at all may have changed. But, by and by, when the truth settles within them, when they have accepted the circumstances and have inwardly grieved, they will share their process with those closest and reveal their heart.

To take away something from this scenario, to even consider making the experience some use, I ask those of us that are writers; how would your characters grieve? Which of these, if any, would be their response to losing a loved one?

Do we even know our own character when it comes down to that particular heartache? Could you predict yours without having ever faced the loss of the one who brought you into this world?

Could you be average?

I never wanted to be average and I hate the word “routine”. I used to get itchy and uncomfortable whenever I felt life was becoming ‘ordinary’. I’m a little less concerned by the words themselves now. I’m living the life that makes me happy.

It’s likely that no two lives look the same, so what is average anyway? For many the fact I’m living my life the way I am, whilst managing two disabilities already makes me pretty extraordinary. We can cast judgment about our own lifestyle and routines as much as we like, but when it comes to others we have no idea of the challenges being overcome behind closed doors. Perhaps this is what makes each of unique; comparability then is a pointless activity.

I also try and follow the suggestions in this handy lifehack infographic. Some great tips in there…

Making friends

One or more of my friends and colleagues have at least once said to me how difficult it can be to make new friends in your thirties. It never occurred to me that, once you leave education, making friends becomes that little bit harder. There are fewer occasions that put you in scenarios where friendships can be formed. Of course, jobs can be an excellent place for forging new alliances, but I often find that these fade away once you are no longer working together. A shame, but not unusual in circumstances where the only things you tended to have in common were a mutual dislike of management structures and a preference for long lunches…

Strangely, as I’ve “grown up” – so to speak – I’ve managed to acquire a number of very good friends. Alongside my best friend from college, mentioned in a previous post, I’ve become close with neighbours, dog-lover and my Festival friends. All of these have all come about for reasons I can’t really explain. Although I perhaps have to admit that my inherited ‘talk-to-anyone’ attitude (thanks, Mum) has probably played a large part. As has my dislike for small talk, so I’ll always try and get straight to the juicy parts about what makes people tick. Maybe that’s the writer in me…

Consequently, I feel that I’ve made some lifelong friends in my thirties that enrich my life and genuinely contribute to my developing attitudes about myself, my work and my writing. I think I’ll always be looking out for opportunities to make new friends, however many others I have, because I like people; how they tick, why they do things; and most of all how I can help them to be their best self. After all, when I’m with my friends that’s how they make me feel.