If you are thinking about writing a novel and have dreams of being the next JK Rowling or Lee Child and making lots of money, then forget it.
Don’t write for the money. Do it because you must.
Let’s say you have enough talent to find an agent who secures you a three-book deal you’ll be lucky as a debut author if you get £10,000 per book. I would suggest that would be less than £2 per hour for your labour after paying 15% to your agent. Not exactly the minimum wage.
You should congratulate yourself for having a publishing deal and an agent, you are already in the premier league. It means somebody is taking you seriously. To make a living as a writer, you must be in the Champions League and there is not much room for new entrants. I know lots of successful published writers and most of them are having to supplement their income with other careers. Many of them teach aspiring writers how to write.
One of the things I’ve learned since trying to become a writer is there are no shortage of published approachable writers willing to pass on the secrets of their craft. You would think that with such a crowded market they would not welcome new authors who might one day take away their readers. I’ve been amazed at just how many possibilities exist to attend a course about How to Write Fiction and organisations like Writers Workshop to offer advice for aspiring writers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticising these resources. I love going to writers’ events like the Festival of Writing at York or Literary Festivals such as the Old Peculiar Crime Writing festival in Harrogate or Crimefest in Bristol or Bloody Scotland in Sterling. There is even a Crime writing festival in Iceland and the Shetland Islands. At these events, you can bump into Val McDermid or Lee Child at the bar and find them happy to chat. I recall witnessing one aspiring writer accosting Lee Child on the stairs at Bristol and asking him how he felt about having Tom Cruise play Jack Reacher? I wonder how many times he’s been asked that question, but he smiled and replied that the producers paid him a lot of money not to have an opinion.
Publishing has changed with the advent of social media. It is now easy to self-publish increasing the number of books available. There are not enough readers to go round and certainly not enough space in book shops. To stand out, writers must be prepared to meet with their readers. It’s not just a case of telling stories. It is about allowing your readers into your secret imaginary world and being prepared to give then insight into where your stories come from. So writers offering advice is a way to find readers who might buy their books. They can guarantee that a reader who wants to write their own novel is almost certainly a keen reader themselves so aspiring writers may turn out to be a good source of income.
The number one bit of advice a writer will give you will always be Read with a capital R as much as you possibly can. Not just one book a year but at least one book a week and preferably that list will include their own novels.
The other two words of advice, often repeated to aspiring writers are Perseverance and be Professional. That can be summarised as If at first you don’t succeed keep trying and don’t send rubbish to agents. They get literally thousands of manuscripts every year so to make yours stand out it needs to be better than good.
Talking of Lee Child, with all his success, he still shows Perseverance, Professionalism and a love of Reading. He demonstrates brilliance in his writing which make readers want to come back to him time and time again. You may not like Jack Reacher but his books sell because every sentence is crafted with precision. That’s perseverance. He often tells the story of how his hero was named. There he was holed up in Kirby Lonsdale slaving away on his first novel The Killing Floor and still without a name for his hero. His wife tells him she off to Asda in Kendal and would he like to help her. So off he goes and being over 6 feet tall he is accosted by an old lady who asks him to reach something from the top shelf. His wife seeing this turns to him and says if he can’t make a success of novel writing he can always be a Reacher in a supermarket. Jack Reacher was born and the rest is history.
Okay, so what have I got to add to all the thousands of blogs on writing. What I intend to do here is give you an insight into my writer’s journey – an alternative title might be Confessions of an Unsuccessful Writer. What it won’t do is give you a rose-tinted view of the world of writing. By the way, you will have noticed the cliché but what the hell you know what I mean. Writing teachers always tell you to lose the clichés and the adverbs, just as they tell you to show and not tell which never did Frederick Forsyth any harm.
One final bit of advice often given by successful writers.
DON’T GIVE UP.