Diversification and dirty words

Diversification and dirty words

If you are making a living from your writing, that is marvellous, but for everyone else, keep the day job. Perhaps you saw The Bookseller's recent piece by Nicola Solomon, chief executive of the Society of Authors, exploring once more how low author earnings can be. There is plenty of data to read, but I thought I would tell you, full disclosure, what I am doing and aim to do.

As I write, my second short story collection and first non-fiction work are on submission. My fifth (the fourth was roundly rejected) novel approaches final edits, and when I get that astounding deal, I shall take everyone here on holiday. To a static in Rhyl. Over four books published — take a deep breath now — I have made enough to purchase my 2006 Vauxhall Zafira with CD player and cup holders. Therefore, unless there is enough money sloshing about, you must keep that day job. Without boring you with my details, I have multiple roles, one of them because of additional needs within the family: I cannot pursue writing for hobby money indefinitely. So here are my thoughts and plans.

1. Evince a hybrid model. My first book is used in teaching hospitals. People have written to me about it from all over the world. Still, it is out of print. I aim to self-publish to get it into more hands. Some other works too.

2. I have, despite shyness, been forward in asking whether I might write a piece for journals. I have networked; learned about the industry. As a result, I am increasingly asked to do things for reasonable money. Clearly there are areas of structural inequality in this industry, but check yourself: are you not putting yourself forward because of anecdote which was fed to you and NOT evidenced? Be firm and, broadly, to thine own self be true (which is Shakespeare) and more, back yourself (which I believe is Sir Alan Sugar). That is where it starts. Cultivate self-belief: it is not the same as arrogance.

3. I have begun doing talks for universities which offer an MA in Creative Writing. When I started enquiring, I was told on Twitter this was impossible. Not so. It takes work: when one door shuts, pass a note under another one setting out how attractive your stall is.

4. I have expanded what I do in terms of editing, proofing, and mentoring, done free online courses and I am learning about scriptwriting; I would like to turn a past or future novel into a screenplay. The BBC Writers Room is a start.

5. Apart from my free reads and my Fabian Bursary for secondary students, I will not do any writing for free from this point. I was doing too much, but I have been checked in this by The Tribe; the group of people I surround myself with, most of whom I met on social media. The Tribe is something for you to find, then bind to you with hoops of steel.

6. My background is secondary English and community work; I have worked to transfer those skills - of teaching and facilitating - into workshops and now, my first online retreat in July.

7. I made the decision not to listen to those who told me to slow down. Remember: if you are told to slowly curate a body of work, consider the source. It is sometimes a controlling voice which says this. If you are a bright light, that will threaten and irritate some. Do not also let them lose you money.

8. I think we MUST have open conversations about money and earnings. It is entirely reasonable to know what is being done to sell you and your book; to ask how you might reasonably sell yourself. No answer? Consider an effective exit plan.

9. Writing is art, but art is not a fragile and effete thing. It irritates me when people baulk at linking it with commerce, just where it has always been. I am and remain primarily a novelist, but I am also writing short stories and non-fiction and moving into column and article work. That is, I am making a portfolio. And hawking it.

10. Know your rights. Have your contract checked by the SOA, examine what others are doing to earn money (see Tribe, above and ask for advice on Twitter) and, if someone you are working with or for evades the lucre topic because money is a dirty word, then you and I will thrash it out on that holiday in Rhyl I mentioned. You need to get out of there. Also, I can think of way dirtier words, but we shall save that for another day.

Anna Vaught is a novelist, short story writer, editor, mentor, English teacher and mental health campaigner. Her third and fourth books, Saving Lucia (Bluemoose) and Famished (Influx), were published in 2020.