I guess for a lot of writers, maybe the dream week would include standing up in front of a major festival crowd, receiving a huge royalty payment and being interviewed for a Sunday supplement.
But for a writer like me, who has experienced two of those and wouldn’t really want to again, the things that make a great week are comparatively humble. (I wouldn’t mind experiencing the massive royalty payment at some stage, of course – just to check whether I like it or not).
Here are five things that have happened in the last few days, and made my week:
Working on a new book. That’s got to be the first and best of everything for a writer like me, and it’s even sweeter now, after a year of not really writing at all.
A cheque for my fee of 50 guineas (more or less – the bank can’t exactly do that) and a lovely letter from Liskeard Poetry Group, for helping them select the poems for their upcoming anthology.
A new 5* amazon review for my children’s book, Bullies, Bigmouths and So-called Friends.
Having an intriguing dream to write down in my diary.
Word from my agent that the Turkish publisher of Peony Pinker wants to renew the rights for the first two books. We’re talking 800 euros altogether, and after agents’ fees and income tax I’ll be lucky to see half of that, but still – they’ve sold enough books to want to do a new print run… in Turkey!
An email from someone who was on my last workshop, telling me she’d felt emboldened to press send on an article she wrote for a holiday publication (circulation 40,000) and it’s been accepted.
Another email from a different person who’s come to workshops to say she’s got a gig writing restaurant reviews.
Discussions about book covers with my lovely designer and her assistant, Moriarty, who has excellent emailing skills for a cat.
Last night, I had a dream about the rewards of writing, and when I woke I thought, I can blog about that. When I turned on my computer in the morning, I discovered this quotation in my Facebook timeline, which was a delightful synchronicity to start the day.
I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy ~ Rabindranath Tagore
Because this was my dream.
I am in a wild, upland place, being taken to see a wonderful plant. I’m given just the briefest glimpse of tall stems with early blooms of the most intense purple, and I realise it’s the colour that I’ve been brought to see. Usually, I am brought to see the indescribable aqua, but this time it’s this purple.
I’ve been writing something, and it’s a test – if I pass, I can come back and see this purple in all its intensity, in full flower. But this time, I have not passed and I will have to go back and start again, and try with another piece of writing.
This is the work, and I’m grateful for it. I don’t feel disheartened by failure, because the work itself is my reward.
It was always like this. I look back at all my writing, so many books I poured my heart and self into that never saw the light of day – real work, hard work – and I never achieved any kind of fame or recognition, but I don’t regret any of it.
Like the family years. I remember the sense of pride I took in the tasks of the household and childcare, which felt important, and a privilege, to be able to live in service to the work. I never felt bored or resentful, or that what I did was unimportant.
I had work, and I wanted to do it as well as I could. Not everybody is given that sense of purpose. I’ve glimpsed the colour, and one day I might see it in full flower, but the glimpse is the gift.
A couple of years ago I had the good fortune to teach someone on an Arvon course who, it turned out, was a branding and marketing expert. I needed help with my branding and marketing and she needed help with her writing, so it proved to be the start of a very fruitful friendship.
She helped me to create a new website where I could bring together all the various aspects of my writing and teaching, and develop a much more consistent brand for myself as an author. She’s called Sarah Mackie, and her company is Caxton Bell – I highly recommend her.
It was mostly really interesting and fun working with Sarah, but there were a few sticking points, and the first one for me was her suggestion, when I sent her the draft of my blurb for Writing in the House of Dreams, that rather than describing myself as a ‘much published’, ‘versatile’ or ‘established’ author, I should use the term ‘veteran’.
I argued it. I wasn’t technically a veteran author, as I’d only been published for 23 years and not yet 25. I had had an unusually large number and wide variety of books published in that time, so ‘much published’ and ‘versatile’ were more accurate descriptions. And anyway, I was too young!
She told me of course I was too young, and of course I was prolific and versatile, but the bottom line was there were three kinds of effective author profile, bestselling, award-winning and veteran, and as far as she was aware I hadn’t had a bestseller or won a major award.
So I had to really examine why I’d felt reluctant to acknowledge my age in my professional life, even though in my personal life I celebrate it. I’d never put the year of my birth on my website for example, and had dreaded it appearing somewhere on the net. It has recently done just that, on google search, but according to the bio I’m from the Bronx and was born in 1958, neither of which is the case.
In our culture, we fear ageing and death and idealise youth. We try to disguise the years and look as young as possible. But that is at odds with my personal values because I’ve always believed that while the energy of youth is essential for social change and regeneration, so is the wisdom of age to temper and direct it.
I feel very grateful to have had more than six whole decades of living and learning. In the fields I’ve been writing about recently – dreaming and writing – I know so much more now in my sixties than I did ten, twenty, thirty or even forty years ago, when I first started to explore them in earnest.
When I thought about the experience I brought to Writing in the House of Dreams and When a Writer Isn’t Writing, and how I should be proud of it, and flag it up, it occurred to me that it’s not just in these books that my main drive has been to share what I’ve learnt from life experience.
I think of myself as an elder in a society which doesn’t really have elders any more, writing the sort of reassuring common sense that grandparents used to be there for when families had more leisure and were less geographically dispersed
So Sarah’s suggestion that I should describe myself as a veteran author, flagging up that the value I bring is experience, didn’t only describe what I was doing in my recent books on dreams and writing, but also caught something of the essence of what I’d always done.
Sometimes, I look fondly back on my early days as an author, when the whole job was simply writing books, and the wheels moved very slowly indeed.
The act of writing was slower because, in the days of typewriters, even a minor change such as choosing a different name for a character could be a long-winded redrafting task, searching through reams of paper armed with a tippex brush.
When the manuscript was finally finished and neatly packaged up, it made its leisurely way to the agent or publisher via the Royal Mail, and some weeks later, their response would eventually come back.
In those days, I was blissfully unaware of sales figures and marketing, publicity and self-promotion, and I certainly didn’t have anything at all to do with the publishing process.
In many ways, being an author twenty years ago was far less stressful, but there are lots of things I love about being an author now:
Word processing has made every stage of writing much easier and quicker. It means I can make manuscripts that look brilliant and are a pleasure to work on from the earliest outline to the final draft.
The internet means I can have frequent contact with readers who follow my blogs or read my books. Their feedback and ideas are both encouraging and inspiring to me.
Self-publishing means I don’t have to have unsold manuscripts languishing on my shelves, out of print books consigned to obscurity or projects I want to work on having to be abandoned because they’re unlikely to find a mainstream publisher.
The only problem is that, while I positively enjoy all the opportunities this new way of being an author presents, there’s an awful lot on my to-do list, and if I have to take unexpected time out because of illness, as has happened recently, things can quickly get out of hand.
On my to-do list right now, I’ve got:
redraft my YA novel Drift from editor’s suggestions
ditto my next adult non-fiction When a Writer Isn’t Writing
write design and cover brief for Drift and When a Writer for designer
redraft my iPhone and iPad app Get Writing! following testers’ suggestions
plan my workshop for the home educated group
write my commissioned article for The Author
pitch further mag articles in time for the September launches of Drift and When a Writer
write blog articles for writinginthehouseofdreams and girlsheartbooks
I initially registered the book in the amazon Select programme, which meant I couldn’t publish through any competing outlets for at least 90 days. The benefit of Select is that you can offer your book either free or on a sliding scale of reduced rates in a promotion which, while not making you any money, should make your book more visible and improve its amazon sales ranking.
I didn’t realise that you could only do one promotion in the 90 day period, and I don’t think the one I did really achieved anything for my book, so I wouldn’t personally enrol a book in the Select programme again.
As soon as the 90 day period was up, I took Writing in the House of Dreams out of the programme and made it available as an ebook via all the major online retailers, including Nook and apple, as well as amazon.
I’m thinking of publishing the paperback through Ingram Spark as well as Createspace (which is part of amazon), though I haven’t investigated whether amazon allow this (does anyone out there know?) I’m happy with the quality of the paperback, but apparently some bookshops are reluctant to sell books published by amazon. Happily, I have had orders from several independents as well as book wholesalers Bertram’s and Gardner’s.
Sales have been slow, and that hasn’t come as a surprise because the very reason the book didn’t secure a traditional deal was that publishers deemed writing about dreams as a creative resource rather than from the psychological angle ‘too niche to achieve bulk sales.’
But I’ve had some wonderful emails from readers and a big boost in demand for workshops, which my agent predicted would happen. The book includes lots of writing exercises I use in my general writing workshops, not just the ones which involve working with dreams.
I’ve also hand-sold a fair number of copies through events and workshops. All in all, I’ve recovered less than half my costs through book sales so far, but I’ve had enough extra workshop bookings on the back of it to make up the difference several times over, as well as an article on creative image-work for authors in the next edition of Mslexia.
This reflects the fiscal facts of being traditionally published, because very few authors indeed can make a living from royalties these days. Most have to supplement their income from books with some kind of day job, or spin-off work on the back of their books, such as teaching and speaking engagements.
I’m hoping sales will gradually build, through workshops and word of mouth, but I don’t want to annoy my twitter and facebook followers by over-promoting, so my strategy now is to bring out a second much more mainstream book on writing as soon as possible. If readers enjoy either one of these two books, maybe they might take a punt on the other.
it’s much quicker – I can bring the book out in September this year
I can create a brand look with Writing in the House of Dreams
I will only need to sell a fraction of the number of copies to make the same amount of money as I would if the book was traditionally published, and i have plenty of opportunities for hand-selling at writing events and workshops
Speaking of workshops, check out these pics from last week’s residential at The Writing Retreat in beautiful Lamorna, where I was invited to speak and teach a session on writing dialogue. Good times!
I loved Abi Burlingham’s post Diary of 2014 so I’m shamelessly nicking the idea for the House of Dreams.
At the turning of the New Year, I always look back and take stock of the old, as well as focusing my goals for the year to come. In day-to-day life, it can sometimes feel like work is the most important thing, but when I look back, I can clearly see it isn’t.
So here are my highlights of 2014.
I started the year with a new experiment – two Saturday workshops, ‘Writing the New Year In’ and ‘Under the Ice: Writing in the Chilly Heart of Winter.’ I always enjoy bringing people round my kitchen table to write, and eating together in the middle of a whole day’s writing turned out to be icing on the cake.
I met up with lots of writing friends at the Scattered Authors Conference in Peterborough. Peterborough’s a long way from Cornwall but the drive took me within a hop skip and a jump of Oxford, so I stopped off on the way home to spend the afternoon with my younger daughter.
We had the most delightful evening walk on Wittenham Clumps and supper in a riverside pub.
My birthday is in March, and I love my birthdays, however many I have. All my kids came down to Cornwall, plus their partners, and we had a really fun few days just messing around.
In April, I finally decided enough was enough with trying to get permissions for all the quotations I wanted to use in Writing in the House of Dreams, which was a great relief.
I substituted the ones I hadn’t been able to get permission for with some quotes from older books which were out of copyright. I will never write another book with lots of quotations – I’ve blogged about it here.
I joyfully embarked upon the actual publishing process, finding an editor and a designer for the covers and layouts.
A trip up to London to visit my sons was definitely the highlight of May, and while I was there I stayed one night with some great friends who years ago were my editors, and had lunch the next day with writing friend, Jennie Walters.
Time to shake out the tent for the first camping trip of the year! I met up with some friends down at the far end of Cornwall in Treen. The last time we camped together was a couple of years ago at Scourie, on the North West coast of Scotland.
Fabulous campsite, fabulous beaches, fabulous night at the Minack, just a short walk across Porthcurno beach from the site. I also felt comparatively efficient for a change, because they forgot their tent poles!
July started with the Scattered Authors’ retreat at Charney Manor in Oxfordshire and finished with a glorious couple of baking hot weeks in the tent on Coll and Tiree.
When I’m camping on my own, I find lots of people talk to me, so it can be surprisingly sociable.
On up from Coll and Tiree to Orkney to stay with my older daughter and her partner, before cramming ourselves and all our camping gear into her little car and taking the ferry to Shetland.
Baltasound in Unst, where we were camping, made the national papers for rainfall the first night we were there. But on the upside, we happened to be camping in the garden of a hostel with a warm kitchen and a big washing machine, so we had lots of tea and toast through the small hours with other campers who had also got flooded out.
I got the covers and edits for my next children’s book, The Binding and remembered how much easier it is being published when you’re not doing everything yourself!
My book launch! Three of my children made it, coming down from Orkney and London, and so did my ex husband, from Brighton. Our youngest had just started a new job and unfortunately couldn’t get any time off.
I was really grateful to have them there because launching my child-of-the-heart book into the world turned out to be really emotional.
Some very enjoyable promotional events for Writing in the House of Dreams, including a day in Totnes Library and an evening at View the Gallery, two of my favourite places, run by two of my favourite people.
Then there was a weekend at Daymer Bay with a dozen friends, which was brilliant, and a weekend of sacred and spiritual singing at Cullacott Manor with ace singing teacher Abbie Lathe, where we chanted by candle light for an hour or more between workshops. Magical.
Well, December’s all about Christmas, isn’t it? Family and friends. Looking back over my year I guess it’s pretty clear that those are, as they always have been, my most important things.
When I started this post, I was intending to tell you about the highs and lows of my working year, but you already know about that if you’ve been following my blog.
I’m not sorry I put so much time and effort into learning about self-publishing. I think it will free up and enable my writing from here on in, because I won’t have to be so tied to trying to please the market. I can be more adventurous.
But I feel very frustrated that I’ve only had a few months in the whole of the year when I was able to fully immerse myself in new writing.
I can’t wait to get back to it in 2015.
Thank you for visiting the House of Dreams this year. May 2015 bring you lots of happiness and new creative adventures.
Both my daughters are poets and one of them also writes non-fiction articles and chapters related to her job. I think they’re lucky because they come to writing with the gift of knowing the real fiscal facts of a writer’s life. They have no illusions.
They know that even a hard-working writer like me, with lots of published books and a long track record, foreign editions, fabulous reviews in the national media, would be better off financially working in the local supermarket. Harsh but true.
They know that even to make ends meet, I’ve had to develop various related income streams from things like teaching workshops, working for a literary consultancy and doing school visits, all of which take chunks of time away from the writing.
only 11% of professional authors (those who dedicate the majority of their time to writing) earn their whole living from writing
the typical income of a professional author is £11,000 a year, less than two thirds of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Minimum Income Standard
Novelist Joanne Harris commented, ‘It’s good to see that finally we are becoming aware of just how little the average author earns.’
Poet Wendy Cope commented, ‘Most people know that a few writers make a lot of money. This survey tells us about the vast majority of writers, who don’t. It’s important that the public should understand this.’
It wasn’t always so. When I started out more than twenty years ago nearly half of professional authors could make their whole (if basic) living from writing.
On the upside, we now have the self-publishing option, but we need to approach that with our eyes open too. As you’ll know if you’ve been following this blog, I was very much guided in my recent self-publishing venture by the advice of Diana Kimpton at www.helpwithpublishing.com. She says only spend what you could afford to lose.
This really needs considering. With self-publishing, you are not only likely to earn little, you may very well make an actual loss.
I would never suggest to anyone that they give up the day job and commit a hundred percent to writing; I would never encourage them to believe they will ever be able to do so, unless they have an extraordinary stroke of luck.
If you want to be a published author, travel hopefully by all means, but be aware that the chance of earning a basic living from writing alone is low, and the chance of making a good living from it is very low indeed.
All of which is not to say don’t go for publication, just don’t go for it with your eyes closed, or you’ll bump into some hard facts down the line.
I’m looking forward to the day when my daughters have their collections published – I’d love them to do a collection together. That would be completely amazing!
Being published won’t mean they can give up the day job, at least not without years of hard graft and good fortune, and if they ever do want to make writing their main occupation, they will probably have to supplement it with other work.
But what being published will mean is that they are honouring and sharing their gifts, and opening to new opportunities as writers.
If you approach publication in that spirit, rather than as a chance to quit the day job, you will not be disappointed.
Here’s a wonderful, clear and thorough assessment of the current financial situation for authors by Emma Darwin on her brilliant blog This Itch of Writing.