Showing posts with label Society of Authors. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Society of Authors. Show all posts

Thursday, 7 January 2021

What fresh hell is this? The B-word and creative freelancers by Dawn Finch

I have always held the opinion that it's probably best not to express too many opinions. This means that I have usually opted to not say anything at all about Brexit preferring to wait for people to tell me just one positive fact about it (still waiting, by the way...). Facts - love those, but like all of us, I'm drowning in opinions right now and those are not always the same as facts.

Most of us are already feeling the negative impact of changes that restrict our freedom of movement and impede our ability to see Europe as our wider work-space, but for most of us, we simply feel so overwhelmed by the whole thing that it just feels like a massive dog-pile of opinions. Picking the facts out of this dog-pile is becoming increasingly difficult and it is with great relief that I read the latest piece from the Society of Authors. I say "relief" but I should stress that's not relief about the content, but about the fact that the details her are at least clear and understandable.

The end to Freedom of Movement means that many creatives will have to negotiate complicated visa and work permit regimes before travelling to EU27 countries and we'll all need to be aware of the extent of any potentially varying exclusions that may apply to us. Authors travelling to an EU country for research or work should remember from now on to check with the UK consular office or embassy, and this is not always going to be as simple as it sounds. There is a significant risk of backlogs, and of paperwork delays as even the embassies try to set into place how this will all work.

Some things are clear, such as the fact that we should still be able to work in France for up to 90 days without a visa, but we will need a work permit. Sadly the details for other countries are still up in the air and awaiting conditions based on reciprocal arrangements that have yet to be agreed.

There is, of course, a huge amount of confusion and uncertainty about the emerging rules, but what is clear to the Society of Authors is that it will "present a costly and complex barrier to thousands of freelancers working in the creative industries". The Society draws attention to a petition calling for a Visa-free work permit for touring creative professionals that has already gained well over 200,000 signatures.

I would strongly recommend reading the Society of Authors' article and following them on social media for regularly updated information. With so many opinions flying around it is refreshing to have a source of information tailored to my needs as a freelance creative European.

Access the latest news from the Society of Authors via their website, and the article referred to in this piece can be found here.

Dawn Finch is an author and information professional.


Saturday, 7 November 2020

Granted - why you should apply for grants for creatives, by Dawn Finch

As you know I am always badgering authors to ask for (and expect) fair pay and fair deals for their work, but as 2020 marches towards its close many of us are looking to a winter that will make excessive demands on our already overstretched incomes.

I often forward links to grants and hardship funds for authors, only to have people reply to me with “Oh, I wouldn’t want to take money away from anyone worse off.”

I’m going to have to stress this in no uncertain terms – THAT IS ABSOLUTELY NOT HOW GRANTS AND HARDSHIP FUNDS WORK.

Your application will be assessed on genuine need and merit and if the assessors feel that you are in genuine need (or that your project is of genuine use and merit) you will be fairly awarded a grant. You will NOT be taking the money away from people who are “worse off”. No one is going to come around your house and shame you for a grant application that is approved - or not approved. These grants are all managed by good and kind people who know exactly what you are going through and they will try to support you the best they can.

Yes, the hardship funds and grants have never had more applicants than they have now, but they have also never had more support and more funds. These grants and funds exist to support authors and other creatives and often to help people re-examine or reimagine their careers in this CV-19 world. This might be the time to revisit that creative project you started but didn’t have the funds to finish. Taking the financial burden off you for a while might just unlock that creative block that’s been hanging albatross-like from your shoulders.

Applications for grants and hardship funds can, at first, appear complicated, but the Society of Authors can give members support and advice with how to progress, and all of the online access points to the various grants offer extensive guidance. It is also worth noting that you do not have to be a member of the Society of Authors to apply for hardship grants handled by the Society.

 I know that most of you will already have had these grants on your mind (and may have already looked at the websites and forms) but I hope that this blog encourages you to apply. It is important to society as a whole that creatives find a way to survive this financial crisis (for that is what it is) and this means many of us will need some help, and that’s what grants and hardship funds are for.

The creative industries are vital to a thriving economy. YOU are vital!

Lockdowns and restrictions have been hard on everyone, but I know with absolute certainty that it would have been impossible to get through this without the output of creatives. Where would we all have been without books, music, art, drama? With so many creatives struggling to continue it is important that you feel comfortable applying for grants so that you can continue with your work, and continue to make this all bearable.

Without creatives, we’re all just staring at blank walls.

 A few handy links

As of 26th October, the Society of Authors partnered with Creative Scotland to help distribute £600,000 in grants from their Hardship Fund for Creative Freelancers in Scotland.

If you are working on a larger or more long-term project in Scotland, you might also like to look at the Open Fund. This is a fund that provides organisational and individual funding for much larger projects that work with the fabric and culture of Scotland. The grants are complex application forms, but they will answer questions by email and there are full booklets that take you through the process step by step.


The Authors Contingency Fund is managed by the Society of Authors and the website has a simple questionnaire to assess your eligibility for any funds before you apply.

The Society of Authors also manage a number of other contingency grants for some for works in progress and most of these do not require SoA membership.

Arts Council England have a number of “open funds” to which you can apply. These all have different eligibility requirements, and each of these can be accessed through these portals.

It is also important to not forget the third part of the Government’s Self-Employment Income Support Scheme Grant. The grant was extended from 1 November 2020 and will cover the critical period of the winter months. The third grant will cover a 3 month period from 1 November 2020 until 31 January 2021. The Government will provide a taxable grant calculated at 80% of 3 months average monthly trading profits, paid out in a single instalment and capped at £7,500 in total. This is an increase from the previously announced amount of 55%. The Government has also already announced that there will be a fourth grant covering February 2021 to April 2021.


If your family has an overall low income, and you also have limited savings, you should also examine Universal Credit. This is particularly important for people in your family who are in full-time education but have found that the pandemic has stripped them of the opportunity to earn money through casual employment. If your income has fallen to worrying levels and you are concerned about your ability to financially support your student children, they should apply for Universal Credit and this could ease some of the worries you are currently feeling.

Dawn Finch is the Chair of the Society of Authors' Children's Writers and Illustrators Group, Trustee of CILIP, library activist, children's author, seed library curator, community bookseller, allotment committee secretary, and is currently a food writer (on top of everything else...thank you 2020) Most of these jobs are sadly unpaid... #ShowMeTheMoney




Monday, 7 September 2020

Step up - supporting authors, by Dawn Finch

The current health crisis has been catastrophic to authors' incomes and every day I hear more heartbreaking stories of how badly people have been impacted financially. Since March the Society of Authors has paid out over £1 million in hardship grants, and it doesn't look as if the applications to the fund will stop any time soon. With the self-employment grants and the furlough scheme ending soon, I fear that the true hardships are only just beginning.

For the past 60 years, the SoA Fund has provided small grants to professional authors of all kinds facing hardship, paying out around £95,000 a year. Since the beginning of the health crisis, the ongoing demand for grants has increased exponentially. With the long-term financial impact of the health crisis still uncertain, if the SoA is going to continue to support authors in financial need, they need to raise more funds to sustain their grant giving into 2021 and beyond.

The Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), Royal Literary Fund, Arts Council England, the T S Eliot Foundation in partnership with English PEN, the Literary Consultancy, the National Association of Writers in Education, Amazon UK, and many individuals, generously contributed a combined £1.1 million to our existing Contingency Fund.

SoA have made a big difference this year with the funds available – supporting many authors through personal health crises, others to take on caring responsibilities, many simply to make ends meet, while enabling others to continue to work through lockdown. But funds are running low as applications continue to come in. They estimate they will need another £400,000 to keep awarding grants at the current rate until the end of 2020 – and more to sustain the Fund into the future.

Applications to the fund are open to all professional authors who are resident in the UK or British subjects – including all types of writers, illustrators, literary translators, scriptwriters, poets, journalists and others – for whom author-related activities make up a substantial amount of their annual income.
Grants are likely to be up to £2,000 and designed to meet urgent need with the possibility of review as the situation continues.

The fund is doing great work supporting authors, but the fund needs our support too. It is vital that we all support the fund in as many ways as we possibly can. There are three key ways you can do this - shopping, fundraising and giving.

The Contingency Fund is only made possible by the donations. If you can afford to give, there are a few ways you can do it – from one off gifts and regular payments, to remembering the Fund in your will. If you are one of those who can afford to donate, please do. Guidance on how to do so can be found here.

Can you spare a few hours to organise a sponsored event or auction to help raise money for the Fund (and even have some fun in the process)? Could you put together an event to raise money for the fund? Maybe do a sponsored event? Fundraising is a key element of the fund. You can find more ideas and information here.

There is a very simple way of donating while you shop from supporting organisations. If you shop online from Blackwell's, Waterstones, Hive, M&S, John Lewis, Argos and more and do so via the links from the Society of Authors' page, it won’t cost you a penny extra, but each time you shop that way the Fund will receive a small contribution.

This is all part of us supporting our own. These are terrible times and it is important to make sure we look out for each other. If you, or anyone you know, need help from the Fund you can find the paperwork on the Society of Authors website. Membership of the Society is not a condition of application, but I will always advise authors to join as the legal advice and support is priceless as are the networks and guidance.

Please support the Fund because by doing so, we support each other. In these hideously uncertain times, there is only one certainty and that is that we are stronger when we stand together.

Dawn Finch is an author and library activist and the current chair of the Society of Authors' Children's Writers and Illustrators Group (CWIG)

Please support the fund in your tweets by sharing events and information using #StepUpForAuthors

You can access all the necessary forms for the Fund here.

For more information and ideas for fundraising and supporting the fund, click here.

Friday, 7 August 2020

Free Stuff – Creator choice or user expectation? By Dawn Finch

Copyright Gecko&Fly

As we move into the next phases of managing the pandemic, we can now take the opportunity to lick our wounds. It seems to be within the nature of children’s writers and illustrators to want to make the world a better place and I wasn’t surprised to see so many of you offering up your time and materials for free. I know that this made lockdown a lot easier for many parents and there’s even a chance you might have had a few sales from this.

But the grants for self-employed people are drying up, and so are the opportunities. It’s looking increasingly likely that schools will have neither money or time to book many digital visits and events for the next year or so, and this means that author’s already fragile incomes are about to take the worst hit of all. It’s time to think very hard about whether or not you want to leave all that free stuff out there.

You are going to hear me talk about this a lot over the coming year. As chair of the Society of Authors’ Children’s Writers and Illustrators committee, I know that this situation is going to require some very specific support. This has been something that the committee has been talking about right from the start. We know that there are concerns that are bigger than just the technical matters of a digital visit.

CWIG are working on a way of giving you advice for this, but when you are making and booking your digital visits, please don’t be afraid to be very specific about how that video you are making will be used, and what you are giving permission for. Have you given them a video that they are free to roll out to every school in the Academy chain? Have you given them permissions you are allowed to give? Have you given them rights to repeat-show that video in perpetuity? We work with words, but why are we so bad at getting things in writing? Why do we just assume we can trust people to respect our permissions if we don’t respect them ourselves?

These might seem like a thing that doesn’t really matter, but why would School B book (and pay for) a digital visit if they can just get a copy of your video for free from School A? If you talk about all of your books and do a generic-age workshop, your video won’t age for a few years so why would anyone pay you to come back when your next book comes out? How much are they going to pay you for different versions of your video? Live stream with chat and interaction is one thing, specially recorded video is another? Get it in writing! Don’t be afraid to pin down your conditions.

I meet and work with hundreds of authors and my main grumble with you all is that you’re too damn nice! It is absolutely essential that you feel empowered to ask for payment and conditions because you are entitled to it. It is also extremely important that you do not feel pressurised into giving your work away for free. Yes, I’ve said this before and it certainly won’t be the last time I talk about it.
CWIG are also examining creative income streams and looking at how we can support authors to find ways to pay the bills, and to carry on writing and illustrating and generally making the world a better place. We’d love to hear your creative methods of earning money related to your writing and illustrating. Drop me a line in these replies, or head over to twitter and send me a message.

I’m also hoping that we can encourage those authors who already have super-massive platforms to stop and think before they give so much stuff away for free. There is absolutely nothing wrong with giving your work and time away for free if you feel if will amplify your work and your career, but it should always be done because you choose to and not because of end-user expectation. I am hoping that some of the biggest names in children’s publishing will give up #EveryTenthTweet to amplify the work of some of the smallest. Imagine if those huge names started sharing work by lesser-known authors, and linking to their outlets. I know the power that they hold and that endorsement could relate to genuine sales. I’m not just talking about newbies and new books, I’m talking about bringing light to all authors currently languishing in the shadows. It’s time for the biggest names to take a step sideways and let the light flood in.

The future is certainly going to be a challenge for authors in every field, but as children’s authors used to be able to look to school visits and events as a significant part of their income, there are going to be particularly tough times ahead. This means we need to really pull this family together and support each other even more. Let’s amplify each other, support each other’s work, and most of all let’s all make sure that people remember to #PayCreators

Dawn Finch is a children’s author and librarian and the current chair of the Society of Authors’ Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group committee (CWIG)

Saturday, 7 March 2020

Celebrating Reading for Pleasure, by Dawn Finch

With the dust of World Book Day barely settled I’m hoping that everyone is entering the weekend mulling over the wonderful times they’ve had. Now, before anyone throws anything at me, I know that not every school visit is wonderful for authors, but I do believe that the overwhelming majority of school visits find you in welcoming spaces where reading for pleasure is not just a box ticked on WBD, but something that is celebrated all year round. We know the schools I’m talking about, the ones where the school buzzes with excitement about books and reading. The schools that make us feel like shouting about how wonderful they are.

This brings me to the CWIG Reading for Pleasure Award. Children’s writers and illustrators visit thousands of schools every year and see a wide range of approaches to teaching literacy and encouraging reading. We meet teachers and librarians who are doing exceptional work and the CWIG group at the Society of Authors thought it was about time we had a way of showing schools how much we appreciate their work towards a culture of reading for pleasure. To do this we came up with the Reading for Pleasure Award. This is the perfect time of year to ask you to start considering who you might put forward for one.
Brian Abram nominated Parklands Primary School (pic credit Chris Dyson)
If you visit lots of schools, you will know when you have come across a school doing that little bit more – maintaining the library at all costs, making strong links with the community library, encouraging peer-to-peer recommendations, working with reluctant readers, running book clubs or reading groups and putting on mini-festivals or literary and illustrative activities - all sorts of things that go beyond the remit of the curriculum. Schools celebrating reading for pleasure not because they have to, but because they want to.
Sita Brahmachari nominated Little Green School (pic credit Little Green School)
Join us in rewarding those schools that go the extra mile in encouraging children to read for pleasure.

Here are the FAQs for authors from the Society’s website.
How many awards can I give?
CWIG members can honour, via the SoA, schools with 3 awards from now until 13 August 2020 (although summer term visits can have an extension of four months). You must have visited the school over September 2019-July 2020. Schools can receive more than one award from different authors. Welsh schools will receive certificates in English and Welsh.

Who can nominate?
SoA members only.
Awards can be given to any nursery, primary, secondary or special schools throughout the world that an author has visited (either virtually or in person) during the 2019/20 school year.
Members can reward schools with an award in whatever combination they like e.g. one primary, two secondaries.

When do I submit details?
This scheme operates on a rolling basis, so members can reward schools in whatever order or timing that suits. You could spontaneously gift your award immediately after your visit when you feel really inspired; or leave your decision to the end of a term or the school year. We would prefer early nominations to sustain interest in the award throughout the year.
This year’s deadline is 13 August 2020.

How do I nominate?
You will need to send contact details to the Society of Authors along with a citation (no more than 150 words) detailing why you are presenting an award. An optional paragraph of why the school deserves the award and images would be appreciated for publicity purposes. Please complete the form on the Society of Author's CWIG website.

Let’s use this year to celebrate the good things, the happy things, the things that make us smile and make us feel like this is all worthwhile.

Dawn Finch is a children's author and librarian, and current chair of the Society of Authors' CWIG committee. 

You can read more about the CWIG Reading for Pleasure Award on the website.
Link here

When tweeting about the award, please use #CWIGAward #readingforpleasure, tag @Soc_of_Authors and mention the school, librarian, staff or headteacher. If the award is given around an annual event or local festival you may like to mention that too, e.g. World Book Day, National Libraries Week etc. 

Sample tweets:

I’ve given @school @librarian/teacher a @Soc_of_Authors #CWIGAward for their work inspiring #readingforpleasure.
Congratulations to @secondaryschool @librarian/teacher for their @Soc_of_Authors #CWIGAward for their amazing promotion of #readingforpleasure
I awarded @secondaryschool @librarian/teacher a @Soc_of_Authors #CWIGAward for developing #R4P. Congratulations, you are an inspiration!

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Ssshhh, don’t tell anyone – impostor syndrome and the activist author by Dawn Finch

I’m just about to take over a role that I feel wholly unqualified for. This month I take over from Shoo Rayner as the next Chair of the Society of Author’s Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group committee. The committee has a long and illustrious list of former members and Chairs. Award winners and celebrated (and famous) writers, poets and illustrators have held this position. Shoo is proper famous, and amazing and an inspiration.

And now me. What on earth am I thinking? Imposter syndrome is kicking in big-time right now. I mean, I’ve never won anything for my books, or even been shortlisted. Sure, my non-fiction books are in pretty much every primary school in the country, and on the curriculum, but I’m no Carnegie winner. I’ve never had anything turned into a movie, or a tv show, and I’ve never had publishers bid in one of those six-way auctions things. I’m not famous, and my bank account shows that.

Who the hell am I and what am I thinking?

Well, maybe some people will know me from my library activism. Maybe some will have heard me on the radio talking about national literacy or library campaigns. Maybe some will have read my articles in the newspaper, or used my resources on degree courses. Maybe some will have been among the crowd when I’ve given speeches. Maybe others will have been at events where I’ve been talking about the rights of the reader and the rights of the people who create for them. Maybe some will use my reference materials for research, maybe others will have been on training courses I’ve delivered.

Maybe I can do this. I’m not as big a name as some of my predecessors, but I know I have the support of them and I have a world of experience around me to lean on and to turn to. I have the rest of the committee and the Society and all the members and together we can keep on making a difference.

Maybe I’ve got this.
Maybe we all have.

Dawn Finch is a children’s writer and library activist and the new chair of the Society of Authors’ Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group (CWIG)

Join and support the Society of Authors and protect your rights, and help to protect the rights of others.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Managing money as a freelance writer – does it make you panic, too? Moira Butterfield

 Being a full-time writer is no financial picnic. It’s a tough career choice because there’s no monthly salary cheque. I compare it to the mental skill you need to walk along a cliff path - i.e.: keep going and don’t look down. Here are some of the things I’ve learnt about this tricky money thing. I hope it will make you feel less alone in this crazy choice we’ve made.

Don't look down 

1) Keep your accounts up together as best you can. If, like me, just thinking about money can make you feel a bit sick, this isn’t a natural piece of behavior. I’ve thought about getting one of those apps they’re advertising on TV, where you photograph your receipts and they go magically into a spreadsheet. Is anyone using such a thing? I actually get my partner to do my books, and my Mum once used to do them – basically because I’m so panicky about doing them myself. One way or another they do get ordered, anyway.This applies to part-time writers, too, of course. 

2) Keep writing earnings and expenses very plainly separate from your household accounts. This is in case you have to show the Inland Revenue. I’ve written before about tax investigations and I won’t bang on about them again, but assume it could happen to you and be prepared. If you can’t clearly show where money came from and where it went, you could be in for a bill.

3) Get tax investigation insurance because if you are chosen it’ll cost you in accountancy fees (unless you are very up-together on tax you will need them to come with you for interviews). Members can get it through the Society of Authors (and they also have a free tax helpline for members) or I get it through my accountant. I have been investigated twice, both times when my earnings went down due to childbirth. I think that the big swings in yearly earnings aroused their suspicions. They probably thought I was hiding money but I wasn’t. In the end they charged me for some opal fruits on a petrol bill and a £4.50 toy on a receipt but it cost me £1,000 in accountancy fees to prove I was clean (apart from the opal fruits).

4) Pay tax monthly or at least save it somewhere. The Inland Revenue now has a scheme enabling you to pay an amount of your choice by monthly direct debit – and you can stop and restart at any time or get the money back out (it's easy to set up online). By the time my tax bills come (January and July) I’ve just about cleared them. It’s a total godsend to me as I could never save in my own private account (I always found I needed it somehow), and I often used to have to borrow the money when the tax bill arrived. The way I do it now is a huge weight off my mind.

What I used to do with my tax 'savings'

5) On fee-paying writing jobs don’t allow publishers to delay paying your invoices past the end of the month after the month invoiced (ie: 30 days, effectively). If they haven’t coughed up, ring their accounts office (or get a confident friend to ring and say they are your financial advisor working on your accounts – Mum used to do that, too). On work that is invoiced through an agent it will be up to them to chase payment, but I’m sure it would be worth reminding them if what you were expecting doesn’t turn up.

6) When working direct with publishers don’t accept payment excuses such as ‘we can’t find your invoice’. Scan it, email it and ask when payment will occur asap, as this is not your mistake.

7) Always check stage payments carefully in a contract. Are they weighted the way you want? You’ll need a fair amount up front and less at the far end because you need to eat. If accepting a fee-paying contract I would never agree to delaying any payment to publication date, as you will have no control over it. On royalty contracts I do accept that because I have a more ongoing interest.

8) Don’t start comparing your earnings to other people in different professions. That way lies madness. If you make the choice to be a full-time writer, own it.

9) Remember that you are not alone. There are lots of us out there on that cliff path, ready to listen. I know that the Society of Authors has a hardship fund, and though I’ve never used it, I have in the past been in a position perilously close to needing that helping hand. That’s why I have such a difficult relationship with this subject. I would personally prefer never to think of money again, and instead think only of words, but I know I have to face it every year, and so do you. Let’s do the best we can.

It's not easy dealing with this, but we're not alone. 

Moira Butterfield
Twitter @moiraworld
Instagram @moirabutterfieldauthor 

For tax advice and insurance be a member of:

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Blinded by the Light by Paul May

‘Hi, nice to meet you.  What is it you do?’
‘I’m a writer.’
‘Ah, very good.  Have you had anything published?’

I think most writers have experienced some version of this conversation. So far I have managed to resist the obvious reply— ‘Why would I tell you I was a writer if I hadn’t had anything published?’—because I think they’re trying to be polite and, to be fair, everyone knows that for every published writer there are dozens more tapping away on their keyboards in garrets and garden sheds and cafés, all of them desperate to see their work in print.  

I was one of those people once, and I want to explore how the lure of seeing one’s name on the cover of a real book, a proper, published book, means that authors like me have no idea what they are getting into.  

I was a teacher.  When I sat down one summer holiday in the early 1990s to write a children’s book I knew almost nothing about the business of publishing.  I had a few not very good and not very original ideas that I soon abandoned, and one or two interesting characters who stayed with me and eventually did find their way into books.

I gave up my full-time teaching job and started working part-time.  I wrote two days a week while the children were at school.  I kept at it for several years, sacrificing quite a few trees in the process (I printed everything I wrote back then) and eventually I finished a novel.  One thing I thought I knew about publishing was that I should try to find an agent. So I sent off three chapters of my book, and waited.  Three months later a letter arrived asking for the rest of the book, and six weeks after that came an invitation to lunch.

Blurred, headless photo, taken by his young
 son, of the author with an
 encouraging letter from a literary agent.
(My family had already opened it!)
So, there I was having lunch in a swanky London hotel where it turned out I hadn’t quite got an agent yet, because although my writing was ‘lively and entertaining’ I had written a book that was twice as long as it should have been—for the market.  I told you I knew nothing about publishing. 

But now, suddenly, the glamour and the fame and (why not?) the riches, were almost within touching distance, dazzling me.  ‘No problem,’ I said airily over the petit-fours and coffee.  ‘I’ll remove a couple of those unnecessary sub-plots.’  

I didn’t ask how much I might get paid for all this work.  I didn’t ask about the chances of actually finding a publisher.  I didn’t consider what my hourly rate might eventually be.  The distant, sunlit uplands were in sight, beckoning me on.  It took three months to rewrite, and it was a few more months before a publisher expressed interest. But there was one small problem.  My young heroine was a girl who dreamed of becoming a professional footballer.  The publisher thought my sales would improve if the girl was a boy.

Living the dream - first book.
I did as they asked.  What was a few more months’ work, after all?  My agent was now my agent, thus reducing my hourly rate by 10%.  (I know—only 10%!  Those were the days.)  I was going to get an advance and it felt like a lottery win, albeit one that wasn’t paid all in one go.  A year later the book was published. I started looking for the piles of my book stacked up in the bookshops, but I couldn’t see them. Where was my book? ‘What’s it called?  By who?  Ah, yes, we had a copy last week . . . but we sold it.’

I was starting to learn.  My friend who was already a ‘published author’ had warned me, but I hadn’t been paying attention.  ‘If you want a launch party, you’ll have to do it yourself,’she’d told me.  And she may have said, ‘It’s not how you think it’ll be.’ I knew now that when a bookseller sold the last copy of a book they didn’t automatically order another, because more new books by other unknown authors would, by then, be jostling for attention.

But I was dead keen and working hard and I’d already finished another book and they gave me a two-book deal, which seemed great.  And don’t get me wrong, I was happy.  I had learned that if I wanted publicity from the local paper I had to ring them myself, so I did.  I did interviews on local radio.  My books were reviewed decently and my first book was shortlisted for the first Branford Boase Award. 

Three of us from the publisher were on the shortlist.  None of us won, but we had a little celebration anyway.  The publisher had brought along a well-known picture book illustrator who said, as we downed the consolatory champagne: ‘Enjoy it while it lasts, guys. When your sales start to fall they’ll drop you like a hot potato.  Only joking!’ he added quickly, as the publisher looked daggers at him.

It may have been a joke, but it stuck in my mind.  No one ever said anything about sales.  And I felt it might spoil things if I asked.  When the royalty statements started to come in I could see the numbers but I had no idea whether they were good or bad and neither my agent nor my publisher ever talked about them.  I sometimes wondered about this, but I was far too busy writing to investigate. Conversations with my agent and the publisher were always about my writing and almost never about money.  No one told me about PLR or ALCS or the Society of Authors. I’d imagined that the form I’d signed to do with registering my books with the British Library meant I’d automatically get PLR.  It was only a chance remark from another author that put me right.

When I got my first advance I could have sat down and done some sums.  Those sums would have told me that I’d earned about £1 an hour for that first book (the movie options never did roll in).  But that wouldn’t have stopped me.  I enjoyed writing (most of the time), and I used to tell people it was better than buying a lottery ticket, financially speaking.  The next book could always be the breakthrough book.

My agent did give me a little advice at one of our early meetings, after she’d asked me if I wanted to be a full-time writer.  If I did, she said, it would take me ten years to build up enough income.  I think she may have been optimistic.  She also advised me not to give up the day job and, thanks to that advice, I have a teacher’s pension that provides me with the time to write this.  She couldn’t have predicted that, had I carried on teaching during those two days a week, I would have earned roughly twice what I earned from writing in that time, and would have added several hundred pounds a month to my pension.

Better than the staffroom

But I don’t regret any of it.  Teaching full-time was slowly driving me crazy anyway, and I always enjoyed doing the school run and having lunch in the garden under the apple trees.  I’ve had the best of both worlds and I’m very grateful, but wouldn’t it be lovely if, when you signed up with a publisher or an agent, and you were contemplating with shining eyes the dazzling future ahead of you, a fairy godmother could appear through the glittering smoke and hand you a little book outlining all the things you might need to know in this new job you’ve just begun?

Paul May's website is

PS If you're interested in Enid Blyton, who I've mentioned once or twice in previous posts, you might like to look at a couple of pieces by myself and by librarian Nazlin Bhimani from the Institute of Education over on the Newsam News blog. 

Monday, 10 December 2018

Six things I’ve learnt this year about being a children’s author. Moira Butterfield

My blogging Xmas present to you is a list of things I’ve learnt this year about being a children’s author. Short and sweet, but hopefully one of these may prove to be useful.

1. It’s become ever more ruinously expensive to get to London for meetings with publishers and agent, but I can save some money by trainsplitting the ticket. Hopefully that might work for you, too.

It would be cheaper to go to London by reindeer, via Lapland....

2. It's important to take opportunities to learn from others, and so I found myself, not once, but twice, at one of the inspiring performance workshops run by Cat Weatherill at the Society of Authors headquarters. Highly recommended. In 2019 I'm going to make sure I keep an eye on the workshops and talks being offered by the SoA, and by our very own wondrous writing guru Jenny Alexander, who luckily ran a workshop in my home town this year. 

Hello! Can I join your workshop?

3. Chatting at a general level to kids, parents and teachers is hugely helpful at the very beginning of developing a new idea. In 2018 it really helped me steer my thinking in the right direction and it helped me get the quickest ‘yes’ from a publisher I’ve ever had.

Talking to kids, parents and teachers is good! (Though once I start writing, I'll probably shut up). 

4. Instagram is creatively helpful if you follow the right folk – illustrators in particular – who put up some absolute jewels that inspire.  I try to limit looking at it to twice a day, however, as it's all addictive, as we know. And, yes, I did a helpful Instagram workshop in 2018 (year of the workshops - they are all tax-deductible by the way). 

5. Mixing with other authors and illustrators, even if only on social media, has upped my game. Their successes and thought processes have helped to spark me up and do better.

You helped me up my game! 

6. Blogs must be short and to the point, or I just won't read them. Well done for getting this far! Have you learnt something this year that you'd like to share with other authors? 

Happy Xmas!

Moira Butterfield 
Author of all sorts of things for ages 4+, such as Welcome To Our World, published by Nosy Crow. 
2019 sees more highly-illustrated non-fiction and picture book publications from me. 
Twitter: @moiraworld
Instagram: @moirabutterfieldauthor