Showing posts with label the business of writing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label the business of writing. Show all posts

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Taking Care of Business - Ciaran Murtagh

People always think it must be brilliant working from home, and as I sit in my freezing shed with frost on the inside of the windows waiting for the heater to come out of hibernation long enough to stop my breath steaming, I have to agree.

Sure it has it's problems, like wondering if you're going to make enough money  to justify turning on the heaters in the first place, but it also has lots of benefits. You're your own boss. You can work when you like and you can fit working hours around other things you might need to do in the day, like picking fluff out of your belly button, nursing that Bargain Hunt addiction and wondering what you're going to wear for dress down Friday, even though every day is technically dress down Friday. Truth be told, I sometimes have a 'can't be bothered to get dressed at all' Thursday...

But work does still need to be done. You can't just sit in your shed inhaling the sweet fumes of your a-ha themed scented candle (true fact) and dream of being JK. So how can you make a success of working from home? As Elvis said - you gotta Take Care of Business.

1) Routine

There is something about a commute to work that gets you out of home space and into work space. I'm not saying I want to sit on an overcrowded, overpriced train in order to be more effective, but I find I have to do something. When your commute is literally 'walk to the shed' or in previous incarnations 'walk to the spare room' then there's little time to transition.

This morning I've got myself up (big tick there), got two kids up, dispatched them to two different schools and nurseries, did the bins, tidied bedrooms and now it's time to work. Trouble is I don't really feel like it. I need to do something to kick myself into gear.  For me it's a blast at the gym, for you it might be a walk, a swim, reading the paper, something that kicks you into a different place. It may seem like you're wasting your time - the kids'll be back before you know it, there's stuff to be done. But as Billy Bragg said:

'I know it looks like I'm just reading the paper, 
but these ideas I'll turn to gold dust later
'Cause I'm a writer not a decorator...' 

2) Planning

I like to know what I'm doing in a day. Some people like to plan the night before, that's never been my bag. It's also impossible sometimes. I have book deadlines that might be a month or two in advance, I have TV deadlines which are literally 'by lunchtime' and I have the joys of working with Australia and the US who work through the night to give me work I didn't know existed in the morning.

Regardless, each morning I try and make a plan for myself. It doesn't have to be colour coded and covered in sticky notes, literally a numbered list - I am going to do these things in this order and then I'm going to stop, unless Australia wakes up early. It gives my day structure, and while it might not go according to plan, at least I know what I'm diverting from so I can come back to it in due course.

3) Breaks

Take breaks. You are not a loser for taking breaks. Procrastinating is not the same as taking a break. Recognise when you've hit a wall. I can spend an hour staring at a screen getting nowhere, I go and make a cup of tea and the thing clicks into place like a magic eye puzzle (ask your parents). Breaks are important.

4) Writing is not the only work

My job is a writer, therefore you might think the only time I'm doing my job properly is when I'm putting words on a page. It's not true. We're not coal miners, we're not paid by the tonne. Research is work. Answering emails is work. Sorting out your receipts is work. Invoicing is work. Sometimes - and don't tell my wife - sitting in a bath with a notepad and pen at two in the afternoon, is work. Don't beat yourself up too much about targets and word counts. If you are doing something that contributes to making the core business of what you do easier and more successful, you are working.

5) Don't eat the biscuit

That is literally it. In an office, you eat all the biscuits people judge you. When you're your own boss you can eat all the biscuits, go out and buy a new packet so nobody knows, eat them too and then only get blamed for eating one packet of biscuits. That has never EVER happened by the way.

What I mean is, fight your urges and your temptations. There are lots of things you could be doing and no one is going to know if you do them instead of work apart from yourself. Know what your distractions are and try and break the habit of going to them. You'll get more done, and in my case, stay slimmer.

That's it. Merry Christmas. Keep on trucking and may all your notebook pages be white.

Friday, 22 February 2019

The Myth of the Full-time Author, by Dan Metcalf

I was looking through an old blog of mine from about five years ago and came across this:

From the Guardian:  
"Roughly speaking, until 2000, if you wrote a story, made a film or recorded a song, and people paid to buy it, in the form of a book, a DVD or a CD, you received a measurable reward for your creativity. Customers paid because they were happy to honour your creative copyright."
It's worth clicking through to read the whole article from Robert McCrum, which looks at how the credit crunch and the Internet's increasingly liberal views on copyright have affected writers and the image of the professional author. Admittedly, only a few writers get to be full-time nowadays, and the rest have to make do with part-time jobs and spousal support, so why do so many of us dream of developing our writing into a career when it is so unlikely?

Which may be a cynical way of looking at the business, but mathematically valid. I find myself looking at TV talent shows the same way. Why do these (sometimes) talented bright young things put themselves through the X-Factor, The Greatest Dancer, Britain’s Got Talent et al when the odds of winning are so low? They openly admit and even boast that the shows start off with thousands of applicants, only some of whom are invited to auditions, then whittled down to the best of the bunch and then told to fight it out on screen for a number of weeks until only one is left. Only one can win, and the odds of it being you are minimal. It would make more sense to sell everything you own, fly to Vegas and place everything on black on the roulette wheel. At least then you get a 49% chance of winning something.

The same could be said of this writing biz. Why put your novel into a slush pile in the hope that it will be plucked out, read, liked, invested in, edited, printed, distributed and sold in the millions? It happens to very few and my thoughts above of authors rarely being full time still holds up today.

Strangely, I found myself as a full time author just a year or so after that post was written, but only through the auspices of the coalition government and them laying off a load of librarians in my council. I was one of them and took the leap into freelance writing. Now I find myself on the job market again, which is unfortunate but necessary. I don’t begrudge working a ‘proper’ job to fund my family, but it comes with some problems. Namely, lots of my referees from 4+ years ago have moved on and I have no way to find them! Also we had become quite used in my family to me being at home and being able to go to school open days, be around to take care of poorly kids, and generally being flexible when it came to the old work/life balance. Now my children look at me oddly when I leave the house in a shirt and tie, instead of bumming around in my pyjamas.

For me, I find writing a brilliant way to pay the bills, but I think less and less authors will be able to pay the bills only through writing in the future. We’ll all have to be entrepreneurial and have a side hustle going to keep the wolf from the door. Does it suck? Yeah, it kinda does. Am I surprised? Not in the least.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

The Question of Money by Chitra Soundar

 I’m still wrapping up the last of the World Book Day events across the whole month. I visit primary schools and spend time with children across Reception to Y5.

This year when I was visiting a school, I had two Q&A sessions with two Y4 classes that had read my books as part of their lessons. The usual questions came up:

a)    How old are you?
b)    Did you come from India to our school today?
c)     Where do you get your ideas from?

Then came the question that I get once every 5-6 schools, “Do you make a lot of money?”

This boy was immediately cut short by another one who said, “That’s not a proper question to ask.”
 Normally I would smile, and say not a lot and tell them I do my own dishes, took the tube to their school etc.

But I wanted to answer this time (and I’ve been since that day, answering this question seriously).
Doing what I love - 2016

A job to support myself while writing - 2004
I explained how sometimes you might have to do your art alongside other things. I explained how difficult it can be sometimes and how many writers do have another job. I iterated to them a few times that do not give up on writing or any other artistic pursuit because you can’t make a lot of money. There will always be a way to find an opportunity or avenue if you work hard at it. I told them it was hard work but it was also worth it because I enjoy what I do.

The vigorous nod of heads and big smiles told me they would want to become writers and of course they’d have to become engineers, doctors, teachers, firemen, accountants as well. That is fine, I am one of those people who never gave up writing through my life as a teacher and then as a bookworm stuck in corporate plumbing.

Since then whenever the question of money comes up in Junior School I’ve not been evasive or even embarrassed about how little we make. The school is not the place to discuss what Nicola Solomon has written about in last week’s The Bookseller.

But then I do get a series of questions, which after discussions with fellow authors, I’ve concluded has come from celebrity publishing thrust under their noses.
a)    Do you get fans coming up to you in supermarkets?
b)    Do you have a limo?
c)     Are you a celebrity?
d)    Are you famous?
e)    Do you live in a castle?

f)      Do you have a Ferrari?

And that I worry about. When the majority of books they see in a WBD line-up or in bookshops are from celebrities on TV, then it does create an expectation that only celebrities write books or if you write books, you must be a celebrity.

I’m wondering if a part of my presentation now should include photos of me cleaning the house, taking the rubbish out and being squished in a bus with my WBD gig bag to bring the glamour of being a writer down.

I do take my notebooks into schools and then I show them the ones that I’ve been writing for years without any success. When they see my Work in Progress scrap-books and research notes, my multiple drafts of the same story, they hopefully will realise hard work will get the books on the shelves. 

If I also get a TV show before or after, fantastic! I’d love to buy that Ferrari.  

While writing this blog, I wanted to provide some resources for those young people who are interested in arts. Here are a few. If you are sharing this with young people in your life, please do research them thoroughly before taking it further.

YPIA - Young People in Arts -
The Roundhouse Trust -

Impact Arts - Cashback to the Future -

And finally a teenager's view on how to engage young people in the arts -

Chitra Soundar never knew arts was an option as a teenager. She graduated from university with a degree in commerce and accountancy and a diploma in computer science. As an adult, while working 12-hour shifts, she pursued her writing and she's hoping the day will come when she didn't have to work in a corporate firm for sustaining her arts. Follow her on Twitter @csoundar and on Instagram @chitrasoundar

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Being Your Own Small Business, by Dan Metcalf

As the end of the tax year looms closer, and my stack of receipts from Costa Coffee and Staples mount up, I'm reminded that I am not just a person. Not just a writer, even, but a business.

Scary word, no? I never took Business Studies at school, never quite grasped the idea of self employment and creating stuff for profit, so when I started publishing books I was shocked to find this whole new world of bookkeeping, promotion, discipline and money. I was part of the Young Enterprise scheme at school (somehow) where myself and a group of friends formed a company to produce hand-painted rocks, but that hardly compares to the reality of setting up on your own.

I was aided in this venture into the unknown when I was made redundant by my employer, a local council. Once I had declared myself unemployed, I pushed hard to get on to a scheme called the New Enterprise Allowance. This gave a small payment each week to attempt to live on (impossible, but I did have redundancy money and a wife in employment as well) but the most important thing was access to business training and mentors. This meant I was able to go to workshops on writing business plans, social media management, self assessment taxes, grant applications, marketing, starting out in business and much more. The access to a mentor was brilliant. Mine was an experience businessman and knew every trick in the book; funding, selling, self-promotion and the art of the deal (sorry to drop a Trump-ism in there...).

If you need support setting up or just general help with your career as a self-employed writer, don't suffer in silence. There are loads of free advice sessions available to you:

  • Ask your local council. When I first new that redundancy was on the cards, I asked my local council and got a meeting with a Business Development Officer, who went through my options. Most councils will have some similar service as it is in the government's interest to promote and help new businesses – it's them you'll pay your taxes to when you're a millionaire, after all.
  • Check your local library. Many library authorities have a Business and Enterprise Hub now, which can hold meet-ups for free advice. It's worth having a look to see if your library authority subscribes to an online resource which is butchly named COBRA (COmplete Business Reference Advisor). Here they have fact sheets on every sort of career and business you can imagine, listing the research, qualifications and experience that would be helpful to start up. Some libraries can provide market research too from MintUK which can show lists of similar businesses and their turnovers, taken from the Companies House database. (Oh, and they have books too)
  • Every area should have a local business advice organisation. These are the people who monitor the New Enterprise Allowance and can support start-ups. Ask your local Job Centre for advice on how to contact them.
  • The government website here in the UK is invaluable. has loads of articles on how to set yourself up in business, all written in non-scary plain English. There is lots on there, so try as a starting point.
  • You may need funding; start up loans are available at reasonable rates but you'll need to get your business plan approved first. Check for details.
  • Lastly, ask friends for advice – even if they are a plumber or builder, they'll have a good grasp on self-employment and they will tell you it is not that scary. If you don't know anyone, join groups on Linked In and find meet-ups in your area. Don't be afraid to ask – every business person had to start out sometime.
Feel free to add your own authoritative business support links in the comments if you have any. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some bookkeeping to do...

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Ways to Find a Title by Jess Butterworth

My first novel, a middle grade adventure, started out as Fire Walker. I thought the title was punchy, enticing and reflected a theme in the story. My workshop tutors and peers liked it, as did everyone else I told about it. But then my agent, Sallyanne Sweeney, pitched the novel to editors and received feedback that the title made it sound like a fantasy, which it wasn’t.

So I went back to my notebook and brainstormed new ideas. I decided on Meet Me at the Vulture Tree. Sallyanne tested it on a few people and the response this time was that it sounded too grown up, like a book for adults and not for middle grade.

I felt unsure of where to go from there, so Sallyanne helped me pull lines from the story that could be potential titles. For one draft, the book was called How to be a Snow Lion. By the next draft it became When the Flames Roared, then Mapping the Stars, before On the Roof of the World.

It quickly felt like I had a different title every few days and I didn’t know how to choose between them. I sent Sallyanne a list of my favourites and she suggested adding a verb in front of On the Roof of the World. My main character opens the story running through fields on the Tibetan plateau, and Running on the Roof of the World suddenly felt like the perfect fit. It seemed as if it had always existed, fully formed and just waiting to be discovered.  
I’ve just finished my second book and am now searching for its title too. For anyone else also going through this process, these suggestions are helping me:

1.     Unless you know it’s perfect, try not to grow too attached to a title as the chances are it will change.  

2.     Wander around libraries and bookshops to get a feel for the titles that are out there. What hooks you? What doesn’t?

3.     Are there any lines/words/phrases from the story itself that would make a good title?

4.     What are the themes of the book? Are there any key words from them that could be incorporated into the title?

5.     Are there geographical landmarks, like mountains or deserts, that could be suggested by the title?

6.     Could it be a character? Or an antagonist’s trait?  

7.     Does your title reflect the genre of the book?

8.     Will it appeal to your intended readership?

Happy title hunting!  

Jess Butterworth