Monday, 22 July 2013

Diversify or Die - how do you do it? by Nicola Morgan

Most writers have always had to have other jobs. No one owes us a living - I absolutely believe that. And increasingly, no one is going to give us one. We have to go and get it.

Not new and not a big deal. But something we have to keep thinking about, keep working around or with, keep battling against.

Most writers do not live by writing alone. Those who do are either exceptionally lucky or Anne Rooney, who actually does do some teaching and editing but who mainly works damn hard to write a crazy number of books, whether or not each one is precisely where her heart is, because she knows we can't always follow our hearts if we have to earn a living. A writer's gotta do what a writer's gotta do. Like anyone, really.

So, diversification becomes a necessity. I'm very happy with diversification. I have a low boredom threshhold anyway, so flitting between fiction and non, teenage brains and teenage stress and teenage books, public-speaking and writing consultancy and writing bitty things for bitty places and all the things that occupy my day is a pleasure. But I really need to focus on things that make money, and not all those do. And most of them don't do much.

So, recently (yesterday, as I write this) I diversified further and opened a shop - not really thinking it would make me much money but hoping that it might make a bit and help sell my books. And be fun. Not a shop with a tinkly bell and clanky metal shutters that I could pull down at 5.30pm, but an online one with cool buttons such as Add to Cart and View Basket. Currently, it just has books and bags in it, but gosh how diversificatorily do I have plans! Anne Rooney will even approve of my plans, I'm pretty sure. Today I've been sourcing bags and tea-towels and biothings and designing content and contacting suppliers and dreaming big and bold and bright.

I almost forgot to write. Well, OK, I did forget to write.

And then, also today, I got the news that 110 schools have ordered class sets (I can't even do the maths) of The Highwayman's Footsteps and I remembered that I'm a writer and must not diversify so much that I forget that.

Because that's the problem. Diversification is dilution. And distraction. It's do or die but it's also do too much and die.

I'm excited about my shop but perhaps the next product I should design is a sign to go above my desk saying, 
Remember I'm a writer

How do you diversify? What would you do and what would you not do? How do you make a living as a writer or support your writing with something else?

I want aspiring authors to understand that the vast majority of us don't earn a living specifically from writing. I think this honesty is important. It's reality and life and what we work with. Every time an aspiring author tells me they want a publishing contract so that they can give up their job, or afford a better house, a little bit of my heart sinks. And then I remember that I enjoy what I do, and my heart flies again.

Maybe I could write a book about a shop. A shop where you buy dreams that don't last long. Because you wake up and smell the coffee and drink it and get working and then find that working is better than dreaming anyway.

Meanwhile, do keep an eye on my shop, where I will soon be offering a perfect gift for the writer in your life...

24 comments:

Nicky Schmidt said...

I'm chuckling as I type this, having just retweeted your post on Twitter while only minutes before having retweeted a post about slowing down, doing less, doing things more mindfulfully, and thereby becoming more creative and productive. I think you'd better go and read it! :-)
The shop sounds great and I wish you every success with it. I love how so many writer pals are diversifying in really creative ways, and with shops of their own. I fear my piggy bank will be issuing many oinks of concern soon!

Nicola Morgan said...

*digresses and goes to read Nicky's post on doing things mindfully...* Yes, that! Do as we say and not as we do, I guess ;)

Stephen Davies said...

Great post, Nicola, and great idea to open a shop. The fact that you do a lot of speaking means you can promote the shop in real life. I found last year when I was living in the UK that it was school visiting that paid the rent, a newspaper article that paid the electricity and fiction writing that paid for breakfast cereal. Hoping to adjust that ratio in the coming years! Anyway, best wishes with the shop!

Candy Gourlay said...

The stuff that don't pay are very sticky though. A very mindful post. Good luck with the shop. And Anne Rooney.

Sue Purkiss said...

Stephen, what a graphic description of where the money comes from! Nicola - congratulations on selling all those books - what a dream!

Karen said...

Totally agree, Nicola, I write, teach writing, visit schools and write more or less anything anyone well pay me to write. And I'm in the process of building a shop on my website to sell some writerly stuff but I'm finding that really time consuming. Like you say, we have to diversify. Good luck with your shop and congratulations on the success of The Highway Man's Footsteps. :)

Karen said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Karen said...

Totally agree, Nicola, I write, teach writing, visit schools and write more or less anything anyone well pay me to write. And I'm in the process of building a shop on my website to sell some writerly stuff but I'm finding that really time consuming. Like you say, we have to diversify. Good luck with your shop and congratulations on the success of The Highway Man's Footsteps. :)

Karen said...

I have no idea why that's posted three times! Sorry everyone.

Jackie Marchant said...

When I suggested that I write seriously instead of returning to work when the kids were settled in school (rather a long time ago) my dear hubby happily agreed. I think he may have thought he could retire early on the proceeds . . .
He changed his mind long ago!
Good luck with shop!

Nicola Morgan said...

Karen, I applaud your enthusiasm :) Let me know when you have your shop ready. Maybe we could shout about each other's shop?

Jackie ;)

Candy and Sue - thanks!

Stephen - what sort of cereal? We need to know. I mean if you have luxury muesli, we are truly impressed!

Sue Bursztynski said...

Ah, but in the end, you can still work from home, as you couldn't if your shop had a tinkly bell. Some of us can't. Some of us don't teach writing to interested parties, but English, history, whatever, to school kids. Try that some time, or open a brick and mortar shop. You'll have to do a LOT more than put a sign above your desk! ;)

Stroppy Author said...

Sue, Nicola did used to be a teacher in a real school! It's not a matter of luck but of choice and hard work. No one is *forced* to be a teacher, etc. We are compelled to earn a living and do it according to our own interests, abilities and preferences.

Good luck with the shop, Nicola! I'm thinking of doing a sort of a shoppy kind of thing... but very, very different. As you say, it gets stifling doing the same things all the time, even if they work. Here's to diversification!

adele said...

I feel tired just thinking about all the work Nicola and Anne R and lots like them do!! Good luck to all of them and best of luck with the virtual shop! Sounds brilliant.

Miriam Halahmy said...

Excellent post - I keep myself sane by doing a range of stuff from workshops, to talks, to mentoring, otherwise I would drive myself mad with trying to write the great book...

Pat Walsh said...

Very best of luck with the shop - one thing's for sure, you'll never be bored!

Karen said...

Thanks, Nicola, I think my shop will be a while yet as I've just taken on another writing contract but am hoping to get it ready for September. But I'm happy to shout about yours :)

Anne, you're right it is a matter of choice and we all do what we have to to pay the bills. I'm happy to shout about your shop when it's ready too.

Nicola Morgan said...

Sue, I think I work as hard as anyone, to be honest. And yes, as Anne says, I have been a teacher. I've also been a cook. I work harder now - which is not to say anything about teachers and cooks, who obvs work very hard indeed, but simply to say that I (personally) work harder now than I (personally) ever have in my life. And now if all I was doing was putting a virtual sign above my desk, that would be one thing, but in fact I'm adding the virtual shop to an existing workload that keeps me at my desk (or out teaching or speaking) more hours than most people, from early in the morning to late at night, including most weekends. That's not a complaint AT ALL - it's 100% my choice and I love doing it.

I do consider myself lucky having the skills that allow me to work at home, but working at home is a very difficult way to earn a living (in terms of the money side and having to cover overheads, not the actual "difficulty" of the work) and the lack of salary means that most of us have to work silly hours.

As I say, not a complaint about my working life, but I do know what hard work is, trust me! I did it as a teacher, I did it when my children were small and I do it now. This post wasn't meant to be about this, though, just about the need to diversify and the fun (in my opinion) of doing it.

Nicola Morgan said...

Maybe those of us who are creating shops should have a shopping centre :)

Karen said...

Oh yes, a Writer's Mall!

Katherine Roberts said...

Like your shop, Nicola! (Funnily enough I just added some sparkly things vaguely related to my books on my blog "just for fun".)

Very much enjoyed your recent speaking appearance on the Society of Authors self-publishing panel - also met the amazing Anne R there. Had to dash afterwards for my train home to Devon, so didn't get a chance to say hello or eat all the strawberries.

Diversifing? My books alone made me a decent living up to about 5 years ago. Now I am self-pubbing ebooks to survive... go figure.

Molly Freibott said...

Thank you so much for this post. I really enjoyed your transparency and the 'peak' we got into the writer's real world. I appreciate how candid you always are. I can't wait to hear more about your shop!

Sian Rowland said...

It's people like you that keep me inspired and keep me on track with my own career. I've been freelance since compulsory redundancy in 2011 and love it but it's often hard to keep your eye on the ball and while some months are busy and lucrative, others are quiet and pay very little. Diversification is definitely the key and I'm full of admiration!I'm also looking forward to seeing what's in the your shop. Good luck.

Nicola Morgan said...

Katherine - yes, I wanted to talk to you, too! Thanks for helping me out when i couldn't remember if Authors Electric was only children's writers.

Molly and Sian - thank you! You are very kind.