Publishing has changed a lot since I first started making a living as a writer many years ago. Back then I worked on a typewriter and posted my manuscripts. I've had my usual share of rejections but was lucky enough to earn a reasonable income writing for children's magazines and mainly commissioned books. Mass market writing, but it kept my family fed, clothed and housed.
When I wrote books that weren't commissioned there were plenty of publishers to approach and a contract and advance were usually given once the synopsis and sample chapters were accepted. I rarely wrote a book I didn't have a contract for. Of course, that's all changed now, with many large publishers merging and many small ones no longer giving advances. Digital publishing means anyone can self-publish and ebooks abound. According to the ALCS the average salary for a professional writer is now only £11,000 per year. So how do we deal with this?
I think Neil Gaiman - an author I admire a lot - had the answer in his speech at The London Book Fair in 2013, by advising writers to diversify. To paraphrase he said we should be 'like dandelions and scatter our seeds everywhere, in the hope that some of them take root'. You can see the full speech here
He advised us not to be scared to try new things, of failing, of making mistakes. Good advice, it's what most writers do at the beginning of their career, try different markets, genres, styles until they find their niche. It's more difficult as an established writer to go back to doing that but the publishing world has changed and we have to change with it if we want to survive as writers.
There are advatages to the digital world. The Internet enables writers to study overseas markets and submit to overseas publishers by simply adding an attachment to an email. I've worked for publishers in Australia, America and India this way, getting paid by Paypal or bank transfer. We can write for online magazines, web content, blogs, apps. We can critique manuscripts from writers both in the UK and overseas via email, run Skype tutorials, give Twitter interviews to promote our books.
I believe that there will always be a need for writers, storytellers, dream makers - but we have to be willing to diversify and try new markets, new ways of writing. What do you think?
Karen King writes all sorts of books. Check out her website at www.karenking.net