Saturday, 14 March 2015

Dandelion Writing

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


Sue Bursztynski said...

Seems to me you have written a wide variety of books in your early career. You can do it again. At least you have made enough money from your writing to treat it as your day job. Not everyone is that lucky. I'm earning, in a good year, about half of what you say is now the average rate for a professional writer. I used to be able to write for education publishers but these days they tend to have a stable of regulars and be uninterested in anyone else. A friend who is a member of several such stables tells me they no longer pay royalties, only flat rates.

I can't get work with a former education publishing company I wrote for, since they changed their primary publisher, despite the fact that after twelve years I am still receiving thousands in royalties, which means they are making even more. He just isn't interested.

You, on the other hand, have some options, even if you have to change your type of writing. Don't worry about all that self published rubbish - much of it IS rubbish and there are still readers who know the difference. ;-)

Karen said...

It's true, Sue, that I've done a lot of different types of writing - whatever paid the bills. But I believe that we all have options. You may have previously written for educational publishers but could you try different kinds of writing - fiction, short stories, articles for educational magazines perhaps? That's the point of my blog, that maybe we should all step out of our comfort zone as writers and try writing for other markets.

Nick Green said...

My approach is analagous to this. Every penny I earn is from writing... But nearly all of that is marketing copywriting. However, it was my efforts in writing fiction that gave me the necessary skills to do well in that field, so even if my books don't earn me a living directly, they do so indirectly.

Karen said...

It's all writing, Nick. There are many ways and genres to earn a living writing and marketing copywriting is one of them. That's exactly what I mean by diversifying:)

Katherine Roberts said...

Diversifying is what farmers were advised to do, and I know at least some of them ended up converting barns into lucrative holiday lets and giving up on the farming entirely... I think we need to be careful that diversifying does not mean giving up on the writing we do best.

I'm all for trying different genres, though. It could be your first lucky break was in a genre that no longer fits, anyway. There's no reason to stay in a publisher's cage unless that cage is gilded.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Karen, I've done fiction, non fiction, articles, short stories, book reviews, anything that was writing and paid. I only mentioned the difficulty with the education publishing - which can be a wonderful market if you can break into it - because you seemed concerned about your own situation. I could make a living from writing if the education market hadn't locked me out for the moment. There's always a demand for new books and I'm very flexible - I can write anything(except maybe teachers' notes, but I'm not even being offered that right now). So I just get on with it.

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Ann Evans said...

Interesting post, Karen, and for me it would be hard not to diversify. I seem to work best when I've got a variety of different writing projects on the go.It seems to me that the more things you have a go at, the more opportunities arise. Like you, my income has come from writing and jobs associated with writing, such as teaching writing, m/s critiques, author visits, talks on writing etc. It's all part of a writer's life and while it probably would be more lucrative to get a 'proper' job with a regular wage, I can't see that ever happening.