Sunday 22 March 2015

How writers can earn more - by Nicola Morgan

Most children's writers find it very hard to earn anything like a living from their writing. Most of us carry on anyway, managing however we can, because we love what we do. But there are some ways we can earn more and still love what we do and do what we love.

I did a talk recently for the Scattered Authors Society on how to earn more from doing events and I'm going to be writing that up properly soon. But meanwhile I thought I'd write generally about some ways of increasing your income as a children's writer.

Please don't think I'm all about money. I am so very not. But I find that money is the only currency that mortgage lenders, utility companies and supermarkets will accept. Funnily, when I get to the checkout, the sales assistants don't seem to go for the "but it's good for your profile" line, so I can't afford to do things for profile either, unless it will be really good for profile, which it usually won't. Anyway, profile just doesn't taste that great in a sandwich.

So, here are my suggestions.

A. Make more money from events
  1. Decide your minimum fee for a day away from your desk doing an event and turn down all (or almost all) invitations that can't pay that. Every time you are underpaid, you are also losing time in which you could be writing. I'd rather not do an event and have the time to spend on something else, either writing or doing another income-generating thing. I DO sometimes say yes to underpaid things, because I sometimes really want to do the thing, but I just cannot afford to do many like that. And, when setting your minimum fee, don't forget to factor in prep time, travelling time, and admin. So, if an event is going to take 2-3 days altogether, make sure your fee reflects your earnings needs for 2-3 days. Use this earnings calculator from Andrew Bibby.
  2. Do more events - and I'll be giving lots of ideas about how you get more events when I write up my notes from the SAS talk. (That doc will go to SAS members and I'll put it on my own blog, too.) But doing a large number of "normal" school or library events, which are generally not well paid, means you will be exhausted, so it's hard to envisage actually earning a living doing school events. You wouldn't be able to do it every day or even every week and you'd never have time for writing.
  3. Do better paid events. Again, I'll give more details in that other document but there are two main ways to do this: a) establish your expertise and pitch for events about it, something which gives you a genuine USP. ("Author who writes great books" is not a USP unless there is some reason why your particular books are the only and specific ones a school wants, which is possible if they're studying them in class, but not likely.) And b) think about INSET or other training that you can offer to schools and educational organisations. (This is now almost exclusively what I do and how I can charge something more like a professional/ commercial/ business training rate - and we're talking £1000-£1600 a day for such things. That may sound a lot but there is a lot of preparation and delivering a whole day of training to a bunch of strangers is mentally and physically exhausting..)
  4. Find ways to sell more books at school events. 
(There are many more ideas, but I'll talk about them in that other document.) 

B. Write more books
Obvs. Now, of course, you can't write/publish many full-length novels or some other sorts of "big" books a year and obviously it takes a while for advances and royalties (if ever) to kick in, but writers should remember these things:
  1. If we don't write books because we're doing too many events or blogposts, we will soon not have a platform of books about which to be asked to do events.
  2. We can't do events forever, so if we want an income of any sort after we've finished doing events, we need to write books and those books need to stay in print.
  3. There are books that we write because our heart cries out to write them and there are books that we write because they pay the bills and because we are writers with a skill and a job to do. You only have to look at the incredible hard-working professionalism of our own ├╝ber-prolific Anne Rooney to see what a writer can do when she turns her mind to making a career out of saying yes to books and no to events.
  4. If self-publishing, it's a well-known "rule" that you need to keep producing books and that doing so generates more sales for each.
C. Create some other things to sell
I don't mean start a home-baking stall! To sell the following things, you can either get your web designer to build in a shop element to your website - I did this and it wasn't expensive, even though mine is not the simplest and sells ebooks as well as physical items, and allows me to create discount codes - or you can just create a page on your site with details of what you're selling and get people to email you an order and pay via Paypal. 

Here are some suggestions:
  1. Create teaching notes and lesson plans for one of your books and sell them as pdfs or ebooks. It requires a substantial amount of work to create the materials, set them up and market them, but once that's done it's very simple and every sale is money to you. And you can garner more events like this, too, and/or offer a free one to any school booking you for an event. (Creating add-ons is a good way to attract schools to invite you.) It doesn't matter if your book isn't fantastically well known. Find the teaching points it offers and create some materials around that. Teachers love things that are ready to use in the classroom.
  2. Create teaching materials in your area of expertise (link them explicitly to the curriculum, which you can discover online or through a teacher friend) and sell them as pdfs or ebooks on your website. I've gone further than this and created a huge and therefore high value set of materials (called Brain Sticks) about brain health and wellbeing, linked to PSHE and Wellbeing elements of the curriculum, and these are selling very nicely.
  3. Or/and do the above and sell them on Amazon as ebooks. It's a lot easier to sell non-fiction than fiction and you stand a decent chance of making it financially worthwhile if you do it right.
  4. If you've got a shop set up on your website, sell your published books on it. (Your contract with your publisher may say you can't, but you can if you negotiate a seller's account with them.) This is not going to boost your income very much, though, and you need to spend quite a bit of time packing and posting.
  5. Tea-towels! Or other merchandise, but tea-towels are great because they don't break or perish and are cheap to post. OK, so you have to be a bit creative and imaginative, but you are! I've made a nice bit of extra money doing tea-towels for two of my books. (Tea-towels need to appeal to adults, not children or teenagers, who are not known to appreciate such things...)
D. Critique manuscripts
Something else I do. I don't advertise this service except that it's surreptitiously mentioned on my website, because I actually don't want to do much of this work, but one client a month is about right for me and that comes without my advertising myself. You could do a lot more if you promoted your service. See here for details of what I offer. Feel free to copy me or even undercut me!

Some tips/warnings: 
a) It's time-consuming, eye-straining and tiring - and it's screen work, which you may feel you do enough of already.
b) There's a substantial risk (if you don't manage this in advance) that you will find yourself with a client who simply cannot take the constructive criticism which you must give. I have never once had a bad experience but I think that's because I vet clients first by rigorously ensuring that they know they are not going to be lathered with praise but that they are going to be blown away by the level of detailed criticism in my report.

You might also consider applying to become a tutor/expert reader for one of the big consultancies such as The Literary Consultancy, Writers' Workshop or Cornerstones.

E. RLF Fellowships 
Not something I've applied for but I certainly would if I wanted to: details here. I know several people who have done and enjoyed them.

F. Retreats
Ideally teaming up with a writer friend, why not organise and set up a retreat weekend and do the tutoring yourselves? There are so many ways this might work. It would be complicated the first time but much easier after that. Ask amongst your writer friends to find out what they'd like and what they wouldn't like. Talk to people who've been on retreats, if you haven't yourself. 

G. Online tuition
Again, lots of work to organise it but once you'd set up all the materials it would be a manageable way of increasing your income. You could use Skype or a webinar set-up - there are several organisations that facilitate webinars.

H. Get a part-time job
I don't think any writer should view this as a negative step to take. Whatever that job is, it brings new experiences, it may bring new people to talk to and new ideas. All of which could fuel your writing.

I. Make sure you're claiming everything you can against tax.
If you don't have an accountant, here's the link to the HMRC list of things you can claim - keep all receipts, of course.

Of course, you can't possibly do all of these things. There aren't enough hours in the day. Some of them, I admit, don't bring in a great deal of money (selling things from your website, for example, is really only going to be a drop in the ocean) but others do, such as finding a way to do higher paid events. But pick a few that appeal to you and that you think you could make work, and look forward to watching your income grow.

Good luck!

Talking of luck, have you entered the Great #UKYAEggHunt yet? Or, if you don't want the HUGE prize of DOZENS of books yourself, I bet you know someone who does! There are over 30 authors involved and you can start you egghunt here.


Heather Dyer said...

Thank you for sharing such a great list of ideas - most generous.

Stroppy Author said...

Excellent advice, Nichola. How generous of you to share xx

Jackie Marchant said...

Wow, this is excellent advice! I'm going to be very busy . . .

C.J.Busby said...

It's really generous of you to share these ideas, Nicola, and they are all excellent. They do make me want to lie down and cry from sheer exhaustion, though! I know it's a question of picking the ones that suit you, and there's no need to immediately throw yourself into every one, but I am in awe of what you've managed to build up! I think the most valuable bit of advice that all of them say to me, though, is: Don't do stuff if you won't get paid (unless you particularly want to do a one-off for personal reasons, of course). I am wrestling with this one currently...

Sheena Wilkinson said...

Such a helpful post, Nicola. I'm in my second year of trying to make it without a 'real' job. So far so good but I have definitely had to diversify. Have a RLF fellowship for next year, which feels like a big relief though it will take away some writing time.

Nicola Morgan said...

Glad it was helpful! CJ - I don't do all of them :) (Usually!) And, frankly, I am exhausted by the events and want to do more writing, which is less exhausting but also usually less fruitful. Dilemma.

Karen said...

A really helpful post, Nicola. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

All good advice and you are amazing, Nicola,but have to add a bit of a caveat! You may not be able to get publishers to take the books you write ....sorry to sound a dark note, but if you're thinking of trad methods of publishing and not doing it yourself, be prepared for disappointments ! Adele Geras

Nicola Morgan said...

Adele, of course! :( But If we don't write, we *definitely* won't get published. And, since I'm talking to published writers, I'm hoping they will write the right books and pitch them right.

And, note, the "write more books" was only one part of it. No one can follow all the suggestions. You have to try the ones that work for you.

I spend a lot of time helping people understand how difficult publishing is! It very is!

Anne Booth said...

Thank you very much.

Moira Munro said...

If you want to create a shop on your website without paying a web designer, check out ECWID. I have found their software easy enough to integrate in my website, and it will send electronic files to clients after payment (Paypal, credit card to Paypal or other alternatives), without me having to do anything.
My own example is on (warning: I make peanuts from it... but then I don't do any promotion at all).

Moira Munro said...

Thank you Nicola. My brain is buzzing now.

Kathryn Evans said...

You are an actual marvel Nicola Morgan. This is brilliant.

Richard said...

Great post, Nicola. Just one word of warning. From 1st Jan this year, if you sell purely digital products to Europe you have to pay VAT to the country where the customer is located. There is no minimum threshold like there is for physical goods; you have to handle tax for 28 countries from the first penny of turnover. This is insane and there's a big campaign trying to make it more reasonable, but as things stand I would not recommend selling stuff directly from a website/Paypal. Go to a third-party marketplace who will handle the VAT for you. Amazon is one but there are others.

Nicola Morgan said...

Richard - I know. It's absurd!

Savita Kalhan said...

Great post, Nicola! Writers are up against the wall, so good advice like this is invaluable!