Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Saturday, 1 August 2015

Does investing in writing really pay off? by Jenny Harper

On Wednesday I gave my first Library talk. I was apprehensive, but I knew the audience would not be large and I was determined to give it a go. Thankfully, everyone seemed to enjoy it – and I even sold a few books!

I didn't want to rabbit on for too long (I dislike listening to myself talking), and was uncertain about what people would most like to hear. An experienced author told me that people love to know about you as a writer, so I gave a little background (writing from childhood, through the teenage years, put off by doing a degree in literature, small success in the 1980s but not enough income, and a subsequent career writing about everything from corrosion in central heating systems for British Gas to articles on the applied arts for newspapers and magazines).

I mentioned that I'd had the idea that writing novels might be a nice little earner in my retirement, which elicited hollow laughter from my husband when I practised my speech on him. He was right to be cynical – so far, I would say expenditure has outweighed income by a factor of several thousand to one, when you take into account all the course fees, books on writing, conferences, agency fees, association fees etc I have shelled out in the past few years.

But it also led me to think about just what all that money I've spent has done – and I really surprised myself.

  1. What I have learnt.  On my very first course (in Castle of Park, Aberdeenshire) I thought I could write, and that all I had to do was learn a little more about structuring a novel. After all, I'd been writing all my life – professionally for much of it. Right? Joke. With every book I have written (around eight now, I think), I have learned more and more. Some of this has come via courses, but a lot of it is down to simply writing. The more you write, the better you get.
  2. Friendships.  Starting with that first course – where I met the tutor Anita Burgh, Jo Thomas (now a best-selling author) and Elizabeth Garrett (whose seaside cottage I have been privileged to visit on many occasions), I have made friends not only in Scotland but quite literally all over the world. Writing is no longer a lonely business, it leads via the virtual world to the unlikeliest and richest of friendships.
  3. Experience.  I've learnt not just about the craft of writing, but also about the world of publishing and how it operates (and how it is changing it the digital world); about how to publish a book yourself in ebook format and in paperback; about social media and how to harness its power; about how to promote your own book in a digital world; about the American Inland Revenue Service – yes, you do need to enrol in order to get UK taxpayer exemption from US taxes; and many other surprising things. I've built my own website, written countless blogs for other hosts and hosted many writers on my own blog, learnt how to Tweet and use Twitter management tools, how to use Facebook, and about LinkedIn and Pinterest and Goodreads and a myriad other web-based sites and tools that would otherwise have remained a mystery.
  4. Publication.  Because I self published and became more confident about the fact that readers actually like what I write, I was offered a publishing deal. And that has led to a whole host of further new experiences. Being featured in my publisher's catalogue. Seeing my book cover prominently displayed at London Book Fair. Selling foreign rights. Hearing that my latest title is to be promoted by WH Smith Travel.
The list goes on. Not bad, eh? I haven't made my money back – not yet anyway – so perhaps as an investment it hasn't really paid off. But I do have faith in myself and, more importantly, my publisher has faith in me, and perhaps one day my pounds will multiply.

If they don't, what have I lost?

Truthfully? Nothing. I believe my investment has already been repaid a millionfold. I write professionally crafted, very readable books that people enjoy, my skills across many areas have improved out of all recognition and, most importantly, I am now the proud member of a worldwide community of writers.

Not a bad investment, don't you agree?


20 comments:

  1. Completely agree, Jenny! This is probably a very useful blog to remind writers (and prospective writers) that very few of us make much money out of our profession. But I hope it doesn't put people off! Go in wiht your eyes open, be professional and hope to make money - but don't be heart broken if you don't.

    I get three important things from writing: 1) the joy of hte actual writing, especially when it is going well; 2) the delight of seeing my books in published form and receiving feedback from readers and 3) some income. I'm sincerely hoping hte income is going to grow as I get more books out there :)

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    1. Ah yes, I should have added in the joy of writing when it's going well! And, actually, editing - I'm currently editing a book I wrote five years ago, which is now due out next Spring. I couldn't believe how much my writing has changed since I wrote it. Improved, I hope!

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  2. An excellent investment for you and great books for the rest of us to buy and read.

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    1. Thanks Georgina! And despite all the ups and downs, it has been a throughly enjoyable and hugely educative journey (to use a fashionable and hence rather cliched word!).

      Thanks for dropping by.

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  3. Good post, Jenny, which should be widely read. I agree about how much we gain - from friendships to formatting.
    Can you email me with a step by step guide to taxpayer exemption in the US, please? I thought I'd done it but they taxed me on my US sales last year so I'm paying tax twice. As sales in US have gone up over the year I can see a larger chunk of money will disappear into the maws of the US tax system. I need help.

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    1. Oh dear! I don't know a step by step, I just did what they said on the screen. It came up with CreateSpace, not Kindle - does that help? I now have a certificate with my ITIN number. Email me off line if you need more info!

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  4. A lovely success story. What you have got back can't really be measured in monetary terms. I am sure you will see a return in your investment eventually but it's a pity you have to work so hard for so long beforehand. I am constantly in the doldrums about my writing these days, thinking 'what's the point?' and it's good to see all those good reasons to carry on.

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  5. My own fault, Lesley - it to me a long time to 'get' it. I think writing a good novel is much harder than running a corporate communications consultancy, which is what I did for twenty plus years!

    All I can say is, try to keep believing in yourself, and stay in touch with friends who believe in you. It can be a long process, but talent always shines through in the end.

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  6. I really enjoyed this one, Jenny - it felt as though I was at the library talk with you. As to earning money - or not! - I still feel, six novels and loads of short stories down, as though I am still speculating to accumulate! But onwards, upwards .... :)

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    1. Thanks Linda. People seem to think we all make millions. Mind you, watching Rick Stein in Graham Greene's hotel suite in whichever Far East city he was visiting (on some digital channel the other night), he obviously did make millions!

      Keep smiling, keep writing.

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  7. Great summary of the various aspects of the job, Jenny, and I agree completely that being a writer is enriching in so many ways beyond the financial (although that would be nice, too). It's also lots of fun.

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    1. Glad we are in agreement, Bill! Thanks for dropping in.

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  8. Great post Jenny. I am sure it resonates with many of us.

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  9. I agree with all you've said here, Jenny, echoing (should that have an e in the middle?) what some of the others have said.

    The friendships, the learning process, the all-round enrichment resulting from participation in the world of writing compensate many times over for the red bank balance above the double line.

    Great post.

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  10. This is so true, Jenny. In all the years I have been writing professionally I have never earned more than I have spent. I am trying to break even this year, but only because I have started an author service helping new writers get writing, adding an extra income.

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    1. One day... we can always dream! Good luck with your new venture - it sounds really interesting.

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  11. Hello Jenny, you have not lost all the investment. Writing is so fulfilling and money can't buy the feeling you get when you handle your book and get feedback from readers.

    Best wishes,
    Stella

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    1. That is SO true! Thank you for backing up my feeling! And thank you for dropping by.

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