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How to Earn a Living From Writing

Do you want to make money from your writing? I know… silly question. Or is it?

Regular readers of this blog will know I wrote recently that I believe we should write from the heart (December 2015: What Waterstones Can Teach Writers), work on improving our craft, and dare to be ourselves. I still believe that. There are too many so-so books out there, written by authors who’ve spotted a bandwagon and scrambled over each other to get on to it. Well, we’re all trying to earn a living in this world so I’m not going to throw stones…

But when I read Andrew Crofts’ piece in the Guardian online, I saw that he advises writers to “stop writing only what you want to write”. I thought it worth sharing with you because he makes so many valid points about the difference between what he calls “passion projects” (novels you want to write) and actually earning a living from writing. Sadly, there is a difference. Where I advocate “writing what you want and being true to yourself” (i.e. risk staying poor 🙂 ), he takes a much more practical stance and suggests if you want to make enough money to support yourself from writing, you should “gain access to information other people are willing to pay for or provide a service that others need to buy”. Good advice, though it did take him 20 years to hit six figures. But at least he hit it!

As ever, it’s about balance. If you can balance writing professionally, as Mr Crofts does, with projects for other people that earn you a living, then you can afford to do you own “passion projects” that might not make much money but will bring you enormous creative satisfaction. That way, you can have the best of both worlds.

Kay Leitch
Author of   Treasure This
Kaywritesheretoo.wordpress.com

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Filed under Andrew Crofts, Creative Writing, creative writing tips, How to earn a living from writing, Kay Leitch

What Waterstones Can Teach Writers

Don’t you just love mavericks?

Stephen Heyman writes on slate.com about how Waterstones’ fortunes changed for the better when Alexander Mamut, described by one broadsheet as: “The most powerful Oligarch you have never heard of”, bought Waterstone’s (when it had the apostrophe, but no profit) and put James Daunt in charge.

Waterstones_WDaunt was already a very successful businessman. He founded Daunt Books in Marleybone High Street in 1990 when he was just 26, and ended up running six independent book stores across London, all of which remained profitable even in difficult market conditions. The first thing Daunt did as Managing Director of Waterstones – apart from getting rid of the apostrophe – was to tear up the existing business plan for the failing book store and implement his own, rather unconventional, ideas.

He took power away from publishers and gave it back to the book sellers, promoting what he believed would sell rather than what the publishers wanted to advertise. All those “Best Seller” spots in the window of big book stores didn’t actually mean the books were best sellers. The publishers paid for those spots.

The great thing about Daunt, in my opinion, is that he’s not an accountant, a marketing executive or a PR man. He trusts the book lovers he works with. One thing he said made me laugh out loud: when he discussed his individual marketing plan and how he wanted to shake up the business he loved, he knew publishers would not be happy with his decision to cut their advertising space in his stores. “But,” he said, “we had the advantage of being bankrupt…” Talk about turning a negative into a positive!

He also gave each Waterstones almost complete autonomy over how to arrange their merchandise. So, no more homogeneity, where Waterstones in Glasgow looked exactly the same as the one in Chiswick. Each Waterstones looks different, individual, inviting. The one thing they all have in common is good books, tailored to individual local areas.

What has this got to do with writing and publishing? Everything. Rules are great when they work, and lethal when they don’t. Sometimes we’re so used to following old rules and procedures we don’t realise they’re so past their sell-by date they’re doing more harm than good. Many publishers have been following restrictive rules for a long time: pay lots of money for advertising space in shop windows (take it out of authors’ earnings) … tick. Avoid risks … tick. Ooops, not making so much money – cut authors’ earnings a bit more … tick. Watch the rise of independent author publishers…

I love that as independent publishers we are the mavericks of the publishing world. We’ve stopped trying to second guess anyone, least of all fickle publishers, and write what we want to write. We make it the best we can. Yes, we follow the rules of editing, punctuation and good grammar. Yes, of course we’re aware of the market, but we don’t let it tyrannise us. We don’t jump on band wagons for the sake of a quick buck – we don’t let the bottom line dictate what we write. Where’s the joy in that?

We can’t all be the kind of maverick James Daunt is. But we can learn from him. If you make any resolutions for 2016, make them be to trust yourself, ignore the “rules”, and write from your heart.

Kay Leitch
Author of  Treasure This
kaywritesheretoo.wordpress.com

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Filed under Children's Publishing, Creative Writing, creative writing tips, Electrik Inc, Independent Publishing information, James Daunt, Kay Leitch, kaywritesheretoo.wordpress.com, Waterstones