So you want to be a writer?

I’m only really alive when I’m writing.
– Tennessee Williams

 What do you want to do with your life? There comes a point for most people where they start to ask themselves that question. And let’s face it, that’s a big, scary question requiring a lot of thought, angst and searching with a large dollop of realism and practicality on top. In fact the first couple of times it came up for me it required very quickly finding something else much less difficult to think about – but that’s another story.

From the fact that you’re reading this, I’m going to assume that, having gone through all that angst, the answer is, “write, what I want to do is write”. But, and I’m sorry about this, have you thought beyond that?

There are a few questions that I suggest you think about to help refine exactly what you are committing to with that decision.

  • Do you want to add adjectives like ‘best-selling’, ‘world-famous’, ‘rich’ to that title of writer?

You might think these would all be the same thing but in most cases they aren’t. For example, a best-selling non-fiction book is likely to generate significantly less sales than a fiction best seller but conversely the cover price is likely to be significantly higher. In the early days you are unlikely to get a publishing deal that makes you anything like rich and margins on self-publishing are much lower than people like to think.

This is not to say that there aren’t exceptions to the rule, just being realistic that very few people will be that exception. Which leads neatly to my next question:

  • Is this going to be a full-time career?

There are a few authors out there that I love; I buy everything that they release – sometimes multiple times if I love a book enough to need it on my kindle as well as in print. I admit I was surprised to discover quite how many of them still have a day job. They have families and feel that they need a regular source of income. For the majority of writers they need to have three, four or even more books out there before they are generating sufficient income to even consider going full-time.

I know of a new and successful UK author who has two books out that are selling well and are being looked at for film and television, but he still goes to his accountancy job every day. Just because you start to develop a following and sales start to rack up doesn’t mean that you can live on the earnings you generate. You need to think carefully and plan financially if you want to commit to writing full-time.

  • And, of course, what do you mean by writing?

There are all kinds of writing that you can get involved in – journalism, blogging, book reviews, film-scripts, plays, television, even greeting cards – that aren’t the classic idea that people have of writers as people who produce books. Think carefully before you fully commit yourself to just one way of expressing your creativity – this is your future we’re talking about so look carefully at what’s possible.


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