Plans for World Domination

My wife always tells me things happen for reason, I’ve always found it good advice that has proved its value in the past on a number of occasions.  It’s the thing that got me through losing my parents to cancer within a couple of months of each other, and it’s also the reason that I still felt my cup was half-full on the morning I was told my job was moving to the other end of the country. I’ve been given the option of moving or taking a redundancy settlement but balancing the loyalty I’ve given to this company for over twenty-five years against the thought of uprooting my family and driving a three-hundred mile divide between me and my children isnt a difficult decision.

I’ve been given the proverbial ‘kick-in-the-pants’ that has forced me to grab the future with both hands and finally do something that makes me happy.  I’ve always wanted to be a university lecturer in either IT or Creative Writing but I know I’m still a few years away from that yet (PHD and teaching experience must come first).

The good news is that my previous studies that I undertook to further my current career has set me in good stead for a teaching career; an MSc in Computers, as well as an MA in Creative Writing (hopefully).  Unfortunately, teaching in the UK has been given a rough ride in recent years and we do have a number of gaps in the industry which I hope I can do my little bit to fill.

I’ve been offline for a few weeks whilst I get a few things in order, mainly what my five year plan is going to be, whilst paying most attention to the next year or so. My daughter gave me a journal for my birthday last year.  As an accomplished deputy headmistress she always has a knack for getting me gifts that she know I’ll put to good use (it’s something I like to think that I’ve passed on to her!). So, I’ve been spending my time filling in bits of this journal recently and I’m beginning to see the outlines of a plan beginning to form;

July 2016 – Redundancy
September 2016 – Teacher Training / Post Graduate Certificate in Education
September 2017 – Graduate with Qualified Teacher Status
October 2017 – (hopefully) land a teaching role
January 2018 – Begin PHD
2021 – Teaching & Lecturing.

Writing these details down doesn’t fill me with the dread that someone facing redundancy might feel, instead it gives me a confidence and it feels like a breath of fresh air.

Oh, and the words that were scribbled on the cover of the journal that my daughter gave me?

“Plans for World Domination….”

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Writing no longer buys a champagne lifestyle…

Writing no longer buys a champagne lifestyle

I’m sure the only surprise in this title is – did it ever?

After all, if it was easy to get published then we wouldn’t all be banging our heads against a brick wall grinding out novels one blood-soaked word at a time.  I once watched a TV programme about a man who wanted to give up his current job to become a writer.  The presenter showed the man a pile of telephone directories and said, “this is how many people write books each year”, he then picked up just two of the directories and said, “this is how many books are published each year. Finally, he ripped out a handful of pages from a single directory and said, “this is how many books pay enough for the author to write full-time.”

“..pay enough for the author to write full-time.” The first time around I missed that part.

In the second line of this post, I purposely talked about getting published rather than getting paid.  That’s because for many of us, me included, it’s the ‘getting published’ part that seems to be the initial hurdle, everything else in this uphill struggle seems irrelevant – if I’m running to catch the last train home and it’s about to leave the station, I’ll jump on it and worry about the ticket later. However, what that programme told me, and what the news story above seems to suggest, is that it may not be enough to just get published, even more than once, if your dream is to write full-time.

AJ Dalton talked in an interview recently stating that he still has to teach as it provides a source of income that his books simply don’t provide at the moment.   Furthermore, his book contract requires him to produce a book per year which only tightens the constraints further. He has to juggle writing part-time with holding down a full-time job (no debates on whether teaching counts as a full time job!!)

And he isn’t the only one. According to those figures in the ACLS survey, only 11.5% of professional writers earn their income solely from writing which is a drop from 40% in 2005.

In 2013, Patrick Wensink had a novel reach the top of an Amazon bestseller list, as well as a review in the New Yorker but it failed to rain money down on him.  In fact, he made a particularly apt quote;

It’s not because we’ve chosen a life of poverty. It’s that poverty has chosen our profession.

His post goes on to show that even a $100,000 advance, after taxes and expenses, leaves around half as actual money in the bank – I don’t know about you but I earn more than that now in my mundane IT job. In theory, if I can get a contract that pays me $100,000 a year writing, I’m probably still financially better off turning it down and keeping the job I have (but WHAT a choice that would be).

The news doesn’t get any better either. Whilst the link at the top of the post talks about authors earning an average of £11,000 (about $18,500), an older story by The Guardian suggests that most writers earn less than £600 (about $1000) as an annual income.  Back in 2012, when e-books and self-publishing were rising in popularity, Seth Godin went as far as to suggest that, in this age of downloadable movies and music, shouldn’t we as authors just be happy for someone to read our work rather than expecting to be paid for it?  Is it right to suggest that art shouldn’t have a price tag?

Taking a different stance, we have Lynn Shepherd asking the likes of JK Rowling to actually stop writing to give the rest of us a chance at stardom. Personally, I don’t see Manchester United losing matches on purpose, or Sebastian Vettel slowing down a bit so why should the likes of Rowling lay down her pen? Eventually, readers will look for something else, the market will adjust, and other authors will naturally get their chance.

So, where does this leave us as aspiring authors?  The world is changing at a fantastic pace, often quicker than many of us can react to; what we think we want now may not be the same thing we want in the future.  We all know getting published is a huge obstacle and to think that making a lot of money from our work is going to be any easier may just be naivety.

I suppose it depends on whether you are a glass-half-full or a glass-half-empty type of person.  For some of us, the monetary value is of little concern and we would write if we were on a desert island with little chance of rescue and a box of ball-point pens.  For others, writing is less of an art and more of a job that must be reigned in and managed with professional accuracy; if it looks like we aren’t going to make money, then it’s onto the next big thing that will.

For me, I’ll just be happy to see my words in print and a smile on someone’s face as they read it.  If there’s enough money left in the pot to allow me to do it again, I’ll have a smile on my face as well.