When I was writing my first novel, Noah Can’t Even, and spending time and money trying to get it ready to submit to agents, I often wondered if I’d ever really make any money back doing this. Sure, having a book published would be a dream come true, and cause for celebration just in itself – but could I really earn a living from it? The reality is that author income seems to be declining year on year, and (except in the smallest handful of cases) advances are never enough to live on, so it’s important to look at creative ways you can make your writing pay.
1. Start with your book
Earning money from the book(s) you’ve had published is a longer-term strategy – you’ll need to earn out your advance before you see a penny in royalties. However, it makes sense to give some attention to doing whatever you can to help your book sell. Whilst your publisher will (hopefully) have a PR and marketing strategy, there are plenty of things you can do to compliment this. Social media can be a good starting point, and running competitions, giveaways, and generally contributing to the online conversation can raise awareness of you and your book. Contacting events organisers and bookshops can result in signings and panels that can bring your work to a wider audience. Make sure whoever holds the film and TV rights is actively trying to sell them – a TV option probably isn’t as much as you might think it’ll be in most cases (low to mid four figures isn’t unusual) but it’ll either be a nice chunk for you on top of your advance, or go some way to paying the advance off (if your publisher holds the rights).
2. Think about other books
Chat to your agent and editor – could you write more books for them? If you’ve written YA, could you write MG or a picture book? Whilst some publishers will want to promote you in a particular area, others may be more willing to think outside the box and explore other book options with you. Another book = another revenue stream.
3. School visits
One of the biggest bonuses of writing for children and teenagers is school visits. Author talks and creative writing workshops are in demand throughout the year, but with tight budgets, you’re going to need to offer something unique to stand out, as well as work hard to secure bookings. Set up a dedicated page on your website to advertise visits and connect with teachers and school librarians on Twitter. Actively promote your visits, making sure you’re being clear about what you offer and what your ‘angle’ is. My books gave me an opportunity to push talks with LGBTQ+ content, but in a lighthearted way, which has been popular with secondary schools, and I’ve coupled that with workshops about writing comedy. The Society of Authors recommends a minimum full day (4 hour) visit fee of £350 + expenses, with many ‘in-demand’ authors charging significantly more. Once you’ve build up some word of mouth and have some testimonials, and with continued work on marketing, this can be a good income stream.
4. Other paid writing gigs
Don’t underestimate how having a book published can make other sectors that use writers take notice. There are numerous websites that advertise copywriting services to businesses looking for writers to create promotional copy for them – the chance to hire a published author could be something a client attaches a lot of value to and will certainly help you stand out from the crowd. You could also explore paid jobs writing articles and features for magazines, websites and newspapers – being a published author can often make you an ‘expert’ on certain topics, especially if your book explores pertinent issues or themes.
5. Editorial services
Going through the process of publishing a book gives you unique insights that might be valuable to others. Whilst not for everyone, some authors can be great at giving editorial feedback, able to combine their technical knowledge with an understanding of what it’s really like to be on the receiving end of a critique as a writer.
6. Free Money!
Make sure you’re registered for PLR and ALCS. The former (Public Lending Right) is an organization that allocates a small amount of money to an author every time their book is borrowed from a UK library. ALCS distribute money to authors mainly from the photocopying of books in the UK. It’s not exactly ‘free money’ (you’re entitled to it for work you’ve done), but you don’t have to do anything to receive it, other than register with those organisations. You can find out more about PLR here: https://www.bl.uk/plr And ALCS here: https://www.alcs.co.uk
For a reality check on author earnings, check out this article: https://publishingperspectives.com/2018/06/writers-income-alcs-uk-survey-2010-publishers-association/
The days of writing novels and living solely of the proceeds are long gone, but by adopting a flexible approach where you adapt your core skills to use in different markets, it’s certainly possible to supplement your author income with writing-related activities. None of these approaches are particularly ‘instant’ however – and like any new business, you need to factor in time to become established and gain clients – and also like any new business, there are absolutely no guarantees. Depending on your circumstances, ditching the security of your regular full or part-time non-writing job may not be the best option in the first instance, so it’s important to do what works for you, but over time you may find you’re able to taper off that work as your writing-related income increases.
Simon is the author of YA novels Noah Can’t Even and Noah Could Never, both published by Scholastic, and optioned for TV by Urban Myth Films. His short story, Penguins, is part of the forthcoming Proud Book anthology from Stripes. Simon is also a screenwriter, with credits including Rules of Love for the BBC. He is represented by Skylark Literary.