Writing as a career

As I regularly tell kids on my school visits, I quite literally have had One Job. As one of the most ungifted humans you are ever likely to encounter, I have had to eek out a crust from the one small glimmer of talent I was awarded – indeed, becoming an author is really just the latest iteration in a 20-year portfolio chrysalis career that I’m still waiting to bloom into a butterfly!

This, for most, is the reality of being an author. The money from books alone (don’t get me started…) is unlikely for most to sustain you by itself. In fact, I feel faintly fraudulent when I claim that make my money solely as an author – I do, but not from writing alone. Events have often formed the greater part of my income and while they are writing-adjacent and fantastic for promoting my books, without them I would not be able to support my family on my writing income alone – and I’ve been very fortunate to shift a fair few books along the way. 

One of my biggest concerns for new – for all writers, in fact – is what I call the toxic gratitude curve. For some reason in this industry, the expected default for a new writer is that they will simply be so grateful for the opportunity that they are prepared to tolerate any amount of absurd expectation to work for little or nothing, just to retain it. 

I can’t tell you how wholeheartedly I reject this. A publishing deal is just that – a deal. Not a favour. Not a leg-up. Not lucky. You worked your butt off for it and the reason that your publisher is investing in you is because they believe that you have value to them. I won’t go as far as to say that value is always financial – there are projects that are undertaken for other reasons – but rarely, if ever, are they entirely charitable. You are doing something for your publisher, be it raising their profile, proving their worth or earning their retirement. We are all grateful for a seat at this table, of course. But that doesn’t mean you have to always enjoy what’s being served. 

From the very get-go, I urge you to leave sentimentality at the door and treat you and your writing like the business that they are. You can be grateful and lovely, but be governed by your business sense. I think that in children’s publishing, which is largely a very warm and lovely place to be, the lines can easily be blurred – it’s very hard to say no to something when someone is suggesting that to do so is to deny a child. And sometimes those opportunities are important for other reasons, not to mention lovely things to do. But if you endlessly give away your time and talent for little or nothing, you will struggle to keep your business afloat – just as you would if you made and sold any other commodity. 

The truth is, you will probably need more than one income stream to pay the gas bill as an author. Ideally, this other income stream will feed into your writing career – many writers have sidelines as editors, tutors, mentors etc – things that plug into their writing and allow them to keep time and space aside for it. For children’s authors, school visits are a massive income stream and dovetail brilliantly into promotion in an industry where there is little PR for non-celebrity authors. They don’t come without their moments (see my article on School Visits), but if you keep them within their boundaries, school visits can be a fantastic way of filling the coffers to finance writing time – and meeting your little readers is the absolute best. 

Writing is a nebulous business and the perception that we all sit around in bohemian coffee houses on our MacBooks is sadly far from the reality. It can also be hard to maintain discipline if you are at home writing all day in whatever capacity, so again – treat it like a business. Set yourself working hours, with breaks. Plan your workflow so that you have wiggle room around your deadlines to allow for life to get in the way. If you’re not going to be able to meet a deadline, give the person awaiting your work as much notice as is humanly possible, so they can manage their work. And – did I mention this – treat it like a business! Negotiate fair pay for your time and talent – we don’t do each other any favours if we race ourselves to the bottom by undercutting. 

The most important thing to remember – and one I often need to remind myself – is that it is wonderful to be able to make a career out of your creativity. It’s not easy – and certainly not as easy as those on the outside often assume – but we are most likely doing the thing we’ve always wanted to do. So take a moment to be proud of yourself from time to time. You’ve done it, friend. And that’s a serious business. 

Maz’s debut children’s novel Who Let the Gods Out was published by Chicken House in February 2017 and was selected as the Waterstone’s Children’s Book of the Month. It entered the bestseller charts on its first week on sale, has sold to 18 countries worldwide and has received over 20 award nominations, including the Carnegie Medal, Branford Boase, Books Are My Bag and Waterstone’s Children’s Book of the Year.

The sequel, Simply the Quest was published in August 2017, Beyond the Odyssey in April 2018 and Against All Gods in February 2019. Maz also narrates the audiobooks for the series.

Her acclaimed creative writing events have featured at Hay, Imagine, Edinburgh, Bath, Cheltenham, Latitude, Wilderness and many other literary festivals and primary schools around the UK.

Maz began her career as a TV journalist, critiquing for The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Sun, and TV Times magazine and she still regularly broadcasts her views on anything from politics to parenthood on BBC Radio 2, BBC News, BBC Radio 4, Five Live and the bus. Maz has participated in the Casualty and Holby City BBC shadow schemes and her children’s poetry has been published in Caterpillar magazine.

Maz is much in demand as a comedy book and lyrics writer for the stage. Her original musical H. R. HAITCH, with composer Luke Bateman, was produced by Iris Theatre at the Union Theatre, London in 2018. She has previously had shows produced at the Actors’ Church Covent Garden, Southend Palace Theatre and Bryanston Arts Centre. Her cabaret songs are regularly performed in the West End and beyond.

As a songwriter, Maz has won the Iris Theatre Work in Process songwriting award three years in succession (with composer Luke Bateman). As a scriptwriter, she won thescriptwriter.co.uk scriptwriting competition and a place in Philip Shelley’s Advanced Mentoring Lab at the London Screenwriters’ Festival. She was also shortlisted for the BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Forum and the Scriptangel contest. As an author, she has won the hearts of thousands of children and as a nuclear physicist, she has been completely rubbish.

Maz also runs our MG Mentoring course.