Illustration of a person half working as a writer and half in a coffee shop to represent the variety of jobs writers need to have
Getting published

How do writers earn a living?

Writing and illustrating books is a dream career for many, but making money from it can take time, and many people will not be able to work full-time on their creative work from the very beginning of their career.

The news of some writers being offered six-figure advances can create an inflated or unrealistic perception of how much authors can earn - whereas in actuality it's only the biggest or best-selling books which fall into that category. There are thousands of new books published each year in the UK alone, which means unfortunately it's just not possible for all of them to command the same levels of remuneration. For average author earnings, see research from the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society.

The brilliant thing about writing is that it's flexible - most writers are able to fit it in around other work they might do. Author Jane Corry says: “If you don’t have a book contract that provides you with peace of mind, the best piece of advice I can offer is to have a part-time job that can just about pay the bills while giving you enough hours in the day to write.”

Many authors, particularly those just starting out in their writing career, have a full time job alongside working on their books. Your editor and publishing team will be mindful of the realities of your day-to-day life – any deadlines or timescales will be decided with that in mind, and with your input.

As you publish more books, you may decide to focus more of your time on writing. This is a decision that is completely up to you.  

Creating opportunities for yourself as an author

There are also many ways in which authors can supplement their income, with paid opportunities including mentoring, hosting one-to-one writing sessions with aspiring writers, attending talks and conferences, and school visits.

Author Rashmi Sirdeshpande says she had no idea of the balance between writing and the other parts of being an author: "I thought being an author would be just about writing but in reality, that's just the tip of the iceberg.

'There are times where I am 50/50 between writing or editing and doing things like school visits or festival events'

"I do go through patches where I am head-down researching a big, tricky book, or juggling a bunch of books, but there are times where I am 50/50 between writing or editing and doing things like school visits or festival events (and prep, don't forget the prep!), writing blog posts and guest posts, connecting with people on social media, supporting other authors and illustrators, supporting book-related campaigns, recording and editing videos etc! It is a lot. But it's your choice. You can decide where and how to strike the balance." 

'The more people get to know you, the more likely they are to think of you when an interesting project comes up'

Social media gets mentioned a lot as a tool to get yourself recognised, and Rashmi agrees, "You can use social media to connect with other people in the industry - not just publishers and other authors and illustrators but also bookshops, teachers, librarians, and book bloggers. It's a great way to learn more about who else is out there and there may even be some opportunities that pop up for events like festivals, library events, and school visits. The more people get to know you, the more likely they are to think of you when an interesting project comes up. Staying visible, supporting the causes you believe in, supporting other people - these are all invaluable."

School and university visits can be a great way to spread the word about your book, and can be very rewarding to meet your readers "When you do a visit, you're touching the lives of so many children all at once," says Rashmi, "It's an exciting, inspiring thing for them (and frankly for us as creators!). I know the thought of visits is scary for some people (I hear you) so I'm going to slip in something that really helped me - you don't have to be the funny "performer" author that you might have seen on stage. You just have to be you. You can do visits in your own unique (and even quiet) way and they can still be so effective." 

Being an author is a profession, and just like being in any other job, you shouldn't be expected to attend events and appearances for free. The Society of Authors has some great guidance on rates for educational visits, bookshop events and festivals which should help you when starting out.

Getting financial support from organisations

There is also some financial support available for authors, in the form of grants from organisations like Arts Council England. Other support, such as grants and pensions from the Royal Literary Fund, targets those authors who are already published and find themselves in financial difficulty.

Take a look prizes and opportunities that may help to supplement your income, and organisations and charities who provide funding.

Illustration: Mike Ellis for Penguin

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