Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Business of Writing

I have just passed a significant milestone: at the very tail end of my 11th year of “taking my writing seriously” I have finally turned a profit.

This does not mean I have earned more than I spent in 2013 (although I did) but, even more significantly, it means I have earned, over the past 11 years, more money writing than I have spent on writing during that same period.

It was not an easy hill to climb. Although I always say that taking up the hobby of writing is a sweet deal because it is dead easy (all you have to do is write) and dirt cheap (a notebook from Poundland and you can always steal a pen from the bank), in actual practice it can be much different. If you are serious about writing, you’ll need a computer, and an Internet connection. Also, a website (ISPs aren’t free) is a good idea, as well as a printer, lots of paper and enough ink to print out your novel. Over and over again. Although these days you won’t have to splash out quite as much on postage (and return postage) you wouldn’t believe how long this antiquated means of transporting manuscripts held on.

So my early years were mostly about spending money while I earned zero income, which put me solidly in the hole—to the tune of nearly a thousand quid. Still, £250 or so a year on a hobby is not a lot; take up art if you don’t believe me.

In the final days of my fourth year I did some soul searching and was beginning to think I should give it up as a bad habit. I had read somewhere that if you are writing consistently and submitting on a routine basis and haven’t make any money after four years, you should admit you made a mistake and take up gardening. I was wondering if I should take this advice to heart when—in one of those real-life co-incidences that are so fortuitous that they would never stand up in fiction—I received, on New Year’s Eve of year number four, a check for $5.00 for an article I wrote for an on-line magazine.

Money was finally coming in; I was on my way.

Every year thereafter saw me earning something. Not as much as I spent, but at least now I had figures in the black column. The only year I earned more than I spent was year eight when, in a moment of weakness, I prostituted my website with an ad for an insurance company, but I felt so cheap and used that I took it down after two months. Still, that income made up for my losses that year, though my overall deficit remained well above my earnings.

Then I sold a book, or, more exactly, I placed a book with a publisher. There was no advance, and—after much editing and rewriting and reviewing—I found I was my own best customer. Outside of myself, sales were, to be kind, slim, and the cost of the books was exacerbated by the fact that I gave them away, and paid postage for the privilege.

I self-published two books after that and, thanks to the dearth of sales, went further into the red. But last year I managed to place a novel with another publisher and, because I didn’t have to pay for anything Kindle-related, I immediately began turning a profit; a small one, to be sure, but, ever so slowly, the numbers began creeping up.

Then, this past summer, something very odd happened: my books began to sell. Not a lot, but in numbers I was not ashamed to admit to in public. And, as I entered the last of 2013’s earning into my ledger just now, I see that my total earnings have finally topped—by a few pounds—the amount of money I have spent on this business of writing since I proposed to stop treating it like a hobby and more as a profession.

I’m not going to quit the day-job just yet (or, if I had a day-job, I wouldn’t quit it) but I can now wrap up this year satisfied that my writing “business” is now solvent.

Hopefully, 2014 will be just as kind, or kinder, to me.

And to all of you.


  1. Anonymous9:12 PM

    Showing that you possess a tenacity and endurance ... It has paid off.. Your life's work !!

  2. Leon W9:58 PM

    . ..And Bob's your uncle

  3. Well done Michael! I hope that 2014 is another banner year for you! Happy Christmas!!

  4. Thanks, everyone! It's been a fun ride, and I probably would still be doing it even if I never made any money.