Sunday 3 June 2012

You don't have to be mad to write. Or do you?

'I have stopped writing books,' Justin Webb states in an article in the Observer, going on to say, 'it is too much, too stressful, for too little return.'  A writing acquaintance laments on her Facebook site that her  new novel, barely out as an ebook, and selling for practically nothing, has been awarded a paltry 2 stars on some reviewing website. She wonders why she bothers.

Are we at some sort of 'tipping point', to use a much overworked phrase? It is now possible to obtain a writer's work for virtually nothing via an internet outlet. Soon, it will probably be available for nothing - I gather the Zon is considering some sort of deal whereby you, the reader, get free ebooks, in exchange for permitting a certain amount of advertising to accompany them.

It takes me about a year to complete a novel - that's research, thinking and writing. I could do it in less, but I have to teach and invigilate and do other money-generating stuff, as I can't afford to write full time. Add to this the second drafting, and then any changes an editor wants me to make. Right now, I am embarked upon a big re-edit of Diamond Girl, as my agent has helpfully, but depressingly, come up with some specific comments upon the plot and characters, and I have learned over the years that there are people whose opinion you immediately discard, and people you fail to listen to at your peril.

So, by the time I upload the book, I will have spent ... oooh ... ages on it. And you will be able to read it for 99p. Or some equivalent price. Minimum wage? Don't make me laugh. Writers I talk to always speak, shiny-eyed, of the 'high' that accompanies the writing process - that glorious experience of words flowing onto the screen almost unbidden, and time passing in a vacuum. And yet. It is noticeable how few of the children's writers I met when my first novels were published, and I was 'doing the rounds' of awards and festivals are still producing new books regularly. When the high of the writing process meets the low of paltry returns, something has to give. And it is not just writers who will be the poorer for it.


  1. Oh Carol (as Neil Sedaka once said), this post rings so many bells. Writing is such an exacting craft and, done properly, drains so much time and energy. All the more infuriating to watch celebs cashing in on novel writing as an extra income stream - which it is for them, because the big publishers see them as a worthwhile investment. End of whinge for today!

  2. I have an even worse story, fellow scribe: I was at the Edinburgh Literary Festival 3 years ago with a fellow children's writer, who shall be nameless, but you know who you are! Said writer was being courted and fussed over by young female organiser.I was not. When I commented on this,unnamed writer turned to me with smug smile and said it was probably because he was a man. The words 'and also younger and more attractive' lingered, unsaid in the air. They've got you any way you turn!


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