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Shall I be Famous? Shall I be Rich?

WritersServices Factsheet 9 by Michael Legat

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The answer to the question is ‘Who knows?’ – but it might be possible. You could be the new Bill Bryson or Catherine Cookson or J.K.Rowling. But you will need a lot of talent, exciting ideas and a great big dollop of luck, not to mention a publisher who sniffs at your book and smells a bestseller. But that publisher may be difficult to find – unfortunately many publishers have permanent colds in their metaphorical noses which prevent them from distinguishing that special scent of success.

You can always dream of acclamation on all sides, and the fortune that would go with it, but it is best to have your eyes wide open and your feet on the ground. In a recent survey conducted by the UK based Society of Authors, 61% of their members earned less than £10,000 per annum, and 75% of those earned under £5,000 p.a.

If you are offered a contract for your work, open the champagne, but don’t even think about giving up your existing job to become a full-time writer, unless the contract guarantees payments to you of sums which would be the equal of at least five years of earning your present salary, and preferably more.

Ask yourself why you want to be a writer? The answer might be that you want to entertain, or to educate, or to save the world from its follies – those are all good reasons for wanting to break into print. But if you would reply that your main object is to make a living at it, you probably shouldn’t be writing at all. Writers write because they have to, not to make money.

The size of advance that a publisher pays you has a direct relationship with the amount of publicity and promotion your book is likely to receive. The publisher’s biggest efforts are kept for the books on the list which are expected to be bestsellers. However, although it may sometimes seem untrue, publishers do actually want to sell all the books on their lists.

What is more, publishers are optimists. With each new book that they take on, they have the hope that, however unlikely it may seem, this little ugly duckling will develop into a magnificent swan. And it does happen. But not often.

A small advance and a small sale may not seem very appealing, but many successful authors have started in that way, and have seen their sales and earnings increase as they became better known.

Because a publisher’s budget for publicity and promotion is always stretched, you should lose no opportunity of publicising your book yourself.

Your earnings as a writer, even if merely peanuts, will be liable for Income Tax. However, if you can show that your receipts are likely to continue on a regular basis over a reasonably long period of time, you will be able to offset against the tax all your expenses in connection with your writing.

If this Factsheet seems depressing, it should be remembered that published authors give up writing, or go out of fashion, or fall off the twig, and this means that publishers are always on the look-out for new writers of talent.

© Michael Legat 2001