Thin Snakes and money

November 9, 2009 at 22:02 (1)

Finished going through the Americanized draft of The Thin Executioner this morning, then launched straight back into the final draft of City of the Snakes this afternoon. I think this ability to jump about between different novels is quite rare, given my conversations with other authors, but it’s the secret to how I can publish my books so frequently. I don’t have to work exclusively on a single book, or stop when I finish it to clear my head — I can slip straight into another without any complications. It’s not something I deliberately set out to do back when I was starting out as a writer — it’s just the way my brain works, and I’ve been drawn to that way of working over the years. It works for me, and ultimately that’s what every writer needs to find and adhere to in order to advance — a way that works for THEM. Each writer is different, and what works for one won’t necessarily work for others. There’s no way of knowing what way will suit you best when you first start out — you just have to keep experimenting until you find a way that you’re happy with and which allows you to develop your potential to its max.

On a more practical writing note, I received the following email from Jenny in America a few days ago:

First of all, I love both your Cirque Du Freak and Demonata series, I own all of both of them and watched the movie last week (John C. Reilly did a good job, I think). I’m emailing you as a fan and because I’m seeking some advice about a writing career. Ideally, I want to be a fiction freelance novelist, but I don’t want to complete the bachelors in English/Creative Writing I’m getting and then not be able to support myself. Honestly, I have no idea where to start after college, and what I should do while I’m in it. What did you do to launch your writing career? I know that I love writing stories, I can do all of the coursework to get my degree, and that it’s what I want to do with my life because I love it. I’m not afraid of losing interest or that I won’t be able to cope with the stress. I just need to get started! Any advice you could give to an aspiring writer would be very welcome. Thank you for your time and for the results of your hard work and brilliant ideas, because I love reading your books!

Ah yes — the age-old problem of money!!! I know many fans get sniffy whenever I talk about the financial side of writing, e.g. happily selling the movie rights to my books to the highest bidder. They think writers should not be touched by the impurities of the “real” world, that we should concentrate only on our writing and telling the best stories we can, not sully ourselves by thinking about such coarse things as money and getting a decent advance and making minimum wage. But of course, as Jenny has noted, we DO live in the real world, and as you grow up, you have to start thinking about money, no matter how much you might not want to. I mean, honestly, you can’t live with your parents and sponge off of them forever, can you?!? (Though I managed to get away with it far longer than most — my pair didn’t get rid of me until my mid-twenties!!!)

The answer, Jenny, is that there IS no easy answer. Pardon my french here, folks, but getting started as a writer is usually an absolute bi@ch!!! With very few exceptions, most writers don’t really start to hit their stride until their mid twenties or later — it usually takes a lot of time to develop. The market for beginners has shrunk a lot in recent times — there used to be many more places to publish short stories, magazines and books which paid for new material by young authors, but they have diminished over the years. Publishers are even more wary of taking on new writers than they have traditionally been, given the changing shape of the marketplace and the fact that the big, established writers control more shelf space than ever before, especially in new, non-book stores like ASDA and Tesco. It’s a scary process, starting out, with no real financial guarantees in place, and there’s no point claiming differently — it’s always important to face up to the truth, no matter how scary it might be!!

Having said all that, it’s by no means an impossible task — indeed, it’s far from it. It’s difficult, yes, but it always has been — I struggled financially in my early years, as most writers have. I think the majority of authors seek employment in different fields when starting out, e.g. they become teachers, or work in publishing, or hold down an office job — something which lets them make a decent wage, pay their bills, have a bit of a social life, move out of their parents’ place and set up their own home, etc. That’s why most authors don’t actually get published until their late 20s or 30s — they have to limit the amount of time they spend writing, and slot it in around their regular job.

I didn’t do that — well, not exactly. After university, I ended up in a job that lasted almost 2 years. Then I quit and started writing full time at the age of 23. I was living with my parents and drawing unemployment benefits — and I had to go on doing that for a number of years before I started making any real money. To me, money wasn’t important. I wanted to be a writer more than anything else, and I was prepared to go without any of the regular, normal pleasures of life in order to focus on my dreams of writing the best books that I could. Fortunately I got lucky, my books took off, and I was able to have a “normal” life like other people, except I started doing those normal things — socialising, going on holidays, buying nice things, etc — a bit later than most people, in my mid 20s.

I wouldn’t recommend my way to other young authors, but nor would I actively discourage them from copying it. Ultimately you have to make up your own mind and follow your own path. There are benefits and negatives to every decision that we make in life. Looking back, part of me regrets not socialising more when I was younger, and enjoying life a bit more — but if I had done, I wouldn’t have developed the way I did, and maybe I never would have written Cirque Du Freak or enjoyed the success that I have. The thing is, I thought about the consequences, then made a conscious choice to follow a particular route, accepting that if it didn’t work out, there would be difficulties. I think if you can do that, you can be happy with wherever life leads you. If you acknowledge that you might fail, but make a good attempt regardless, then failure won’t hurt you. Make a plan, stick to it, accept a kick in the teeth if that’s your lot, then dust yourself down and have another crack at it — never say die!!!!

Money IS important, and it DOES have to be considered. As I’ve often said here, money is a form of power — if you can afford to stay true to your vision, you don’t need to compromise when you’re trying to find a publisher for your work. Of course, you can be true to yourself when you’re broke too (I was in the past, as a penniless, unpublished author, when I turned down interest from a publisher who wanted to make changes to a book of mine which I wasn’t happy about), but it’s a lot easier if you have plenty of money set aside in the bank!!!

Jenny will have to do what the rest of us have done before her — find her own path. If you work hard and write as much as you can, that’s an important start — the faster you develop, and the more you write, the sooner you’re going to make a breakthrough. If you have to get a job to support yourself while learning — or if you WANT to get a job, and are happy to take your time developing — then fit your writing in around that, and stick with it, and don’t give up. You don’t have to write full-time to be a good writer — many writers have done their best work while holding down other jobs. If you DO want to write full time, and are determined to do it no matter what, then be prepared to make sacrifices — unless you’re one of the lucky few who make the breakthrough at a very young age — and you MIGHT be — you won’t know until you try!!!! But if you decide to go for broke, don’t pin your hopes on a quick success — be prepared to dig in and fight a long-term battle. When I quit my job at the ripe old age of 23, I had it in my head to give the writing a year or 18 months — if I hadn’t got anywhere by that time, I would have got another job for a year or two, then quit and tried writing full-time again, all the while writing in my spare time while working, in order to keep developing. And if I’d had to do that 5 or 6 times before I was able to make a living from writing — so be it. Writing is normally a marathon — you have to be prepared to hang on in there for the long haul.

One final piece of advice to Jenny and all other young and novice authors — read The Writers And Artists Yearbook (UK) or Writer’s Market (USA) or their equivalent. Those books contain all the practical advice you’ll ever need, and offer lots of great tips which will help you place your work and get paid for it. As I said above, it’s scary and difficult for every writer starting out, but books like these make things a whole lot easier and more straightforward than they would otherwise be!!

1 Comment

  1. Dan Alberts said,


    Thats the type of blog i like to read! Not only is it helpful, its also interesting and gives a good idea of what being a writer is all about. I like these entries best 🙂
    Good stuff Darren. So does that mean that you managed to get the Cirque written and published within the year – 18 months that you had given yourself to write full time? What happened with that?


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