Saturday 8 March 2014

Getting there? How do you know when you’ve made it as a writer?

How is a writer defined?

That’s almost the easy bit. If you write, or at least if you write and take yourself seriously, you are a writer. But at what point do you become an established, professional or experienced writer? Let alone talented or skilled? (I actually argue you can’t help talent but you can always develop skill.)


Are these they? In an approximate order:  
  • Getting an agent.
  • Getting published.
  • Joining the Society of Authors
  • Getting thirty publications. (They say you lose count after that. I can confirm this.)
  • Being published by the Big Five.
  • Giving up the day job.
  • Getting invited to do talks and school visits.
  • Having books translated.
  • Appearing at festivals.
  • Appearing at the Hay Festival.
  • Being on the radio.
  • Being on the telly.
  • Producing a bestseller.     

Getting there

I am sort of, I guess. I can tick off most of those – in one way or another. However, I’ve never had an agent though I have had a few near missies. And sometimes been relieved in the end to have sold my work directly to the small press.
I’ve been a member of the Society of Authors for fourteen years now. I’m actually on the committee of the Society of Authors North.     
I’m published by Bloomsbury. They count as big, now, post Harry Potter, right? Okay, so I’m only published by them because I was published by Conitnuum.  
I do have a day job – as a lecturer in Creative Writing and I’m expected to keep up a publication record for it. It’s also okay for me to write in the office, during office hours, on the office computer. Grey area, I suppose. In two years and a few months I’ll “retire” to become a full-time writer supported by a pension. I still couldn’t live from my writing alone.   
Yes, I’m now getting invited to do talks and school visits.
One of my books has been translated into one language.
Yes, I’ve appeared at festivals but mainly because I’ve written and said “Hey, would you like me to come and do a talk?” I’ve not exactly appeared at Hay but I’ve been there when a book I had a lot to do with was launched from the main stadium.
Radio, telly, tick. Several times.     
Bestseller? Not really, though I have produced one publisher’s best ever selling book – a German grammar, published in 2001 and still selling steadily. I’ve earned about £10,000 from it and still get a few hundred every year.  

The current state of play – some bizarre happenings

I’ve recently been asked to do quite a few school visits and talks to writers’ groups. I’m not sure why. I’ve not been doing anything differently but I’m apparently coming up on the first page of people’s searches. They’ve then gone on to contact me through my web site. All of the efforts I’ve made in the past are paying off.  
I normally look out for and seize any appropriate opportunity. Some fab ones have come my way recently. Yet I’ve found I’ve nothing to offer. Most of my work is out there being looked at or, in some cases, actually accepted. This is in part because the day job is taking up quite a bit of time but not entirely; I am still getting a fair bit of work done.  
I’m delighted that Crooked Cat are publishing my The House on Schellberg Street. They’re such a lovely publisher to work with. But just after they accepted, I got two more offers before I got round to withdrawing it. At least I’m interesting those publishers in some of my other work now.  
Getting there, then? Yep. It looks like it. I’m so glad I persisted. Bestseller here we come.                     

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