Showing posts with label self employed writer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label self employed writer. Show all posts

How Not To Be A Writer - Introduction

Two cool cats

There are times, as a full time freelance writer, when  you think to yourself  'you're doing this all wrong.'  Rather a lot of times for most of us. More recently, as I start to take back control of what I do and don't want to write and publish, and how, that realisation, sometimes howled at the stars, mostly muttered sotto voce, changes into 'You've definitely been doing this all wrong.' 

This week, on social media, somebody asked me what was the title of my novel. Which novel? There are nine of them and counting. And three fairly hefty non-fiction books as well, involving a whole lot of research. Then there's half a lifetime of assorted plays, stories and poems, many of them still in print or regularly repeated on R4 Extra.. 

Have I, I wonder, been so careful about not over-promoting my own work that I've hardly promoted it at all? I can think of several writers who seem to be in positions of power and influence in the Scottish literary establishment (for want of a better word)  who have so little actual writing to their names that you begin to wonder if their relentless self promotion works. Those of us who spend most of our time writing can only look on in wonder at just how effective such promotion of so little substance can be. Very effective indeed, presumably.

It's doubly irritating, I think, because for the vast majority of writers, the very last thing we want to do is talk or write about what we're working on right now. If, as often happens, somebody asks 'what are you working on?' having first disguised the involuntary gasp of horror, you find some way of fudging it. You never go into detail. You're happy to talk about what you have written, but never about what you are writing. And that's because the more you talk about a project before you've finished it, the more it simply disappears, like, as our national poet describes it, 'a snowflake on the river, a moment white, then melts forever.' 

There are millions of blogs and websites and books out there full of advice about How To Be A Writer. When I look back at my long and varied career to date, most of it could best be described as How Not To Be A Writer. 

And you know what? I reckon that might be more helpful than 'how to' for a whole lot of people. I've been putting pen to paper for a long time.  More or less since I could read. Since I was the little girl in Clark's sandals, sitting on a doorstep in smoky Leeds, with my nana's cat, Jimmy. My late, very much missed Canadian friend Anna, a formidable lady with a stellar career in education, once asked me about what she called my 'inventory'. Everything I'd written, worked on, published, over many years. 'Why aren't you richer?' she asked. It's a question I and my artist husband have asked ourselves many times. I mean 'rich' would be lovely, but the question really should be 'why aren't you reasonably comfortable?' Or even 'why are you still struggling?' 

Clearly, we've both been doing it wrong. 

Come back soon for another thrilling installment of what not to do. 

The Job That Isn't.

Money Plant. 

The Job

I turned down an offer to apply for a 'job' the other day. To be precise, it wasn't a job. or not one in the generally understood meaning of the term. Not even a part time or a temporary job. It was a day's consultancy.

I'm not going to name the originator of this offer, because I know it was made with the best of intentions, and the project in question is very worthwhile, something I'd be happy to support with the kind of things I can give for free; recommendations, some publicity on social media and so on.

But I do want to blog, briefly, about it, because it seems to me that it represents an essential misunderstanding of the way in which most professional writers (and indeed other creatives) are self employed experts in their various fields.

The job called for an application, a CV and the willingness to attend an interview. It was for five hours work, over a single day, for which the remuneration was just under £27.00 an hour.  Which doesn't sound too bad when you're talking about a full time job. And I'm pretty sure that the organisers had calculated the fee by doing multiplication from a professional hourly rate.

For the self employed, that isn't how it works.

The problem is that this isn't a job at all. It's a day's consultancy. In most other areas of expertise, requesting a day's consultancy for £130 would elicit hysterical laughter. I don't actually know what the going rate is for a day's business consultancy, for instance, but I suspect £500 is closer to the starting point and that may be a wild underestimate, especially for somebody with 40 years experience in the business.

For writers, however, there is a more reasonable benchmark.  I'm going with Live Literature Scotland's benchmark fee, the one they support, which is £175 plus travel and subsistence expenses, for a single session of one and a half hours. I do these sessions from time to time and in practice, they usually stretch to two hours, mostly because nice people want to chat, and you seldom want to run away. Besides that, there's preparation and travel time. It's good - and more cost effective for a bigger organisation - if you can do two sessions in a day. And I think no writer worth his or her salt would quibble with approximately five hours over a single day counting as two sessions. The recommended going rate elsewhere - as recommended by my union, the Society of Authors - is considerably higher than this, but I'm striving to be reasonable here.

A job versus self employment?

A job has certain benefits, not least, a monthly salary, regular as clockwork, sick pay and paid holidays. Often there are other perks. Also, when you are 'at work' you don't have to pay for all the other things that go into running a business, everything from setting up a home office to sorting out your taxes.

For the self employed writer reading this, the single most useful thing to remember is that if you are not in your office, whether it's at home or rented, if you are not writing, you are, in fact, losing money. Nobody else is paying you for that time. You may be struggling to make that money, but you're still working. So any organisation asking you to spend a day away from that desk, making preparations, travelling, delivering the results of your expertise, should be prepared to pay the going rate.

Applying for funding.

We all do some freebies every year, generally for local groups or small charities where nobody is making any money or being paid. I know I do and they are often hugely enjoyable. They're glad to have you, you speak for some forty five minutes, answer questions and chat to people, you get tea and cakes in abundance, you frequently get money to cover fuel and you get to sell books too. Nothing to dislike about that. But the problem lies with groups that are actually applying for funding for professional services, but somehow not understanding that in this situation, the writer or artist is a self employed expert.

So as well as a plea to writers to value themselves, this is a plea to anyone organising a course or event. If you find that you need the services of a 'creative' you must cost it at the going rate. And you don't arrive at that rate by taking the hourly rate for a full time employee and multiplying it. You can't treat your visiting writer as an employee. And you certainly can't (as still so often happens) attempt to insert them into your PAYE system and take tax from them.

The job that inspired this post was, I gather, funded. Which must mean that at some point, there was a funding application. If you are submitting such an application, do check the going rate for a one off visit. You would be very lucky to get any self employed tradesman to come to your house for a call-out fee of less than £50 these days and that's before the cost of the work itself.

We're not asking for the earth. We're not even asking for plumbers' rates of pay. But we do ask you to treat us as self employed professionals. That way, we might start to earn something approaching the basic living wage.

PS - The Budget
If somebody tries to tell you that a fee for the writer is 'not in the budget' remember that this means that there is, in fact, a budget. Just that they haven't included the writer or artist or designer or musician or actor in it. They have assumed that we will work for nothing while everyone else is paid. Don't do it.

The Hybrid Writer

Paul's Himalayan Musk Rose (Not a Hybrid!)

The following is reblogged from my April post on Authors Electric. I thought it was something worth repeating here, on my personal blog,  because the links may be useful to other writers while the idea of some writers doing all kinds of writing, published and produced in all kinds of ways, not just a particular genre or a particular form of publishing, may be interesting to readers as well.

Hybrid is, apparently, the new buzz term. 'You're going to be hearing about hybrid writers a lot soon,' remarked a colleague gleefully. Actually, the term was first invented (I believe) by the excellent Bob Mayer, some time ago but my colleague was absolutely right, and I already had been reading about it here, there and everywhere. I noticed it because I rather like the idea. It's one I'm comfortable with for various reasons and not just because I love roses, hybrid or not!

Now I know that a percentage of new authors self publish in the hope of being noticed by traditional publishing, big or small. Nothing wrong with that either if that's what you've decided you want. The slush pile has all but disappeared, having an agent no longer guarantees publication - nor has it for some time - and stories of traditional publishers trawling Amazon for successful novels are legion. Although if you do hit pay dirt with a best-selling eBook, the deal on offer would have to be pretty good to compete. I've had some good relationships within traditional publishing and production: excellent and committed small publishers, producers and directors who have taught me plenty over the years. Some of these relationships are still ongoing and I'm very glad of them. But I have also experienced the exact opposite in all its hideous misery.

These days I self publish very happily, love the experience of being a 'writer as publisher' and I'm certainly not publishing my work digitally in the hope of being 'noticed' or only by my readers and potential readers.  I'm also publishing in order to make some money. But I'm not totally independent and I doubt if I ever will be. Only some of us on Authors Electric are. Many of us have a foot in both camps. The truth is that (to mix my metaphors a bit) as a hybrid author, you can now have a finger in just about as many pies as you have fingers, especially when you write an eclectic mix of all kinds of work. With me, it isn't just fiction, long and short, but plays and non fiction too. And even with my fiction, there's no single genre and some of my novels are - I suppose -  more 'literary' than others. That's part of the fun of it. Not being tied down any more. Not having to shoehorn yourself into a tight little category because that's what your single publisher wants. Being able to say, 'let's do the show right here,' with some degree of success, being in control, but also being open to partnerships or the occasional traditional deal, whether it's for a story or an article, a review or a play, where what's on offer seems reasonable and non-exclusive.

The problem in the olden days of publishing and production wasn't just discoverability. It was maintaining professional visibility. Even people with whom you have worked successfully and happily in the past tend to forget about you if they don't see or hear from you. It's one of the reasons why so many playwrights camp out in theatre bars. Show face. Chat. Socialize. Now, I find that social media have been an undoubted factor in my rekindling some old professional relationships and that's an unexpected but welcome by-product.

Perhaps the simple truth is that writers have almost always undertaken a mix of work not just in order to survive, but in order to grow and learn and hone their craft. The number of writers who have moved smoothly from creative writing course to literary acclaim is vanishingly small but they also tend to be the most vociferously indignant and embittered about the new state of publishing. Perhaps they just feel threatened by change.

I think many of us would settle for being happily hybrid, writing, talking, teaching if that's what floats our boat, undertaking the occasional piece of contract work for a variety of outlets, aiming to thrive rather than just survive. Thriving is something that has been on my mind recently. Money doesn't buy happiness but it sure makes living a lot more comfortable in all kinds of ways.

Most of us write for love. Well, there's nothing wrong with that either. Nothing wrong with loving what you do even though it's hard work. Even though there's a certain dour mindset which subscribes to the belief that if you love it, it can't possibly be work. But even when we write for love, we can publish for money, especially now. Anyone seriously contemplating a career as a writer might think about doing some kind of business course if only to avoid exploitation. I remember what an eye opener it was for me, the first time somebody pointed out exactly how I ought to go about costing my time. (If you want to know more, you can download a guide from Glasgow's Cultural Enterprise Office, here) And the shocking perspective it gave me on major commercial organisations which still try to tell us that there's 'no money in the budget' to pay the writer for all kinds of extra work. I once found myself trekking through to Edinburgh from Ayrshire for a radio script meeting on my own time and money because there was 'no money in the budget to pay for travel expenses.' Back then, I put up with it. Many of us did. My favourite story from that time was of a friend who had something published in a magazine devoted to cats for which she was paid £5. Not a lot, even in the 90s. They also sent her a copy of the magazine and subtracted the price of the publication from her fiver!

These days, I'll do the odd gig for good causes, but I tend to subscribe to the Harlan Ellison school of thought where paying the writer is concerned. (But then it's a long time since I fell off the turnip truck!)

Meanwhile, I'd like to know how many college and universities offering Creative Writing or Creative Industries courses also offer detailed modules on the self employed business side of writing, everything from simple accounting and tax issues to branding and marketing. I'd lay bets not many of them do. Only last night I heard a contestant on Britain's Got Talent (I know, but it was a VERY quiet Saturday night and I was too tired to do anything except be a couch potato!) saying that he had started a music course at college, but his father had changed it to a business course. And I thought - surely, he would need both.

THE PHYSIC GARDEN, my new novel, now on Amazon's Kindle Store, here in the UK and here in the USA with a beautiful cover by Scottish artist Michael Doig.