Writing for Love or Money – Sara Sheridan Guest Post

In this recent series of posts – ‘Writing for Love or Money’ I wanted to explore what motivates writers to write, how money can be made from writing even without a traditional publishing contract – and to discover if money is ever the main motive. As part of the series I have invited several authors to contribute a guest post on what motivates them. The contributors write very different  things and for different reasons. I hope you enjoy discovering more about all of these talented writers.

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This is the second of the guest posts and it’s by author, Sara Sheridan. I really enjoy Sara’s novels and I first ‘met’ her on Twitter. And then last year I met her in person when I attended a talk given by her at Edinburgh’s Central Library. She was kind enough to invite me to meet her for a coffee before the talk. I reviewed Sara’s book, ‘The Secret Mandarin’ here on the blog.


Love or Money by Sara Sheridan

It’s an interesting distinction. I’m a full-time professional writer and I don’t see why I can’t have both these things. Being a writer is a more difficult job than people imagine. Everyone assumes writers spend their time lounging around, writing and occasionally striking a pose while having a think (fair play, I do my share of lounging). These activities however, are far too small a proportion of my job. I spend my days researching in dusty old archives, travelling across the country to speak at book festivals, libraries and independent bookshops and dodging the pile of administration tasks on my desk (an estimated quarter of my time goes on administration including social media.) On top of that most years I write two books (a total of around 200,000 words because historical fiction is, well, longer). All in, I work harder than many of my friends who are in safe 9-5 jobs and I probably earn slightly less than I would if I was putting in those kind of hours on a ‘real’ job. That said, I love what I do. Unexpectedly so.

I started writing about 18 years ago. I had never considered becoming a writer – it wasn’t a long held ambition. I had just got divorced and was struggling to hold down my 9-5 job as a senior administrator in the charitable arm of a major university. I needed to find something with more flexible hours so I could look after my daughter (only a toddler at the time) and retain my sanity (or near enough). One night I made a list of all the jobs I could do from home and decided to try one at a time until I found something that worked. At the top of my list was Write A Book. This story drives people nuts and I feel guilty about how easy I found it once I got going. I knew nothing and nobody but someone told me a novel was 70,000 words (that’s a minimum) so I figured that if I wrote 1000 words a day for 14 weeks (weekends off, naturally) then I’d have a novel. So I did. Then I researched publishers. There were 96 publishers of fiction in the UK in those days. I printed 96 manuscript copies and sent them off. Within three weeks I had my first offer – and only then set about finding myself an agent. It’s a jammy story, I know. I was incredibly lucky. I make a point of telling people that from those 96 manuscripts I ended up receiving 4 offers (it’s approximately a 4% hit rate – so mostly I failed, of course. But it only takes one offer, no matter how long the odds).  The book went on to become a Top 50 UK bestseller and I haven’t looked back.

If you’re lucky enough to have found something you love doing (inadvertently) then I have always believed you can’t be greedy for much more. I reckon as long as I’m earning the national average wage, then I can’t really complain. Most years since that book came out, I’ve achieved that. Sometimes I earn more. So yeah, I’m jammy (but I work hard for it) and I get to have love and money. Why not?


Some Sara facts:

Sara Sheridan is an historical novelist. The latest book in her Mirabelle Bevan Mystery series, London Calling, is out now.

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“Intelligent, accessible writing”www.sarasheridan.comTweet me @sarasheridan http://www.facebook.com/sarasheridanwriter
Order Sara’s latest book, London Calling, the second 1950s Mirabelle Bevan Mystery  here. The hardback is on special!
In the last few weeks..  taking part in the 26 Treasures of Childhood exhibition at the V&A’s Museum of Childhood, receiving a professional development award from Creative Scotland, writing an article about 1830s Rio for BBC History magazine, filming a talent taster for BBC television, appearing at Bath Literary Festival, publication of London Calling, becoming a guest blogger on the Huffington Post and talking about historical ladies on Woman’s Hour.

Coming up…  writing a first draft of The Melting Point set in 1820s Brazil and London, going to Colonsay Book Festival, interviewing Maggie O’Farrell, a Mirabelle Bevan short story going into ever Best Western hotel room in the country and taking part in a writing celebration of Norwich’s UNESCO City of Literature award.

Fame and Fortune from Writing

Helen Mack MonetIn this recent series of posts – ‘Writing for Love or Money’ I wanted to explore what motivates writers to write, how money can be made from writing even without a traditional publishing contract – and to discover if money is ever the main motive. As part of the series I have invited several authors to contribute a guest post on what motivates them. The contributors write very different  things and for different reasons. I hope you enjoy discovering more about all of these talented writers.


The first guest post is from Helen Mackinven. Helen has recently completed an MLitt in writing. She’s a fellow Scot and twitter friend of mine. She is currently working on her first bestseller. You can find out more about her over at her own blog here http://helenmackinven.wordpress.com You can also find her on twitter at @HelenMackinven

She originally posted the piece below on her own blog in June last year.

THANK YOU HELEN! – over to my guest:

Fame and Fortune from Writing by Helen Mackinven

“There is no telling how many miles you will have to run while chasing a dream.”  But the inspirational quote makes no mention of how much chasing a  dream might cost in pounds and pennies. Like the dress stashed at the back of the wardrobe (it was a bargain, and I’ll get lots of wear out it, honestly!), sometimes it’s best not to admit to the true cost of spending money on something you love.  And I’m all for listening to Jessie J’s advice, “It’s not about the money, money, money… Forget about the price tag.”

But it was still a great feeling this week to receive the first cheque I’ve ever been given for writing.  Woo Hoo! I won 2nd place in the Roy Wood Short Story Memorial Competition run by Alloa Writers group.

You can read my story, ‘Practice Makes Perfect’, here.

And my picture  was in, drum roll please, the Alloa Advertiser (okay it’s not the Arts section of the Glasgow Herald but I’m all for keeping it real and supporting local newspapers striving to report what matters most in the community, e.g. page 3 has the headline, ‘Bin torched in Alloa’ and page 5 ‘Lamb bitten’ yes, these are actual news story, even as a fiction writer, I couldn’t make them up).

So over and above being a media star in Clackmannanshire (I daren’t go near the Hillfoots in case I’m mobbed for autographs), the £50 was most welcome as a very small step towards offsetting the thousands of pounds I’ve spent  on following my writing ambitions.  To date, there’s been Arvon residential courses x 2, numerous day courses/conferences/workshops, author events, books, not to mention the biggies giving up the day job to do the MLitt course. If I added up the cost, eh, well… let’s not go there! I don’t think hubby would want to see the actual figure in black and white.

On Twitter this week, lots of folk I follow made me laugh with the hashtag #thingsnottosaytoawriter and one of the most common phrases was a variation on “So what do you do for money?” I could relate to that, especially after ignoring the voice of reason and giving up my day job.

But once I’m a successful writer, I’ll be able bask in my fame and fortune, right? And I don’t need to worry about bagging that rare elusive beast-a traditional publishing deal; I can always self-publish and cut out the middle man.  The phenomenal commercial success of trash books like Fifty Shades of Grey should surely spur me on (or turn me on if the ‘mummy porn’ hype is true).

So what am I waiting on? I could upload the two books I’ve already written today, sit back and rake in the profits…

EL James is making more than $million EVERY WEEK!!!

Maybe not, in fact it’s highly unlikely that I would become rich by going down the self-publishing route. A recent article in the Guardian, ‘Stop the press: half of self-published authors earn less than $500’ made it very clear that the millions of dollars made by the likes of EL James and Amanda Hocking are the exceptions.  If you’re like me and want to be a writer, you’re not in it for the money (although as Tesco says, every little helps).

Writing for Love or Money – ready to be read…

First draft is just the beginning

Part Two – Publish and Publicise

Spread the love, bank the profits?

So you’ve spent a long time writing for the love it – perhaps for years. You’ve learned a lot about the art and the craft of writing. You’ve produced a novel, or a collection of non-fiction essays, short stories or poems. What now?

You could keep on writing for the love of it – nothing wrong with that. But what if you want your work to be read? How do you get it out there? And how do you maybe make a bit of money?

Good news, bad news.

The good news is that nowadays it’s easier than ever to publish your work and build up a readership. The bad news is that you probably won’t make a lot of money and your motivation will continue to be love.

Traditional publishing

The conventional way to get your book published is to get a contract with a publishing company. Authors usually have to find an agent willing to represent them and then rely on that agent to find a publisher. The most fortunate authors will then get a reasonable financial advance from their publisher, the services of an editor, a cover designer and a publicity team. And then there will be royalties on the book sales. Some will make just enough to live on, some will make enough to be comfortable, a few will become millionaires – but J.K.Rowling is an exception.

This route remains the most likely to net reasonable financial returns – and for most authors, if they’re honest, it is still the most desirable. It is, however, increasingly difficult for new writers to get onto this particular road to reaching their readers. The book will have to be easy to market, easy to categorise and have very widespread appeal. This is fair enough. Publishing is a business and, in the present financial climate, no sane business is going to take any unnecessary risks.

Vanity publishing

The only alternative to the above used to be for the author to use a vanity publisher. This involved paying a, not inconsiderable, amount of money to a book printing company to produce as many copies of their book as the author could afford. The author would then have to try to sell these books from their lock-up or garage or wherever and with very little opportunity to publicise the book’s existence. It’s doubtful that any money was made by authors in those circumstances.

Self publishing

But the world of publishing has changed and continues to change. And it is the internet which is largely responsible. The internet has made it possible not only for authors to publish their own work but also to publicise it effectively – and yes in some cases – make a little bit of money. E.L. James is the exception that proves the rule here. Go down this route and you’ll most likely still be writing primarily for love. Don’t let that put you off!  What’s most important is that YOU WILL GET READERS. And things are changing in this regard. It’s gradual, but there are more and more writers taking this route who are making enough to give up the day job.

It is relatively straightforward to set up a PRINT-ON-DEMAND PAPERBACK and to sell it online through Amazon, Waterstones, Barnes and Noble etc. It’s also relatively easy to make your book available in DIGITAL FORMAT for Kindle and other e-readers.

But there are PITFALLS to be aware of.

Firstly, I would advise against engaging the services of companies that purport to ease your way to self-publishing and that charge hundreds of pounds to do so. It really isn’t that difficult to do it yourself.

Secondly, don’t go it completely alone at the pre-publishing stage.  Do employ some PROFESSIONAL HELP – namely the services of an editor and a cover designer. After all you’ve put a lot of work into your writing – plus you’re asking people to pay to read it – so you owe it to yourself and your readers to present a product that is of a professional standard. I’ve lost count of the sloppily produced books that I’ve deleted from my Kindle or put in the paper- recycling bin. I will not buy work from those authors again. No matter how many drafts you’ve done and you should have done many – your book will require professional editing. And people do judge books by their covers. It’s what readers see first when looking at you book – either on a shelf in a bookshop or online – so again hire a professional. And if you have trouble with the technology and need help with formatting your book for publication there are some very able professionals who don’t charge the earth who’ll do that for you.

After publication, you’ll need to publicise your book of course. Social media can be a good way to do this. You can have a fan page for your book on Facebook. You can inform your followers on Twitter. But be careful when doing this – don’t bombard people – far better to use these social media sites to slowly build relationships with fellow writers – a very supportive bunch – and your readers. You can do readings at your local bookshop, get yourself interviewed on local radio. You might blog or have a website. You might do none of those things and just hope your book gets noticed amongst the millions of others.

N.B. It’s worth pointing out here that even those authors who are traditionally published are nowadays expected to be active self-promoters in the ways I’ve just listed.

So there you have it. Writing’s simple really. Do it, love it, and – if you want  to – share it.

I’m delighted to have had several brilliant but very different authors agree to guest post in this Love or Money series over the next few weeks. Come back next week to read the first one.


Useful information:

FOR EXCELLENT, DETAILED, COMPREHENSIVE AND GENEROUS ADVICE ON THE WHOLE SELF-PUBLISHING AND PUBLICISING THING – from your desk to bookshop real or virtual –  you would do well to visit DAVID GAUGHRAN’S blog here on wordpress.com



For competitively priced and first rate, insightful editing JOHN HUDSPITH is your man – find him at http://www.johnhudspith.co.uk/

For superb cover design JANE DIXON-SMITH is your woman – find her at http://www.jdsmith-design.com/