Can I Afford To Be A Writer?

Now there’s something I hadn’t considered much before. A post on Facebook recently by a lovely lady I consider to be a massive success really made me think. She is a fabulous writer and I presume she sells shedloads of books, yet she has financial problems and is as worried about money as I am.

This made me look at the writers I know through social media and the amazing fact is that most of them have other jobs. There isn’t a single Barbara Cartland among them. No lying on a chaise longue, eating chocolates and dictating to a willing secretary for any of them. There goes my cunning plan!

Seriously, though, I have known for a long time that writing isn’t something you do for the money. Unless you are a mega-selling author the chances are that you will have to keep on with the day job or prepare to live hand-to-mouth. It’s not the profession I fondly imagined in my youth, when the word “writer” conjured up the image of someone like Enid Blyton or the Pullein-Thompsons, living in the country, surrounded by ponies, attending country fairs and gymkhanas, eating cucumber sandwiches while chatting to the local vicar and patting the children on the head before sending them off to their governess or nanny so I could get on with the writing. Β Sigh. Fact is, writing is something many people fit in between heading off to do their dreary “proper” job, cleaning the house, doing the supermarket dash, dropping the kids off at school and walking the dog. It’s a wonder any writing gets done at all, particularly when writers also have to Tweet, Facebook, blog and Pinterest to make sure they are actually known to anyone outside their own neighbourhoods.

I get that, and I accept it. What worries me the most, though, is can I actually afford to be a writer? I don’t mean in the sense of earning money. I mean, in the sense of paying out. I follow a lot of writers on social network sites and they are constantly discussing sending off their manuscripts for proof-reading, line editing, editing (I have no idea what the difference in all these things is by the way!) Then, if they choose to self-publish, they also have to pay out for formatting and cover design. All of this costs money. Editors, designers etc are skilled people and, quite rightly, they charge for their services. The question is, how does someone like me, with an income barely above the minimum wage and a monthly rent to pay that is over half of that, find the extra cash to pay for these services?

How can I send a novel to a publisher or agent without having it checked first? And if I can’t afford to do that I am truly stuck. Also, if I chose to self-publish I would still need an editor because no way would I want to unleash an error-ridden piece of work on a truly horrified public. And there is the mystery of cover design. I know it’s possible to do it yourself, but I don’t really have the technical savvy to do that.

How do other writers manage? I appreciate that some of them have better salaries than I do, but there must be others out there who struggle? How do they pay for all these services? Is there a secret I know nothing about?

If anyone knows the answers, send them on a postcard please – or better yet, just leave a comment!

Have a great week xx

23 thoughts on “Can I Afford To Be A Writer?

  1. Hi Sharon.

    I gave up chasing the dream years ago and turned to self-publishing on the Kindle in 2011. paid for only one service: editing. The rest – the formatting and cover design – you can do yourself, and it’s not as difficult as people want you to believe. But you have to allow yourself time to learn. I use MS Word and all the formatting can be done with that software. Amazon and Smashwords uploads will take care of the conversion. As for covers, I use my own photographs and Photoshop, and gain, it takes time to learn, and you have to make that time.

    My best wishes for you and your efforts.


  2. Hi David,
    Thanks very much for dropping by and commenting.
    How much (roughly) does editing cost, and where do you find a good editor who won’t cost the earth?
    Also, and I appreciate this may sound incredibly stupid, but what does an editor do, exactly? Are we talking plot inconsistencies, character development, story arc etc, or are we simply talking grammar, punctuation etc? By the way, I thought you were a Crooked Cat author? πŸ™‚
    Sharon x


  3. I am a crooked cat author now, but in 2011 I was self-publishing. It wasn’t all the hassle that changed my mind, it was the poor sales because I had no clue about marketing. The advantage of CC is that they take so much of the background work off me that it frees up more writing time, and since then I’e learned one of the secrets of selling plenty of books. Write a series. It really is that simple.

    As for editing, I can’t say because I have a private arrangement with my editor, which may be cheaper or more expensive than others. Best thing to do is email her. It’s Maureen Vincent-Northam and you can get her at She’s a good friend and I know she’s always happy to quote with no pressure.

    I write whodunits and they’re one of Mo’s favourites, so she looks at the whole thing to ensure it makes sense and there are no major gaps, and, of course,s he deals with grammar and punctuation at the same time.

    Good luck


  4. I’m an author with a day job (my third novel will be published by Acon HarperCollins next year) and I’ve also self-published a short story collection on Amazon. Self-publishing can be expensive, it cost me Β£270 to publish my collection but I didn’t spend a penny getting an agent or publisher for my novels. Instead I wrote and re-wrote my novel until it gleamed and then I joined an online writers group and exchanges first chapters with other writers. We critiqued each others work and helped me identify what still needed work. I then rewrote it again and sent off the first three chapters, a cover letter and a synopsis. I’ve probably earned enough from writing to give up my day job but I’m not a risk taker so I haven’t – just because I’ve got a book deal doesn’t mean I’ll be offered another one and my day job has a good pension!


    • Hi Cally. Thank you for dropping by! I’m really not naive enough to expect to earn a living from writing. What worries me is being able to afford to get it edited. I did send it off to the NWS which was invaluable as the critique was fantastic and I really feel I can make a huge difference thanks to that. It’s the grammar, punctuation and formatting etc that I worry about. Everything seems so expensive and it’s not that I begrudge the editors, artists etc their money because everyone has to make a living and it’s an important job, but I just worry I won’t be able to employ anyone and my book won’t get past the next hurdle because my inexperience will have let it down. It’s a dilemma πŸ™‚


  5. it’s a struggle. If I didn’t work with the people I work with I’d never be able to afford to publish a book. Imagine paying an editor upwards of Β£300 and the half that for a cover? You’d need to sell about 300+ books to get the money back and the majority of writers will never sell that many. No one with any sense expects to make a bean out of writing these days. There are paid options like Authorhouse but they are probably more expensive than doing it the other way. If I had known what I know now when I fist started I’d never have bothered. It won’t happen for 99.9% of writers. I think I know a couple make a few quid and a couple of hundred who don’t make anything. It doesn’t stop everyone having a go though. You never know your luck.


    • I know how hard it is, Trevor. I’m not expecting to make money from writing but it would be nice to break even – that’s even supposing I can afford the initial layout. That’s the thing that worries me. I’m certainly not expecting to buy my house in the country and holiday abroad three times a year from writing! πŸ™‚


  6. Hi Sharon

    I feel your pain! I’ve only self-published one book so far (the little Ghost Stories and How to Write Them) and I didn’t actually pay anything out, I did it all myself, with my son doing the cover. I made this decision because I didn’t expect it to sell very well, being targetted at a very niche audience.
    I think the answers are to learn the skills yourself as David says. I like to think I’m pretty good at spotting spelling/grammatical mistakes so have done this myself as well. And the novel I’ve sent to agents was read and commented on by a few good writer-friends, but the proof-reading of it I did myself.
    Maybe you can come to a reciprocal arrangement with another writer as regards proof-reading? It’s often the case a writer is too close to their own words to spot the silly mistakes, but you’d spot them in someone else’s work.


    • Yes, I see a few of them on social networking sites and it’s definitely a case of how the other half lives! It always worried me, actually, that I’m not rich enough, middle class enough or posh enough to be a writer or even to mix with other writers. I’m just me. A working class mum from Hull with a job that barely covers the bills. I do admit to feeling a bit out of my depth sometimes. Writing always seems such a well-to-do profession. Or maybe that’s just my inferiority complex! πŸ™‚


  7. Ah thank you, David. I am writing a series, though it’s not a whodunnit! Your output is legendary and I think the best way to build a readership is to write plenty of books! πŸ™‚


  8. Hi Sharon, fantastic post as always and I’ve really enjoyed reading the discussion that has followed. I read an article on yahoo recently about surprising job salaries. It looked at some jobs you may think are well paid but aren’t and others that you think wouldn’t be so well paid that are. One of the former was a novelist! It said that the average a writer will make a year is Β£5,000. When you factor in those who make an absolute mint and those who make nothing, it’s quite a scary fact. With energy prices rocketing these days, it will barely cover your gas and electric bills!!!

    I write because I can’t not write. If a day ends and I haven’t put fingers to keyboard to create something, I feel something is missing. Like most, I have a dream of making a fortune … but my head is set in the reality that the biggest success for me is just to secure a publishing deal; to have someone who knows what they’re talking about saying, “I loved it and I think others will too. Let’s put it out there!”

    As for all the costs involved, I just see it as an investment in something I’m passionate about. Over the years, I dread to know how much I’ve spent on gorgeous writing pads, how to books, RNA membership etc. But I wouldn’t change any of it. Some people would spend that money on cigarettes/alcohol/clubbing etc and have nothing to show for it except perhaps some good memories (or perhaps not depending on how much alcohol is consumed!) I have something to show for where I’ve spent it.

    If you were to go down the self pub route at some point (and I don’t think you will because I think you have a winner on your hands), there are people out there who will do things at very reasonable prices. My other half, for example, is a typesetter by trade and he’s going to work out a deal for typesetting/formatting and uploading books for aspiring writers like yourself. I would be very happy to help proof-read in exchange for you doing the same on mine. If a few of us all did that for each other, we’d definitely pick up all the typos.

    Must shoot as this is far too long as a reply and Strictly is on in 10 mins!



    • Aw thanks for stopping by, Julie. I know what you mean about the money we’ve already spent on writing. The NWS scheme wasn’t cheap, and there’s the conference which I really want to go to next year, plus Writing Magazine subscription, how-to books, notebooks, research trips and God knows what else. Your husband’s new business sounds great. I don’t think it’s necessarily about not being able to get a publishing deal. I know some writers actively choose to self-publish and I can definitely see the attraction. You have so much more control and there isn’t the long wait. I have read some fabulous books which were self-published and I actively try to publicize and support them. Yes, there are some that aren’t go good, but that’s where I think editing comes in and why I wouldn’t want to put something out there that hasn’t been edited and proof-read, plus it must have a decent cover. There’s nothing more off-putting than a tacky cover! I do think it’s something I would consider if I could just be confident I could do a good job of it. I think the thing about getting a publishing deal is the assurance that someone in the profession thinks your book is good enough and that counts for a whole lot. However, there are loads of good books out there that couldn’t secure a deal and I absolutely loved reading them so, with publishing the way it is these days, I’m open-minded.
      My main worry is how expensive editors etc are, and although I don’t be grudge them a penny of it I do lie awake some nights wondering how I will afford to get my book checked over before sending it off anywhere – be it to a publisher, agent or Kindle or Smashwords or whatever. As I keep saying, I’m not expecting to make much money from writing, or even to make any money from it, but I can’t really afford to lose much! Can I recoup the outlay, and can I afford the outlay in the first place? That’s my major worry.
      Ah well, no one ever said it would be easy. I still wouldn’t stop writing. I can’t imagine life without it.
      Hope Strictly was good. I missed it! πŸ™‚
      Sharon x


  9. Ahhh, the dream we all dream – and isn’t it a good one! I now have five self published titles on Amazon and have earned a total of $0.06 – good job I have a freezer full of nosh eh? We can all dream though and I will continue to do so.

    But when I wrote my first one I hadn’t actually thought of making a full 98,000 word novel. Nope, I was tapping away furiously becuase something had happened local that cops didn’t act or take seriously (again!) which pissed me off. There’s a list of my grips with the local cops at the start of what turned out to be The Mission. Each one is a real incident and I was banking the keyboard to get the anger out of my system. I had reach nearly 5,000 words before I realised what I was doing.

    But yes, along with all of us I still dream … … …


    • I find that quite staggering! Five published novels and a total of $0.06 earned?? Good grief. Good job you obviously aren’t in it for the money! I think we all write because we love it and can’t stop. If we only cared about the cash we’d be doing something a little more lucrative. Having said that, as I said previously, it’s not the income I’m worried about, it’s the expenditure involved! Ah well. We are all dreamers of dreams…
      Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment. Much appreciated.


  10. I edited and proof read my book before publishing it. You may have a look at it on English is my second language but I believe what I have published is legible and accurate.


  11. I’m just at the threshold of it all, but if I found out any tips i will be sure to share them. Does anyone know about Beta readers? I have come across this term quite a bit recently. How do they differ from proof readers, etc?


    • Any tips would be much appreciated. As I understand beta-readers, they’re your first readers and they pick up on typos, inconsistencies, tell you what they liked or didn’t like, pose questions, get you thinking and questioning and make very useful suggestions. Well that’s been my experience anyway! πŸ™‚


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