An Author produces original written copy for any number of different media including books, magazines, newspaper articles, screen plays and websites. They may write on a number of subjects spanning both fiction and non-fiction.
A natural human love of story telling, the innate desire to be entertained, to learn from others’ mistakes or successes, to better understand the world we live in, the other people we share it with and ultimately ourselves – all of this is transmitted to us through literature. It is an author’s job to paint the fantastical, give meaning to the mundane and reveal the messages hidden in our everyday lives. As long as we search for reason in our existence it will be the author’s place, once that of the village story teller, the parson or the court jester, to do so. Today the book industry is worth tens of millions to the UK economy alone; millions of prospective writers hope to produce the next bestseller and a few lucky individuals occasionally do so.
Writing is a highly competitive solo occupation. Graham Greene, one of the most prolific English language authors of the last century, famously said that the secret of writing was sitting down in a chair for hours at a time and putting pen to paper: an often overlooked truism. He also said that success and the bulk of the work lay, in fact, in re-writing.
Authors are usually self-employed. The terms of their remuneration differ according to the type of media in which they are working. Newspaper and magazine articles may be paid on a per project basis. Screenplays and books may be awarded an advance in order to allow the author to concentrate on their work. In the case of books, a commission is usually awarded so the author’s earnings increase with the sales of the book.
As such, it is impossible to guess what an author will earn. The fact that J.K. Rowling has become the world’s first author billionaire shows how much the publishing industry means to consumers and how much it has changed in the last 100 years.
An author’s working day may include any of the following:
- Drafting original ideas and sketching their plot outlines
- Researching new ideas and unfamiliar topics
- Interviewing experts, veterans or witnesses on, or of a particular subject
- Hours and hours of writing
- Revising written copy (re-writing)
- Submitting drafts and complete works to agents, publications and publishers
- Attending publicity events and networking
There are no required qualifications for being an author. The writing will speak for itself alone. Although there are innumerable short and distance-learning courses claiming to teach one how to be a successful writer, travel writer, screen writer etc none of these will be regarded by an employer as anything more than an irrelevant gimmick. Writing begins with creation and is refined by criticism. Put pen to paper and ask your friends opinions, try to get your work submitted to smaller publications in the first instance and approach agents after these smaller successes.
Most book publishers won’t accept a manuscript unless it is submitted through a recognised literary agent. You can find a list of reputable agents in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook style=”color: black”. You will also find a wealth of articles here aimed at helping you in your writing career.
A degree in a humanities subject, particularly literature, history, classics, foreign languages and cultural subjects is common among writers. Many English literature degree courses offer a module in creative writing which is a great first introduction to the subject.
To be a successful author the following personal attributes would be of use:
- Creativity and originality
- A love of reading stories and literature
- Great research skills
- An ability to convey ideas in a clear and engaging manner
- Patience and dedication
- Ability to take criticism constructively
- Ability to deal with rejection undeterred
- Good networking skills
- Ability to work alone unsupervised
Authors commonly work for vast periods of time on their own. The bulk of their work involves actually writing, for which undisturbed concentration is vital. For this reason, many authors work from home in a secluded office, or better still from a secluded location free of distractions. Personal interaction comes about mostly at the promotional level, when the author is looking to make new contacts with fans, publishers and potential employers. Successful authors may be required to attend publicity events such as television interviews, book signings and talks.
An author’s hours are anything that he or she is prepared and able to work. Many famous books have been written in a great rush, a desperate effort to keep a grip on all too fleeting inspiration. Others have been the steady labour of years of revision.
An author will gain experience simply by trying to work as one; there is no substitute for practice. Working on smaller publications and having articles published there will help in convincing others to look at your work (most agents are inundated with submissions).
Major UK publishing houses are by far the biggest employers of authors. However you first need to get your work submitted to an agent. See the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook for a list of these.
Many authors supplement their writing with another income stream as very few authors make their living from writing alone. Authors commonly choose another branch of the writing profession such as copy-writing, journalism, publishing or editing. Even some of the most famous writers of this and the last century have done so or faced living according to constricted financial means, JG Ballard and Graham Greene being prime examples, respectively.
Also known as…
- Technical Author
What’s it really like?
Geraldine Coates is a freelance writer and journalist from Edinburgh. Besides being author of the Miscellany Guide to Gin, Geraldine also edits the popular website gintime.
How long have you been working as an author?
About 25 years. I started in the late 80s after having children and going to university as a mature student. I started out as a freelance copywriter, something that I still do. I was writing people’s brochures and mailers and yearly reports, working with design agencies where copy was required. At that point I was working with a top whisky writer, we had a copywriting agency and just had loads and loads and loads of work. We were approached by a publisher who wanted a series of little drinks books. That was in 95. So I decided to do the Gin one. That opened up a whole other stream of writing for me and now I write books. Basically it allowed me to specialise in a particular area, which if you’re going to be a freelance writer or journalist is really useful. Now my specialities are spirits, drinks and cocktails.
What did you do before this job?
I raised a family of three children growing up in Edinburgh. When I first started as a freelance writer it really fitted in with raising a family as I could choose my own hours, up to a point.
What do you do in a typical day as an author?
Well really every day is different. Essentially I pretty much always have a project on the go. I work from project to project. In the last couple of weeks I’ve written a training programme for a gin company to teach their own people about their own brand. I also run a website called gintime.com so I edit that and we do mail-outs once a month. And I still do a bit of copywriting; last week for instance I was working on a direct mail letter for a conservatory company.
What do you like about being an Author?
I like having my own hours, and I like the fact that I have reached the stage now that I have a certain expertise so I get the opportunity to do interesting projects. When you start out you don’t get to pick and choose, you have to do everything. As a drinks journalist I particularly like being invited on press trips and going to exciting places.
What do you dislike about the job?
I don’t like the pressure when there’s too much on. I don’t have anybody I can pass it on to. So there may be a week with loads of projects when I just have to work, ten, twelve hours a day until it’s done.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of becoming an Author?
Well it depends; as a novelist you’re going to do your own thing. If you’re going to write non-fiction as I do, find your specialism and make sure you really like it, because you will get stuck with it!
What job do you think you might do after this role in terms of career progression?
I’m very happy with what I do. I’m looking forward to writing more books.
What other inside-information can you give to help people considering becoming an Author?
A lot of this is actually luck. Something has come along and I’ve said yes, I’ll do that. Take opportunities when they come because you never know where it’s going to take you. And definitely if you can develop something that only you can do, you will be well ahead of the competition. It’s a very competitive market. If you develop a couple of niche areas that only you can do you will always have work.
Do you mind us publishing your salary – this is very helpful for job seekers?
I don’t know what my salary is; every year it’s different, some years are good some are bad but I could say it works out between 20 and 40 grand a year.