books · Drawing · Reading and Literacy · School & Library Visits

If you write books, then why are you here?

I was in Liverpool this week, as part of the Liverpool children’s Festival of Reading.

Several primary schools came to Gateacre School, to their fabulous theatre, where I told them about Dragon Gold and Walker, The boy who can talk to dogs.

I had one new question asked of me.

I usually get variations on the same questions and I try to answer them in new and different ways so I don’t sound like I’m bored or have turned into a parrot. Children haven’t been doing the questioning thing for as long as I have so it’s new to them. For each child that asks me a question I’ve been asked a million times before, it is a new, brilliant, sparkling and original thought or enquiry. I really do try to remember and respect that.

Mostly the questions are, “How many books have you written?” “Where do you get your ideas from?” and “Do you know David Walliams?”

But on Wednesday, I was flummoxed for a bit. The young person asking the question knew what she wanted to ask but wasn’t quite sure how to ask it. We got there in the end. She beamed when she realised that I had understood the question properly.

“So, If you write books, why are you here?”

What a great question!

What she meant was, why am I here and not in my shed, writing books.

There different parts to the answer.

  1. If you don’t get out of your shed/studio/workroom/office/bedroom, you will have no experience of life to write about. If you have the internet, you can get a feel for what is going on in the world, but you won’t catch the nuances, the tiny details that make writing both more interesting, and more personal.
  2. If you don’t get out of your shed/studio/workroom/office/bedroom, then you won’t meet anyone. You won’t hear real dialogue or learn the subtleness of human interaction. You can watch TV and interact with YouTubers all you like, but your vision of the world will be second-hand.
  3. If you don’t get out of your shed/studio/workroom/office/bedroom, no one will ever know you are there. Fairy literary agents or publishers, who descend out of pink clouds, wave their wands and organise international book deals do not exist. They don’t have wings. They work in offices and are protected by incoming mail handlers, receptionists and secretarial staff.
    The very least you have to do is post or email your work to their slush pile and hope someone might read it.
    Even better would be to find out who the right person is and seek a way to get to them directly. Sounds creepy, but that’s the way it has always been done. It’s who you know… If you don’t get out of your shed/studio/workroom/office/bedroom, all you can do is stalk them on Facebook or LinkedIn!
  4. Children’s books cost just as mucho make as adult books, and often quite a bit more. You may have noticed that children’s books are generally a third to half the price of adult books, so it is reasonable to deduce the profits are not as great. Therefore it is reasonable to deduce that most children’s authors are the celebrity millionaires that children assume they are.
    The average earnings from writing of a children’s book author are about half the minimum national income. Yes, writing pays below the minimum wage!
    You have to sell a lot of children’s books to be able to write full-time. You have to get out of your shed/studio/workroom/office/bedroom, to promote the books that allow you to spend a little time in there in the first place.
    Digital, modern marketing methods and the internet have unleashed giant forces that have made children’s books less and less profitable, driving down authors earnings with it. So Authors do what they can to earn supplemental income.
    Teaching, and performing in schools and festivals are among the many things they do. That’s why I was in Liverpool on Wednesday and not at home writing.
  5. If you don’t get out of your shed/studio/workroom/office/bedroom, eventually you get stale and go crazy.
  6. If you don’t get out of your shed/studio/workroom/office/bedroom, you soon forget who your audience of readers are.
    To be a professional author means to make a living from it. Writing for fun or for personal reasons is great, but few people will want to read what you write.
    A professional author writes for their readership or, putting it more obviously, professional authors create content aimed at a pre-defined market.
    If you don’t know and understand that market, then the chances are they are not going to want and buy the product – sorry – I mean literary masterpiece.
    There is a market for those who love a literary masterpiece and there is a market for those who love toilet and bottom jokes, but If you don’t get out of your shed/studio/workroom/office/bedroom, to meet those people and see what makes them tick, you will soon lose touch with your audience.

I’m sure I could go on, but now that I am actually back in my shed at the bottom of the garden, perhaps I should be writing a book and not churning this stuff out for social media etc.
In fact that leads off to another new, bright, sparkly question: “So if you are an author, why do you spend all your time on FaceBook and Twitter and instaGram? Why don’t you just write?”

I’d better get back to work. Let me know your answers below!

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