I wrote this, originally, for the SCBWI newsletter, after reading articles about how you can make the best of your working day as a writer and others about how the education industry was still pretty good (not for me, or for some others I know, not for some time now). I never got around to sending it, so decided to pop it up here instead.
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In Australia most writers have day jobs. The population is too small to buy a lot of books. The few who don’t have other jobs are usually married to someone who can support them as they work from home, at least until they earn enough to help pay the bills.
There are, of course, a few bestsellers, some more who have grants and the lucky few who are still selling education books; the market for that has slowed down here in recent years. One artist who had depended on the education industry for his bread and butter told me he was getting less and less work. I have had no luck in this area myself lately, despite having written several books for an education publisher, books that have done well. I did finally manage to score some literacy cards, after a lot of nagging, and that paid very well, but I don't think I have the energy to go back and nag again.
I work full-time as a teacher-librarian. That has some advantages, but mostly means I can forget about school visits, because I can’t get time off for visiting other schools! When my publisher invited all his authors to attend a writers’ festival at a rich private school last year, I was teaching English while everyone else got to promote and sign their books.
So how do you write let alone promote when you leave for work at 6.30 a.m. and get home at 6.30 p.m., to eat quickly and prepare classes?
If you have a car, leave it at home. Write on the train. I write late at night and listen to radio talk shows. Then I write some more on Sundays. If I’m having trouble focusing, I go out to a cafe and write there - but only on weekends and holidays. As a writer of mostly non-fiction, I can break up the work - research each individual chapter, draft, edit, then do the next one. It does, of course, take a lot longer to write a novel than if you don’t have to prepare classes and mark work. Try thinking of what’s happening with your hero when you have to mark Year 8 assignments, attend meetings and jump through hoops for the Education Department’s latest bright idea!
But I do have advantages when it comes to promotion. As a librarian and writer of genre fiction, I can get on panels at science fiction conventions, where sessions on children’s and YA fiction are the most popular. Everyone has an opinion on children’s books and would like to hear others talk about it. At last year’s World Science Fiction Convention in Melbourne, where I live, I didn’t have my new novel, Wolfborn, which only came out in December, so I asked my publishers for some goodies and they came through with bookmarks, posters and sample chapters. I asked to do a reading and a signing and when everyone was in a long queue at the next signer’s table, I smiled sweetly and said to those at the end, “As long as you’re waiting, would you like a sample chapter? A signed bookmark?” Quite a few people happily came over for the freebies.
At school, I can arrange a launch for the students and call in the local press. I don’t have to get the librarian on-side - I am the librarian! The Principal loves it because the school is promoted when I do this. Before the launch, I run a themed trivia quiz - spies or crime or, in the case of my novel, werewolves and folklore. The winner gets a signed copy of the book. Some others get signed posters or bookmarks.
Because Wolfborn is a medieval paranormal novel, I had the chance to get the history teachers involved. Year 8 studies the Middle Ages. I invited the kids to check bits of the manuscript for historical accuracy (I’d done my own research, but it was a fun activity for them). Those who responded got extra credit, a certificate, a signed copy and a mention on the thank you page.
I do feel jealous when I read chirpy little articles about overcoming writers’ block and arranging your writing day; it must be so nice to be able to concentrate on the writing!
But I work with my readers. And they’re proud of me. They borrow my books - I rarely have to shelve them before the year is over - and sometimes buy them. One girl said, “I’m going to borrow it from the public library during the holidays, Miss, and I’m going to say, ‘My teacher wrote this and I am so proud!’ ”
How many people who write all day and go jogging between chapters to overcome the writers’ block can boast of that?