Archive for the ‘for sale’ Category

Writing Tips # 10 (Money for Old Rope)

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

The post on the practicalities of extracting money from the people you work for is a-brewing, but while you’re waiting for it, here are a few more thoughts on the work of being a writer.

If you do (expect to) get paid, at least do your client / employer the courtesy of treating it like a job. If you don’t want to be a hobbyist, don’t act like one. If you turn up pissed, late or are otherwise flaky you’re stealing from the person who has paid you and you’re making the rest of us look bad.

While it is true that an array of shocking behaviour is often tolerated and maybe even expected from ‘creative’ people, event organisers do chat to each other. I know, because I used to be one. And the idea that making things up gives you the right to be late, sullen, lecherous or otherwise rude really gnarls my chizzle.

I refer you back to Nicola Morgan’s post about Author Events. It’s true that once you start getting out there talking and reading and signing, many events will leave a lot to be desired. I travelled (unpaid) to do an event at a library which will remain nameless (not one belonging to the service I used to work for) to find there were no books for sale, my name had been spelled wrong on all the publicity, I wasn’t offered so much as a glass of water during the two hours I was there and at the end of the event was sneered at (we all earn as much as Dan Brown…) when I insisted on being reimbursed for my travel expenses. And during the break the organisers badmouthed the last writer who’d done an event for them…*

Nicola’s advice to organisers is spot on, but my advice to the writer on the receiving end of shoddy treatment is to be gracious about it. You can be polite and professional while insisting on a fee and a decent lunch break. You can be respectful without being a doormat. You don’t need to go back if it was that awful  (in fact, it would be better if you didn’t and there are polite and direct ways of letting the organiser know why you won’t accept any future invitations), but a bit of courtesy on the part of the writer goes a long way.

Many festival organisers and event administrators seem consistently surprised by the fact that I am punctual, send thank you notes, reply to my emails or put my out of office on, let them know in advance that I am nearly phone-phobic but pick up my email regularly and do my very best to remember their names. I am fanatical about deadlines and submission guidelines. And I am absolutely not meaning to sound smug. I have only come to this conclusion by making mistakes and noticing what happens when I do. I have a plethora of failings – and the I’m terrified so I’ll have a little drink…oops! trap is one I’ve fallen into more times than I should have.

But still. To be praised by people who are paying me for what seems to me to be a basic level of professionalism and politeness makes me wonder how bad some of the other writers are. Tip in miniature: don’t be one of those writers.

* see the title of this blog. Details have been pushed into fiction to protect the guilty and prevent them from recognising themselves. Because being polite is important to me.

The Tips for Writers posts are part of a series.

More Soapboxing about Cash

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

Lots of discussion flying about via facebook, email and in the comments form of the latest Tips for Writers post I did about money and getting paid.

I guessed it would be an emotive issue – especially as most of us don’t get that much of it – and it is something I wish MAs in Creative Writing would cover more realistically and thoroughly. While many MA tutors do a brilliant job of managing the expectations of their students, to my knowledge, not many courses include seminars or modules specifically geared towards what exactly you’re supposed to do for money when you graduate. Employability in the arts is the official name for it, isn’t it?

Creative writing students need information about applying for ‘time to write’ and project funding, setting up live literature nights, small press magazines, making money from blogging, teaching and editing, because this is where so many writers are currently working without knowing their worth. They need information about self employment, about tax, about how to plan their continuing development as writers and as literature professionals. A post graduate qualification in writing should include education about what to ask for in return for unpaid volunteer posts and internships and training in creating a strategy for managing your own career. Rather than just telling us to get an agent, they should be examining the options around self publication in electronic and print formats – which are real options for many writers. Or at the very least they should signpost their students via the careers service to the very good literature development organisations that provide these services and information for writers (see links in the sidebar for the organisations I rate).

It is so important and, in my experience, skimmed over in terms that are not applicable to every writer (get an agent, don’t pay someone to publish your novel) because the great dirty secret of creative writing courses is that unlike professional qualifications in, say, nursing, teaching, law, information management and IT, most of the graduates won’t end up making a living in the field. In a class full of accountants, most of them end up getting paid to be accountants after they graduate. Is that true of creative writing MAs? A university can’t guarantee publication, or promise that publication will create an income stream decent enough to live on, but they can train their students in making themselves as entrepreneurial as possible.

Most of the stuff I know about making a living, I picked up from making mistakes, flailing around, and picking the brains of people who were where I wanted to be.

Maybe I am wrong. It’s been a while since I did my MA (which I certainly don’t regret but which – and this is important – I got a full and generous fees and maintenance grant for from the AHRC so I wasn’t starting my writing career in debt) and I haven’t researched the offerings of every single creative writing course in the world. I know there are a few of you recent and current students reading this, so chip in any time. I am interested to know what others’ experiences are.


Writing Tips #9 (Money)

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

It’s been a while since I posted one of these tips. The half-serious, half-tongue in cheek series is something that I wanted to continue over the summer, but what with one thing and another, I let it fall by the wayside.

I want to start it again by referring you to this post from Jane Smith on How Publishing Really Works (along with the accompanying comments) and Nicola Morgan’s response (plus more comments) on Help! I Need a Publisher. I’m a bit late to the party to weigh in, but these posts are well worth reading and my two penn’oth is below:

It’s not okay to work for free. If you can afford to work for nothing, that’s great – but unless you’re getting something else that is valuable you should charge a fee anyway (especially for teaching and editing/appraisal/consultancy) otherwise you’re unfairly taking work from a writer who can’t afford to work for nothing – which is the vast, vast majority of writers. (Insert depressing Soc of Authors figures here) Donate it to a charity if you’d prefer to, but make sure you get paid.

Work includes: writing a story, article, review, or report. Reading and commenting on someone else’s unpublished writing*. Delivering a workshop. Helping someone design a workshop which they will deliver. Researching. Reading from your writing to an audience who has paid to come and see you. Doing a Q and A. Fundraising. Giving a talk or a lecture to a book group, writing circle etc. Hosting, organising and promoting events.

Even if you have a day job and you do these things in your ‘spare’ time, it is still work. Even if your day job is really well paid. Even if you’re a millionaire. Even if you really, really like doing it. Even if you worry that you’re not as famous as they think you are. Whatever. It is still work and a renumeration is appropriate.

BUT this renumeration might not only come in cold hard cash (although never decline this – even if you’re getting an advance every couple of years, publishers don’t offer pensions). In the past I’ve worked for a very reduced fee or even for no cash at all because the ‘fee’ or the benefit to me has included one or more of the following:

Chance to gain experience in a sector or with a client group that I haven’t worked in or with before.

Chance to work with another writer that I’d really like to meet / work with / pick the brains of.

Publicity / promotion / networking opportunities. Prestige, reputation and other forms of stroking (though be careful of this – if the work was that prestigious, they’d be able to pay you).

Raising funds for a cause I believe in (in this case, I’d expect to be offered a fee, and the choice to waive or reduce it would be mine to make as I see fit).

To support a fledgling organisation / event with the understanding that they were aiming to pay writers for their work in the future – in effect, I’d be helping other writers get paid somewhere along the line, and if I had faith in the organisation and was able to pay my rent otherwise, I might agree to that.

In exchange for services (I am very happy to work in exchange for services – never be afraid of asking me this as it’s something I’d like to do more of).

I have also, very often, done things that I usually get paid for, for free, because a friend has asked me, because no-one’s getting paid, because I think it will be fun, because it will give me an excuse to go and have a night out in a new place, because I want to, because I feel like it. In this case, I put the event under ‘social life’ rather than ‘work’.

I’m flagging up Jane’s post even though in blog-time it’s almost old news because I know a lot of the people I teach writing to eventually find their way to my blog and I’d like to give them a nudge towards these posts and urge them to think all about these issues – which are not old news and not likely to become so. Even if you’re just starting out with informal readings at live lit nights, ocassional volunteer placements, internships etc it’s still important to think about how much your labour is worth, and to whom.

(Yes, writing is labour. Reading to an audience is labour. I’m as working class as they come but even if you don’t sweat or get dirty it is still work.)

I made loads of mistakes when I was starting out – saying yes to everything and feeling grateful that someone would want to offer me work at all. It took two sets of mentoring, a couple of stern talking tos from a good friend of mine and a lot of soul searching before I was able to put a number on what I do. It is still something I find difficult sometimes – perhaps because I come from the public sector and am used to being badly paid for my skills, perhaps because I’m still working out the worth of my various labours myself, perhaps because when your work is so close to your heart putting a number on it feels very much like putting a number on youself.

How much would I charge for looking after my children? My childminder manages to work out a business model that works, we had to put a figure on it when buying life insurance recently** and I have learned that it’s okay to be cold hearted about your writing when it comes to talking invoices and contracts.

Don’t be surprised when people are shocked or even offended that you want a fee. Tough it out, pretend you aren’t blushing and say, ‘this is what it costs.’ While it is true a lot of events run on goodwill and volunteers (who are, I would argue, getting work experience, contacts etc) the writer, without whom none of it would be possible, is expected to work for nothing too. I often wonder where, in that case, all the ticket fees go to.

People will say things like this:

‘You do it for the love of it, though, don’t you,’

Yes. I love my job. I bet my web-designer and my accountant and my agent and my editor love their jobs too. They certainly approach their respective tasks, like I do, with enthusiasm, creativity and dilligence. Why is it okay they get paid fairly and promptly but I don’t? I bet my landlord loves getting his monthly check from me***. I bet the supermarket loves how much money I throw into their tills each month. (Cheesy peeps!) It isn’t only people who hate their jobs who deserve to get paid.

‘Well, so and so will do it for free…’

Okay. Go and ask so and so then. I’m sure if so and so were that good, they wouldn’t need to do it for free. You get what you pay for. This is my job. There’s a difference between a hobbyist and a writer and I am a writer. (I know it is hard to say this.)

‘It’ll be a brilliant promotional opportunity for you,’

Question this. How brilliant is brilliant? Exactly. Be an arse about it if you have to. If they are expecting loads of people through the doors, and those people are paying a ticket price, then they can afford to pay you. If ticket sales aren’t that great, you’re not getting that much exposure. Do they mean book sales? First, book sales at events are over rated and can be unpredictable. I’ve sold and signed over seventy books at a well attended local event at a near-anonymous venue (that I was also paid to attend) and three books (which I suspect were pity buys) at one of the most well known book festivals in the world (yes, that one – although I was also paid to attend, and very fairly at that.)

And second, so what if it’s a brilliant promotional opportunity for me – you’re charging people to come and see me, not come and see my book. If I’m not preparing for this event, travelling to this event or doing this event, I could be earning money doing something else. If the musician who plays during the break and the graphic designer who did the posters and the man who sells the tickets and the woman who dishes out the half-time wine get paid, I should be getting paid too.

‘It’s all for a good cause..’

That’s for me to decide, thank you very much. I have not got a heart of stone. If I want to donate to your charity or support your organisation, I will do it without being guilted into it.

So this is my writing tip: do not undersell yourself. If you insist on a fee, you generally get treated better than if you’re willing to turn up for free. If you decide to waive your fee because you’re getting some other benefit, make it clear you are waiving a fee that you would usually charge AND make sure you get your train fare.

*if you email me your great unpublished novel, I will email you my consultancy fees list, no probs.

** aha! So that’s why banana skins have been appearing at the top of the stairs at Ashworth Towers these days…

***despite refusing to fix my rickety windows for nigh on two years now.

If you enjoyed this, you might also enjoy my other Tips for Writers. Although they are worth more or less exactly what you pay for them. Comments and questions welcome.

EDITED TO ADD: this link to Daisy Baldwin’s post on voluntary work and internships – required reading for the arts grads amongst us.

The Great Blog Giveaway

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

Hello Readers.

You may not know this, but the C-format paperback (the little, less expensive one) version of A Kind of Intimacy is out soon, published by Arcadia on the 25th February – although the beady eyed among you might already have seen it in bookshops here and there earlier in the month.

I’ve got ten copies that my publisher are keeping safe, ready for me to give away. It’s not a competition – the first ten people to email me or comment on this post (I’m jenn dot ashworth at gmail dot com) will be getting a book.

To tempt you, you can read a tiny extract of the book here.

There’s only one catch. In return for a FREE book, I’d like you to promise to review it somewhere on-line. This could be your own blog, a guest post on someone else’s blog, a reader-review on Amazon or even a video on You-tube. So long as it’s public and can be linked to, we’re on.

And by ‘review’, I’m fairly flexible too. If you want to interview me, we can do that instead. If you want to take some pictures of you reading the book in amusing places, that will do. If you want to live-tweet your thoughts at the end of each chapter, okie dokie by me. Write an alternative ending or invent some deleted scenes? That works for me (in fact, I’d LOVE it). Dress up as Annie and invite yourself round to your next door neighbour’s house? Be my guest.

If you didn’t like the book, that’s okay too, just remember, once I’ve posted it, I know where you live.

I know many readers of this blog (all seven of you) have already read and invested in the big version of the book. That’s all right. You can help out too. Feel free to re-post this give-away on your own blog, on facebook, twitter and where-ever else you hang out. I’m not picky.

Thank you.

"Click Thru"

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

I’m constantly updating the sidebar with news about readings, creative writing courses, Word Soups and bank-robberies, so for those of you who check out this blog in a reader – click through once in a while, why don’t you?

Normal Service

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Taking over the internet again with a little article on the Waterstone’s Website. This is also, I think, going to be in their print magazine next edition.

I’m going on holiday for a little bit. I am going to do Sod All.

I need a holiday, because when I get back there are going to be all kinds of really busy things happening.

Launch parties!! Hurrah!!
24th March: official Manchester Launch at No Point in Not Being Friends, The Trof.

NEW: 27th March, supporting David Ford with Sally Cook at St Philips, Salford.

28th March: unofficial Derby launch at Hello Hubmarine

4th April: unofficial Eccleston Library Launch (morning) and unofficial Chorley Library Launch (afternoon)

NEW: 5th April 1pm Preston Waterstone’s signing.

21st April: unofficial Preston Launch at Preston Writing

Network’s first live lit night: Word Soup (more about this later – it is going to be ACE)

All these pictures are the stuff of anxiety nightmares I have been having recently.

Don’t tell Jane, because she’ll have a fit, but I have got one nice dress and that is it. I will be repeating outfits.

De Preston

Friday, March 6th, 2009

Recently, I have been spending a lot of the hours that I should be asleep doing this.

And tonight, I was doing this.

Lots of ‘Ace’ and ‘Good’ and maybe even ‘Top Banana’ things are going to be happening in De Preston soon.

Watch this space.

If you don’t live in De Preston you should still watch this space. Other interesting things will be happening.


available in all good bookshops now. And an Amazon review!

I don’t know that person.


A Big Fat Pie to Make You Big and Fat

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

Anyone remember this? Such fun, such irony, such piss-taking and *such* nasty emails!

I’m learning to eat my sarcastic words gracefully, with dignity, and in eight bite-sized portions because I’m going to be teaching a creative writing course.

If you live in Preston or are willing to travel in once a fortnight and you are interested in… wait, where’s the leaflet?

Would you like to get the creative juices going, practice your writing,
and perform your work in front of an audience? Local author Jenn
Ashworth is going to be running an 8-session creative writing group
suitable for committed beginners and those already writing.

Over the course of eight fortnightly sessions, Jenn will introduce you
to the basics of description, character and conflict through a series of
themed workshops and one on one tutorials. Suitable for poets and prose
writers, the course will meet you where you are and help you improve at
your own pace in a supportive and honest environment. As the course
progresses, you’ll gain experience, guidance and feedback through the
entire process of composition up to editing and performing your work.
With your classmates you’ll help to create an anthology, plan an event
and participate in an end of course celebration and reading at the
Continental – Preston’s newest centre for culture and the arts.

The sessions run every other Monday from November 3rd to February 16th
(with a Christmas break), 7.30pm – 9.30pm. The 8 sessions cost £25. The
group will be no bigger than 15 friendly people. For more information or
to sign up, email me at ruth (at) Places are going
quickly, so let me know as soon as possible if you’re interested.

Essentials for Life Update

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

Look at the loot that arrived today. This is my favourite Essential for Life so far. Who knew a person wouldn’t feel right about the world unless they owned a hand-upholstered wireless keyboard?

P.S The Essentials For Life Project is still going. If you want a story, send me stuff. We can arrange it by email. Here is the latest list:

1. extra large paper clips
2. nail brush
3. strong white sewing thread
4. coloured chalk
5. rechargeable batteries
6. blue and green paper
7. stripy socks (you can never have too many)
8. fabric softener
9. blue or turquoise buttons
10. soap (gentle not animal kind)

Assignment 3: Doomed Lovers

Friday, March 7th, 2008

I am thinking that because of things like the tinternets there are probably people all over the world who are writing emails to each other and being friends. Probably there are more people ‘networking’ for ‘career’ reasons on MyArse and Facebook, but in amongst all those hands clutching at each others clothes and tugging for attention there are probably people who are just chatting but using their computers and things like Skype instead of meeting people in pubs and bars and cooking classes and public transport.

They probably talk about ordinary things, and worry about typos and homophones and bad punctuation the same way as people in person worry about accidentally spitting on their clothes when they laugh, or if their shoes are any good, or if they secretly smell but no-one has ever told them.

I am thinking this is probably where shy people come into their own. IM and emails and blogs and things are very useful for making friends if you are shy. And if you have problems with people being in the same room as you and looking at your private things, touching your stuff or staying longer than you wanted them to, the tinterwebs solve all these things.

I am thinking that there are probably lots of people meeting and being friends and being curious about what it would feel like to put the other person’s hair in her mouth or smell the clothes he has just taken off, or touch the things on her desk or see what his couch sounds like when you lie down on it.

I think this means the number of people walking around feeling a bit bad and doomed today is more than before the tinterwebs. But I could be wrong.

This was going to be The Story About Doomed Lovers that Karissa asked for. I would give it a 3/10. I am sorry Karissa. I have lost my blogging mojo. But the other writing is going good and I bought a typewriter a bit like yours to do more of it on. Karissa is doing something a little bit like The Essentials for Life Project.

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