Tuesday 23 October 2018

A Day in the Life of Author Susan Elliott Wright @sewelliott #ADayInTheLife #AuthorFeature

In June 2018, the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) published the results of their latest survey on author incomes. They do not make for happy reading, yet despite this, there is still a myth, believed by many, that ALL authors earn as much as people like JK Rowling, or James Patterson, or EL James.
I speak to lots of authors and I know it's not true at all. Look at the facts:
  • The median annual income of a professional author is £10,500, which is well below the minimum wage.
  • The equivalent figure in 2013 was £11,000 and in 2005 it was £12,500.
  • In real terms, taking inflation into account, this represents a fall in writing income of 42% since 2005, and 15% since 2013.
  • Just 13.7% of authors earn their income solely from writing. In 2005 this was 40%.
  • There is a growing gender pay gap, with the average earnings of female professional authors only around 75% of those of the average male professional author, down from 78% in 2005. This finding is worrying, however we are reluctant to comment on it until we see a detailed breakdown of the figures, which ALCS will release in the autumn. We do not know how the figures compare across age and genre and whether this is a true like for like comparison. 
So, I decided to invite authors here to Random Things to talk about their average day, and I'm delighted to welcome my first guest; Susan Elliott Wright here today.

A Day in the Life of Author
Susan Elliott Wright

Thank you, Anne, for inviting me to be part of this exciting new blog series!

A little background: I’m luckier than many of my fellow authors. I’m published by Simon & Schuster, and my first two books The Things We Never Said and The Secrets We Left Behind sold well. The third What She Lost (the best of the three, in my opinion) was well-reviewed – ‘Recommended Reading’ status from both Good housekeeping and Waitrose – but didn’t sell well.

When I was first published in 2013, I was cheffing for an outside catering company alongside my writing. Sadly, severe RSI in both hands made working in a commercial kitchen impossible, and I had to give up in 2015. I write using dictation software because I can’t type for more than an hour or so, and then only if I wear wrist splints.

So, a typical day. I stagger downstairs at 7-ish for breakfast – fruit, egg on toast and green tea. I listen to the news on Radio 4, but no more than once a day – too depressing. I read over breakfast for half an hour, unless it’s a real page-turner, in which case I might still be sitting there two hours later. Next,
I’d usually walk the dog (incorporating a 10-minute sit and read) but we recently lost our beloved Henry after a sudden illness, so we’re dogless just now.

By 9-ish, I’m at my desk. We live in a small terraced house in a student-y area of Sheffield. The house was built as a ‘two up, two down’ but now has a converted attic, which I
use as an office/study.

Most of my work is writing-related – planning and teaching workshops, preparing critiques, or mentoring new writers.

I’m technically an Associate Lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, but it’s a zero hours contract, and as the permanent staff seem to all be healthy (which is good, obviously) and to have stopped having babies or going on sabbaticals, I’ve had no teaching work there for ages.

So, first job is social media. It is part of my job, although I’m sometimes distracted by cute animal videos – who isn’t? I post on my Facebook page when there’s book news, a blog post, or
info about my workshops or critique services. I’ll respond to any messages or comments before moving on to Twitter, where I dip in and out throughout the day, reading and retweeting things that grab my attention – and of course anything to do with my new novel The Flight of Cornelia Blackwood (out in Feb). When my publishers tweeted recently that they’d had to do another print run of proof copies ‘due to high demand’, I woke up to 63 notifications!

Emails next. I save lengthy personal emails until the evening, but most of my emails are teaching-related – advertising workshops, taking bookings, or discussing content with my fellow tutor Russ Thomas.
We have a workshop coming up, so my day might involve a preliminary planning meeting with Russ and, depending on whose turn it is, typing up a draft lesson plan or writing a new handout. Planning sessions gobble up half a day, so for the purposes of this post, let’s say I’ve only got the typing up to do. Making a new handout can take ages, but for the forthcoming session, I only need to tweak handouts we’ve used before. We’ll meet again just before the workshop to make any final adjustments. Teaching the session is the easy bit!

By the time I get round to writing anything creative, it’s usually late morning. I used to head over to a local coffee shop to write, but even though they’d let me sit there all day nursing one drink, I can’t afford it now.

Our only regular income is a small weekly payment from Working Tax Credits.  (I am the main earner just now, by the way – Himself earns very little at the moment due to ill health)

Until I write a new book, one that my publisher (or another publisher) actually wants to buy, I’m ‘out of contract’, so we live on the WTC, whatever I bring in from teaching, and rapidly dwindling savings. I still receive a tiny amount of royalties, as well as few hundred pounds a year from PLR – the payments made to authors in respect of library loans of their books.

Since I became a published author in 2013, my gross income from writing, teaching, and catering, was £72k over the five years – an average of £14,400 before tax. 

Just over half of that is from writing – and I know I’m lucky!

Few people realise what a tiny percentage of book sales authors receive. I receive 59p for every book retailing at 7.99 (a bit more for e-books.)
If I sell more than 20,000 copies, it goes up to 79p.
Each 59p goes towards chipping away at the advance, and only if the book ‘earns out’ do I receive anything on top.
Most books never earn out – I’m thrilled that my first did, devastated that the third didn’t, and hopeful that the fourth will! There was no ‘fat cheque’ – never is, for the vast majority of authors, even when you’ve written a ‘bestseller’. And 15% (+VAT) of everything goes to your agent.

Back to my day. If I’m writing a blog post, I usually do that first. I write a draft, then edit thoroughly – I did a quick edit on this post last night, and have spent the whole of this morning on a second edit.

If things go smoothly, I’ll have lunch at 1.30-ish. I take about 45 minutes for lunch and eat at my desk, either faffing about – funny videos are legit at lunchtime – or watching something on iPlayer.

After lunch is when I tend to run errands, go to the library, or whatever. On days when I don’t need to go out, I walk around the block – I have long-term back problems and sitting at a desk all day is a killer. Some days, I take a nap. I’m a huge fan of ‘controlled recovery periods’ as recommended by Nick Littlehales in his book on sleep. Fortunately, my office doubles as a guest room, so I have a handy sofabed to curl up on for 20 minutes.

By now, you’re probably wondering when this novelist ever works on a novel. How I’d love to say I go straight to my desk each morning and write until three in the afternoon, but who has time for that if you’re not Lee Childs or JK Rowling? If I don’t do the other stuff, we don’t eat!

I’m currently at the planning stage with a new novel, so I look at a time commitment rather than a word count, usually a minimum of two hours trying to move the outline forward. I’m not a natural planner, but I promised my agent I’d at least try to plan a bit more.
Once I start the first draft, I aim for 1000-1500 words a day, but I don’t allow myself to go to bed unless I’ve written 300. I may end up deleting them all, but the point is that it keeps the story in my head.

If it’s going well, I’ll carry on until 7pm or 8pm, but three or four times a week, I’ll knock off at 6.30 and walk over to the local M&S Food.
Hot tip: the final reductions – about an hour before they close – are amazing.
Last night, I got two loaves of bread for 15p each, a cheese and onion sandwich (today’s lunch) for 20p and a whole chicken for 1.25. I do my main shopping in Aldi (I love Aldi) but I rely heavily on M&S reductions.

We usually eat at about 8pm. I cook from scratch (unless there’s a bargain M&S ready meal!) as cheaply as possible. Fortunately, I love cooking. We eat lots of lentil or bean dhals, pasta with tomato-based sauces, quorn curries, and mushroom or butternut squash risottos. I still drink wine at home three – oh, all right, five or six – nights a week. I justify that by only very rarely going out for drinks.

If I have a critique to do or a submission from one of my mentees, I’ll do my reading and preliminary notes after dinner. If not, I’ll watch a bit of telly with Himself before bed.

Obviously my day varies according to what’s happening. For example, I’ll be promoting Cornelia Blackwood leading up to publication. It stands a good chance of doing well, it seems, so I’ll be shamelessly urging people to pre-order in paperback (apparently e-books don’t count for the bestseller lists).

Or things can go wrong – like when my PC started playing silly buggers and turning itself off – I lost hours. And last week I lost an entire morning trying to sort out a problem with a Facebook ad. Trying to contact the Facebook team is like trying to communicate with Martians! Anyway, it varies, but this post should give you the overall feel of a typical day.

So that’s me – luckier than most, but still skint despite a 50-hour week.

Thanks again, Anne, and I can’t wait to read the other posts in this series!

About Susan -from www.susanelliottwright.co.uk

Although I’ve been living happily in the North for twelve years, I was born in South East London. I left school at 16 and married unwisely at 18. At the age of 30 I took my two children, left my unhappy life and started again, reinventing myself with an education and a new surname, which I chose by drawing up a shortlist from the telephone directory and sending off for brochures so I’d receive mail in those names. I settled on Elliot; Susan Elliot sounded like ‘me’. Soon after changing my name, I met Mr Right, or in this case, Mr Wright. Within a few weeks, we decided to marry (although it took a couple of years to get round to it). We became the Elliot-Wrights, but we’ve dropped the hyphen now.
For most of my life, I’ve managed to avoid a full-time ‘proper job’, although after leaving school I did put in five years as a civil servant – talk about a misspent youth! Since then, I’ve been a cleaner, barmaid, washer-up, market researcher, cake decorator, FE English tutor, chef, freelance journalist, features editor, non-fiction author and creative writing tutor.
Now, as a novelist, I’m doing my dream job, but if I wasn’t an author, I’d be a chef. There’s a wonderful camaraderie in a commercial kitchen, and cooking with other people can be great fun, but professional cooking is hugely physically demanding and sadly, I no longer have the stamina. I loved cooking professionally, and I still miss it, though I remain passionate about cooking at home.
I now live in Sheffield with my husband. I have two grown-up children and a smattering of grandchildren.
I’m the author of three published novels and I’m currently hard at work on my fourth. 

Twitter @sewelliott
Author page on Facebook

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