Friday, August 20, 2010

The Write Attitude

Today we're very pleased to welcome Sue Moorcroft to the blog to discuss a matter that occupies most of our minds at one time or another if we're honest - can we actually make a living out of writing? Her own writing credentials are rock solid and the Amazon reviews for her novels (five stars, readers can't wait to buy her next book) speak for themselves. But we'll let her tell you her story herself:
I’m going to write a book about how to make a business out of writing and I’m going to call it The Write Attitude.
You probably think I’m joking – but I’m not.
The proposal and a chapter is written and I’ve talked to Accent Press about it, as they published Love Writing – How to Make Money Writing Romantic or Erotic Fiction. It just hasn’t come to the top of my ‘to do’ list. Yet.
This is because I am what I like to term ‘a working writer’. I’m not suggesting other writers don’t work (as if I would!) but I suppose I’m trying to convey that this what I do. Writing is my living. There is no day job or pension.
So these are some of the things that generate my income. I:
- novels
- short stories
- serials
- articles
- ‘how to’ books
- courses
Appraise manuscripts
Judge competitions
Lead workshops
Teach creative writing via distance learning

My major focus is my novels. I’m now with publisher Choc Lit and my current books are All That Mullarkey , Starting Over and the next will be Want to Know a Secret? in November. There are two planned for 2011, one of which is 20,000 words written.
And my major writing focus has ALWAYS been novels … it’s just that I took a long time getting here.My first paid published work was letters to the press. Don’t discount letters as a stream of income! The most I ever earnt this way is £150 for 89 words, which is about £1.68 per word. Extrapolate that into an 85,000-word novel. £148,258.42! Woohee, yes, I’ll have some of that … Maybe one day.
Around the same time I wrote two novels. They were dire. Publishers returned them without comment. When the second one had clunked onto my doormat a few times somebody gave me a ‘how to’ book about writing by the late Nancy Smith and I took to heart one piece of her advice: if you can sell about twenty short stories to national news stand magazines, a publisher of novels may take you more seriously. So I decided I would do that and I took a course, a distance-learning (then called correspondence) course. If I hadn’t earnt my fees via my writing by the end of the course, they promised, they would refund my fees.
But they didn’t refund my fees because a) I had covered my course fees three times over by the time I reached the end and b) they went bust. Whoever they owed money to, it wasn’t me!
And, aside from the actual number, Nancy Smith proved to be right, because I did, eventually, begin to sell novels – but I had sold eighty-seven short stories to national news stand magazines by then and my ‘first’ novel, Uphill All The Way (Transita, ISBN 1905175000) was really my eighth.
I do have one thing that I feel is invaluable on the journey from part-time writer to full-time writer: a husband with a regular salary. This has allowed me to write for the past 20+ years without a full-time ‘proper job’ – although I have had many part-time ‘proper jobs’ (one for him but I have wriggled out of that).
I hope I’m not letting out any trade secrets here, but not all novelists earn enough from their novels to live on. As I proved.

And I’ve never had the kind of contract that a) included large advances or b) covered more than one book, so I’ve carved out – or cobbled together – a career based on writing by being versatile and looking out for opportunities, reading newsletters, networking, attending conferences and doing all the things that make me contacts and get me contracts.
I suspect a ‘proper job’ would have been easier – but nowhere near as enjoyable!
I work ten hours a day, five or six days a week (sometimes seven) and, loosely, I work with students, appraise manuscripts and/or judge comps in the morning and I write during the afternoons.
I shoehorn in promo, accounting, emailing and research where it will fit.
And now you see why The Write Attitude hasn’t made it to the top of my ‘to do’ list yet!
(But I expect it will …)
Sue Moorcroft 17.08.2010

If you have any questions for Sue please post them into a comments box. 'Love Writing. How to Make Money writing Romantic or Erotic Fiction' is available to buy from Amazon. As Are 'All That Mullarky', 'Starting Over' and it's possible to pre-order 'Want to know a Secret'


Suzanne Ross Jones said...

Thank you so much for visiting today, Sue, and for offering this insight into your writing life. I so agree about the letters - as you say, per word they pay very well indeed. And some magazines have a very quick turnaround on readers' letters, too. I think I'm addicted to the quick fix of e-mailing something, seeing it in print less than two weeks later, and getting a cheque a month or so after that.

I wonder if I could ask about the time span of your career - I know you've been writing for over 20 years, but how long did it take from the sale of that first letter until you were able to make a decent income from your writing?

Lesley Cookman said...

Sue, you're an example to us all. And there's me moaning about MY schedule at the moment!

Maya Blake said...

Hi Sue, thank you sooo much for sharing your insight on how to break this tough market and thanks for being us with today. I have a question - what's the best way to go about writing short stories for magazines?

Anonymous said...

Hi Suzanne, nice to speak to you, here.

I suppose I've always written, right from Primary School. I'm not sure when I sold my first letters to the press - early 90s, I suspect. I know that I received my first letter from The People's Friend, buying a story, on 1 April 1996.

I worked on short stories for a long time until I was selling 15 or 20 a year and that's when I began to diversify. I wouldn't say I began making a living until 5 or 6 years ago. One of the triggers for that was my husband having an unlooked for career change that meant I had to become much more fee aware. :-) Nothing like an empty bank account to give one a kick up the bum!

My income is still not huge but I could support myself, without benefits, in a smaller house etc.

Romy Sommer said...

Thanks for your post, Sue. I keep 'Love Writing' close at hand so I can dip into it every now and then for a refresher. Thanks so much for writing it!

Thanks also for sharing a few of the trade secrets (and giving us a reality check).

If it's not too lazy of me to ask, is there a website or any online resources that can direct writers to magazines that pay for stories and articles?

Anonymous said...

Hello Maya,

Study the market. There's a great blog at with loads of information about which magazines publish fiction and take unsolicited manuscripts (look in the right hand navigation column). Once you've decided on a target, read several issues. List the adverts and regular columns and it should give you a snapshot of the reader. For example, if it advertises nappies they feel their reader is a youngish family woman. If it's stairlifts, then the core readership is more mature.

Study the fiction. Look at how many words for each story, how complex are the sentences, how long the paragraphs, how much dialogue is used, how many characters? And, most importantly, what sort of subjects do the stories cover? Most magazines are not keen on violence, sex, substance abuse etc.

Ignore any Reader's Own stories because they run under a different set of rules.

Find the magazine's guidelines on the Internet or write to the magazine with an A5 SSAE and request said guidelines.

Now - write something that will fit! You should know by now what that is. :-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Romy, thanks for buying 'Love Writing'!

The woman site I mentioned,, is great. Articles I'm not so certain of because I get my market info mainly from the Society of Women Writers' and Journalists.

Maya Blake said...

Thanks so much for that Sue! I'm off to scour the website :)

Lorraine said...

Thanks so much for being here today Sue, I'm glad I nabbed you after the Choclit talk at the conference!
I have a question - do you think it's harder to write short or long?

Anonymous said...

Hi Lorraine,

I was happy to be nabbed!

Hmm. Both short and long fiction have their challenges. To write short stories you have to come up with idea after idea after idea and then sell, sell, sell. On the other hand, if you never sell the story you've lost a lot less time and emotional investment than if it's a novel that won't sell.

Short stories are less of an emotional investment for me, definitely. When I had a bereavement I didn't think I'd be able to write novels again because short stories and non-fiction seemed easier to handle. It was in that period that I wrote Love Writing.

It's a close call but I'd probably say short is easier but long is more enjoyable and more satisfying.

And then there are serials, which are middle-sized ...

Sally Clements said...

Great interview, Sue, and thank you so much for visiting the Minxes site today. I love writing short stories too, as you say, there's less of an emotional investment, and they can also be great fun to write. I've sold into American publications, but not yet UK, for some reason. There's a lot of great info in here, and I agree that diversification is definitely the key to making money from this lark!

Kat said...

So much info in one interview - thank you Sue!
I've never tried writing short, but would love to have a go.
Looking forward to reading 'The Write Attitude' one day. :o)

Anonymous said...

I listened to someone at the Writers' Industries Conference (can't remember the name of the author but he wrote fantasy) say that having many income streams was the only way for many authors. He had made a nice wedge of dosh writing storylines for a computer game.

Thank you! :-) I look forward to writing it one day ...

Romy Sommer said...

Hmmm ... I wonder if we could start something like that. Romantic computer games aimed at discerning women who get to play on the Wii / Playstation whenever the hubby's away.

Start by picking your destination of choice, then the hero of your dreams ...

Sally Clements said...

Romy, I think M&B had a computer game... will have to check it out!