A summary of the talk I gave to a local women’s group about being an author
Last week I did something I’d never done before: entered Sopworth Village Hall! Sopworth is an idyllic little village tucked away on the edge of rural Wiltshire. A drive through its winding lanes is an estate agent’s dream. Beautiful honey-coloured Cotswold stone cottages and substantial detached houses are surrounded by flower-filled gardens, with the only background noise the sounds of nature.
I’d been invited to speak to the Sopworth Ladies’ Circle about my life as a writer because the events organiser enjoyed the regular column I write for the local monthly magazine, the Tetbury Advertiser. (Tetbury is Sopworth’s nearest town.) This magazine, run by the Tetbury Lions, does great things to unite and inform the local community. For this it was rewarded last year with the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service. I’m proud to support its work.
The Essence of My Talk
About fifteen ladies attended, a couple of them interested in writing themselves, and they all listened attentively to my three-part talk (15 minutes per part) in which I explained:
- how I came to be an author
- why I think there’s never been a better time to be an author
- my ten top tips on how to become an author
I won’t say any more about the first point, because that information is elsewhere on this blog (see personal bio and career). Instead I’ll give an abridged version of what I said about the second point, and list those 10 top tips.
Why There’s Never Been a Better Time to Be An Author
The many reasons include the greater ease of writing, editing and publishing; the wider reach of books in all their forms to potential readers around the world; and the benefits authors gain from self-publishing such as greater creative control and higher potential earnings. Here are those points in a little more detail:
- Modern technology makes it much easier to write and edit manuscripts, whether you use bog-standard software such as Word, or invest in specialist software such as Scrivener (a fancy word-processing system developed especially for authors, complete with virtual corkboard for plotting) or Dragon (highly accurate voice recognition software that enables you to write much faster, no matter how high your typing speed).
- Technogical advances and trends also make it possible for authors to upload their books to publishing and distribution platforms such as Amazon, which means that authors can, from the comfort of their own homes, publish books that are almost immediately available to buy in print and in ebook form all over the world.
- The development of sophisticated ereaders that allow for the user to choose typeface style and size makes it possible to reach those who are “print disabled” whether through conditions such as dyslexia or bad eyesight, and those who are unable to hold printed books e.g. those whose hands are weakened by rheumatoid arthritis (e.g. me).
- The new era of digital audio books is increasing reach to the blind.
- New synchronising technology that connects ebooks with audio books, enabling you pick up on audio in the car where you left off reading your ebook at home, for example, creates more reading opportunities for readers – and therefore more readers for authors.
- The easy availability of books on smartphones is opening up new markets in developing and remote countries previously unreachable by print or where print books are beyond the financial or practical reach of most people
- The rise of modern self-publishing as a viable alternative liberates the would-be author from dependence on previously essential third parties – agents and big publishing houses.
- Self-publishing allows authors to retain creative control rather than having their views overruled by publishers’ marketeers.
- It also allows authors to make much more money per book sold – typically 70p in the £ of the cover price for an ebook, compared to 5p for trade-published books.
- Reading is still a very popular hobby, with all the debates about ebooks and ereaders having fuelled new conversations about reading, rather than killing book sales.
- Bookshops are thriving, despite some closures, with new bookshops becoming more dynamic and exciting places to be – real community centres buzzing with events, activities and coffee shops, rather than just being places to buy books.
- National programmes and charities continue to promote reading as a desirable activity to the general public, e.g. World Book Day, World Book Night, Readathon.
- The general public are hungry to meet authors in real life, even those they’ve never heard of – hence the growing popularity of small local festivals such as the free Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival (run by me!)
- There is a hugely supportive and generous community of self-published authors which anyone may join to help them take advantage of all these opportunities – the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), of which I’m proud to be a part. (I’m Commissioning Editor of ALLi’s Author Advice Centre blog.)
Just Two Disadvantages
Of course, it’s not all good news. There are two key disadvantages:
- as a self-published author, you assume all the responsibilities of a publishing house, including production and marketing (but don’t worry, it’s best practice to delegate to freelance experts or specialist services for aspects that you don’t have the skills to do yourself e.g. cover design – and no-one should ever attempt to do their own proofreading!)
- with it now being so much easier to publish your own books – and it’s that fact of publishing your books that turns you from being a mere writer into an actual author – more people are doing it, which means you have much more competition in the market
10 Top Tips on Becoming an Author
If those two factors don’t deter you from entering the fray, here are my ten top tips to help you achieve your writing ambitions.
- Establish regular writing habits, ringfencing realistic timeslots to suit your life e.g. get up earlier, go to bed later, scribble in your lunch hour.
- Aim to write a set number of words every day – it doesn’t have to be huge, but a single daily page will add up to a substantial novel over a year.
- Don’t wait for the muse to strike – just allow your brain free rein, writing whatever comes into your head or to specific prompts (e.g. imagine a back story to a newspaper article, or turn the radio on at random and write about the first thing you hear). You’ll soon realise you have got plenty of ideas and inspiration after all.
- Join encouraging groups such as ALLi to reassure yourself you’re not alone and to gain moral and practical support (conversely, leave any writers’ groups that bring you down).
- Take advantage of technology to increase your productivity – Scrivener (writing software) and Dragon (speech recognition) are excellent investments of your money and the time it takes to learn to use them well.
- Expect to edit – a lot. No-one writes perfect copy first time. Rough gemstones need lots of polishing to make them shine.
- Delegate what you can’t do yourself, including different aspects of editing.
- Read good advice books about writing – whichever ones resonate with you. My favourite is Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer.
- Read widely in general – your writing will improve by osmotic or subliminal learning.
- Make a public commitment to your writing goals and they’ll seem much more real and worth striving for.
Thanks again to Sopworth Ladies’ Circle for making me so welcome. I’m hoping they will take up the invitation I gave them to attend the next free Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival next April!
I always enjoy the opportunity to talk to groups like this – invitations are always welcome via my contact page.
A full programme of my events may be found on my Events page.