Writing is a journey, both imaginary and physical. My first book took me to the Arctic to 'catch the colours' of the Northern Lights. Then I hunkered down to catch the wind-blown voices of polar explorers on Shackleton's 1914-17 Endurance expedition. More recently I'm obsessed by space: the race, the rockets, the final frontier.

Hear a BBC Radio Leicester interview about my space poetry at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03wfpyp
Explore my digital narrrative PHILAE'S BOOK OF HOURS, published by the European Space Agency, at:

My prose-poetry collections FIREBRIDGE TO SKYSHORE
and MAD, HOPELESS & POSSIBLE are both published by Original Plus Press at:

Contact me for signed copies or bookings at:

Visit the writers' development service I co-run at: https://www.facebook.com/TheWritersShed/

About Me

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Leicester, East Midlands
As a storyteller, my work crosses boundaries of myth, science, history and spoken word. It has been presented in the British Science Museum, Ledbury Poetry Festival, National Space Centre and the European Space Agency website. In 2014 I ran a digital residency on WW1 for 14-18NOW and Writing East Midlands. I teach Creative Writing at De Montfort University and have experience of leading school events, workshop tuition and mentoring. In addition, I co-run The Writers' Shed, a service for writers, at: https://www.facebook.com/TheWritersShed/

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

But How do You Make Money?

  • Is a writer someone who publishes books? - or someone who works with story and words to help a community explore its identity?
  • Can an author's on-line writing become more important than their actual books?
  • could self-publishing - maybe to a niche audiences - play a vital part in building careers of new writers?
These were just some of the questions we tossed around in Damien Walter' fascinating talk, The Entrepreneurial Writer, offered as part of the Writing School's series on New Ways with Writing. Walter is a writer himself - of Weird & Speculative fiction - as well as a Literature Development worker and a professional blogger for The Guardian. So well placed to discuss some emerging trends in the writing economy.

With 1300 Creative Writing graduates emerging every year in the UK - and a similar no. of manuscripts appearing on the slush pile of one publishing house in that time - it may be time to review what exactly does a writer do? One answer could lie in the realm of Social Literature - where writing is about social outcomes rather than producing books. Damien gave us the e.g. of the US best-selling author Dave Eggers who in 2002 founded the 826 Valencia project in San Francisco to raise literacy amongst the Mexican population there. So a writer with a social conscience - but this also helped build his own career and profile. The same can be seen locally with poets like Lydia Towsey and Rob Gee, involved in Bright Sparks and WORD events.

Damien went to to look at the traditional divide between commercial literature and arts-subsidised literature. He told a wonderful story of the best-selling sci-fi author Neal Stephenson attending a writer's convention where another author asked him:
'So where do you teach?'
'I don't teach anywhere.'
(Pause) 'Yes, but what else do you do?'
'I'm ... a writer.'
'Yes, but - what do you DO? How do you make money?'

And so it went on. But Walter suggested that this 'never the twain shall meet' barrier was breaking down. He cited the e.g. of Graham Joyce, a highly successful fantasy author, currently writing screenplays as well as the script for the Doom 4 computer game, yet also lecturing in Creative Writing at Nottingham Trent University and winning literary fiction prizes. Walter believes the traditional market for genre fiction is collapsing with readers demanding more originality and literary technique. Commercial publishers are seeking out graduates of Creative Writing courses and universities are looking for successful commercial authors to staff their courses. Other means of authors making an income may lie with offering workshops or performances.

We turned to the advantages the new social media present for writers. Walter thought this media was changing the writer's role dramatically. It's now possible for authors or poets to go directly to an audience interested in your subject. The best-selling author Neil Gaiman - what is it with these Neil/ Neals? - has 1.5 million followers on Twitter. The 5 nominees for the Hugo Awards this year all had a huge blog following and arguably, their on-line writing is now a much bigger part of their role as writers than producing fiction. But it also sells books to a loyal and enthusiastic audience. Which led us on to the potential for new writers to find a niche audience to self-publish to, breaking ground perhaps before mainstream publishers think about taking them on.

Is that where the future-present of new media is taking us? Who knows? But this course of seminars for writers has given us a chance to take stock of an industry in the throes of enormous change. And like all change, while some time-honoured structures come tumbling down, other opportunities emerge. The The Entrepreneurial Writer, according to Walter, is looking out for these, whilst also opening up to the wider question of what are writers actually for?

See my blogs on the previous talks:


  1. Trying to answer the question 'What are writers actually for?' makes me feel uncomfortable. It makes me dwell on the more selfish aspects of the writer's life. I write because I want to, because I need to, because there are lots of thoughts rolling round my head that I have to commit to paper/computer screen. When I make a bit of money along the way then I see that as a bonus.

  2. Well, all of those things are true. And it's also the case that writers want to make a living and pay the bills - so the question of some payment becomes perplexing. Unless you work FT elsewhere and squeeze writing into the margins. Which is a strategy. But Damien's talk was also about working as writers within community projects and how rewarding that can be at all levels.

  3. Thanks for posting that - a very useful summary.