How To Make A Living From Writing
After spending years in the business world, Michael Forester decided to change paths and become an author. Now, with several books published, we catch up to gain some insights into how to make a living from writing.
1. Tell us a bit about your writing journey. Have you always written and when did you first begin to realise you could make a living from writing?
I started by writing for business. My first published work, an article in a business magazine, appeared in 1984 (ominous, that, when you realise I’ve just released A Home For Other Gods, which has already been described as a sequel to Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four). After 18 months I had had enough of articles and wanted to write a book.
That book, Going For Growth, was a guide to corporate strategy for small companies, and was published in 1987, giving me an opportunity to found my own management consultancy practice in 1988. So I guess you could say that right from the beginning I have made my living, if not from writing, then from activities supporting writing.
2. What do you like to write about?
I discovered a progressive hearing loss in 1989 that made it increasingly difficult for me to function in the business world. I knew I’d eventually take an alternative route forward. Then, in the Millennium year came my spiritual awakening – an internal explosion that totally changed the direction of my life. These two events together defined the path I was to take, and increasingly came to be the focus of my writing.
“I write at the fulcrum of perceived reality.”
A new direction
I therefore made the conscious decision to cease writing for business and allowed my previous books to go out of print. Business is no longer part of who I am. Instead, my work is far more creative and it’s great to be able to make a living from writing. It can be life writing, such as my book If It Wasn’t For That Dog, that tells the story of my first year with my Hearing Dog, Matt.
It can be poetry – I have released four poetry chap books: Light, Love, Peace, and Forest Meditation that are available exclusively from my website. Or it can also be fiction, such as my short story collection, The Goblin Child. Or mind-body-spirit, such as my first collection of spiritual essays and verse, Forest Rain, that seems to have no directly comparable work on the market. The nearest are from authors like Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist or Erckhart Kohl’s The Power Of Now.
Then there is Dragonsong, a fantasy novel in rhyming verse. People are intrigued by Dragonsong, because again, there’s nothing really directly comparable to it in the market. Sometimes folk are wary because they think they don’t like poetry, but those that take the plunge and read it tell me that the poetic structure carries them through the book as if they were on a galloping horse.
These days I tend to say I write at the fulcrum of perceived reality. Sometimes the see-saw tips one way, and what emerges is factual, often spiritually focussed, poetry or prose. At other times, the see-saw falls the other way and I write metaphorical fiction, where the storyline is powerful enough in itself to hold a reader’s focus but is also underpinned by a deeper meaning.
Making a living from writing: finding motivation
3. You talk a lot about the Shadow Man who helps you find inspiration for your books. With around thirteen titles listed on your website, could you let us know about this writing process and means of motivation?
The Shadow Man, yes. His name is Komar. He is explained in depth in Forest Rain.
Where is the boundary of the individual identity? When we learn to draw on the well of the unconscious, do we draw from ourselves or Carl Jung’s shadow archetypes of the collective unconscious? In my experience, the boundaries are far more fluid than most of us would hold them to be.
In regards to the writing process, it can be varied. I wrote Dragonsong in three months directly from the unconscious. And Forest Rain, though it took around two years, came about in much the same way. There were times (quite often at 2am) when I would sit with my fingers hovering over the keyboard and the concepts would flow at breakneck speed, making it difficult for me to keep up as I translated them into words.
“The biggest obstacle in the beginning was self-belief”
At other times, the production of a first draft is more methodical. If It Wasn’t For That Dog is about my first year with my hearing dog, Matt. I wrote it over the first year, which I believe lends the text an immediacy that would not have been achieved if I had written it retrospectively.
Motivation is a whole different issue! I think virtually all writers procrastinate and I must be the high priest of procrastination! When learning the craft of writing, one is advised to write something every day. I’m sure that works for some people, but unfortunately it doesn’t for me. I can go for long periods writing little. Then when a book takes hold I have been known to work on it for up to fifteen hours straight until the first draft is finished. There’s no one-size-fits-all in writing.
(If you need help with sustaining your motivation for writing, check out our top tips on it here.)
4. You successfully make a living from writing. But what are the biggest obstacles with creating stories?
The biggest obstacle in the beginning was self-belief. On several occasions I got to 16,000 words and gave up. The only advice I can offer is tenacity. Keep going. Even if you think what you’re writing is awful and everyone will hate it, keep going. Finish it, then judge it. We all have to rewrite. My first novel, Vicious, which will appear in 2018 went through six drafts. Its sequel, Too (scheduled to appear in 2019), went to eight drafts. I’ve just started on the third volume of the trilogy (working title Deus). Who knows how many drafts this one will go through?
“My books sell primarily because I engage with readers and potential readers.”
When you finish a book you get a rush of elation. Enjoy it, because the work is only just the beginning. Getting the book into physical format (or, indeed, electronic) and into the hands of those who want to read it (even if they don’t know they want to read it) is an even bigger challenge.
To make a living from writing, and self-publishing, you need to find sales channels. Or, as I refer to them, ‘market conduits’ – methods of getting books into the hands of potential readers. And that depends very much on the book and the author. For some, Kindle and Amazon are the solution. For me it is not. My books sell primarily because I engage with readers and potential readers. That engagement can be through social media or physical (bookshop signing). But what works for me will not work for someone else. You’re the horse, you need to find the right course!
Make a living from writing: marketing essentials
5. What tips can you offer to people looking to self-publish in terms of marketing their books and getting it into the readers’ hands?
Things that haven’t been successful for me include:
- Paid for reviews (even when they’re legitimate, as in the reviewer gets to say what they want despite being paid – and I certainly wouldn’t contemplate any other kind).
- Literary PR
- The Kindle KDP programme whereby you can make your book free on certain days for publicity purposes. You see lots of copies go out on those days, but I know no one who has sustained that into sales.
- Amazon – in any way, shape, or form. Yes, I know that will be a surprising comment to most people. But in my experience the margin Amazon allows to the author in effect leaves that author with vuirtually no return, unless your books sell by the ten thousand. Perhaps that will happen for me and I will think more positively about Amazon as a result but it hasn’t happened yet. So, I largely eschew Amazon and have found other routes forward.
Things that have been successful include:
- Bookshop signings
- Social media activity. I have prominent Facebook (Michael Forester Author) and Twitter (@authorforester) profiles. These link to my website and build a mailing list as a result. If you visit the site you will be offered a free short story, Piper, in exchange for joining the mailing list. People absolutely love Piper and it’s available only from the website when you register for the mailing list.
- My blog
- Video activity on social media in particular. For example, last Christmas I issued a video of me reading a completely new story, Lamplighter. It received over 2,000 viewings and that in turn resulted in many website visits and tangible sales. If you scroll back to December 2016 you can see the stream here.
- Stage speeches followed by signings.
6. You recently went on a tour of the Philippines. What did you do when you were there and how was the experience?
It was astonishing! I was treated somewhere between a popstar and royalty. Find out more about it here. In a three week tour I spoke at 21 events including radio and TV, a 2000 seater amphitheatre, universities and schools, an international conference, in addition to signing well over 500 copies of my books. Not only was it astonishing – it was exhausting!
7. To make a living from writing, we always stress the importance of a quality product. What thought process do you put into the design of your books and how important is it to get the production right?
It’s hugely important for the book to look professional. People do not buy amateur books – and in my opinion, rightly so. That’s why I like working with TJ INK – the finished product is always a book to be proud of.
Naturally the cover is vital – both for visual impression and blurb. They need to entice the reader to open the book and look inside. That’s where the sales take place.
8. What upcoming books or events do you have that you can tell us about?
I have a book a year scheduled for 2018-2020 – a trilogy of novels under the overarching title, Maranatha. The first of these, Vicious, is billed as ‘a novel of punk rock and the second coming of Christ.’ Watch the website for further details.
The sponsoring organisation behind my Philippines tour has just invited me to speak on a similar basis at several venues on the East Coast of the USA and at another event in Ho Chi Min City. Both events are scheduled for 2018.
9. And finally, what would your desert island book be?
Can I have a pile of blank notebooks please? I’d rather be writing!
If you too would like to make a living from writing and are interested in self-publishing, get in touch today.