Thursday 14 June 2018
How to survive as a freelance writer with Alison Hawes
Looking back upon her twenty years as a full time writer, Alison will look at the pros and cons of working as a freelance and will be sharing her tips and dos and don’ts on making a success of this choice of career.
Alison writes fiction and non-fiction reading books for children aged 4 to 14 years. She has had over 300 titles published to date. With sales in excess of 2 million, her titles are sold world-wide. Before settling on a career as a freelance writer, Alison worked as an infant teacher, a classroom assistant, a playgroup helper, a respite carer and a literacy tutor for teenagers.
Review of the meeting
Looking back upon her twenty years as a full time writer, Alison told us about her experience of working as a freelance, earning up to £30,000 per annum.
Alison writes fiction and non-fiction reading books for children aged 4 to 14 years. She has had over 300 titles published to date. With sales in excess of 2 million, her titles are sold worldwide. Before her freelance career, Alison worked as an infant teacher, a classroom assistant, a playgroup helper, a respite carer and a literacy tutor for teenagers.
The advantage of freelance is that it is flexible and fits in with looking after children and other caring responsibilities. On the other hand there is no guaranteed income, no sick pay, no holiday pay, no pension and it can be paid erratically which makes it difficult to budget. It can take up to 18 months to get paid. Advances are paid in parts, not upfront. Royalties are paid twice a year and might be once a year. Alison would choose royalties over a fee, but now it is mostly fixed fees. Be patient with getting your writing career going. On average writers earn £12,500 per annum. Most writers need to do other paid work to supplement their income.
Alison got into writing after she had children and needed to do something for herself. She did a correspondence course - while her baby was asleep - then started sending stories out and entering competitions. After a while, she got a children’s story published and earned the grand sum of £60 - a significant sum back then. She signed up to a creative writing class, joined West Sussex Writers (a very good idea!), got together with a group of other writers and subscribed to a writing magazine. The following year she earned the grand sum of £180, won a short story competition and was placed in two West Sussex Writers competitions. Alison was still working at a playgroup. Her husband was made redundant, so she got a full time job as a classroom assistant.
But she still had the ambition to be a writer, so she wrote to all educational publishers in the Writers and Artists Year Book. Eventually she got a chance. A publisher was keen her ideas about the letters of the alphabet. She sent off her ideas then got a commission for ten little books. After three years she was earning enough to go part time then, when her daughter went to senior school, she gave up work and went full time freelance.
Be patient and find your own niche or specialism in the market. For example, she chose to specialise in short stories for adults and stuff for children. Still, be prepared to risk something new. The Style Files was her first non-fiction adventure. She has written a couple of plays and she does teacher guides, which is a departure from her niche.
You need to be determined and proactive. Make opportunities - speculate to accumulate, pay for courses and work for little pay to get your CV going. Do voluntary work as research. She did work with teenagers and found out that the level of difficulty for them was too high, so she wrote books to fill the gap. She would go to education fairs. After a bit she did a web page so people could see her. Her daughter maintains it for her. She gets plenty of work since getting her foot in the publishing door.
Alison’s Top Tips
• Be reliable and dependable, never ever miss deadlines and just have to put up with editing/changes and don’t bother editors unduly.
• Act professionally from the word ‘go’.
• Get organised. Keep proper records of what gets sent and when.
• Separate files for every project.
• Contact list.
• Hard copy of everything sent/published and back up PC.
• Keep a file of all new ideas, all rejections.
• Make a chart of all the projects.
• Keep receipts and you could become a limited company.
• Keep the editor happy by performing the service and giving them what they want. Editor always has final say. Take disappointment on the chin.
• She loves being her own boss, doesn’t wear glasses when not working so there’s no need to bother with housework.
• Know how to deal with commissions. All is confidential until in public domain.
• Read the brief several times and sort queries with the editor before you start writing.
• Don’t send in too many ideas at once – avoid Alison’s Avalanche Approach.
• Keep stuff rejected to use another time.
• File your ideas, then go to the file when you run out of steam. If not, go to the library. This is how she got the idea for the Rosy the hen story!
• She was inspired by Beowulf -anyone can take ideas from things like Aesop’s Fables.
• Keep notes of sources of information and double check everything.
• If you use graphic providers, such as Shutterstock, you must give the reference number to the editor and/or use your own photos.
• If you write articles then publishers will often take your photos to illustrate them.
• Contact experts – meet in person if possible. Send flowers/wine or treat them to lunch and always name them in the acknowledgements.
• Be careful doing on line research. Try and stick to official societies and trustworthy sources for information.
• You need to make sure it’s okay to use material – get permission.
• Get free money – join ALCS (https://www.alcs.co.uk/about-alcs) –for secondary use of your material – lifetime membership is £36. PLR reg is free, so you get about 8.2 pence per library loan.
• Make life easy, working from home. Get the best desk and chair and maybe an adjustable footrest. Take a break now and then. When ultra busy – slow cooker and answer phone are your best friends. You don’t need to answer the phone when you’re busy.
Thanks to Alison we still had some delicious cakes. Cherry helped out, so thanks to her. After the break, we had an open mic session, limited to five minutes per person.
• Philip read the prologue to his novel to set the scene for future readings.
• Paul read more of chapter 4 of the Jack D series.
• Roger’s piece included a gas station and a free boat in Antigua
• Terry read an extract from one of his fascinating Singapore stories.
• Rose read an amusing piece about the trials of gardening - Bindweed Time.
• Sally read a ‘goal posts’ poem - she was thinking how short life is.
• Big fat bee poem
• Paul read Big Boys Don’t Cry, poem about a toddler meeting Dumbo.
• Lyn read a touching poem about Grenfell, on the anniversary of the fire.
• Liz read Our Mum, a poem that she read at her mother’s funeral recently.