Not investing in your career (Mistake #17)

I want to say upfront that in my experience British people are not cheap. They are quite happy to spend money on holidays, on home improvements, on clothes, on gadgets, on cars, on … pretty much anything. And they don’t only treat themselves. Brits are notoriously generous when it comes to, say, Christmas gifts and giving to charities and fundraisers. Furthermore, although I’m not a widely travelled man, I have been around Europe a bit, and in my experience it is in Britain where you’re most likely to have a drink bought for you at the bar by a friend of a friend or someone you’ve only just met. So far, so uncheap.

So, what I can’t help wondering is this: why are some writers so tight on themselves when it comes to their careers?

Because, I’m afraid, some really are. “Magazines are so expensive” is a moan I’ve heard a little too often. No, they’re really not expensive. Magazines are very cheap. Most magazines, even glossies, fall between £2 and £4. Yours magazine is £1. Chat is 80p. That’s Life! is 68p. Newspapers are often as cheap, if not cheaper.

Writers: these are your markets. You have to load up on them and familiarise yourself with them. Something I often advise students to do is to take £10 into a newsagent and spend it on a mix of publications. Most of us wouldn’t think twice of spending even double that amount at a bar on a round of drinks for friends – so why baulk at doing likewise at WHSmith for the good of your writing ambitions?

It doesn’t stop at magazines. Books, too, are often not deemed worthy of spending a tenner on. Something like The Writer’s Handbook (review here) is a very useful tome, which will give you change from £15 (albeit only 1p). You’ll consult it hundreds of times over the year and beyond. Look upon it as a few pennies for each referral. Worth it? Yes, worth it.

Critiques, too. I’m often surprised at how few new writers invest in a good appraisal of their work from an experienced writer. It’s possibly more applicable to budding novelists and poets, but non-fiction writers who don’t feel they are making progress with their work would do well to consider the option. It’s not expensive. I’d be unlikely to charge you more than £20 per 1,000 words. Again, a round in the pub.

To be clear, I’m not saying go out and spend casually and thoughtlessly. Think about the research you need to do and markets you should explore. And if you’re really skint, there are economical options. You can ask friends and neighbours for copies of magazines they’re throwing out. Charity shops will have useful reference books. There’s no greater dampener of creativity than being on the breadline and worrying about your income, I know. I have been there several times during the last fifteen years, and it’s a horrid place to be – rooting around for stuff to sell on eBay, checking up forgotten Premium Bond numbers, hands groping down the back of the sofa… Not much fun. And if that’s you, then do get yourself financially sorted a bit before you invest in your writing.

But if it’s not, and you have a few notes in your wallet or purse, then do go out and spend them. It will be worth it.

Comments 8

  • As a relatively new writer I invested recently in some short story critiques and I consider the expenditure worth every penny. The editorial help has improved my confidence as well as my writing.

  • Too right, Alex. Magazines are cheap and if students need any more of an incentive, for writers they're a tax-deductible expense too! No excuses.

  • Good point, Simon.
    Really good you had a positive experience, Christine – I suspect quite a few people don't, though, and hearing about these may put them off. And yet a good useful critique can flag up issues you'd never even considered, and really move you up a level quite swiftly…

  • And then there's the library… Free!

  • Nan Sheppard is so right! The library in my main county town has several magazines on subscription, which means that not only can you look through the current copy, but you can also read the previous two or three issues too, enabling you to pick up trends over several issues.

  • I've just written it on my blog, but I'll say it here too: I've found that asking friends and family to pass on magazines is really helpful. Especially things like trade publications, which aren't always easy to locate at first. We often don't realise how many contacts we have.

    Thanks for commenting…I just read your post and looked very sincere and interested I promise!

  • Garage/yard sales always have a ton of magazines being offered cheap and if you go on the last day of sale or end of the day many are willing to just give them away.

  • […] There’s a lot of ‘no serious writer should be without it’ talk that comes with books like the WH and the WAYB, but I know lots of proper writers who’ve never heard of either book, let alone seen them, so they’re not essential. But I do think, if you’re a new or newish writer, you should absolutely buy it – if only for reasons I gave in my previous Mistake. […]

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