Making a living as a young writer

We spoke to author Alice Oseman, whose book I Was Born For This, was recently published by HarperCollins. We asked for Alice's advice to other young people trying to make it as writers.

Alice Oseman writes, "I've been a self-employed writer and artist ever since I was a teenager (not counting my brief stint as the 'salad bar girl' at Pizza Hut). I count myself phenomenally lucky that I was one of the few to escape 'graduation job panic', in which graduating university students run around trying to find vaguely interesting internships and graduate jobs. Meanwhile, I had just had my second book published and was signing a new two-book deal.

For a long time, it didn't even cross my mind that a career like this was something people could actually do, and yet here I am, age twenty-three, making a living as an author and illustrator.

When I was at school, various teachers and authority figures discouraged me from pursuing the arts, because according to them, making a living in the arts is impossible, or at least terrifically unlikely. For a while, it worked. I was persuaded not to do an illustration degree and instead chose to study English, and I felt that I for some reason needed an A-level in maths instead of what I really wanted to do, which was music. But despite their dissuasion I wrote a book, submitted it to agents, and due to a combination of determination and luck, had my first book published by HarperCollins when I was nineteen.

There are so many wonderful things about being a self-employed writer and artist. I get to do what I love - creating - every single day and I can dedicate most of my time to it. I get to share my books, comics, and drawings with a wide audience. And the best part of all? I don't have to wake up early (I'd say I'm joking, but when you've had to get up at 5:45am for school for seven years, not having to set a morning alarm feels like divine intervention).

But being a self-employed author as a young person comes with a lot of challenges. Most of my author peers are older than me and often have long-term partners to support them or have stayed on at their original job while also writing books. I don't have either of those things! I put a lot of pressure on myself to keep working and creating to make sure that I can stay in this position, which often results in me overworking myself and giving myself a lot of stress.

Earning enough money to live on as an author is hard too - it turns out my teachers weren't totally lying about that. It's uncommon for authors to earn enough just from selling books to make a living wage. Income is completely irregular; there's no monthly payday like a normal job. And your career path is completely unpredictable. You never know how your next book is going to do - it could sell tens of thousands or it could flop entirely. You just don't know.

It's all worth it, though, to be able to wake up every day and create. I will never stop feeling lucky that I am able to do that.

Early on in my self-employed life I realised I needed to turn to another means of income for additional support. Fortunately, I had my other passion - digital illustration - and was already posting lots of art content online for people to view for free. A few months after launching my webcomic Heartstopper in September 2016, I set up a Patreon page for people to financially support the comic and my work. This bit of extra income has kept me going and has allowed me to keep writing books and making art without having to stress too much about my finances!

My advice to other young people trying to make it in the arts would be:

1. Have more than one string to your bow.

Don't rely on one single skill to make you money. If you're very lucky, yes, you might be able to earn a living from JUST writing books. But it's exceptionally hard and often relies a great deal on luck. So branch out! Depending on your skillset, you could offer editorial services or sensitivity reads, you could set up a Patreon, you could offer individual art or short story commissions, etc. There are a ton of things out there you could offer aside from your 'main creative thing'!

2. Get savvy about your finances.

Set up savings accounts, plan your finances, and make sure you understand tax. Everything is suddenly ten times more complicated once you're self-employed! Get some big ring-binders and plastic wallets. You'll need them.

3. Work hard.

Staying self-employed in the arts involves a lot of hard work. You have to be producing regular content and publicising your work too. Hopefully you love creating stuff, so that shouldn't be too difficult! But just because you're self-employed, don't expect to be lazing around at home all the time.

Living as a writer or artist is possible, if a little unpredictable and rather scary. I've made it work for nearly two years now, and I think, with a dash of luck, I'll be able to make it work for many more!

24/06/2018Making a living as a young writer
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