How to make a living as a historical novelist

There is an old joke that goes: How do you make a million dollars in the restaurant business? Start with two million . . . and wait. And the same wisdom might be applied to the author’s trade. It is very hard to make a living writing historical novels – or any kind of book. I’m not talking about bestselling household names here – your Bernard Cornwalls or your Philippa Gregorys. But some of us ordinary, mid-list histfic scribes do manage to make ends meet without having to have a “real” job. To find out how, read on . . .

Show me the money!

A survey by the ALCS, the Authors’ Licensing and Collection Society, an outfit that collects fees from the secondary use of author’s works, suggests that things are dire for those of us who try to make a living from our writing. In 2006, the median income for authors in the UK was £12,330 per annum; in 2022, the median income had fallen to £7,000 a year. This is a drop income for authors of 33%, and, when you adjust for inflation, it is a fall of 60%. How would you feel if you had to do the same amount of work but were only being paid two fifths of the money for it? No wonder so many authors are throwing in the towel and looking for alternative employment. Some commentators have suggested that being an author will soon become a profession just for rich people. But I don’t think so. I think you can make a living as a historical novelist, and I’m living proof that you can keep the lights on without having millions in the bank.

I am the author of 17 novels to date, some of which make money for me, and some of which don’t. But I have more than enough income coming in from the ones that were successful to pay the mortgage. The most recent series of mine – the Fire Born series (below) – seems, touch wood, to be selling well at the moment, and if you are fan of Viking adventure stories I suggest you check out The Last Berserker. But if you are writing your first historical novel, or you only have two or three books out and are wondering when the real money is going to start flowing, I can probably give you some very helpful suggestions.

The reason I’m writing this blog is because I have been asked by The History Quill to take part in a virtual convention in the first week in February 2023 and contribute to a distinguished panel of writers including Denny S Bryce and Kim Taylor Blakemore entitled “How to make a living as a historical novelist”. We will be discussing how you can survive, and even thrive, in today’s challenging book market, and giving our tips and tricks, stratagems and solid advice on getting your historical novels to put money in your pocket.

If you want to attend the convention, follow this link to The History Quill site and buy a ticket (and I must tell you now that I will be getting a small percentage of the ticket price). My panel takes place on Day 2 of the convention (Thursday 2nd February, 2023) and lasts for 90 minutes. It will be live between 20.30 and 22.00 GMT (8.30pm to 10pm) and for our US friends, between 15.30 and 17.00 EST. The entire event will also be recorded so that, if those times don’t suit you, you can watch our discussions at your leisure.

So if you want to hear me reveal my secrets about how to make money as a historical novelist, or ask me or the other panelists any questions about the business aspect of writing for a living, sign up now to the History Quill Writers’ Convention, and join me and my two colleagues on Day 2 (02/02/23, at 8.30pm) in the section called Money and Mindset: How to succeed as a historical novelist.

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