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14 reasons why you shouldn't dream of being a full-time author by Chas Newkey-Burden

All work and no play makes Jack psychotic: 
Jack Nicholson in The Shining (1980) Photo: Warner Bros
This week, a YouGov poll found that people in Britain would prefer to be an author than have any other job. Of 15,000 people surveyed, each of whom were offered a variety of 'dream careers', 60 per cent said they would like to be an author.
In comparison, only 31 per cent said they'd like to be a Hollywood film star, 41 per cent opted for interior designer and 29 per cent wanted to be a chef.
I’ve been a full-time author for the last nine years, writing dozens of books on sport, celebrity, politics and dogs. And let me tell you, it doesn't always feel like a dream career to me. Let me explain why.
1. The money ain’t what you think it is
When you dream of being an author, you probably imagine the million-pound advances commanded by the big hitters. But what does an average author get? The Authors’ Licensing & Collection Society said the average annual income for a professional author in 2013 was just £11,000 – which is £5,000 below the level of income regarded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation as the minimum required for a socially acceptable standard of living.
2. The isolation and interruptions
To be an author, said Martin Amis, “you have to have a huge appetite for solitude”. But how many of us really do? Like a lot of authors, I find myself resenting my isolation but then snapping like a territorial Doberman the moment anyone dares interrupt it.
3. You’re impossible to please
If you can’t see your book in a shop, you’ll be disappointed they aren’t stocking it. If you can see your book in a shop you’ll be disappointed they aren’t shifting it. Even when my biography of Simon Cowell reached number two in the WH Smith chart and they stuck huge posters of it in their windows, I stood there thinking: “But the sticker on the jacket is covering up my name – and why isn't it number one?”
Chas Newkey-Burden basks in the glory
4. People bother you with their ideas
“Hi Chas, you remember me - we met for two minutes at a party last summer. So, I’ve written a sort of semi-autobiographical novel about a dog called Jessie who is overlooked by this cruel, jealous world. But then she goes travelling for a year and everything changes. It’s sort of a kids’ book, but I like to think it would appeal to all ages, really. I’ve spent the last eight years trying to get it published – to no avail. Anyway, I’ve taken the liberty of attaching the manuscript to this email. Could you take a look and help me find Jessie a home? Best wishes, Jessie.”
5. Everyone’s a writer nowadays
If you’re older than 35 you grew up in an era when wordsmiths were rare creatures, held in awe. But thanks to e-books, blogs and self-publishing, everyone is a ‘writer’ now. You may think you’re a pro, but you’ll end up being lumped in with amateur and part-time writers, meaning you’ll be expected to do ancillary work for free to “get your name out there”.
6. There’s no ‘team’ in ‘I’
As an author, you’re on your own. That means there’s no office underling to delegate or pass the buck to.
7. Reviews
Whether a review is scathing, fawning or lukewarm, you’ll become convinced that the critic didn’t read your book properly. Your family, friends and pet will learn to listen politely as you rail on and on and on about this. (But lucky you for getting a write-up of any kind – nearly all books are ignored.)
8. People say annoying things
When you meet people and they find out you’re an author you face a familiar range of irritating comments and questions. People will mock your vocation:
“But isn’t that more of a hobby? What’s your real job?” They will try and diminish you: “Written a bestseller yet?” If, like me, you have, they’ll simply up the stakes: “Oh… won a Booker prize yet, have we?”
9. You have to sort out your tax
You people with your cosy office jobs have no idea how much us authors crave a monthly payslip, with all the tax and National Insurance already deducted. As my treasured accountant tells me, it is the authors among his client list who are least adept at managing their own affairs. Beware the ides of March? No - beware the slides of January.
10. The dreaded ‘nul points’
You also have no pension or steady income. You never know if your next royalty statement will bring good news, which boosts both your bank account and creative self-esteem, or the fingernail-gnawing ‘nul points’.
11. The truth about book launches
You think your book will be launched at a glittering, star-studded bash, don’t you? Bragg, Rowling and Rushdie will smile fondly as you arrive to fawning applause and flashing cameras. The truth is that most books don’t have launch parties. As for in-store signings, I’ll always remember when the then-manager of my local Waterstones branch approached me on the high street, begging me to come in and buy a book from the household name who was doing a signing session. “It’s so embarrassing,” he whispered, “she’s been sitting there for an hour and no one has even talked to her yet.”
12. Your book will never be the right one
If you write non-fiction books, someone will ask you why you don’t write a “proper book”, like a novel. If you write fiction, someone will ask you why you don’t write a “proper book”, like an academic or history title.
13. You’re inside… yet outside
You are, simultaneously, at the centre of your career and staring in at it from the outside. You write what you want to write and it’s your name printed on the cover of your book. Your publisher may even run an author photo of you touching your chin and looking all highbrow. But on the other hand, you are very much outside the process as well: you don’t go to the sales or marketing meetings, and oodles of significant decisions are made without you.
14. You may go nuts – or die
It’s not always easy completing a book. A novelist friend of mine became so convinced that she was the ghostly heroine of the horror story she was writing that she had a nervous breakdown. French writer Honoré de Balzac needed industrial levels of caffeine to get his writing done. He would neck up to 50 cups of coffee a day and eventually died of caffeine poisoning at the age of 51.


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