The pros and cons of being a writer – Sarah Alderson

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By Sarah Alderson

Many people dream of being a writer and seeing their books on the shelves of Barnes & Noble. And believe me, the moment you get the call telling you your book has sold to a big publisher is a life-altering moment. ♥

People glamorize and fantasize about the lives of writers. Personally I like to imagine Hemingway-style excess; empty wine bottles littering the deck, the clack clack of keyboard keys, a view of the French riviera, literary shindigs where the glitterati meet and mingle and get up to all sorts of lovely mischief. And though there are shades of this (empty wine bottles, keyboard keys clacking, mischief) the reality is much less glam.

I’ve published six books with major publishers (a mix of Young Adult and New Adult) over the last four years. My story is fairy-tale like. I quit my job in London, took off on a round-the-world trip with my husband and daughter, decided to try writing a novel to finance it and landed a two-book deal instantly with Simon & Schuster (for Hunting Lila and its sequel). I live on the tropical island of Bali. From outside it’s a dream life. From inside it’s a dream life most of the time. But let’s be clear on a few things.

The pros of being a writer

1. I have the best work environment ever invented
I get to write in bed, wearing my pyjamas, eating chocolate and drinking coffee / wine all day. I wrote Losing Lila on the beach in Goa. I wrote Fated during a road trip to California. I live in BALI.

I don’t have to commute or buy work clothes. I can drink gin & tonics for brunch and people laughingly excuse it as a charming author quirk. I can get out of any social engagement by telling people I have a publishing deadline.

2. I get to travel for ‘research’
For the last eight weeks I’ve been travelling the world – all in the name of research. Being self-employed gives me so much more freedom. No more 20 days vacation a year. No more commute. No more days spent hiding my Facebook page from my boss! Now I AM the boss.

3. I inspire people to read
I regularly receive emails from fans all over the world telling me that they hated reading until they picked up one of my books and now they are addicted. If you are going to have a purpose in life then this one has to be at the top of the list.
4. My books…. on bookshelves…
It’s undeniable how awesome it is to discover your books on the shelves of Barnes & Noble and Waterstones.

5. I beat 50 Shades in the Amazon erotica category!
Needs no explanation.


1. The hours
It is glorious to be constantly travelling and living in beautiful places but I work constantly. I haven’t had a day off in 4 years. I spend at least 3 hours a day blogging, tweeting and engaging with fans even when I’m on ‘holiday’ and in ‘term time’ I work 12-hour days. Writing is work. You have to show up every day and put in the hours if you want to succeed.

2. I’m constantly worrying about money
Another fallacy is that writers are rich. The average advance nowadays is less than $5000. When you then factor in that your agent will take 15%, the taxman will take 20% and you will be paid that in installments over 12-18 months you can see why I don’t drive a Porsche.

It’s incredibly hard to make money from this game. If you want to live solely on your work as an author you better live somewhere like Bali and you had better make peace with uncertainty and instability and / or marry a millionaire (for clarity sake I am not married to a millionaire).

3. Bullying and meanness is part of the deal
99 people can give you a five-star review but it’s always the one person who writes a scathing, eviscerating review / personal take down that you remember. You will tell yourself not to read it but you will crumble and then you will curl up in a ball and cry yourself to sleep vowing never to write another word and questioning your self-worth. (If this happens then I suggest reading this post I wrote on dealing with haters).

For some reason people think that writers don’t read their reviews and that therefore it’s OK to write things they would never dream of saying to said writer’s face. This is one of the hardest parts of being a writer.

To be a writer you need the skin of a concrete rhino and to hone your impulse button.

4. The real world sometimes (actually almost always) pales
I now weigh up every invitation I receive against the following criteria: is this as interesting as staying home with my characters?
Usually the answer is no. My social life has suffered as a result.

5. Your friends and parents now know all about your sex life
People always assume you are your main character. Not a problem unless your main character has lots of hot sex. In this case people will assume you are talking autobiographically. This is extremely cringe-worthy when it’s your parents reading your book. And friends will never look at you the same way again.


Having spent most of her life in London, Sarah Alderson quit her job in the non-profit sector in 2009 and took off on a round-the-world trip with her husband and tutu-wearing daughter on a mission to find a new place to call home. After almost a year, they settled in Bali. She finished her first novel Hunting Lila just before they left the UK, wrote the sequel, Losing Lila, on the beach in India, and had signed a two-book deal with Simon & Schuster by the time they reached Bali. Since then she has published a further four novels and several short stories. As well as Young Adult fiction, Sarah writes New Adult fiction for Pan Macmillan under the pen name Mila Gray.


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  2. Vince

    January 13, 2016 at 11:43 am

    Why Bali? And do you have any suggestions on how to improve your writing other than to practice?

  3. Pertunia

    February 16, 2016 at 1:23 am

    Point no. 5 in the cons got my attention. I’m busy with my first romance novel. How have you dealt with family and friends believing you to be the character you’ve written about? Have you felt the need to explain yourself? Should one even bother explaining as they’ll believe whatever they want anyway?

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