A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
People are often quite surprised when I tell them that I have a non-writing job. They’re even more shocked when I explain that it’s all day, five days a week – I’m a full-time not-author, and that means I have to squeeze my writing into mornings, evenings and weekends. When all of the recent surveys indicate that being an author is a less and less lucrative profession, it shouldn’t be strange that many writers have more than one string to their bow – but there’s still a big gap between the popular image of an author life and the more usual reality, so I think it’s important for those authors who do have other jobs to talk about how they manage.
Just as every author writes differently, every author runs their professional life in a different way. As far as I’m concerned, I have two jobs. I am an author for Penguin Random House (you know all about that already), and I am also an assistant editor at Egmont. Assistant editor basically means that I’m an editor in training – I don’t buy new books, and I don’t really do much structural editing yet (that means getting involved with the flow of a story, at the early stages), but I do get to help manage ongoing projects, give editorial input to editors when they ask for it, read submissions as they come in and copyedit and proofread a lot of our titles.
It’s an amazing job and I am so proud that I get to do it – I’m very lucky in that my day job is just as enjoyable as my writing. I don’t want to choose between them, and I hope I never have to. I think I’m in a particularly lucky position, actually – instead of fighting against each other, the work I do for one of my jobs often feeds into the other.
Helping to publish books at work gives me a very good understanding of the stages that my own books have to go through, and of what each department at Penguin Random House is doing behind the scenes to create and sell them. I have first-hand experience of author care from the Egmont’s side, and so I can respond to author requests from my own publisher in a much more intelligent way. And as someone who works in an editorial department, having been edited myself helps me be able to see how books might be shaped to make their stories flow. Conversely, I also know how anxious authors can get when they feel that the editorial process isn’t working for them, and how important it is for the editor to be open to hearing their concerns.
Of course, there are inevitably problems with my situation. I do always feel slightly like I am trying to be two people (with two people’s worth of admin), and my worlds often collide very bizarrely (such as when my books are mentioned in meetings as competitor titles to our own). I’ve got logistical challenges too: as an author, I have to be incredibly selective about the school visits that I do, and I can’t do as much travelling around the country to events as I’d like because come Monday morning I need to be back at my desk. And any editorial job is very open-ended – you have to be ready and willing to read submissions outside of work hours or to carry on with projects on evenings and weekends to make sure that you meet crucial deadlines. I can’t ever quite switch off, and so I need to be incredibly disciplined to make sure that I give both of my jobs the time they need.
But ultimately I love the buzz my two jobs give me. If I didn’t have either of them I think I’d probably end up like Matilda, sitting at home and moving objects with my mind out of sheer boredom. I’m probably a bit weird, but all I know is that my situation works for me, and all I can suggest for other people trying to work out how to balance their own writing lives is that you need to find what works for you, whatever it is. These days, if you want to be an author, I’m pretty sure that there’s no such thing as normal.