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Is it worth writing a novel?

As a copywriter, I’m sometimes asked if I’m only doing it to make a bit of money while I write My Great Novel. All copywriters have a novel in them, don’t they?

Well, the likes of Fay Wheldon,  Dorothy L Sayers and Salman Rushdie certainly did. Although when he got hit with a fatwah, I wonder whether old Salman ever wished in his darker moments that he’d stuck to selling cream cakes. But they’ve all made money at it. (Intriguingly, Fay Wheldon actually wrote a novel a few years ago incorporating ideas / name-checks from a jewellery firm – for a tidy sum, of course. There was quite an uproar about it.)

But back to the present, I think people have to be seriously nuts to write a novel. Or seriously driven, which amounts to much the same thing. People talk about being compelled to write – and of practically sweating blood as they do so – but still slaving away at it.

To be fair, there is a copywriter I personally know who successfully writes novels nowadays: Goran Powell. And he’s clearly good at it, writing them about a subject he knows and loves, martial arts. But even he has to stick at the copywriting day job to pay the bills.

Now, I’ve sweated a bit over deadlines at times. I’ve gnashed my teeth when stuck for an idea or an opening line or infuriated by an account person or client. I enjoy writing a lot of the time. But the only thing that absolutely compels me to do it is the family to support, the mortgage to pay and whatever costly leisure pursuits that I can fit in.

Financially speaking, writing a book nowadays is pretty much a non starter. For every Salman Rushdie (or JK Rowling) there are thousands of impoverished writers. Even fairly well known novelists rarely make much money. The internet and people prepared to write for peanuts or less mean that lucrative review pieces and suchlike no longer exist.

One acquaintance of mine, a successful ex-BBC man and author of a dozen published books is really struggling. I was also contacted a couple of months ago by another successful author. He’d written several popular history books, ghost-written autobiographies and so forth. But he was finding it hard to make ends meet, and wanted to get into copywriting.

So if you’re a decent writer,  my advice is to stick to the kinds of writing that you know will pay. Ads, websites, SEO copywriting, brochures and the like.  Unless you really, really want to write creatively purely on your own terms, and aren’t bothered about making any real money.

For more details on my copywriting services, please call +44 (0)7767 687524.


UPDATE, February 2023. To anyone who happens to see this post after all this time, I’ve only, erm, gone and written a novel. Or rather a book of short stories. Why? A mix of sudden inspiration, opportunity and perhaps the realisation that I should at least give it a go. Publication date is 31st October 2023. But whether I make any money at it, remains to be seen.



  • Chris Worth says:

    I write the odd novel ( but certainly not for the cash – apparently 96% of published novels sell fewer than 50 copies, which at least puts me in the top 4%! Why?

    First, just for fun. Copywriting’s an up-and-down profession and I wanted something to do in to the off hours. Second, it led to a new skill – becoming much better at long-format stuff, leading to an upcoming nonfiction I couldn’t have written before. (See 100 Days, 100 Grand. So writing novels, for me, is a bit like cross-training…. a bit off-kilter from what you do normally, but there’s a reason for it.

    • Peter says:

      Fair enough, thanks Chris. A good point about it adding to your long copy skills. And I’m glad you’re in the top percentage – that’s a heck of a statistic.

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