The Tax Man Cometh

I was recently chatting to my accountant about my tax returns, as you do in January.

Actually, is there any writer out there who hasn't been frantically trying to locate old train tickets in coat pockets that just might tally to an entry in last year's diary, marked, unhelpfully, 'agent'?

If only I were the sort of gal who kept such things in orderly piles, clipped together in a box specifically meant for that purpose. If only I were the sort of gal who at least slung it all in a shoe box!

Anyhow, as the ever-patient Mohamed and I tried to make head or tail of my finances, he happened to mention that he'd read my latest book.

I gupled loudly.

There's something about reader feedback that makes me nervous. I'm happy to take all manner of rejection from agent/publisher/bookseller/editor/reviewer, business after all, is business. But readers...well they're different.

Real people who have actually taken the trouble to buy my book and plough their way through it, when they could have been watching Celebrity Big Brother or learning Mandarin, deserve my attention and respect. They matter.

Whenever I'm writing, I try to keep enough distance from my work so that I can still see it with a reader's eye. I want my work to give pleasure to others not just myself. Indeed, I never understand those writers who say they write for themselves. Why then go to the bother of seeking out a publisher?

I see myself as an entertainer and as such I have a duty to engage and thrill my audience. My worst sin would be to bore them. This is a two way street, not a cul-de-sac. And since writing is such an isolated career, one has to keep reminding oneself about those other folk and what they will think. Otherwise what's the point?

However, what this most definitely doesn't mean is that writers should try to second guess the market. I know it's tempting, particularly when the tax returns tell you that so far you haven't made a million, but trust me, it won't work.

For one thing you won't pull it off if you're heart won't be in it. Readers know a fraud when they see one.

For another, you'll probably miss the boat. One minute the public can't get enough of teenaged vampires, but by the time you've written 80,000 words, they've moved on to werewolves. Fads, trends, whatever you want to call 'em, leave it to the marketing bods.

My advice to any writer would be to stick to the plan. Tell the story you always wanted to tell. But tell it with your readers in mind. Ask yourself what you could do to make them want to listen. What more could you do to commune with them?

I try to remind myself that telling a story is a coversation not a lecture. That if I speak first and wait, my readers will tell me what they want to know next and how.

If only the Inland Revenue would be so understanding.


Old Kitty said...


You've not said what Mohamed thought of your writing!

But I'm sure he loved it. Thanks for a fun and helpful read!And really good writing tips too.

Being a novice budding learner amateur (very amateurish) writer dabbling in the writing wings, I tend to write stories I'd like to read which seems really selfish but I go by the assumption that there can't be only one of me with my tastes... or could there??!!


Take care and good luck doing your taxes.



Administrator said...

Yes, what did Mohamed think?!!

You are quite right - i tried writing for the market before, and produced a book ( i could see in retrospect) was derivative and contrived.

Having said that, i don't think one should write in a vacuum and you do need to read in your genre just to keep up-to-date with styles and how far you can push the boundaries.

Oh, that's my dream, to get proper reader feedback. Ahem -as long as it's complimentary:)

Caroline Green said...

Yes, we want to know what Mohamed said!! I think you're very wise to say we should always remember readers, whether or not we've already been published. Good luck with getting those taxes in..

Geraldine Ryan said...

Great post, Helen! I love your unpretentious take on your writing.

You have an accountant?????

Helen Black said...

Hi everyone.
Yes Mohamed said he loved it - but then he was about to sting me for doing my returns LOL.

To be fair, with readers, I try to listen out for specifics. So someone saying they thought my book was 'great' is lovely, but a reader saying they didn't guess who dunnit, or that they were completely hooked by a sub plot or that they identify with my MC, is music to my ears.


Susie Nott-Bower said...

Thanks for reminding me about the fact that a novel is a conversation. I should pin that up above my laptop.

Ann said...

I am so relieved Mohamed liked it! I am sure that makes paying his bill a little easier. I have a binder for all tax's empty, might be an idea if I actually put receipts into it.

I have taken your very sound advice on board and will try to apply it. Thanks.