Writing for profit?

Recent analyses of what writers earn confirm pretty much what we all knew anyway, which is that, unless you are JK, or Salman, don’t give up the day job. That is, unless you can live on four grand a year.
In that financial climate, the claims of the mail-order writing schools look a bit dubious. But they must do good business, or they wouldn’t be able to afford the extensive advertising that promotes their services. And, of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating isn’t it, so the successful authors they feature in their ads will prove how good they are, won’t they?
Well, up to a point. In the ad featured here, a prominent success story is Jon Eagle and his novel Red. Jon apparently received £25000 as an advance – pretty impressive for a first novel, eh? – and has sold the film rights. He tells us he’s working on the script. All very interesting, if true. I did a little research.
Jon Eagle did publish a book called Red– but he published it in 1996, which makes you wonder why The Writers Bureau is using it as an example. Surely, they have more recent success stories? What’s more, according to the details on Amazon, it was published by Minerva. This notorious company was a shady vanity publishing outfit, and thus far more likely to charge the author than to fork out 25 grand as an advance. The BBC investigated this company, and the consequent publicity led to their downfall. Two anonymous Amazon reviewers in 1998 said how great the novel was (that’s handy!), but it remains out of print, and only available second hand for a trifling £246.73 – but hurry, there’s only one. At least there’s the film, eh? Well, no, actually. The IMDB doesn’t list the author as a scriptwriter, and none of the various films called Red seem to relate to his book. One of those anonymous reviewers says it’s to be turned into a TV drama, but I can’t find any reference to it.
OK – but what about the others? Keith Gregson claims to have earned £10,000 for writing lots of articles in a year. This one seems pretty kosher. He has his own website, has published a lot of articles on local history themes, and has clearly got himself a nice little niche. He’s one of the Bureau’s Writers of the Year in fact. Ten grand will supplement his pension – he’s a retired teacher – but it’s hardly the “very good money” mentioned in the ad.
The third star pupil is Christina Jones who breathlessly announces that her first three novels are bestsellers. Hmmm… funny that her name doesn’t appear in any list of bestsellers I’ve seen. Anyway, she’s happy – writing has changed her life. Odd then, that on her website, she attributes her success to meeting an agent at a Romantic Novelists Association event. She says she did the Writers Bureau non-fiction course a year later – so here’s someone who was already a published writer of fiction before doing the course, which wasn’t about fiction anyway…She also reveals here that she’s still working as a barmaid at weekends. You’d think a bestseller would be beyond that, wouldn’t you?
In sum, then, the ad is at best disingenuous, and at worst downright misleading. If you are tempted to enrol, I’m sure you could do better.

CC BY-SA 4.0 Writing for profit? by Dr Rob Spence is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

14 Responses to “Writing for profit?”

  1. Another interesting aspect of this is the rise and rise in University Creative Writing courses. I know of one (to which I am not affiliated in any way!) where the department concerned had more enquiries about their new CW course than any other in living memory. Of course, they have to be turned into applications, but that seems to be following too. There seems to be a ready market for companies like the one you mention to tap into.

  2. Yes – a university with which I am affiliated reports similar numbers. I can’t see that these mail order courses will give you anything that a browse through The Writers and Artists year book won’t.

  3. I assume Mr Gregson has no students to look after and therefore also no OFSTED inspections to prepare for. Sorry, touch of personal bitternes in there!

  4. Gosh – you super sleuth you! I know – you research these things so that we don’t have to!

    Harriet – I know people who make double this writing articles, but they’ve had years in the business (as in used to be editors etc.), and not only do they know the market but they also have the contacts.

    Problem with writing is that everyone one thinks it’s ‘easy bucks’, that it really is something for nothing, when in fact it’s the oppposite: tons of work for little return (like teaching eh 😉

    I think people looking for a quick financial fix should start thinking deeply about the bohemiam life-style (i.e. poverty stricken in the garret)!

    Given my two chosen professions are writing and teaching, I’ll er… just go and hang myself now 🙁

  5. I’ve lost track of all those “Writer Bureau” ad’s, but when I noticed Jon Eagle’s comment in the ad within a recent issue of Private Eye, I tried Google… hmmm, isn’t there a law for this sort of thing? False advertising?

  6. Hello Chris from Maesteg. Yes, I’m sure there is some sort of law against it. Writers Bureau just seem to recycle the same few “success” stories ad nauseam. As I say, it’s at best slippry and at worst criminal – but those quarter page ads in the Guardian don’t come cheap, do they? So enough mugs must stump up.

  7. Well I was seriously thinking about doing this creative writing course. But now I’m not so sure. Actually I stumbled across this blogger site because I too was looking for evidence of Jon Eagle’s book ‘Red’. I have got so many ideas rolling around in my head and would love to but pen to paper, its just where to begin with the legal, editing and publishing side, and I thought this course might help. Now I don’t know what to do. I am really not bothered about making a fortune(although I wouldn’t say no of course)I just want to know if I am able do it.

  8. Hi Alison.
    I’m no expert, but it seems to me that if this company can’t come up with anything better than an extremely dubious ten year old “success” story, they are better avoided. Have you thought of using Lulu? It’s a web site where people publish their stuff for sale. Check it out:

  9. Hi rob, I am everso impressed as to how quickly you have expressed your opinion to my comment! Thanks for the advice & if I ever follow in the footsteps of JK I’ll be sure to let you know. I know you’ve got to be in it to win it, but its difficult when an offer such as the one that the writers bureau offer you also has bad comments attatched to it, but I guess thats life – like I say you don’t know untill you try, so watch this space (but you’ll probably be waiting for the next 30 years!! ??)

  10. Hi Rob, thanks for this blog! As another person trying to track down their claims, they were looking ever more dubious the more I checked them out. This blog only serves to confirm my suspicions.

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