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.