It’s all grist for the mill.

By Jessica Murdoch.


Stephen King, Dr. Roxane Gay, Phillip Pullman, Joanne Harris, J.K. Rowling, John Marsden, Oodgeroo Noonuccal. The list of writers who teach (or used to) is a long and illustrious one. These two roles seem to be two paths which are able to successfully intertwine. What is it about these careers that make them successful bedfellows?

For most writers, it may not be a choice. According to a study recently conducted by Macquarie University, the average income acquired from practicing as an author is $12,900 per year. The survey, part of a large study conducted from November 2015 to January 2016, sought to understand changes to the publishing industry and identify industry-wide responses being undertaken by publishers in Australia.

The study surveyed 1000 Australian authors and broke down income according to various streams. Generally, authors’ earnings from their creative practice was much lower than their total income. It demonstrates that most authors rely on income from other sources as a substantial part of their livelihood.

For most authors, writing full-time alone is not feasible. Dr Jacqueline Ross, a lecturer at Swinburne University and published author, talks about how necessary combining other work is to fund writing. ‘I don’t feel like it is. It actually is. One hundred per cent necessary to fund writing with another job. I don’t think there is anyone who can live off just their writing.’

The data collected from the study at Macquarie University agrees. Almost half of the respondents reported that they made ends meet through working in a job that is unrelated to being an author. About a quarter said that they worked in a job that is related to being an author, but does not involve producing their own creative work, such as editing or teaching. Others made up the difference through support from their partner’s income, credit card debt or personal loans, or government benefits.

Dr Mark Carthew, who is currently working as a leading teacher and literacy coordinator at Berwick Lodge Primary School, has worn a lot of hats in his career. Teacher, published author, editor. He’s worked within the publishing industry and has consulted and lectured. While his career started in teaching, there is a clear thread that runs through these roles.

‘Teaching is a natural connection to writers, readers, illustrators, creative people. It’s a very creative profession.’ He argues that to be a successful teacher, it’s important to have a creative mindset and that it is part of the territory. ‘It’s not surprising that there’s many, many established and emerging authors, illustrators, animators, and these days film people, that have some sort of connection with teaching.’

In a 2011 study, Throsby and Zednik also discuss the idea of a ‘portfolio career’ and the ways that creative skills can find wider application across industries. They identify how changing labour market conditions particularly effect artists working in creative fields and how career profiles have needed to adapt from traditional patterns to become more freelance or casualised.

Dr Amanda Apthorpe, a sessional lecturer and past senior teacher of science, believes that teaching is such a natural part of her life that it has infiltrated most of her professional spheres. ‘Teaching has been the mainstay of my professional life and it has seemed that everything I do – writing, yoga … I end up teaching it.’

For Amanda and Jacqueline, who both currently teach writing at a university level, the connection between their roles as writer and teacher is very clear. Jacqueline notes the importance of having active experience in a creative field if you are going to teach it and for Amanda, teaching causes her to be more analytical of her own writing process.

As a primary school teacher, Mark is able to be very close to his audience. He recognises how his expert knowledge and experience can affect his creative process.

‘Writers have to write for their audience,’ he explains. ‘So, knowing your audience and knowing what’s going to work with kids.’

With his latest book, Marvin and Marigold: A Stormy Night(due for release in October), he was able to share the publishing process with his students and even get their input into design choices. ‘Within 24 hours [of receiving the proofs] I was showing it to the kids at school. They were excited. We had a choice of colours… I didn’t make a comment, I just wanted to see which one the kids would like best because at the end of the day, they’re the audience.’

Jacqueline feels that the two roles feed into and inform each other. ‘Even though I’m teaching, I’m thinking about my own ideas, and I’m formulating them as I’m talking about things to students.’ She sees writing as a separate thing, a much more solitary experience and that the contrast between that and standing up and teaching helps her to avoid staying ‘stuck in your own space.’

For Amanda ‘it’s all grist for the mill’ and she finds that interactions with students can influence her writing. It also impacts the way she teaches writing. ‘There are times when I’m teaching that I question myself about my own practice.’ She doesn’t want to be too ‘formulaic’ when she teaches writing. ‘Being able to transfer a process that is understood internally can be difficult.’

Writing is her creative outlet but Jacqueline feels like teaching, while being her stream of income, plays another important role too. ‘Writing probably fulfils me more creatively but teaching fulfils me more in other ways. It feels more worthwhile… I love getting people excited about writing.’

Teaching and writing both feel natural to Amanda. ‘Both fulfil a need to express what I know, and to share what I too am learning.’ She sees them both as creative processes that demand effective time management skills, a commitment to skill development, and a love of the craft. ‘In my view there is a shared responsibility to the reader, to the student.’

Part of the role of teaching is telling stories and being in the teaching environment means that you’re surrounded by books. Mark says they’ve always been ‘part of the core business.’ He sees it as the role of teachers, as well as parents or grandparents, to help ‘propagate the love of reading’.

He goes on to say that the basic narrative of teaching hasn’t changed too much, but it is important to recognise the multi-literacies of this day and age. He acknowledges that the development of digital literacies can create a challenge but believes that as educators, and as writers, there should not be an overly reactive response to the way we address it. He says, ‘it’s not either or. It’s both things.’

In another part of the study conducted by Macquarie University, the publisher’s survey looked at the impact changing technology and processes are having on the industry. In education publishing, for example, the types of reform and innovation identified included the development of digital learning resources, using IT tools to monitor student progress and an increase focus on promoting digital subscription models.

Mark discussed how IT tools such as interactive whiteboards and other devices can be used in education settings. There are a lot of conversations about how readers are more hooked into the digital space but for Mark, it’s more important to think about the way technology is being used and how useful it can be. ‘A child or a student can be talking about something and within about 15 seconds I can have whatever it is that kid’s talking about up… It’s a very powerful medium.’

The publisher’s survey also found that there have been many changes to publishing companies’ products, with a movement towards digital formats being the most common area of change. Large publishers have been active in making changes to new sources of books for publication, new partnership agreements, and physical print formats. Two-thirds of the 27 large publishers in the survey have established new payment models and new imprints, plus half have put in place new merchandising agreements for book products.

To a lesser extent, small publishers have made similar changes. An interesting difference, however, is in new paid services. To diversify their income, half of small publishers and 40 percent of micro-publishers have created additional products such as writing classes, live events, and one-off ‘vanity’ publishing services.

Over the last five years, large publishing companies report that the role of the author in promoting their own books has increased. For smaller or micro publishers, the majority have stayed the same or had a slight increase. This expectation in ensuring market appeal can mean that an already known voice is seen as easier to sell than an emerging one.

Mark acknowledges it can be difficult for new voices to get published. ‘Publishers will not even look at anything unless they think it’s going to sell…publishers are looking for high quality texts first and foremost… but success breeds success… getting your foot in the door is the first challenge.’

Ultimately, it’s difficult to make a living exclusively as a writer and the nature of the publishing business in Australia means that writing alone is not a reliable or sustainable source of income. However, that alone is not the reason many are drawn to teaching. It’s clear that it is a role that has traditionally been a good fit for writers and many find the connection between their role as a writer and as a teacher very compatible.

‘Teaching does fund my writing life, but has equal status in its sense of fulfilment and creativity,’ says Amanda. ‘I don’t want to short-change my students any more than I do my readers. If I could make a difference in both areas, I’d be very comfortable with that.’



Macquarie University, 2018, The Australian Book Industry: Authors, publishers and readers in a time of change, Department of Economics, viewed 27 September 2018, <>


Macquarie University, 2018, The Australian Book Industry: Authors, publishers and readers in a time of change, Department of Economics, viewed 27 September 2018, <>


Throsby, D & Zednik, A 2011, ‘Multiple Job-holding and Artistic Careers: Some Empirical Evidence’ Cultural Trends, Vol.20(1), p.9-24



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