Creative small business: Writer Sarah Laing

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Novelist, designer, illustrator and small business owner Sarah Laing. Photo / Supplied
Novelist, designer, illustrator and small business owner Sarah Laing. Photo / Supplied

Novelist, designer, illustrator Sarah Laing on the business of writing. Her new novel next year is called 'The Fall of Light.'

Do you perceive yourself and your work as a small business? If so, what are the services you offer?

Yes, I am a small business, a "Jill of all trades", because I turn my hand to lots of things.

I am a novelist, a graphic designer, a copy writer, an occasional writing teacher, a cartoonist and an illustrator. Before this, I worked as a graphic designer in corporate environments.

Is this your dream job?

It's somewhat my dream job. In an ideal world I'd only be a novelist and a cartoonist (focus is good), but I do enjoy the challenge of graphic design - the working to a brief, forming a visual identity for other people's ideas, suggesting possibilities for them that they didn't expect.

I really like drawing things for a job too.

That just gives me a childish pleasure. Given the future of publishing, I think my graphic design and writing skills will be invaluable. Books have to look really good these days, and information design is crucial in an online environment. I have got to do lots of things that I dreamed of as a child - to illustrate books, to work in New York City, to design book covers, posters and T-shirts, to have my cartoons published in magazines.

When I was 10 I wrote a fan letter to Burton Silver, who did the Bogor comics, and he said I could come and work for him.


What do you enjoy most about running your own business?

I really love the flexibility. I don't have to sit through boring meetings. When I'm feeling unproductive I can go and put the dinner on or do some gardening - I no longer experience that strange stasis that comes with pretending to be busy when in fact I'd rather curl up under my desk and nap.

I love getting to decide what I'm going to work on, whether it be my novel, or a graphic design job, or illustration. I also like the fact that it gives me more time with my three children, as I don't have to keep particular office hours or waste time commuting.

How international is your work?

I have worked overseas - in New York City - but now I do work for mainly the local market. I do have a comics blog, and that attracts a lot of international visitors, and I'm always thrilled when I check my stats and see visitors from Latvia, Korea and Mexico.

I am planning on setting up a shop on my blog so that I can sell my zines, original illustrations, collected comics etc. I would love to sell my novels to an international market, and I am hoping that my latest novel will be picked up when Random House takes it to the Frankfurt book fair in October.


How do partners like your publisher, Random House support you?

Random House have been very supportive in publishing me. NZ fiction doesn't make them a lot of money as a rule - I think we are cross-subsidised by the cook books and the celebrity bios. They have also sent a lot of book design work my way, which pays for my writing time. I have a number of regular design clients, and my comics are published monthly by Metro and bi-monthly by Little Treasures magazine. At the moment, my main business partner is Creative NZ, who very generously gave me a grant so that I could spent five months incorporating a graphic novel component to my novel.

What would you do if you couldn't do this?

The most logical thing would be to go back to graphic design. Sometimes I dream about going to work for book designer in Italy, where they really take book design seriously. I always wanted to be an architect, but I'm writing a novel about one instead. I do also wonder if there was another career for me - perhaps one in the nebulous social media world.

What could happen which would make your business truly secure?

If I managed to write an international best seller or win the Booker Prize, then I would be secure.

Small businesses are often at the end of the queue when it comes to payment for services and products.

We talk to some of the expert advisors about how to limit the risk of slow paying customers and want to hear your stories about how you cope with powerful customers who put you under pressure in the way they pay their bills.

Email me, Gill South at the link below:

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