09 July, 2014

Earning a Living

There is an interesting article on The Guardian website today about a survey done by the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Service on how much writers are getting paid. Not a lot seems to be the answer. Only 11.5% of professional authors (people who spend the majority of their working lives writing), don't have to have a second job in order to get by. In 2005 the figure was 40%. The median income for these professionals is £11000 - about 2/3 of the income considered to provide a minimum standard of living in the UK.

The article is full of interviews with authors about how they don't earn as much in royalties as they used to, or how they can only get by because they have a backlist spanning decades. Many, perhaps most authors now don't earn out their advance - if they get an advance at all.

I'm not disputing the facts and figures. I'm not even disputing that it's an important issue - I wouldn't want to live in a world where only the rich could afford to write professionally. Apparently there was a debate at the House of Commons yesterday called "Are We All on The Same Page?: Can a Fair Deal for Writers be Balanced With a Fair Deal for All?", and I'll be interested to know how that panned out. My issue is that we are in danger of seeing the glass as three-quarters empty. I've read so much about how it's a terrible time to be a writer, and I know from my own experience how difficult it is for a debut author to find a publishing house willing to invest in them. But it's not all bad. Aren't we doing something we love? Millions of people do jobs they don't want to do every day just to pay the bills. If writers have to do the same as well as do something they love and enjoy, then we are one step better off. (I would also point out that most writers I know would be glad to earn £11000 in a year from their writing!)

I'm a bit sick of reading about how awful everything is and how self-publishing/major publishing houses/the reading public/Amazon/EL James are making life terrible for writers and how the multimillion pound/dollar publishing contracts give the public unrealistic expectations of how rich writers are. So how about we talk about why it's a great time to be a writer? I'll start... It's great to be a writer now because there are an increasing number of ways for people to discover our books and stories. It's great to be a writer because - whether we do it full time or at the weekend - we can find new, exciting ways to express ourselves and tell the stories that are only ours to tell.

I think that even if the glass is half-empty, it is also half-full (can't argue with maths!) Help me out here - as a writer or reader, what are the positives of writing and reading today?

5 comments:

  1. I think - and have for a while - we're in a golden age of children's books. If you look at how active, diverse, and engaged the industry is (writers, readers, everyone) it seems more alive than ever. Plenty of articles argue that literary diction is dying, but I've never seen one - because it would be ridiculous - arguing that kids books are struggling.

    So, that's nice

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    1. That's a big plus - there are so many ways for authors (and readers) to engage with each other now, spurring each other on, spreading the word about great stuff that's happening etc. Writing is less solitary than it used to be.

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  2. I agree with you about there being more ways for people to discover a writer - and that writers are no longer tied to the traditional route. It's perhaps similar to music - I was just reading something by Ed Sheeran where he says he doubts whether he would have got anywhere under the old "waiting to be picked up by a big label" system

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    1. That's interesting. Perhaps any changes that give more power to the artists and readers/listeners is a good thing on balance?

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  3. I wouldn't normally plug my own blog here - and I hope you don't mind - but coincidentally there was an article at the weekend about how France is standing up to Amazon and looking after its authors, publishers and bookshops:

    http://ramblesofawriter.wordpress.com

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