Sunday, November 09, 2014

The Thorny Issue of Writing Income

Money appears to be on the minds of journalists and bloggers these days, more so than usual. I’ve come across at least three articles this week about whether authors can make a living from writing, and if it’s even a viable profession anymore. You don’t have to browse the net for long before you find articles lamenting smaller advances, fewer print sales, and don’t get me started on the Amazon/Hachette battle. On the other side of the coin, numerous blogs boast about the growing number of self-publishers who are making more money than they ever did through traditional publishing, ie. Joe Konrath. Let’s look at some of the opinions.

Baldur Bjarnason on his studiotenra blog delves into the topic of the so-called war between Amazon and traditional publishers. He raises some interesting points, asking if there really is a war, since neither side is playing hardball. He does say that authors as a whole are being de-professionalized and deskilled. Smaller advances plus fewer sales (assuming he means print sales) make it nearly impossible for writers to earn a living. He ends the piece by saying that authors have ceased to be a necessary part of the publishing industry. Hmm…

In the Huffington Post, Holly Robinson poses the tough question: can writers makes it without day jobs? She takes issue with an article which states that most authors don’t write for money. Robinson points out that there isn’t a lot of money to go around, given that the print resources who once paid journalists and essayists have dried up. She maintains that if writers want to make any money at all, they’d better learn to write for the market, as self-publishers do. She notes that self-publishers are producing much more content than most traditionally published authors, which begs the question, can traditional authors keep up? And if not, how can they possibly make a living? Robinson says that publishers are pressuring their authors to write faster, but she maintains that writing is not manufacturing, it’s art and if you can’t produce three books a year, then you’d better stick to that day job. I know a number of a number of authors who are producing three or four books a year. Based on several indie novels I’ve read in recent weeks, most of these authors are skipping important editorial steps to get their books published.

In her Globe and Mail article, Camillia Gibb notes that the Writers’ Union of Canada estimates that the average income for writers is $12,000. In Britain, writers’ incomes have apparently fallen by 30% in the past eight years. Before then, she says, a writer might receive a $75,000 advance, minus the agent’s 15% commission, and take five years to write a novel. It’s still not a lot of money over a five-year period but Gibb notes that the publisher invested in and nurtured a writer’s career. Not so anymore. For this reason, she maintains that writing is one of the few careers where the more experience and published work you have, the less you’re being compensated these days. She ends her piece with a gloomy forecast that the midlist author (which has been on a slippery downward slope for at least fifteen years, as I recall) will soon be completely extinguished and the bulk of literature, and it’s authors, along with it. I might be overly optimistic, but I don’t think so. I encourage you to read all three of these short, thought-provoking pieces.

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