Last week, I received my annual check from Access Copyright. For those who don’t know, Access Copyright is a national, non-profit organization here in Canada that represents thousands of writers, visual artists and publishers.(There are similar organizations in other countries). Access Copyright licenses the copying of the creators’ works, collects the proceeds, then distributes it among the writers and visual artists. Once a year, all participants receive a base payment. Over the past two years, the payment has dropped from $146.18 in 2013, to $112.75 in 2014, and this year was $79.48. This is possibly due to licensing battles with some educational institutions. Not every post-secondary school wants to pay to copy an author’s work. (I’ll save that ethical discussion for another time).
I’ve also been read interesting blogs from mystery author Hope Clark. She’s been in the writing biz a long time and recently discussed the number of emails she’s received from disillusioned writers who aren’t selling nearly as many books as they’d hoped, and who want advice. In Nov. 20th issue of her newsletter, Hope makes some great points, all of which address why readers shouldn’t expect to make money.
Overall, writers’s income are dwindling for several reasons. Here’s my top 12:
1) As Hope states, readers expect to pay less for books. There’s a glut of free books and $.99 books enabling anyone to fill up their Kindles by spending very little.
2) As a mystery writer, most of my readers are women in their 40’s to 70’s, who are downsizing their homes and learning to live on fixed incomes. Print or full-priced books have become a luxury that an increasing number of readers can’t afford.
3) Ebooks can be borrowed from the library, and one can now read award-winning fiction from established authors free of charge.
4) The growing number of published books far exceeds the growing number of readers.
5) As Hope has also indicated, authors are selling fewer books. Not so long ago, an author could reasonably expect 500 sales. Now, many writers are lucky if they sell a 100 copies.
6) Some authors are falling into the quantity is better than quality trap. In the rush to increase the odds of making sales, they are writing at a frantic pace without stopping for proper editing. Ultimately, this will harm their reputation.
7) Amazon’s ever changing and mysterious algorithms changes visibility for some authors.
8) Authors whose books can be borrowed through Amazon’s subscription service are also finding that the shared pot is shrinking.
9) Authors under contract with larger publishers are receiving smaller advances than their counterparts from a few years ago.
10) Self-publishing, done properly, can be expensive. A good jacket designer and an editor could cost hundreds of dollars.
11) I can’t speak for other genres, but the number of established mystery reviewers who write for major publications has shrunk. Print space is becoming almost non-existent in Canada, and this has impacted sales.
12) My final reason will be the least popular, but it’s true. I’ve talked to wannabe authors at workshops who have neither the time nor interest in marketing their work. That doesn’t make them bad people or lazy people, just people with other priorities, i.e. day jobs and family members to care for.
I’m sure there are more reasons than the ones I’ve covered and, of course, there are always exceptions. If you read Kindleboards, you’ll know that plenty of authors appear to be making more money than ever through self-publishing. My advice is to study what the successful ones are doing. Read their blogs and follow their strategy. It takes a great deal of time and energy, but with patience, tenacity, and adaptability, it can pay off.