Hearts and minds

<p>So, &pound;10,000 is the new &pound;30,000 when it comes to author advances.</p>
<p>That's what the high priestess of agenting, Clare Alexander, <a href="http://www.thebookseller.com/blogs/90216-page.html">wrote recently</a>, while author Louise Doughty <a href="http://www.thebookseller.com/blogs/92372-where-the-heart-is.html">allude... to a 50 grand paycut for mid-career authors, meaning &pound;20,000 was the new &pound;70,000.</p>
<p>Well that's just great. As if it isn't already hard enough being a writer, now we're facing tumbling rates of pay. Problem is, as writers we're partly responsible.</p>
<p>I've got a little theory, you see. It's that authors are like farmers (you'll have to bear with me on this one, but as my day job is with <i>Farmers Weekly</i> I meet a lot of both breeds and reckon the analogy holds true). There are lots of them, they're not great at talking to each other, they're secretive when it comes to cash and they haven't got one all-powerful trade body representing them.</p>
<p>For these reasons, their individual negotiating power is minimal. Times get tough in either business and what happens? The small person at the bottom of the chain gets squeezed.<br />
Farmers, however, started wising up to this a few years ago. They realised that, even if they weren't selling direct to the consumer, they had to communicate with them and explain the value of what they did. They convinced them of their worth.</p>
<p>Before, there'd been this weird disconnect between farmers and the end product (food). Customers loved it&mdash;in fact, try doing without it and see how long you last&mdash;but they forgot it was the farmers who made it. It was so obvious it was easy to overlook.</p>
<p>It's the same in publishing. Millions of people love reading, they simple adore books, but all too often they don't appreciate there's one person&mdash;an author&mdash;without whom the whole system would collapse.</p>
<p>Farmers came up with simple, sexy messages in a bid to become loved by the public. They came out of the shadows, shouted:&nbsp; &quot;Look guys, forget the supermarkets, it's us, we're the ones who do this, we're the really vital link in this whole process.&quot; As a result, they wrestled back some negotiating strength when it comes to the prices they're paid. Writers need to do the same.</p>
<p>Publishers might not listen to authors individually, but they are acutely sensitive to the attitudes of their book-buying public and if they value authors as a breed then publishers will be more inclined to.</p>
<p>Yes, we're in a recession and it's in all of our interest that publisher companies make a profit, but they should be building long-term relationships built on trust and mutual respect, not slashing advances. This is supposed to be a partnership, after all.</p>
<p>If farmers can go from subsidy-grabbing, public-poisoning bogeymen to producers of great quality, safe, gorgeous food (and custodians of our beautiful countryside to boot) in the space of a few years, then writers can turn it around, too. But they need to PR themselves far better, individually and collectively. They need to put aside their embarrassment/self-consciousness/contempt and find time to engage with the public.</p>
<p>They'd also benefit from an effective organisation representing them (the Society of Authors does some great work, but it's not particularly outward-facing).&nbsp; They need to win the hearts and minds of book lovers across the country.</p>
<p>If they do that, they'll claw back some negotiating power. And maybe then, when it comes to advances, it'll be a case of &pound;30,000 becoming the new &pound;10,000.</p>