Making writing pay

<p><a href="http://www.thebookseller.com/blogs/47911-making-publishing-pay.html">The current furore over low pay in the publishing industry</a> arouses mixed emotions in me. On the one hand, I'm always on the side of the underdog &ndash; feelings that strengthen rather when senior industry figures blithely refer to those underdogs as simply 'the Emmas'.<br />
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On the other hand, I'm not absolutely sure that I understand these gripes. A 25 year old is unhappy that he's getting paid &pound;25,000? Hmm. The median wage in the UK today is just under &pound;24,000. The median wage for women is under &pound;21,000. What's more, that 25-year-old is presumably expecting his or her salary to increase with time. They're probably getting pension contributions and health perks on top. Sick pay, of course. Paid maternity leave, naturally. Oh, and they get money into their account each and every month.<br />
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How many authors can say the same? The average earning from writing is just &pound;7,000 a year. No pension. No security. No health perks. No sick pay. No maternity pay.<br />
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What's more, there's absolutely no certainty that even really able and experienced authors will be able to sell their next book. If they do, their advance is as likely to be lower as it is to show an increase. I know about 60 or 70 authors either professionally or personally, and not one is able to make a living from their writing alone. Many of them are perpetually on the edge of being skint.<br />
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Two anecdotes illustrate the point. There's my own experience for starters. My first book was bought for an excellent sum by HarperCollins. The book sold well, was included in the WHS Fresh Talent promotion, and was an all-round success. The second book sold less well but it was shortlisted for the WHS Thumping Good Read Award, which hardly suggests that it was rubbish. My third book was the best of the lot: a 600-page epic which has had very positive notices all round. Yet my advance went down 40%, something that I don't think happens to a lot of salaries in publishing. Having published my fifth novel last year &ndash; an IMPAC award longlisted book, by the way &ndash; my potential advance has dwindled to a point at which I literally can't afford to write another. (Luckily though, I've got a nice little sideline in non-fiction. Thank you, 4th Estate.)</p>
<p>But perhaps you think I simply haven't quite made it as a writer? Perhaps, in effect, the market's telling me that my stuff just ain't good enough? Well, take the experience of one of my colleagues at the Writers' Workshop. She's published 15 books, all of them still in print and has hatfuls of very positive notices from the major broadsheets. She's a crime novelist, so doesn't work at the erudite end of literary fiction where rewards might be expected to be small. This fine writer earns just &pound;7,000 for a novel, plus a little more by way of royalties when her novels earn out. That's probably more than minimum wage, but only just.</p>
<p>In the end, there's not a lot of money in books, for either writers or publishers. We choose the occupation because we like it. But when a 20-something publisher complains of their 20-something salary, do they not notice how much better off they are than the authors whose work provides them with that salary in the first place? As too often happens in this industry, it's the author who comes off worst and whose voice is the last to be heard.</p>