Authors especially vulnerable to pandemic's economic impact, SoA survey finds

Authors especially vulnerable to pandemic's economic impact, SoA survey finds

A survey conducted by the Society of Authors has found writers are unlikely to be covered by the government's coronavirus financial support schemes, and are being particularly badly hit by the cancellation of events.

The survey, which polled over 1,000 authors, found 78% of respondents had had events cancelled by organisers since the UK Covid-19 outbreak, and 52% of those would not be compensated by insurance.

Of those whose events—including literary festivals and launches—had been cancelled, 58% were unable to "mitigate the loss" of funds through other earnings.

Meanwhile 84% of the survey participants reported they would not benefit form the government's job retention scheme, with 85% unsupported by the changes to the terms and conditions of universal credit.

Last week the SoA issued special guidance to its members, in the wake of "many" contract cancellations due to coronavirus. The organisation is also lobbying the government to create "comprehensive" schemes that "don't discriminate against authors who are fully or partially self-employed."

As a demographic, authors are expected to be among the most vulnerable in the industry due to a reliance on a second source of income, often zero-hour based teaching contracts and commissioned articles, the SoA said.

The organisation confirmed it had heard of requests from publishers to accept late royalty payments, and that as a result authors were experiencing "significant financial losses."

Authors The Bookseller spoke to confirmed they were still waiting to understand the full extent of the pandemic's impact on international sales, and their income.

Helen Cullen's second book, The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually (Penguin), was scheduled for publication in May, but has now been delayed until August. "I had a book launch organised at Daunt Books in London and Dublin, and with many indie bookshops across the country, they've been so supportive," she told The Bookseller.

"I try not to think too much about the commercial side of writing [...] but of course on a practical level, events have an amazingly positive imapct on sales, and the absence of those events, for me and all authors—well, it will have a significant impact financially, and right across the industry. I think the whole industry is going to have to pivot."

Stephanie Butland, author of Letters to my Husband and The Other Half of my Heart (Penguin), said: "I do have Spanish and Italian publishers who will be months behind on everything, understandably so. I am waiting to see what the full impact of that will be come October. That [international] side of things is going to hit a lot of authors really hard."

Literary agent Lorella Belli confirmed international sales "may become a bigger problem" and that it is "doubly important to make sure that in the long run authors get paid, because they don't have the same safety net that the government is offering publishers."

Some authors got in touch with The Bookseller anonymously via a survey, with one saying they were "worried about [their] small publisher weathering the storm" and another stating "my allocated work has dried up - I have no work and no income."

The SoA has launched an emergency fund for authors affected by Covid-19, to alleviate some of the financial insecurity. The fund currently totals over £800,000, assisted by the Arts Council's £400,000 donation. 

A contract advice page, featuring FAQs surrounding cancelled and zero-hour based contracts and the current govenment advice, has been launched on the SoA's website.