Writers' groups reveal increasing demand for hardship grants

Writers' groups reveal increasing demand for hardship grants

Authors' organisations have revealed an “ever-increasing” demand on financial hardship grants, with new applications to the Royal Literary Fund (RLF) up a third in four years.

The RLF is a 238-year-old benevolent fund which helps writers in financial difficulty. New applications from writers applying for the first time increased from 23 in 2013 to 34 last year, chief executive Eileen Gunn told The Bookseller, while many others reapply each year. Altogether the RLF helped support 200 writers last year including those who have suffered debilitating illnesses, accidents and housing problems.

Meanwhile the Society of Authors (SoA) has revealed an “ever-increasing number of applications" to its contingency funds "from authors who are struggling to make a living”, its chairman Nicola Solomon [pictured] told The Bookseller. The society has also called on the government to take action in its newly published evidence into a parliamentary inquiry into authors’ earnings.

Gunn believes that “writers are certainly finding it difficult”, partly due to small advances as well as the fast turnover in publishing companies. 

“I have been told the following by authors: that advances are smaller, and even where they remain the same they have done so for years, so (due to inflation) many writers were better off in the past,” she told The Bookseller. “Established writers are finding it hard to have new work published.  There is more staff movement in the publishing houses - older writers say that their editor used to work with them over a long career. One of the reasons writers apply to the RLF is because their editor has left the company and the new staff member has different priorities.”   

One of last year's RLF grant recipients was a fantasy writer whose latest book had apparently been delayed by 19 months because of staff turnover at her publishing house. This had affected her project budget and caused her great concern, according to the fund's report. 

Gunn also described how “part-time jobs which supplemented literary earnings have become harder to obtain because of the general financial climate”. She revealed that authors often apply for “multiple reasons” but that “sometimes it takes a major setback before writers decide to ask for help”.

“As well as many writers applying to the RLF for the first time, there are many writers who have to reapply for further or longer term help,” she said.

Some of the other authors helped by the funding last year included a novelist who had suffered a series of strokes which had left her with decreased mobility and loss of speech. She was given an annual grant by the trustees. Others included a children’s writer with Parkinsons Disease, an author recently released from prison who was trying to find somewhere to live whilst struggling to access benefits, as well as a writer of espionage thrillers had been in hospital for eight months following surgery for a brain tumour. 

Solomon agrees that diminished advances have had an effect as well as large discounts on books.

She told The Bookseller: “Deep discounting, diminishing advances and low royalty rates all have an impact on authors’ incomes. We want to work with publishers to improve financial transparency and find ways to ensure that authors who produce quality work can make a sustainable living, and will no longer have to resort to crowdfunding healthcare because the state and industry have left creators out in the cold.”

The SoA’s submission to the All Party Parliamentary Group for Writers’ (APPWG) on author earnings calls for changes in legislation and industry practice. The society is asking for fair remuneration from publishers so that “profits are fairly shared along the value chain”, as well as fairer contract terms, more support from the government for the self-employed and more action from Amazon and similar platforms on combatting piracy.

Solomon writes in the submission how “the reasons for the decline in authors’ earnings are complex and varied” and that “the landscape for writers has changed beyond recognition over the last two decades”. The APPWG's inquiry ran from June until Thursday (2nd August) and the findings will be presented at the Group's winter reception on 4th December. 

The comments follow the latest income survey released from the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) in June. It revealed that writers' average earnings have dropped to under £10,500-a-year, a fall of 15% in real terms since its last review in 2013.

Gunn is keen to encourage as many writers, who have a minimum of two books published, to apply to the committee which is governed by members such as Tracy Chevalier, Anne Fine and Joanna Trollope.

“We want to reach as many writers as possible who may need our help," Gunn said. "Writers sometimes hesitate to apply and end up in a worse situation by the time they do.”

The RLF was established in 1790 by Reverend David Williams, described as “a dissenting minister apt to quarrel with his congregations” who was inspired by the death of an elderly translator and scholar Floyer Sydenham in a debtors’ prison three years earlier.

For more information on the RLF grants, visit rlf.org.uk or visit the SoA's page on contingency funds.