Many authors are struggling to make a living from the profession, the new chair of the Society of Authors (SoA) has said.
Translator, author and editor Daniel Hahn, who was elected as the new chair of the SoA this month, also told The Bookseller that authors needed to have a bigger part in conversations about publishing.
Referring to figures released earlier this year by the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), which found that in 2013 the typical professional writer earned £11,000, Hahn said: “I think a lot of things come down to money, unfortunately. A lot of things come down to making a living as a writer—the figures we have seen so far are fairly gruesome.”
To make sure things improved, authors needed to start speaking up. “The SoA can speak on behalf of the profession,” Hahn said. “The other thing [we can do] is educating the membership so they can speak and negotiate on their [own] behalf.”
Digital was offering good opportunities for writers, Hahn added, but he urged caution over remuneration from new models. “One of the worries is that you have an old publishing model that is increasingly hard to make money [from] and this then gets replaced by a new model which includes publishing just online, where it is also difficult to make money,” he said. “You have this shift between two things which are quite exciting but also challenging as well.”
Among the digital opportunities are those being offered by Amazon, which has recently been in dispute with Hachette Book Group in the US. The online retailer had been good for many writers, Hahn said. “I think Amazon has been up to this point a great benefit to certain writers. I think if we were to poll the SoA you’d find a lot of people who were keen on Amazon. They would say that Amazon has given them opportunities where the old industry [model] has let them down.”
One area of publishing that is doing well is translation, said Hahn, and he attributed its success to collaboration. “The world of translators and translation is in pretty good shape at the moment, compared to a lot of the book world,” he said. “But there is a lot that can be transferred from that.
“One of the main reasons for the generally buoyant mood in the translation world is that over the last few years it has become extremely collaborative, with broad networks of translators, publishers, funders, libraries etc, forming a really strong united community with individual interests but also mutual understanding and a kind of common mission.
“Those kinds of positive collaborations have transformed not just the morale of the profession but also, I think, quite practical elements of how it functions, how it supports itself. It would be great to see more of that.”
Hahn said the complexity of publishing made his role interesting. “One of the things that characterises the SoA is it is very large and very diverse,” he said. “The concerns of the Educational Writers Group will be quite different from poets, for example. They all have different concerns and different opinions. They have completely different business opportunities. It makes it exciting, but it means it is complex as well. I think there is a great diversity you get from such a big group.”