Ah! So There’s No Money Then?

Or I am going to have to revise my life plans

This week the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society released a survey of writers’ earnings carried out by Queen Mary’s University of London. It made for depressing reading for anyone with spark, ambition and hope like me.

£10,500 a year is the most any author can realistically expect to earn and even that is a push as most writers receive bugger all. If you have been reading my blogs or following me on Twitter you will know my goal is to be able to give up the day job and write for a living. £10,500 a year? That won’t even keep me in gin.

What the survey didn’t do was explain why and I am puzzled. Are writers’ earnings so low because the percentage of each book sale paid to a writer is tiny? Is it because channels like Amazon and the supermarkets have driven unit price down too far leaving insufficient pie to be sliced up and shared round? Is it because as consumers we don’t value the work that goes into creating a book and are not willing to pay a fair price? I am not sure I understand when book sales, both physically and digitally seem to be holding up.

There are a few authors in the top 5% per cent that can sit and watch the cash flow into their account whilst drinking champagne on the deck of a yacht moored off Monte Carlo but it seems that to aspire to that level of success is like pitching up for Sunday league football with the idea that one day you are going to be playing in the premier league. Or learning your lines for the panto at the village hall expecting that it is the first step to inevitable Oscar glory.

So next time I think about my ambitions to give up work and earn enough through writing books to be able to be home to pick my daughters up from school I need to give myself a little patronising pat on the head and say: “Of course you will dear.” A bit like my teachers would do at school when I told them I wanted to be an author before they asked me what I was really going to do as a proper job.

But what I have discovered in last last three months having joined the Twitter community is that despite the lack of financial rewards there are many, many hopeful writers out there churning out books day in day out. Spending months and months finishing a novel in the odd half hour we can find to sit down and write.

What drives us on? Perhaps everyone else I speak to on Twitter has rich partners or a trust fund and actually earning some money isn’t important. Maybe they are all a bit more realistic in their ambitions than me?

And if there is not a lack of people like me willing to give it a punt then why should anything change? There are plenty of eager authors stoked by the fantasy that they might be the one to get plucked from the slush pile and thrust onto the best seller list. The industry is confident there will always be a continual steady stream of manuscripts to select from so I guess there is no reason to pay us more if there are enough of us willing to do it for free or next to nothing.

Having read back what I have just written it sounds like I am full of despair. But I am not. Disappointed describes it more. I won’t give up writing as I can’t. I have tried plenty of times when I have been frustrated at my lack of success, dearth of any openings or support or guidance. But those stories and characters won’t go away. What I need to do is recalibrate my plans. Learn to accept that books are likely to only ever be a hobby and that I will be drafting blogs about the challenges of writing whilst holding down a full time job on my train journey into work for another twenty years. Thank heavens I like my job.


One thought on “Ah! So There’s No Money Then?

  1. I think the only answer to this is that writers write because they want to, not because they think they will earn money from it. I don’t know any who thought it would ever make them a living; the handful who actually are that successful are surprised by it. I know many who work full time and have children and, like you, fit their writing in during the times when others might be watching television or socialising – or sleeping, or doing domestic chores! It’s the same with any artistic endeavour: painters, musicians, photographers, they all do what they do because of the urge to do it, with the occasional fantasy that one day it will earn them enough to live on. The reason for the low income? Yes, low royalties, I imagine, and also just the fact that since self-publishing and the rise of the indie publisher the market it so flooded that perhaps all but the most successful now sell fewer books. People can only read one book at a time, after all. Who knows? Maybe you will be one of the ones-in-a-million!


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