A tough way to earn a buck
By Jim Poling Sr.
New book releases are tumbling into book shops, book sites and libraries this fall almost as fast as the falling autumn leaves. As many as 20,000 to 25,000 new titles could be released in the United States during this fall’s book season.
The flurry of new books is so great that it is difficult to decide on a list of books you might want to read, let alone an individual book.
The sheer numbers leave an impression among some people that authors who write them are taking in major dollars. Not exactly.
The big names like Stephen King, Nora Roberts and James Patterson continue to pull in millions of dollars but the lesser lights are seeing diminishing incomes.
The Authors Guild in the U.S. surveyed more than 1,400 full- and part-time writers this year and found that more than one-half of respondents earned less than $11,670 a year. That figure just happened to be the U.S. federal poverty level in 2014.
“No one likes to see the word ‘poverty level’ on a survey that has anything to do with people you know,” says Roxana Robinson, Authors Guild president. “You used to be able to make an absolutely living wage as a writer. You wrote essays and you published them in journals. You wrote magazine pieces and you got paid very well for those. And you wrote books and you got good advances. So being a writer, it didn’t usually mean you would be rich, but it had meant in the past that you could support yourself.”
The Guild survey reported that the average income of a full-time writer has dropped to $17,500 a year, down from $25,000 in 2009. For the average part-time author the figure was $4,500 a year, down from $7,250 in 2009.
The numbers for authors who win major book awards also are shocking.
The Man Booker prize in the United Kingdom released its short list of nominees for the prize last month. Two of the Man Booker finalists each have sold only 15,000 to 20,000 hardcovers each of their books. One other finalist has sold 3,600 copies in the U.S., another only 3,000.
Those numbers mean meagre money for authors who spend countless hours researching and writing these books. At least getting into the finals does provide more. The Man Booker winner gets $75,000 Canadian, while the runners-up get roughly $3,800 Canadian.
Canadian writers’ book earnings in most cases are small. However, they also receive small payments from the Public Lending Right based on how many libraries are carrying their books. The more of your books in the library, the higher the payment.
Also, Access Copyright pays writers money from a fund collected from institutions that use writers’ copyrighted work. The federal government passed a new copyright act not long ago which screwed writers out of an important source of income. Schools and other educational institutions, and even some government departments, now say they don’t have to pay into the copyright fund for using writer’s works anyway they wish.
E-books have created new earnings opportunities for writers. More and more writers are self publishing digital books. There have been success stories.
British author Mark Dawson is pulling down six figures a year from his series about an assassin published through the Amazon Kindle program.
Self publishing through a digital platform is a simple way to get a book out. But the majority of those books go nowhere because moving the books to make some money is all up to the author. Hundreds of thousands of books are self-published and getting one noticed in that ocean of publishing is difficult no matter how good the book.
The writer has to become an entrepreneur, which means weekends at flea markets, fairs and days and nights speaking to book clubs and any other groups willing to listen. Promoting, marketing and selling the book leaves little time for more writing.
I mention all this because Haliburton County has a sizeable population of writers. They work hard with varying degrees of success and we hope they will continue and someday we’ll see some county names on those lists of awards and bestsellers.