Sunday, 1 March 2020

This Writing Life

According to this article, in 2019 just 26% of under-18s spent some time each day reading, and only  53% said they read books purely for pleasure. This is the lowest level recorded by the National Literacy Trust since 2005.

Elsewhere in The Guardian, it was reported that, "According to a 2018 Author’s Guild Study the median income of all published authors for all writing related activity was $6,080 in 2017, down from $10,500 in 2009; while the median income for all published authors based solely on book-related activities went from $3,900 to $3,100, down 21%. Roughly 25% of authors earned $0 in income in 2017."

As I've written previously, all writers have experienced a steady decline in book sales. There is so much free reading available online, including free books by the thousands just waiting to be downloaded. Consequently most writers, including traditionally published writers with established reputations and fan-bases, hold down conventional jobs as well. If they can manage with just a part-time job, they're doing better than many.

As the writer of the piece about young reading habits pointed out in her article, lots of writers gloss over this reality. Can you make a living solely from being a writer? Yes, if you're a  millionaire already, or someone else pays the bills, and you have no children or other dependents, and have paid off your mortgage, or you're receiving a retirement pension and therefore can describe yourself as  a full-time writer. Actually, I know quite a number of writers who fall into that last category!

So what can be done about it?

As a parent, you can buy your children books for presents, enroll them in your local library, and sit with them and read stories together; all simple ideas to help foster a lifelong interest which will contribute hugely to your child's cultural experience and appreciation.

As a reader, you can take a chance on buying an author whose name is new to you. (See the side column for clickable links to outlets for my published books.)

As a writer you can choose to live in abject penury or you can get a job.

Or you could stop writing altogether, which is what some traditionally published people have done after balancing the huge amount of time and effort required against financial gain, then asking themselves if it's worth the bother. Truly, if you imagine you'll write a few novels then live comfortably, you're only displaying how little you know about how the publishing industry works.

The publishers of those glossy novels in the bookshop window have paid for them to be  positioned there. Likewise with the books on the eye-catching stand just inside the shop door. The books on the ordinary shelves have also paid for their placement - and most novels get only two weeks to sell before being returned to the publisher's distributor to be pulped.

And then, because your masterpiece has already been published, another publisher is unlikely to be interested in it.  And by the way, those paid-for placements come out of your profits, assuming you actually make any.

So first you write  your book, which can take a year or ten depending on your other commitments and how fast you write, and then you enter the usually long-winded process of finding an agent and a publisher, then go through the editorial process (which can take another year), and after all that you get two weeks in which to sell enough to have a second novel even considered. Low sales mean cancelled contracts, and if your contract has been cancelled then finding a new contract with a new publisher can be tougher than finding one the first time around.

So now you know why so many previously traditionally-published authors now self-publish! A new self-published book release might be akin to another stalk of hay added to a planet-sized haystack, but at least it has a long-term lifespan. Besides, these-days even traditionally pushed authors have to do much of the promotion themselves anyway, so there's little difference on that score.

Writing is a choice. A person can easily choose to do something else instead, or to do something as well.

Some of the most interesting writers I know have more than one creative outlet, and hold down a regular job too. They paint, perform in bands, do gardening, create textiles, join amateur theatrical societies, etc.; whatever their outlet happens to be, they do that too.

And on that thought, I'm off to sketch in the park!

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