I often wonder what peoples perception of what a writer actually does is, because when people find out that I write, it appears that they just naturally assume that somehow I am loaded and raking in masses of money, if only that was true.
In 90% of cases a writer barely earns enough to give their family a weekend away, let alone provide them with a luxurious lifestyle, and they have to take on extra jobs just to make ends meet. People really have little idea of how hard it can be to survive on book sales, they really only see the very lucky few who make it up the mid-lists and into that top bracket where life at the top has its privileges.
I was talking recently to a few friends who just naturally assumed I was making well over five English pounds per copy of my book sold. Oh if only that was the case, they were stunned to find out that the average author earns just fifty pence per copy sold, and therefore need massive sales just to cover the costs of living whilst writing, let alone any future plans.
From my own experience of writing, when I look at the amount of money spent on researching, travelling and reading to prepare my books before I even write a word, never mind the costs of a family containing a wife and two children, it is amazing how much money goes in long before you finally get that illusive publishing deal, and that was just to get the book finally printed.
The sad fact is that for most writers money is not the motivation behind the work, for myself it is the joy of preparation, researching and writing, to that point where you sit back and know that you have created something unique and feel satisfied that you have accomplished your goal. It is a wonderful feeling that stirs deep inside and you have a final result that you can look at with pride, knowing you gave it your all, and also knowing that somewhere it will bring a moment of escape and delight to those who read it and live in a world you created, there really isn’t any other feeling like it in the world. It is something that is very easily exploited by those who run the industry.
It is well documented that the publishing industry has used it for years to line their own pockets, stating their costs as justifcation and takeing the lion’s share of the money, leaving the author with the smallest amount of the profits, and I think we are all intelligent enough to understand that it has always been the way of things, and maybe we have all sat back and accepted it when we should have asked for more. The biggest problem with that though is that publishing deals have always been hard to come by, and we are also smart enough to realise that if we push too hard, we could end up out of deal, left high and dry with no contract.
There is no shortage of writers, if anything the numbers have risen steadily for years, so one wrong move and you can very easily be replaced, and that has always been something that has in a way acted as a deterrent to writers rebelling against the system. However things have been changing now for several years, and to be honest one has to question if there is even going to be a future for writers, as the digital age forces rule changes and working methods across the globe. The publishing industry is in a shambles at the moment, I spend most days reading the various Blogs and newsletters emailed to me from inside the trade, and I find it very hard to see how the future of books printed or digital, will survive without some radical changes of thought from not only the industry, but also from the consumers, because lowering prices are squeezing the life out of everyone.
Without readers there is no need for books whether they be on a page or a digital screen, but it looks to me like we are all heading for a very big stalemate, as consumers demand cheaper books, especially digital ones, but as the price falls, so do the royalties paid to the author. I am a bottom list author and believe it or not I am in the largest bracket, as there are many like myself out there all trying to get the word out about their books, and we all know our sales will not be huge. As much as we all dream of that freak moment when we get discovered, we do not have the support of a large company who will spend thousands on us to publicise our work, and most of us promote from home with the help of a few friends using the internet and social networks to try and increase our sales. Our print runs are low or use print on demand, which means the costs of our books is higher than the big names, and although we have publishers, we still only get the nominal royalty, so for us digital is a huge fear.
Its bad enough so much of the price of our books goes to the retailer, wholesaler and publisher, but recent trends show how little value our work has in this modern time, as the price of digital downloads is pushed into the floor. The bigger online retail companies are very aggressive; they list millions of books and are not reliant on massive profits per book to stay afloat, and so they have created an atmosphere of cheaper and cheaper in order to rival their competition, and the book buying public has sold into its practice to such a point that it is becoming impossible for any author to realistically get any return for their effort.
One very large online presence in particular pushes masses of books for just $0.99, and I see it on the screen and feel this must be madness. I am told this is what the consumers of books demand, and they are unlikely to pick your book if it is valued much higher, because digital is cheaper easier and faster, and therefore should be cheaper. I am sorry to disagree with the worlds leading book seller of the moment, but I got no discount when writing it because one day it would be appearing as digital download. My hours of dedication have not lessened because it will eventually be delivered via an inbox rather than a post box. To be honest it is insulting, how would the consumer feel if I asked them to work all week as I have for just $0.99? I am pretty sure they value the jobs they do to earn their living, so why has mine become so worthless? Is it not bad enough that I have to live with an industry that puts my creative ability as its last priority, whilst it makes twenty times more money from my work than I do? Do all writers now have to suffer the ultimate humiliation of being told by the consumer that their efforts rank lower than everyone else’s?
It’s a very sad truth that in the capitalist society we live in writers have no worth at all, and with the onset of digital, and the so called death of the book, the future for writers just became very dark indeed, and one can only wonder how long it will be before the writer has no choice but to stop publishing simply because they can no longer afford to. We could simply leave publishers and go the self publishing route, and upload our books directly, which is starting to happen, especially since publishers today are cutting their lists and courting the already rich and famous for their biographies and cookbooks, but even then, when the retailer takes their cut of the $0.99 there is little left to live on for the author.
Will we reach a time when writers have to write for free and just accept it? Or will we one day see a time when all there is to read is a classic that has gone out of copyright and so is available to download free, it is a very real possibility, because in the scramble to gain control of the digital book reading world, it looks to me like every single area is being scrutinised except the most important one of all, and that is the role of the future author.
I have no choice but to be a spectator at the moment, and I am watching very carefully, as depending on how things go, I may have to make a very difficult decision in my future. Will I stop writing? No, its not possible for me. Will I stop publishing? That is a question I will eventually face, and I am sure there are many out there who like myself will face the very same question. All I can say for now is, I am watching…. I will have to wait and see.