A wise old rocker once said: “There are only two types of money to be made in rock and roll, less than you might think and more than you can possibly imagine.”
It was recently suggested that authors effectively live in a third world economy because, like such economies, the wealth is pooled at the very top of the pile and there is no middle class.
You are either very rich or very poor as an author and the poor outnumber the rich at about the same sky-high rates that the dead outnumber the living.
The market for fiction seems to be saturated with so many authors and an ever-growing reading pile of new books. To be honest the situation isn’t helped by the fact that many among the massed ranks of the self-published cut their own throats and everyone else’s by either giving their books away free or charging just a few pence a copy – so making it harder for the industry as a whole to charge viable rates.
The trouble with this race to the bottom is that it sets an amount of money in the public imagination which is a fair price for a book, and as this price collapses towards zero it brings the industry down with it.
It’s not yet as bad as music or news journalism where the public expect the product to be free as a matter of course, but, who knows, it may yet head that way.
And it’s not as though you can make money through appearance fees at festivals because, as we know, many of them, even the biggest ones, expect authors to work for free.
A lot of new writers who hope to have a book out sooner, or maybe later, dream of having this problem of course. They just want to see their book on the shelves and that’s what is important to them.
It’s important to me too. I sometimes visit my latest novel in branches of Waterstones near where I live, or at least, if I’m in there anyway buying a book, I will pause on the way past and take in the sight of it on the shelves. Is that a bit sad? Don’t care! It’s what I dreamed of doing when I was a kid, I didn’t dream about a bank balance, I dreamt of seeing my book on the shelf.
But it’s best to be honest about the financial situation for authors. And it’s best for new authors to come into this knowing the truth. Except for a tiny percentage right at the top of the tall tree there really isn’t a living to be made. Writing literary novels, or pretty much any novels, is effectively a hobby rather than a profession.
I don’t think I personally know a single novelist who lives off what they make from writing novels. They all have day jobs unrelated to writing fiction, as I do with my job in PR (insert your own PR joke here). Or they have a job which is somewhat related, such as teaching others to write, self-publish or market their books. Or they are retired and so can at least claim writing fiction as their only employment.
I wonder how many novelists make enough money to bring up a family and pay a mortgage from what they earn? A vanishingly small number I suspect. Still, the rest of us persevere, it’s something we do for love, not money after all.
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