Sunday, 3 June 2012

Writers are loaded! by Abie Longstaff

One of the most frustrating things about being a published author is that, for some reason, everyone is under the illusion I make lots of money:

My friends think the drinks are on me.
My ex-husband's lawyers claim I must be sitting on a secret fortune.
And schools just can't understand why I should charge for doing book readings or running writing workshops.

Where does this myth come from? JK Rowling? Media quotes of 'six figure advances'? The reality of an author's life is very, very different. Most authors I know have day jobs or spouses to supplement their income. I work three and a half days a week to allow me to write and if I tried to live on my writing income alone I would starve.

The truth is that this year I technically made a tax loss. How? Well, when a book sells for £5.99 we authors don't get £5.99. No siree. We probably get around 20 pence. Yep. 20 whole pence. And when my book is read on Cbeebies I get the princely sum of…wait for it…£9.82. To offset these riches I have a lot of expenses: I work at home so there is my electricity and heating, my stationary, my stamps, my travel and my laptop. Even if a book sells relatively well all of these factors can easily combine to result in a tax loss.

On top of being modestly paid, writing is a notoriously fragile industry. One year a publisher may love your quirky style, another year you may find your voice 'doesn't fit' with their list. And we have all heard the horror stories of having a book lined up, agreed and ready to go, only to have it pulled at the last minute. Or the book that was due out in 2011 but was pushed back to 2015 to fit in with other publications.

So no, we don't do this job for the money or the glamour. 

Personally speaking, I write because I love it. I write because something in me makes me desperate to do it. And I write because children like my books.

So when I get a cheque for my public lending right, instead of focusing on the low income, I try to delight in just how many children borrowed my book from their local library and snuggled up with their mum or dad to read it.


  1. Yes, the reality of a writer's finances makes it a bonkers choice to make, to be honest. I spend most days doing straight commissions for set fees - more like a session musician than a front-of-stage star. It's the only way I can make a living. But I can't imagine anything else.

  2. I hear you, it's a very similar situation for children's book illustrators like myself!

  3. That is so true, Abie, about Public Lending Right giving you a more accurate picture of how many children and carers have shared your stories (on top of live events and book sales). Children's authors rate consistently highly in library loan tables year on year. Long may that important source of information and funding for writers continue.

  4. Good pointi, Abie. Whenever a friend moans about going to work, I point out that at least they're getting paid for their time. We writers can spend days or weeks (or months or years) writing something that is never published. Oh, we live in hope that our next book will make us lots and lots of money, but it's only a fragile 'hope'! However, sometimes there are surprises, like a lovely royalty cheque I received yesterday. And yes, PLR is necessary and gratifying.

  5. Blimey, I'd have thought CBeebies would pay more than that - shock horror! So the only hope is Hollywood...

  6. Made me laugh, Abie - yes, that's how it is. I only dared go full time once I had 20 or so books behind me. I couldn't get by on picture book advances and royalties alone - PLR, ghost writing and school visits are all important parts of my income.

  7. I've been asked many a time why I teach when I've had so many books published. Apparently I'm just doing it for something to do rather than pay the bills - I wish. If I could make a living writing I would. 20 pence per book is good. One book I received 0.45 pence per book and no I've not put the point in the wrong place!

  8. Very true. People are usually pretty flummoxed when they realise that you get about 20p per book. And then they just think you're gullible, doing something for that kind of money....