For such an avid reader, I never used to pay any attention to the process of how a book moved from an idea in an author’s head to the bound book in my hand.
Books were, and still are, my escape; they are omnipresent, finding their way into my home via a library card or lovingly wrapped and gifted at Christmas and birthdays. Writers were this otherworldly, almost mythical being, who would have this wonderful life where they just wrote every day. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I made the link that authors actually need, and deserve, to make money.
I’m sure it’s common though, and I think it starts in school. We are told which subjects are worthwhile and will get us jobs; anything creatively based is seen as a nice to have, a hobby. Careers Advisors of the past told us how we had to turn our juvenile talents into a “proper job”. The artist becomes a teacher and writer became a journalist. This attitude has seeped into society; unpaid internships within the creative sector are limiting diversity and funding for arts is being slashed over and over again.
It’s no surprise that so many of us wince when we see a book being sold for £12.99. Surely it’s our right for low-cost access to these creative pastimes? Yet, when we walk into academia and end up with a text book worth £30 or more, we hand over our cash with a resigned shrug; that is a proper book. Are we stuck in the negative cycle that fiction is fanciful?
I see it all the time, the expectations that Kindle books should only be sold at 99p as they aren’t physical, they scoff at a new book not being part and parcel of a 3 for 2. Yet, what we forget is that there has been a price to pay to actually get that book into the hands of us avid readers. Until you enter that world, as I did last year, it’s unlikely that you think of that. I assumed that the author has this amazing publisher behind them, with an advance worth thousands of pounds and trendy creatives bringing it all together. Well, I’ll tell you this right now. You need to be at uber author status to get anything upfront; and if you are lucky enough to be backed by a publisher, they have to take their cut, first!
A book doesn’t just move from the brain to fingers to print. It needs proof-readers, editors, typesetters (one for print, one for kindle), cover designers (one for print, one for kindle) IT (the file for kindle doesn’t suit other e-readers) blurb writers, marketing, advertising PR, printers, distributors, legal (for fact-checking and intellectual property rights). You get the drift. ALL of these people need to be paid as well as the author. If you are lucky enough to get your book into a book shop, they need their cut; then, if it goes global, you have to start the process all over again.
Now, this is possibly going to shock you. Even if you decide to go down the route of self-publishing (as I did), the majority of the above still needs to be paid for. Before one book has been sold, a writer, using other creative professionals is looking to pay between £2,500 to £5,000 before the book is even uploaded onto a self-publishing system! In the recent Royal Society of Literature survey, the reality of this has come to light. They found that 67% of writers in a career (who earned anything from their writing in 2018) earned £10,000 or less; incomes are on the downward trajectory.
Now, I ask you this, what lifestyle could you manage on that figure? Let’s break the assumption that writers don’t deserve to be paid; the book you have in your hand is valuable to you. It’s about time you make sure you value the people that created it for you.
Clara Wilcox is a straight-talking, practical and experienced coach helping clients navigate the tricky waters of returning to work, career changes and professional development. An avid reader, and member of THREE book clubs (including The Motherload® Book Club) she is also a blogger and author of “What Now? An Honest Guide to Miscarriage, Baby Loss, Parenting, Mental Health and Rebuilding Your Identity”