The Value of Writing
First published: Mslexia Summer 2015
There have been times over the past few months in the book world that I have thought we’re stuck on April Fool’s Day. As if it were Groundhog Day in clown make up and big shoes, I marvelled at story after story that stretched credulity.
There was the news that EL James was writing a book on how to write (simples: don’t follow her example). Then the news that colouring books are booming among adults – there is even one featuring ‘our favourite football pundits’, a phrase so redolent with contradiction I had to read it several times.
And then there was news from Amazon that it will only pay self-published authors for each page of their book that is read. Effectively: pay as you go reading.
The money – $0.006 per page – was so low that when I tried to find a sterling equivalent, my currency convertor broke down and asked ‘Seriously?’
Only someone who doesn’t read or write could dream up a scheme like this. Why do I say that? Because it bears no relation to the work involved when producing a book.
I don’t mean packaging, proofing and publicity – though that all involves a sizeable investment – I mean sheer writing. For when words appear on a page, too often non-writers regard it as the product of alchemy, not hard graft.
If you doubt this, look at the way people have turned being an author into the most desired profession, according to a recent survey by pollster YouGov. It found that 60 per cent of the adult population thought being an author was the coolest job. Now, of course we at Mslexia agree, it is, but I can’t believe that the majority of those who answered that poll really understood in the way that you or I do what being an author really means.
It means hours wrangling with words or digging about for information that will add weight and power to our prose. It means hours alone and occasionally with fellow writers whose feedback we hope will enliven our work and not crush our souls.
It means nail-biting days waiting to hear back from literary agents or publishers, and it means that when your friends are slumped in front of the telly or having a night out, you are at home trying to make your book so good it connects with readers and, on some level, changes their lives.
Amazon thinks that is worth less than an American cent – per page. Amazing when one works out the time spent writing that page. You’d earn more on a work scheme in Poundland.
Sadly, Amazon’s thinking is not far off the mark of what the average professional writer earns. The Authors Licensing and Collecting Society recently surveyed members about earnings. It discovered that the average UK full time writer earns less than £12,000 a year from their work, well below the Minimum Income Standard of £16,850 the Joseph Rowntree Foundation says is needed to live in the UK.
None of this is helped by the fact that as women writers we are too often embarrassed to bring up the subject of payment or to negotiate a higher-than-offered payment for our labour (or even a fee). This is why I decided that I would get an expert to advise readers about money in the September issue of Mslexia, which I am editing. Giving nothing away, I think you will find the feature helpful. I certainly did.
I am enjoying being in the editor’s chair. It has been fun and inspiring to read through many great pitches from readers – I could have commissioned many more than the three for which I have space. I am hoping that you will be equally inspired when you read the issue and that every page will add value to your work. No joking!