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The Death of the Author

This sounds like a good title for a murder mystery but is about something I was reading in a blog the other day - if you go back 25 years (supposedly) 5% of writers could earn enough to make a living from their craft. 5 years ago this had fallen to around 1% and now it has fallen below 1%.

I know there has always been a huge disconnect between the literary superstars, the Stephen Kings, Dean Koontz, John Grisham's and JK's of the world but it seems the gap is now bigger and as publishers become even more risk averse the chances of a new writer getting the support to develop as a writer is now less than ever. They'd rather spend huge sums on advances for Katy Price's (insert any other pseudo celebrity) latest auto-biography.

If a writer doesn't get a hit with their first book the chances of being given a second are small. Very few writers hit it off first time so I find this a bit depressing, not that I ever expect to be able to earn a living from writing (thankfully) and isn't why I started nor why I continue.

Another aspect is the digital world (driven by Amazon) where people expect to pay 0.99p for a book rather than £5.99. Even the new Mhairi MacFarlane novel was listed for £0.99p for a limited time, which is a little sad, and a sign of the times. The other side of the coin is that more books than ever are now being listed on Amazon and other digital platforms, with, at times, very little editorial quality. This pollutes and dilutes the gene pool. I would qualify this by saying two of the best books I read last year were self-published by writers I'd never heard of.

Also, three of the worst books I read last year were self-published and it shows, one in particular, I'd like to name, but won't, had a terrific premise, brilliant beginning but was so full of spelling mistakes and continuity errors that I couldn't get beyond the fifth chapter.

Most writers write because they have to or to entertain themselves (I do) so money isn't what it's about, which is just as well as there seems to be very little financial incentive to do it anymore.  


  • It's a sad indictment of the publishing world, isn't it? Unfortunately I have read - or at least 'looked inside' - quite a number of self-published books that have been so poorly produced I wouldn't read them if they were offered for nothing. It's these sort of books that give self-publishing a bad name. I've said it before and I'll say it again: your average reader thinks SP books are vanity published and not worth the paper they're written on. I don't know how the genuinely excellent SP writers can get over this hurdle.
    For this reason, if I ever finish my travel memoir I will try to find a publisher and if I fail, so be it. I will have enjoyed the journey.
  • LizLiz
    edited March 2019
    Some years ago Waterstones allowed a young man t sell his Sci Fi book from the floor at a table, he was signing them. OH bought one... against my frantic signals, because he felt sorry for him... but he was doing a brisk trade. Apparently, he 'dreamed' the story. The very first page had every possible mistake it was possible to make; he 'told' an entire history (badly) in the first chapter, it had grammatical, syntax, and punctuation errors in the very first paragraph... oh, goodness, it was awful. But it had a fabulous cover and was produced beautifully. And it was on a Waterstone's shelf. I complained. I said one thing you should be very sure of buying a book from Waterstones, is that it will be well written sufficiently enough not to make your eyes water on the first page.

  • I read your post yesterday, Datco, but it made me feel so down that I couldn't write a word in response.

    I really, really don't care about making money through writing. All I've ever sought is recognition, acknowledgement that maybe I can do something to a particular standard that can bring pleasure to others.

    The whole business side of it is depressing, demoralising and detrimental to most.

    I see so much rubbish on social media which seems to get positive attention, but I think it's very much like The Emperor's New Clothes. It's the reciprocal 'following' that gets results, I'm sure. Some people blindly follow hundreds of thousands, and reciprocal promotion gets them noticed.

    The world is now flooded with 'writers', and we are all drowning because of it. 
  • I have 4 books out and 2 more on the way. Each book has earned me about £500... 
  • Where do these figures come from? 

    Are they just for novel sales? It sounds like it, but there are many other ways for authors to earn a living.

    How much money must authors earn to be considered as making their living from writing? I've taken part in surveys which asked how much I earned, but not how much I needed to live on.

    Not all writers want to write full time. Many are perfectly happy having other jobs and don't earn their entire living from writing simply because that isn't their intention.
  • Tiny Nell,

    I didn't mean it to do that, but the business side matters to lots of people and I'm not sure that everyone realises that it is incredibly hard to make any money. I write because I like doing it - if I make anything then that's a bonus.

     I make up a new story for my kids every evening at bedtime because we've read most of their favourite books to death and most of the newer ones are rubbish - so I started making up stories that were real and relevant to them and because it's completely new they can have input into it 'no daddy don't call her Jane call her Daisy etc etc - some of the stories are complete pants but that's OK some are OK and some are very good (I write them down and one day I'll get around to doing something with them) but it's fun and I enjoy it.

    Making money out of writing is unfortunately harder than ever to do and I agree there are so may "writers" out there now the world is drowning in them - somebody once said 'everyone has a book in them' unfortunately everyone is now trying to write and publish it which I don't think ever should have happened!

  • Oh, I know you didn't, Datco!

    I know another way in is to give talks, etc, but a lot of writers are introverted and the very idea of speaking in public is terrifying. 

  • I find your assertion that most of the new stories for children are rubbish astonishing. I'm constantly amazed by the variety, standard, inventiveness, humour and supreme quality at all levels in children's literature, which is by the way the best selling genre of any and keeping most book shops open. 
  • HI Liz

    I might have just been unlucky - we've read all the classics for their age - tiger that came for tea, all the Julia Donaldson books Cat in the Hat etc etc  but there may be loads that I've missed - recommendations very gladly receive!

  • You don't say how old your children are, but a while ago I bought Beegu, by Alexis Deacon as I loved it so much. but I can't recall titles usually - the ones that stick in my head are my children's favourites, FunnyBones by the Ahlbergs, Two Monsters by David McKee, and Not Now Bernard by David McKee, for instance. 
  • The Katie Morag books were a real favourite with my girls. I have fleeting visions of others but I can't recall the titles.
  • I kept all ours. Some of the best times ever, reading to the kids. They are there on a shelf ready for the grandchildren.
  • Ours are in the attic.
  • Tiny Nell said:
    Ours are in the attic.

  • I went into teaching hoping that one day I could write a novel during the summer holidays, and ten years later I'm still here.  I'd love to be able to quit my job at some point in the future because of my writing, but I know that won't happen.  I did work with a fellow teacher that self-published and he's had some success with that, but it's not something that I have ever wanted to do.  I don't know why that is.  It possibly goes back to what was said earlier about the general public considering it vanity publishing.  

    In the meantime, I'm quite happy spending my time writing and subbing to competitions.  If I happen to win something in the future through this, that would be great.  But my writing is my hobby like other people's might be going out clubbing or socialising with their friends.  It's also a way for me to process my thoughts and work through my mental health issues.  
  • Doglover - I think writing for a lot of people is a kind of therapy - or escapism. Well done you.
  • There's nothing at all wrong with writing as a hobby or for fun. We're often told we must take it seriously and professionally, and we do if we intend to make our living that way, but not everyone wants that.
  • No. It's like painting. Not everyone wants to do it for a living, it is also a relaxing, creative hobby.
  • The publishing industry – from the very start – has existed to make money for everyone but the writer. Booksellers, bookbinders and book publishers were the ones with the commercial interests. Sometimes along the way, a few writers did very well because they were lucky or commercially savvy (Dickens publishing in instalments etc).

    It's like playing the lottery. Sure, somebody wins each week, but millions lose their stake. And luck usually doesn't favour the worthy.

    I've had five novels and textbook published. Over the last ten years, those books have made an average of £2,000 a year before tax (and recently, nothing at all). I still write because I enjoy it.
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