As you know, I'm trying to get my latest book published using the crowd-funding site at unbound.co.uk. It was a conscious decision to do so as I felt that they gave a fairer deal to the working writer than more traditional publishers, with which I have had some dealings. If the book is published, I will get the same advance that I was offered elsewhere. But, importantly, I will then get a much higher percentage of any profits than the 10% I could expect otherwise.
It's not the easiest way to sell a book, I'll admit. I'm on Twitter every day flaunting my wares like some street corner hooker, hoping someone will like what they see. Some days, if I'm lucky, I get one or maybe two new pledges. Most days I get nothing at all. Occasionally, I get some troll telling me that I'm asking for too much money. '£50 for a signed book? But you're nobody' wrote someone a few weeks ago. Well, thank you for that morale booster. I desperately wanted to reply that, 'Firstly, it's not compulsory and there are lower levels of pledging. And, secondly, for £50 you'll get a beautifully made hardback book, signed and doodled in by me, an e-book, an audiobook and you'll help me put food on the table for less than the price of a curry for four'. But I didn't. I'm better than that. I even get people telling me that '£20 is too steep for a hardback book'. Is it really? That's the price of a takeaway pizza. For that you get 65,000 words that I've spent more than a year assembling in an order that is, I hope, entertaining and enlightening. It's a year of my life for the same price that you'd pay for 10 minutes of a plumber's time. Oh, and you get the audiobook and the e-book included in the price too. I make no apologies in asking the amounts I'm asking. I won't get the book published if I don't.
Life is tough for the jobbing writer. Back in March, the Authors' Licensing & Collecting Society (ALCS), in conjunction with Bournemouth University and
the Centre for Intellectual Property Policy and Management (CIPPM), surveyed 25,000 authors to ask them about their working lives. What it revealed (or, rather, reinforced) is that most authors still struggle to survive.
Here are the facts:
A typical UK author earns 33% less than the national average wage. Only the top 10% of writers reap any real rewards - it's a 'winner takes all' market. They earn more than 50% of total income from book sales. In other equally skilled professions the bottom 50% of workers earn nearly 40% of total income.
Research by the Society of Authors shows that 75% of writers earn less than £20,000 a year and 46% earn less than £5,000.
Only 20% of writers earn their income from writing;
60% of professional writers need another job to survive.
Advances are paid by a publisher so that the writer can pay the bills and conduct the research they need to. Advances have shrunk to pitiful levels. The Society of Authors states that new writers could expect an average advance of £10,000 around 20 years ago: 'Now they're lucky to get between £1,000 and £3,000.' This is partly due to the fact that the pool of money for advances is getting smaller and smaller due to the outrageous sums being paid out to celebrities. Early this year it was reported that Pippa Middleton had recieved a huge advance - reputedly £400,000 - for a book on party planning. And just last week, I felt physically sick when I read that Little Brown had paid out a whopping £350,000 to secure the biography of the winner of Britain's Got Talent 2012. If you need reminding, that was Pudsey the dog. £350,000 for the biography of a dog? That could have been 35 advances of £10,000 to keep 35 writers afloat and put many wonderful new books on the shelves.
Publishers are now so unnerved by Amazon's dominance, e-book downloading and the closure of independent bookshops, they can no longer afford to take much risk on new talent. In the past, they would pay an advance beyond a debut book's value because they recognised that they were nurturing a promising author but the tradition is disappearing.
In a recent article for The Guardian, bestselling author Ian Rankin wrote: 'The internet has pluses and minuses. It's easier than ever to get your stuff seen by people. But it's harder than ever to make a living from it. Look at the money that publishers are paying for new writers … less than they paid 20 years ago. They know first novels don't sell many copies and, if writers decide … to sidestep the traditional publishing route and sell their stuff by themselves online, they're having to sell it for virtually nothing – 99p.' He has made a plea for tax-breaks for writers. Rankin believes that a scheme modelled on the artists' exemption arrangement in Ireland would invest in the next generation of creative talent.
'If you want to give new writers a start, then a tax incentive is one thing you can do,' he said.
Under the 1997 Irish scheme, the first €40,000 (£33,000) of annual income earned by writers, composers or visual artists from the sale of their work is exempt from tax. As Rankin explained, the scheme was capped because some well-established names were 'tempted to move to Ireland' to avoid tax.
Very few of us writers will ever earn good money from it. Very very few of us will ever be bestsellers. But some of the best books I've ever read have been by writers whose chances of making the Top 10 in W H Smith are very unlikely. Unbound offers me the best return on my investment of time and effort. If the book is published, I will earn less from it than I used to earn in a month when I was a policeman. But it will be more than I could ever hope for from traditional publishing.
So that's why I'll continue to whore myself. And that's why I say to the trolls 'You think £20 for a book is too steep? I'm sorry you feel that way but I happen to think I'm worth more than three packets of fags.'
And if you're supporting my book, thank you from the bottom of my heart.