Mainly about writing this time

Something a bit different this week – a blog mainly about writing.  In theory the last few years should have been good for writing.  It’s been quiet and we are fairly isolated so there’s time and space to focus.  Well, space anyway.  Anyone who has read some of these posts will know we’ve been pretty busy.  There’s the house needing work, the wood, the rampant garden and all the necessary adjustments around such a drastic move.  I’ve been thinking about the writing and we’ve been talking round writing too.  I’ve even actually done some but there are some big issues arising from the whole business.

I never did expect to make a fortune writing.  It’s a nice idea but really, it doesn’t happen to us ordinary writers.  Like most fiction authors my dream was much more prosaic.  Not even a living wage really, just enough of an income to know my books reached a decent sized audience.  This may have happened at one time or another but I’ve little evidence of it.  It’s impossible to check the numbers with any accuracy, even on Kindle.  The publisher is supposed to gather the numbers of physical books and I know these weren’t done fully.  One year I officially sold a dozen books, even though I personally signed over 30 in one afternoon at a single festival! 

Most people are amazed to discover how low royalties actually are.  On an average paperback, the amount is calculated on the net price – after discounts etc are given to distributors and shops.  This can be as low as 20% of the price paid by the reader, from which the author gets maybe 10%.  This is 2% of the cover price (2p in the £1) – not a lot for over a year’s work.  Even this is paid over a year after it is earned and often withheld against other costs or even not paid at all if it is below the publisher’s minimum payment.

The other source of income is the PLR – Public Lending Right.  This is a small (less than 1% of the book’s price) payment paid per loan from libraries.  Now, this is a very welcome idea but has two flaws.  Firstly loans are only counted from a limited number of (mainly large) libraries.  This is despite the widespread use of computer systems that automatically capture all loans.  Secondly only official libraries can submit figures.  With the closure of so many council libraries, the new community libraries are a welcome stop-gap but – they deprive all authors of even the pennies in income.

All of this is not helped by the awful state of the publishing industry at present.  Rather than making reading more popular (and more productive for us all), COVID has forced many small and medium publishers, shops and writers out of business.  As the victim of one publisher who borrowed against the business and lost it all I know of a number of writers who have just given up completely.  The winners seem to be sure-fire sellers especially celebrity authors, some of whom can actually write a novel but others who use a ghost writer and sell their name.  The market is currently saturated at present, especially with “celebrity” biographies, with little money left to explore and support new writing.

COVID has also had a big impact on book distribution and hence availability for many writers.  With several of the main companies closing down post-pandemic, the remainder often will not handle small press or self published books.  Special orders have to go through a bigger shop that may not deal with that press, or not at all.  Many books are picked up from a local shop or a kiosk at the station or airport – or they used to be.  Now there’s little chance of this, and no chance for a local author just starting out, because of the distribution monopolies.

Soon only those rich enough to live on their own means or better-off retired people will be able to afford to write and what a dreadful loss this will be.  All the young, poor, disadvantaged, minority voices gone, lost for a generation.

All of this seems inherently gloomy for which I apologise.  I’ve been struggling with it (and other aspects like agents –NOOO! And publicity – Yeah, right) for some time.  With a lot of encouragement and help from Jacqui I’ve ventured out into self-publishing for “Puppy Brain” and will probably do the same for the fifth Alex Hastings book.  This leaves the thorny problems of costs and especially publicity to be handled.  The latter, especially, is not anything I thought about when I began all this.  Like most aspiring authors, it was mainly about writing.  A whole part of my brain is still focussed mainly on writing but the other issues keep forcing their way in which is rather distracting.  It’s hard sometimes to work on a story and wonder if anyone will ever see it.  Despite this I finished “Puppy Brain” and hopefully will live happily ever after.

I leave you with a recent experience a friend from Teesside posted on Twitter.  Will Nett is a clever, funny and thoughtful writer as well as a thoroughly nice man.  Three days ago he posted this:

“I got stopped by a fan and asked for a photo earlier. I used to be   someone…..REPEAT….I USED to be someone!”

Hope you enjoy the sunshine now summer’s arriving at last.

Thank you for reading and I hope to have some country tales for next time. 

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