A recent Byte the Book panel discussion was held, with input from all areas of the industry, and giving a rounded and absorbing insight into the workings of the publishing industry. Present were Richard Charkin, (Mensch Publishing and ex-Bloomsbury); traditional author Tammy Cohen and independent author Laxmi Hariharan.
The panel was chaired by digital tech author and ALCS Board member Tom Chatfield who brought to light key figures from the latest ALCS-commissioned survey into authors’ earnings. This has suggested that the average full-time author only earns approximately £10,500 a year. Speaking from a publisher’s perspective, Richard Charkin suggested the survey’s results showed a decline which he blamed on a number of issues. Firstly, the demise over the last 30 years of the public library system meaning money from public library loans, used to subsidise authors’ income, had slipped largely under the radar, with the loss not being addressed.
NB You’re an author, but you’re also a business so you are the one who has to generate your own income.
Chatfield asked the authors on the panel for their opinions as to what writers could do to maintain their incomes. Tammy Cohen, an author with several novels in print, didn’t like the idea that authors should be the ones having to do something to make a living, although she said she recognised the principle of “you’re an author, but you’re also a business so you have to generate your own income.” Turning to any authors in the audience she offered some suggestions and ideas: “extra income can be made from things like editorial services or writing reviews… writing features or doing podcasts! There are grants available…and, it’s essential to sign up to ALCS, and the PLR.”
Laxmi Hariharan agreed that authors shouldn’t have to supplement their incomes. However, in her experience as an independent author, she’s often busy marketing her books, designing the covers and distributing the books, as well as actually writing. Maintaining a steady income means, “running it all as a business…you, have be current; getting your content out as quickly as possible.”
NB Publishers need to give you a realistic idea of what you can expect to sell and to earn because otherwise you can’t make decisions that will affect your life as a writer.
The discussion then turned to what publishers do, or don’t do, to help authors. Cohen admitted working with traditional publishers makes the process easier. Reflecting on the value her publisher adds, she commented, “What they give me is the expertise I don’t have.”
However, taking this traditional route can have downsides, when authors aren’t on the same page as their publisher. And she further suggested this could be due to a lack of transparency between publishers and their writers. A little more honesty in the industry could go a long way: “What a lot of people want is for their publishers to be very honest with them… to give them a realistic idea of what the selling expectation is and thus the earning. Otherwise you can’t make the right decisions that affect your life as a writer.”
At the other end of the spectrum, Hariharan, publishing around 15 novels independently through Amazon, said the only thing she would use a traditional publisher for is “international rights, audiobooks and print distribution on shelves.” Fortunately, she has marketing background, so knows how to control how she markets her books, what goes on the front cover and when to publish them. All without having to rely on publishers or undergo the year-long publishing process that’s typical for traditionally published authors.
Finally, the panel discussed how writers deal with working for free. Chatfield gave a brief overview of cases where writers had been asked to work for free, or exposure. Cohen’s concerns were with the idea that nowadays, “you are expected to do a lot of things for free that you wouldn’t have been expected to do a few years ago…but it’s part of the whole devaluing of books.” Many consumers expect to be able to access books cheaply, which takes its toll on an author’s income. Charkin agreed but also suggested, if there are other ways to get paid for writing, and working only for exposure, “and it helps make your name as a writer, then it’s a no-brainer.”
Finally, questions from the audience included: “How can authors be more self-sufficient in the future?” Charkin suggested that he would self-publish; Hariharan reiterated her point about running everything as a business; and Cohen said it was important to keep things flexible. Tom Chatfield wrapped up the proceedings by advising the audience to make sure they know and respect their rights so they can get the most out of their work.
NB Byte the Book is a network that helps writers make useful connections within the book industry, and other allied industries, and enables them to become more literate in the business of books. The community is focused on learning about the latest technical and commercial opportunities, and collaborating to maximum benefit.
For more information: https://bytethebook.com/