Friday, 21 August 2015

The novel, a flourishing industry dying on its feet.

People's reaction when they find out I've been published is usually one of initial surprise, then admiration, and then promptly they announce that I must be loaded.

If only this was the case!

If I was Frederick Foresyth, J.K Rowling or Stephen King, all exceptions to the rule, perhaps I would be. However, the sad truth is that 90% of authors don't make enough money to rely on writing alone. The average yearly income of an author is just £10,500.

The problem is caused by a combination of things.

Firstly, the literary market is an over-saturated market. There are between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books published in the US alone every year. According to Alison Flood of the Guardian, UK publishers released more than 20 new titles every hour over the course of 2014.

Basically, you cannot move for books and every book is fighting for your attention and your precious pounds. However, it's those with the biggest names which naturally tend to be able to push ahead of the queue and into the eye-line and shopping baskets of the general public, leaving the rest of us debutants and lesser literary mortals to rely on good fortune and the occasional glowing recommendation to push people our way.

The fact that the big names have such an advantage when it comes to standing out from the crowd can be seen in how many copies the average book sells. A miserly 250 in its lifetime! Just look at what J.K Rowling's alter-ego sold when she wrote secretly as Robert Galbraith, before her identity was revealed.

In a crowded market place, all shoppers are buying off the same one stall.

Secondly, people aren't reading novels in the volumes that they used to. You'll notice I say, 'novels'. People are reading more than ever, but they are reading online articles, social media, magazines, comics, how to guides and non-fiction, with more gusto than ever. It's novels they are not reading nearly so much. Gone are the days of sitting down with a book on a night. There are too many distractions, primarily digital, getting in the way of sticking one's nose in a good book for hours on end. Reading is limited to holiday reading and one chapter a night before light's out. And for a book with 100 chapters (like my debut), that's four months reading to get through before you move onto the next book!

Thirdly, and finally, the rise of the cheap bookshop is killing the market and reducing down the royalty percentages paid to writers. I include Amazon in here, particularly for the self-published author. It's a scenario I liken to the milk market for the diary farmer. Consumers are naturally drawn to the cheapest prices, so they are ignoring the established high street bookshops and shopping at the cheap online stores and the £1 book shops. I understand why people do this. The problem is when you reduce down the price of something, the person at the end of the chain suffers. When book prices are squeezed down to the absolute minimum, something has to give and usually it's the author's royalty payment.

The industry has uncanny similarities to the English football leagues. The big rich teams, the Chelseas and the Man Uniteds, are packing out full stadia week in week out. Stephen King releases a novel and sells a million overnight. The lower league teams, who play football with spirit and determination, they can barely break even with gate receipts. The debut author releases his spirited novel and sells 250 copies.

But, for all that, if you've gone in to writing to get rich and famous you're in it for the wrong reasons and you will be horridly disappointed. I wrote my books, and continue to write my books, because I feel I have something to say that other people might like to hear. I write for the sheer pleasure of it, although the last novel tested this severely!

Writing is not, nor should it ever be, about the material gain, but about what your book says and offers to people. If you write from the heart believing in what you have to say, you'll write interesting books. If you write with the sole purpose of making a mint, you'll end up with awful books.

It just seems to me that the rewards should be fair for the immense amount of time and effort novelists put into writing books. But then again what in life is ever fair? With people buying fewer books, and when they do primarily buying from the the same well known big selling names, combined with the fact that book prices are being squeezed so when you do get a sale your royalty payment is ludicrously small, the flourishing industry of the novel is dying on its feet.

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