Wednesday 9 July 2014

Writing and Earning

Earlier today, a news story did the rounds, talking about how authors are earning less and less. It makes the point that the average author income per year is now around £11,000 with a picture of Will Self looking sad. Or, rather, a picture of Will Self.

It's a depressing article, but I feel there is more to the story. And, for new authors (or aspiring authors), I think there are positive points to take away from it. In fact, I think that for new authors, there's never been a more exciting time to get into writing.

The publishing game is changing. This isn't news - everyone knows this. But it's worth considering just some of the ways in which it's changing. It's at a crossroads at the moment, as customers have more content at their fingertips than ever before and, as a result, seem to value content less than ever before. Younger people, especially, appear to expect that all content (whether it be writing, music or TV and films) should be free, or at least come as part of a minimal monthly fee.

But where did this come from? Think about how customers now buy books. Time was, your main places to buy books were bookshops, either new or second-hand, the latter of which didn't really make the publishing company or the author any money.

This meant, for the most part, customers were restricted to buying what was available in the bookshop at the time. As a result, just getting on the shelves gave you a chance of selling copies at a far higher rate than your competitors who were not on the shelves.

Now, however, with so many books ordered online, the amount of choice has increased enormously. You're now competing with everything that's in print, as they're all as easy to buy as each other. This is better news for readers than it is for writers. In fact, at this point, the game is set in the favour of non-new books. Theyre cheaper, after all, and they're not as untested. There are more reviews and the writers are likely to be more well-known.

When you add the kindle sales, the choice becomes even more extensive. Books can be bought instantly, without many of the overheads involved in printing books. This adds a major extra factor, which is the number of free books that you can easily pick up, whether they're intentionally free, on offer or simply out of copyright. Everything written before the last hundred years is eligible to be downloaded for free, ranging from the works of Shakespeare to the stories of Sherlock Holmes.

So your book now has to compete with all the books ever written. Many of the greatest and most famous of which are free. You're in the biggest bookshop ever created. Along with everyone else. Ever.

That's the bad news.

The good news is that the places where customers buy books are now easier to get into than they ever have been. Whether it's working with one of the many new publishers out there or whether it's putting your own work out there via direct publishing, it's easier to actually sell copies of your books to more people than at any point in history.

This doesn't mean that it comes without work. You can be in the shop, but you're still going to have to convince people to look at your book instead of other people's.

Up until now, this has generally been the role of the publishers or the booksellers. And, obviously, most of this still is - Amazon is, after all, a selling machine and the major publishers didn't get where they are now just purely through being there for a long time. Publishers offer a level of awareness-raising that makes many book deals worth striving for. They're the experts after all. And there are plenty of good publishers who are experimenting with new ideas.

However, what has changed is that there are more opportunities to market yourself. Social media, paid online advertising, blog tours, submitting articles... whatever you can think of, really. If you're good and prepared to work for it, this may be a better time than there has ever been to get a foothold.

Meanwhile, publishers are having to do more to justify the budgets that they spend on books, which means authors have to keep justifying investment in them, right from the start. This is why Val McDermid has talked about how she would be a failure if she started out today (although I think that she's so likable, I doubt it, personally... it just may have taken her longer).

Money is still being spent on books. It's just being spent in more places than ever before, so it's being spread out over more authors. And everyone's trying to work out what this means for the industry as a whole.

Writers are going to have to be more diverse from here on out. Part writer, part publicist and very possibly part publisher. There's room for more diversification and room for more experimentation. The chances of making a career solely as a writer may be more difficult, but the chances of making writing fiction part of your career?

Write. Have confidence in yourself. Adapt and change and be part of the future of where writing is going. Write lots and do what you can to get out there and network and publicise yourself and develop fan bases and learn everything you can about how publishing works and who does it well and how they do it well.

The writing game isn't over. The rules have just changed, that's all. And they're still being written. Because they're always being written and rewritten.

So what's stopping you rewriting them?

No comments:

Post a Comment