I am a self confessed book lover, I’m an avid reader and I love to share the knowledge of books of I love. Once upon a time I would also share my books, though it pained me every time. I have a generous nature and I do love to share but lending someone a book caused me great stress… what if they creased it, spilt coffee on it or otherwise damaged it? Worse than that…. what if they never returned it. Regardless of the stress factor my generous nature won out, and I have the gaps on my shelves to prove it.
What I never thought about in all of this was the authors of these books I was lending out. Before I started reviewing for Beauty and Lace I had never really thought about the process and I guess authors were a little bit of an abstract concept really. I know that sounds a little strange, I knew there was someone out there writing the book but I had never really thought of them as struggling artists with families to feed and bills to pay. I grew up on Stephen King and Dean Koontz, prolific writers who seem to do quite well from their careers.
I have been asked to share a post by someone in the industry that gives a little insight into the workings of the industry for an author. A post that really sheds some light on the blood, sweat and tears that go into the arts and the misconception that many have about the pay involved in the industry.
This isn’t something that is just an issue for authors either, it is the same for musicians and a lot of the time people in the movies too. Perhaps it’s a societal misconception because we see the big names raking in millions for their art, but it’s really not like that for most of the people in the industry.
Have a read of the information below and maybe just take a moment to consider next time someone asks if they can borrow that new release you just picked up.
We all love our Aussie authors, and none of us would ever deliberately do anything to hurt them, but did you know that sometimes we do exactly that without even knowing?
Authors are self-employed businesses. That means they don’t earn a regular income. Like all self-employed workers they rely on being paid for their services after they’ve provided the work and in most cases that comes through their publisher who only pays out royalties from the books sold twice a year. TWICE. A. YEAR. You think living weekly pay check to weekly pay check is tough! Try six monthly!
Authors are usually paid an advance, that’s a sum of money paid to them upfront by their publisher. For a lot of authors this can be anything from $1000-3000. As their track record improves so too does the advance; but the huge sums of money you hear about in the press for famous bestsellers like JK Rowling and E L James, with advances in the millions, are so far out of the spectrum for everyday Aussie authors that it’s not even funny. Again think $3000…. That’s a bit of a difference.
Once the book has hit the shelves, about 12 months after the manuscript has been delivered to the publisher, the author receives 10% of each book sold. TEN PERCENT. That’s their income. Out of that 10% they then have to pay back the publisher whatever amount the advance was BEFORE they see any income. So, if an author is unlucky and the book doesn’t sell enough copies to pay back their advance that means they won’t receive any royalties from that book. The advance is their yearly wage.
Each book we buy as readers and fans, supplies that author with their yearly income. The publisher doesn’t have them on a payroll.
Authors love that their readers tell friends and family about their books, in fact this is the only way to get their name out in the publishing world. And they don’t even mind when we lend a friend or family member a book to introduce a new reader to their favourite author, it’s the best way to let people know how awesome their books are. But what does start to really impact their future career is when we repeatedly lend out all of the books by the same author between multiple family and friends. If your friend had loved the book you lent them, encourage them to go out and buy the others, it’s actually how your favourite author is able to pay their bills. If friends and family can’t afford to buy their own copies, then encourage them to borrow it from the library. Authors are given a very small royalty from the arts department each year from libraries, and while it’s not a lot, it’s certainly more than they get if we lend their books out to five or six different people.
Authors aren’t greedy, in fact most of them are too embarrassed to bring any of this up with their fans because money and business for a lot of them are not the things they tend to lend themselves to, (right brain/ left brain kind of stuff) and most of them donate a lot of their own books (which I might add, they actually have to purchase from the publisher if they want to have copies to sell or give away for promotional events…. Yep, authors have been known to have to pay up to $26 PER book they order through their publisher and they don’t earn any royalties on those books either!) In fact, other than the select few who stumble upon an overnight bestselling phenomena, most authors will struggle to make the Australian average income.
Our authors are everyday people with kids at school, house mortgages and the usual every day expenses most of us have, and added to this, they only get paid twice a year. If we all become aware of how the publishing industry works, then it’s easier for us to understand the impact our actions have on authors. Most of us would be horrified to realise we’re proudly telling our favourite writers online that we’ve lent their book out to everyone we know, and yes, we do it because we think we’re helping spread the word and that everyone should be reading them, but in reality, we’re just telling that author that guess what… you’ve sold one book and I’ve given it to six other people and you’ve made $2.
Authors can only write their books if they have the ability to support themselves and many of our well known authors still have to work full or part time jobs in order to do that. Let’s support our authors so they can continue to write the books that we all love so much.
This is something that I hadn’t given much thought to before, but now that I am in contact with a range of Aussie authors and I can put the face, the family and the life to the name on the cover it makes me think about it.
The best bit is that now when someone asks me to borrow that great new book I just got, I can direct them to the local library or recommend they purchase their own copy without feeling like it’s my own selfish need to protect the condition of my book.