While the fall out from the Pear Jam Books demise keeps appearing in numerous ways, it illustrates in a profound way that fact that all authors instinctively know – writing books doesn’t pay. Well, not enough to sustain life anyway.
Here we have the successful author of 14 traditionally published books – some published by MacMillan in the UK and some by Penguin here in New Zealand. By all accounts a successful author. Yet, she told me and she told a lot of people this so it’s not what I would consider private information, that the best year she had was when she earned $20,00.00 for the whole year! Now, while $20,000.00 earned from royalties alone is quite a good sum, I’m not aware of many adults with bills to pay who can afford to live on $20,000.00 a year and in fact who would be prepared to keep on living on $20,000.00 a year. Her plea to the agent was, show me the money!
Truth be told by the time the proceeds had filtered down to Jill via the bookstores, distributors, publishers and her agent, there was very little left for the content provider – Jill. This is not the fault of anyone in that chain, as that’s just the way it is (or was, if you believe in the ebook revolution).
I’m not sure that I can think of another branch of the arts that suffers so greatly from the lack of financial support and inadequate remuneration for their piece of work – artists are paid for their paintings, actors paid for their performance, singers for their songs, comedians for their jokes, magicians for their vanishings, dancers for their twirls, most paid on the day or shortly thereafter and at an agreed fee. Writers? Wait for six months and be paid a percentage after all the other costs have been deducted (the workings of which are always a mystery). Then, to add insult to injury, when we’re asked to show up and do a talk/school visit/performance, we’re expected to do it for free because “you’ll sell more books”.
It just doesn’t seem fair to me.