Skip to main content

A talent-drain?

I’m not a big one for controversary, but in my other, non-writing life, I spend a lot of time discussing business models, sustainability and how to bring on new, innovative talent. I argue, backed up by theorists by the handful, that ensuring such things are done is key to maintaining industries.

Which made me want to talk about the reality of being a writer at my stage of development.

Firstly, what is my stage? I have an agent. I have a publisher for an upcoming trilogy. I have quite a bit of short stuff written and published. I have finished six books and trunked one, which isn’t a bad statistic. I have another underway when I get the odd week or two free to think about it. I have a nice following on my blog, some people waiting to buy my book when it comes out (thank you), some people prepared to review it for me (and another thank you), some retailer support (and what I say three times is true – thank you!) and my ever-supportive, cheer-leading family. I’m one of the lucky ones, and the nearest most writers come to a success story after writing for only five years.

I put in a lot of hours – usually somewhere between 20-40 a week, depending what other work (read for that, paid) work I have on. I blog, I critique others’ work, I beta-read for people as they’ve done for me, I research the market, I socially network etc etc. In short, this is no part-time gig. Not anymore. And it’s a multi-skilled gig – I have to be able to write, to manage my time, to manage social media platforms, to manage my accounts, and to promote myself - a thing I find as hideous as most other writers I know.

So, here’s some figures. Year one, I earned nothing. Year two, I earned nothing. Year three I earned the heady heights of £30 – my first short story publication and one competition win (which was spent on books, and then I got sucked into Miles Vorkosigan’s world and paid £50 quid to read the rest, so I actually earned –£20). That year I paid to attend a convention in Brighton, so was actually well in deficit. Last year, I earned £190 – two competition wins, three short stories and a bonus for one being very much liked.

I’m lucky enough to have a flexible job I fit writing around. I’m also, supposedly,part-time, so have some time to throw at this gig. But now it’s biting, and probably at just about the time when I might break the market a little and get some books out there. Because up until now this has been a fit-around life hobby. Now, I have deadlines. I have more than one project on the go, and they’re all pretty big. I have people asking me to write short material for them, which is amazing and fabulous. And I still haven’t earned enough income to cover my grocery bill for a week.

This isn’t a blog setting out to moan. It has a serious point behind it and this is it: we want new writers. We readers, I mean. I can get through a book a week when I’m in a reading spree. I need the industry to keep up. And, you know, my taste isn’t the same as yours. Sure we might agree we both love Miles, but you mightn’t fancy a bit of magical realism beside your space boy, and I like that. You mightn’t be a big fan of a dose of Young adult reading but I find it spices up the reading lists for me. In short, we want diverse books – not just in what they contain, but in the genres they cover, the focus of the story. I like a good character – others like their tech, or their mystery, or their horror (I’m looking at you @ChristopherBean).

So where does an industry go that doesn’t pay new talent? How many writers have got the stage I have, where it’s happening, but time draining, and realised they’re juggling too much? How many have seen the road ahead and backed away, not ready to give that much effort to something that is a lottery in terms of success, that doesn’t give payment opportunities to those learning the ropes, that doesn’t provide a straight-forward way of gaining the skills and making it sustainable.

Advances are few and far between. Writers’ incomes have fallen. To see the detail, have a look at the link below. The average wage is £11,000, down 29% since 2005, £5,500 below what a person needs to live on. With my business hat on, I look at this industry, which relies on new blood, and I wonder where is the sustainability is? Where we look for those new writers?

I don’t have the answers. They lie buried under business models, stresses on publishers, market dominance and factors, spend-value and consumer expectation. I just know that I wonder how many good writers we’ve lost along the way and how many of their books I would have loved to read…