I recently wrote about Penguin and HarperCollins moving their warehouses to the United States, and that while this is yet another bump in the road for Canadian publishing, small and medium houses can keep our homegrown authors on track and their books in front of readers. There is hope on that front.
Paying said authors, however, has become a problem. I wrote that we have to change our expectations in terms of advances, royalties, formats, print runs, etc. What I meant by that is this: Stop signing eye-watering six-figure deals and reduce them to an amount that ensures you have more money to sign new authors at a living wage. I’m thinking less of the well-known authors than I am of the celebs, starlets, and flavours of the moment found online, such as Anna Todd. She reportedly gained nearly than a billion readers on Wattpad for her romance serial, After, which she wrote a chapter at a time with the help of readers’ online comments: “I could never sit by myself and write and entire book. I’m not the best writer. I can tell a story, so that was why writing socially was really great for me.” Todd signed a six-figure, three-book deal with Simon and Schuster, along with a movie deal with Paramount.
To be clear, I haven’t read Todd’s book, and I doubt I will. My issue isn’t with her ability or the genre or even with how she was discovered; my issue is with the amount she was paid for what was essentially a hobby when people who write for a living must be happy with anything they scrape up. A $7,500 advance for one book isn’t uncommon for new authors. It isn’t a lot when you consider who much time when into actually writing the manuscript, let alone the time for editing, proofreading, and promoting.
When interviewed by the Toronto Star, John Degan, executive director of the Writers’ Union of Canada, estimated that in Canada, “The average income for authors from book royalties, etc., is about $10,000 a year. . . . There are the bestsellers, but for a lot of writers it’s really supplemental income—they’re also teaching, running writers’ unions or working for newspapers.”
Award-winning author Camilla Gibb opens her Globe and Mail piece with this stark reminder: “When author Richard Flanagan finished his latest novel, relative poverty forced him to contemplate getting a job in the mines in northern Australia. His Booker Prize win has spared him a life underground for the time being, but he did not waste the opportunity to acknowledge in his speech that ‘writing is a hard life for so many writers.’”
Although most authors don’t have to dig coal, many have to work part-time in the salt mines that can be book retail, especially at Christmas when flogging copies of After will feel like salt in the wounds.