The (lack of) money blog

Summer came yesterday and I decided that reading Steinbeck with this view was worthwhile postponing my blog for a day:


The girls had Highland dance exams on Sunday afternoon so this became my writing office for a few hours (until I realised that my skin had not been exposed to sunshine for about six months and maybe I should sit in the shade for a while):

Bench under tree


I haven’t forgotten the theme that I didn’t write about last week, and you’ll have seen that I didn’t write a second blog on it last week. Instead, I’ve started writing a short story to try to show the issue in a different way. It turns out, of course, that I have to learn how short stories are constructed first, so short does not equate to quick when it comes to writing it. A little at a time at the moment.

Here’s something to think about. Can you name ten authors? Twenty? Fifty? A hundred?

They are the ones making the money. Probably, and maybe not even them.

The sobering fact is that writing does not earn the authors very much money. And it’s getting worse.

The median income (that’s some statistics thing, it’s an average) of professional authors in 2013 was £11,000. In 2005, it was (inflation adjusted for the nerds) £15,450.

When I started my first “proper” job in 1997, my salary was £13,250. Yes, I remember these things. I might have had a degree, but it had nothing to do with my job, I knew something close to zero about the area I was working in, and yet I got paid a lot more than a professional author.

I remember my German professor casting scorn on me when I said I was thinking of working at a university. “Do you know how little lecturers get paid?” he asked me. “I don’t care about that,” was my reply. He closed that conversation down with “And it’s because of people like you that it doesn’t get any better.”

Both are symptoms of the operation of the market, aren’t they? The market that knows, if not how to value something, at least how to price it. That will be the same market that had no idea how to value synthetic collateralised debt obligations (yes, they’re a real thing) that huge financial institutions were buying and selling. Why should that market be able to price something as subjective as a novel?

So maybe it comes down to what we individually value and therefore what we collectively are willing to pay for.

A hot chocolate in a cafe costs somewhere around the £2.50 mark. Maybe it will last fifteen minutes before it goes cold, and too many of them are bad for you. So a book costs somewhere between one and three hot chocolates, will last for hours and hours, can be reused, and is generally good for you. But we seem to prefer to pay for hot chocolates.

I recently read something which made me stop and think. Of course, I thought “I’ll remember where I saw that”, which equates to “I’ll Google it when I need to find it again.” That didn’t work out so well. But the gist of it was “you shouldn’t have to work in financial services to be able to afford to write.” Maybe not, but it’s too close to the truth.

But there’s something about creating something out of nothing, something that has not existed before and only does so because it’s come from somewhere inside of us. Music, art, writing, anything “creative” – a few people make a lot of money from it, most people do it for the love of it. And I think it’s worthwhile doing because value cannot always be measured in currency.

Plus I get to work under beautiful trees on a lovely sunny day.

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