It all seems so spring-like and positive.
And then I remember that March is also the end of the financial year and it’s time to set my accounts in order. March is when I work out how much money I actually earned.
One of the questions an author who does school visits gets asked is ‘are you rich?’. Teachers always roll their eyes and look embarrassed. But I think it’s a perfectly legitimate question. Can you make a living as an artist? Children deciding their own futures should know. Unpublished writers always want to know. To be honest, it’s something I’d like to know too!
I’ve been a published author for three financial years. The amount I’ve earned has crept up a little every year, but still hovers shy of £10k a year. This is made up of a mixture of advances, royalties, writing-tutoring and guest appearances. I know, from Society of Authors surveys, that this is better than the mean. But it is far from riches. I usually answer the children’s question with a maths problem: say you earn 10% of the cover price of every book you sell, how many books would you need to sell in order to buy a lexus convertible? After a few minutes of arguing, they realise the answer is ‘a lot’. This, of course, assumes that you have a good royalty rate and that the books are all sold at cover price.
We all know that there are alternatives to this model: self-publishing (100% royalty rate) or ebook-only publishing (25-50% royalty rate). But my worry is that with these models, writing for children doesn’t really sell. 100% of nothing is still nothing.
I will still have to keep my day job just to be sure of paying the bills.
It is such a precarious job: the money varies wildly, you don’t always get paid on time, you never know where the next paying gig is coming from. No matter how good you are, there are no guarantees. Would I have been better off studying law rather than creative writing? Financially maybe.
But writers live in hope. We are the very essence of spring, turning bare ground into wildflowers. We imagine something that might be and we strive to create it. And every time we write, we think, maybe this is it – the perfect word, the perfect sentence, the perfect story. And like spring, that feeling of hope is priceless.