Sunday, 16 November 2014

A few thoughts about making a living as a writer

There's been much discussion in the press recently about how the average Canadian writer earns $10,000 a year, and how difficult it is for creators to live off their work. Writers earn money, by the way, mostly through grants, the Public Lending Right Commission (payments for books in library systems across the country), author talks, annual or semi-annual royalty payments, and for the lucky few, literary prizes.

Here's a particularly good article on the issue in the Toronto Star by Deborah Dundas, Can you afford to be a writer?, posted on FB this week by John Degen, Executive Director of the Writer's Union of Canada. And a good roundup of the discussion by Access Copyright here, "Education Fair Dealing"

Sean Michaels' debut novel won the Giller Prize last week, which was newly bumped up to $100,000 from $50,000 in previous years. Rick Mercer, the host of the evening, asked Mr. Michaels beforehand what he'd do with the money if he won. Mr. Michaels thought for a moment then answered, "Probably live off of it for 10 years." There you have it: writers living off $10,000 a year. Mr. Michaels says that his preferred writing venue is a coffee shop near his home, very low overhead there and he likes the distraction! (It's a lonely job to be a writer, for sure!)

I'm five books into this world of writing now, and I'd have to say that the $10,000 estimate is about right. Some years are better than others, of course, especially if you win a Canada Council or provincial grant, or if you are nominated for a Readers Choice award, meaning that your books are purchased for schools and libraries and read then voted on by young readers. My first four books have all been nominated for Readers Choice awards, and I'm very, very grateful. Sincere thank yous to the Diamond Willow, Red Cedar, Silver Birch, Hackmatack and Red Maple nominating committees! These nominations boost sales dramatically, plus introduce Canadian authors to young Canadian readers and increase requests for author visits to schools, a good income source in years when you are nominated.

I'd also add that most authors, not all but many of us, have a second job that we probably started our career with. I've been a copywriter for magazines and fundraisers for much of my adult life, a job I've loved and continue to enjoy from time to time. Many authors are part-time teachers, or work in the arts in some way. Also, let's not forget the partners who have "regular jobs," our patrons as it were, the loved ones who may go out to regular 9-5 jobs and who quite frankly, probably pay the bulk of the bills.

$10,000 a year. It doesn't sound like much, and yes, it's always great when we earn more, but as author Evan Munday (who also works in a bookstore part-time) says in the Toronto Star article above, writing is something that we expect to do for as long as we can, because we have to tell stories. I have musician friends who say pretty much the same thing, they aren't in music for the money, but their creative drive insists on it. I have artist friends who say the same thing, too. We have to feed our families, of course, we have to be paid, but with or without big paycheques involved, we'd be doing this work of writing down stories either full-time, part-time, or in stolen quiet moments on Saturday afternoons while the kids are visiting with friends. In other words, we'd be writing, with or without the funding. Art will out, and for all of the dedicated writers I know, we find a way.

Here's an earlier blog post about my circuitous journey to becoming an author of children's books:
Becoming a children's author, part one 
Part two

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