Monday, 20 March 2017

Are you rich? by Jane Clarke

A couple of weeks ago, I was sent an email via my website, it didn't address me by name:

 "I have a Fiction Story which I plan to Publish in UK. However, I do not have enough revenue to sponsor the idea. Hence I need a Partner that can assist me in this regard. If interested, You are to pay me 10,000 pounds which will entitle you to 50% of the royalties from the sales of the book after it has been publish.



There are so many things wrong with this scenario, all I could do was smile as I hit the delete button. But, regardless of whether this is a scam or not, it has an underlying belief that all authors must be rich. It’s a belief that’s clearly shared by a lot of people I meet when I’m out and about doing author-ish things, and I’ve been out and about doing lots of author-ish things round World Book Day this month. The children I’ve seen are often up front enough to ask 'are you rich?’


My reply? "Yes! I have a new granddaughter. She's my third, I'm rich in granddaughters!"

One of the very precious things in my life

But despite the underlying truth in that, it's a bit disingenuous.

So for the record, although I now have had over 80 books published, writing has not made me rich. This isn’t a moan, I love my job and I feel very privileged to earn my living from writing, but my current income is around what I would be earning if I was still teaching.



Happy author


You may have heard of writers receiving a ’six figure advance.’ An advance is what is the publishers pay you in advance of the publication of your book. My most recent advance for a picture book text was for £2750 (paid in 3 instalments). After publication, once the publishers have recouped the costs of the book in question, I will earn royalties of 3.75 percent on each book sold (as long as they are not heavily discounted). 

Some tedious details.

If a book does well, royalties may occasionally be in the thousands over the lifetime of the book, but that’s very rare - more often a book earns just a few pounds a year - or nothing when it goes out of print. It’s also hard to get picture books taken by publishers, I feel very lucky if I get one or two a year. I do other sorts of writing, like ghost writing and writing for reading schemes, and chapter books (all with smaller advances than for picture books) and school visits to supplement my income.

Having fun  helping Reception class make up a story

It’s no hardship or compromise, I really enjoy all these things.  I think I have the best job in the world!  In the UK, we’re fortunate to receive an annual payment from  Public Lending Right (and lots of people borrow picture books from libraries, thank you, it all adds up!). A couple of times a year, there's a much smaller payment from the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society - if you register each title you get a tiny amount each time a poem or story is copied, broadcast or recorded by an institution that responsibly registers its use.http://www.alcs.co.uk. 


Thanks to PLR and ALCs every little bit adds up.

Of course, there are a few exceptions who have made pots of money from children’s writing, but they are in a tiny minority. Much lower down the financial scale come the fortunate people like me who earn their living from children’s writing. But the majority of children’s writers and illustrators do not earn enough money to make a living from it, and don’t dare drop the day job. 

So please don't assume any of us at the PictureBookDen are rolling in it. You're not rich, by the way, are you? If you have the odd £10,000 to spare, you're welcome to take my website correspondent up on that offer! :-)


Jane’s latest picture book is Neon Leon, fabulously illustrated by Britta Teckentrup, who is almost certainly not rich either :-)





25 comments:

  1. I'm rich in compliments, I often hear how much people love my work (both from publishers and the public), but in the words John Lee Hooker "You love gives me such a thrill, But your love won't pay my bills". I chuckle at the way people confuse self-promotion with success and fame - Just because you've a jolly website and are telling everyone about your books on social media doesn't necessarily mean the royalty cheques are flowing. Glowing reviews are fantastic and I'm sure do their part to promote sales, but with so much discounting now, even if your books sell out it still doesn't result in a living wage for the author & illustrator, the latter of which may have spent half a year or more painting the commission. The Society of Authors is campaigning for the rights of creators, but it's a slow and very difficult problem to overcome. Ultimately we suffer because there is no "creator's union" with power to defend the rights of book creators within the industry, without such power bringing the industry to heel there will never be financial respect for the individual writer and illustrator I fear.

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    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment, John. Yes, making a living from writing or illustrating is tough and getting tougher. I began my writing career in the early 2000s and have seen advances go down, not up, since then - the opposite trajectory to those bills.

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  2. Thanks Jane - this is a really brave post. It's so great when we talk about the realities of money. We're often shy to say how much we really earn but discussing it helps to dispel misconceptions and reassures us that we're not alone in not getting the mythical 6 figure advance :)

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  3. Kids often ask me if I’m rich a lot too, Jane. I usually tell them that I get paid about as much as their teachers do, so if they think that their teachers are rich, then I’m rich too!

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  4. Great post, Jane - I always answer honestly and with real figures in schools when the kids ask me how much money I make from my books. There's too much smoke and mirrors in publishing. I have been asked if I live in a castle. I am typing this in a small chamber in the east wing.

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    1. Oh, that's a wonderful question! Yes, higher up the school, I occasionally give real figures, too. Trouble is, as soon as you mention something- thousand, kids think that's an enormous sum and you really are rich (though you can see teacher doing computations in their heads and it dawning on them that you're not!)

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    2. I find it's only the older kids who ask. A lot of them know what their parents' salaries are, so they usually go, "Ooh, that's not much!" - but the ones who just think of it in terms of their pocket money think it's amazing. It's usually a really interesting conversation, I don't mind having it. I think people assume that having your name on a book means you're famous, and if you're famous it follows that you must be rich. Adults think it too, it's not just kids! I can't help thinking this is why celebs want to get into publishing all the time - they think it's a natural extension!

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    3. I get asked the 'are you famous' question quite regularly, too. I usually smile brightly and say something along the lines of 'well, I am in your school!' They seem a bit disappointed if you say tell them nobody knows who you when you walk down the street!

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  5. I don't give figures, but I usually make an analogy between what I get paid for books and what I get paid for TV and the time it takes to write both. It's roughly the same fee for 11 mins of script (about 2,500 words) as it is for a chapter book of 22,000 words. So clearly, if I wanted to make money writing then TV's the way to go. However, the more honest answer is I get paid enough to lead a nice life and do nothing but write or talk about writing - that's plenty for me.

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    1. Gosh, you get that much for writing for TV? You must be rich!!! (joking) :-)

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  6. In my experience since I started writing a long long long time ago... advances on picture books have got smaller. I don't think I've become a lesser writer since those heady days of larger advances but publishers have become more shareholder aware. And the first person they put the squeeze on is the author. We see this in deals when books still in print (I'm not talking about remaindered bks) are sold at £1 and we are encouraged to believe this is in our interest. Books sold below cost are never in our interest and we should make sure the clauses that allow this are eliminated from our contracts.
    But like you, Jane, I remain a happy writer as long as the practices that govern our income are fair.

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  7. I think the most straightforward answer would be that if you were rich, you wouldn't be there! But it would make the kids feel bad, so no. Has anyone ever tried asking why they think that you might be? I'd like to know why they think it in the first place - it must come from some adults somewhere.

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    1. I think it's pretty simple and it's the same reason a lot of adults think writing books is a good way to 'get rich quick'. There's an assumption that having your name on a book = you're famous. It follows quite naturally that famous = rich!

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    2. Good question, especially as, historically ,writers were often perceived of as poor. Does this stem from the hype around JKR and Harry Potter? I only started school visits in the 2000s and on every school visit school I've done someone has mentioned her name (often as a 'have you met...' query)

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  8. I tend to give straight answers because I think that children should know about money. As you say, its the teachers who tend to be more surprised by the truth than children are ... and then you get offered a biscuit with your coffee at break time if you're lucky!

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    1. Always nice, especially if the biscuit's a chocolate one!

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  9. I get asked if I'm a celebrity and by that they do mean are you rich? They do get disappointed if I had taken a bus (not a helicopter) and say I do my own dishes (not my staff) and then I basically explain how I didn't own a book for a long time and I grew up in a not so rich family and my reading and writing has given me this opportunity- they feel they have a chance too.

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    1. That's a lovely angle to take, Chitra, thanks

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  10. Im rich in hugs, thats about it! but i love this article and it does ring so true, I'm exceptionally lucky that my job and my writing work around each other so well, so i have the opportunity to do what I love but i meet so many people who think i get all my money from my books and i work of fun lol

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  11. Thank you so much for this honest post! It certainly covers elements that people (i.e. me!) are hesitant to ask.
    :-)

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