The truth behind making it in the publishing world

It can easily be imagined how difficult it is to make it as an author. Hours of writing met with one rejection letter after another. Yet, is finally getting a book published really the big break we might expect it to be? While we may not expect all authors to achieve the wild fame, wealth and success of J. K. Rowling, we at least expect it to be a viable and potentially lucrative industry. However, the harsh reality is that most authors cannot afford to live off book sales alone through traditional publishing methods. A recent survey by Digital Book World revealed that nearly a third of traditionally published authors only make a shocking £350 a year from book sales and, unsurprisingly, around half of writers are dissatisfied with the proceeds from their books.

The book world is changing dramatically fast. Reading is moving to a digital platform as we see the rise of the e-book and decline of the high street bookshop. Facing fierce competition from online book superstores such as Amazon, the number of independent bookshops in Britain has fallen below 1,000 – a drop of a third in nine years. Tim Godfray, chief executive of the Booksellers Association, told The Guardian that ‘the future of our bookshops – and therefore the health of the publishing industry and reading itself – is at risk’. However it is not just the decline of independent bookshops that is putting the publishing industry at risk. The consequences of the difficulty faced by authors to make any money through traditional publishing methods sees a growing a number of ‘hybrid’ authors, who use traditional publishing as well as self-publishing. Those that are taking this route appear to be capitalising the most on the current book market, as The Digital Book World Survey revealed they take in the highest earnings a year.

Amazon continues to wage a war against publishing houses, allowing a platform for quite literally anyone to get their book out there. The wages they offer are enticing, with authors seeing a return of up to 70% of the list price of their book. As great as this sounds, it is still incredibly difficult for authors to generate a decent wage. Even those utilising both methods of publication only see a median annual income of £4900 – £6600. The fact still remains that the real winners are those capitalising off the creative talent of the many authors who drive the book market.

Whilst Amazon may be allowing authors to see better returns for book sales, it’s still driving the industry towards a capitalist free market. We cannot possibly place a monetary value on the creative industries; their worth cannot be measured in wealth. The decline of independent bookshops is most worrying, as it indicates a decline in the social value of books and the reading population in general.  Unless something is easily accessible and digitalized, we are now less inclined to bother with it, and that is scary. Literature can enact social and political change and has been used for centuries as a vehicle to convey powerful and controversial political messages. The fact that authors are being driven to find more creative methods of publishing in order to profit at all within the industry puts further strain amongst the realm of economic gain within the arts industries.

Annie Foyster

Image property of the Book Publishing Academy 

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