I don’t usually associate terms such as “crisis of epic proportions” and “extinction” with what I do as a passion: write books. However, I came across both terms this week in the analysis of a recent survey looking into the status of author income in the U.S.
The study is done periodically by the Author’s Guild. Results of the 2018 update were released early this year, and the guild states up front that one of the significant changes in methodology with the most recent study was that it was opened up to non-members of the guild to get a much broader picture of all authors. But what the guild and the analysis had to say was disheartening, though hardly a surprise to any of us that are working full time in a money-making gig while scratching out time after-hours to write.
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Sadly, the “extinction” term in the analysis was used to describe what’s happening to writers who pursue literary fiction: fiction created as an art form, not just for entertainment. All of us have a bit of literary fiction in us or we would not do what we do. So, I’m hoping that term itself is not going the way of the dinosaurs.
The crisis terminology, on the other, was used to describe the overall situation for authors of all genres of both fiction and nonfiction. That situation is this: income for anyone who writes books is down 3% overall from 2014 (the last survey) and down considerably from 2009 ($10,500 average for all writers, including those who consider themselves full-time, down to $6,080 in 2018.) That’s income in general, which means any income generated from being an author; when income from book-related only activities was measured (royalties, direct sales, advances, rights), the numbers are bleaker: down 21%.
So you see my friends, those of us writing books aren’t exactly in it to get rich.
Instead, we’re in it to enrich others.
Most people who write are avid readers. I’m not talking in terms of quantity of books. Some people don’t have much extra time. I’m talking in terms of choice. When my husband is called away from home for the evening, I don’t automatically go in search of the remote, rubbing my hands together and cackling, excited that finally I am in control.
I go in search of my kindle, crossing my fingers that I remembered to charge it this morning, then settling in my favorite chair and reveling in the quiet of the house.
This does not make me a better person. I am not choosing to spend my time volunteering to feed the homeless or cleaning out the attic. I’m choosing to lose myself and my thoughts in words—to take a trip in my head.
But the feeling I get is power nonetheless. Unlike when I watch television, I am in control of the picture and the sound. I get to decide just how handsome my hero is, if an action makes the character in my book a villain or a victim or whether what’s happening might be caused by the past or a sign of what’s to come.
Nothing relaxes me more, and I want to give that feeling to other people. If fact, I have given that feeling if I listen to my own readers when they tell me how much they love my stories.
Which brings me back to rich versus enrich.
I have never judged a person’s worth by how big their house is or how much stuff they fill it up with or what’s parked in the driveway. I wasn’t brought up that way. So while it saddens me that it’s next to impossible to make any money creating a good plot, I’ve learned to file that thought away when I sit down to let my fingers fly across the keyboard. Writing is an art form, a creative outlet that like other art forms, is hard to justify as a career.
But easy to use to measure whether you consider yourself a success.–Genilee Swope Parente