Despite scoring three bestsellers in five years and a clutch of awards, The Spinning Heart author Donal Ryan has been forced to return to his day job in the Irish civil service in order to pay his mortgage.
Ryan has become the latest casualty of tumbling incomes for writers. Despite receiving advances and signing a deal to write three more books with his publisher, the Irish novelist said he had found it impossible to earn a living wage as a full-time writer. â€œYou need to have something else on the go,â€ he told the Irish Sunday Independent. â€œYou could take a chance and scrape a living through bursaries and writing books, but Iâ€™d get too stressed out. It just isnâ€™t worth it. I have two kids in school and I have a mortgage to pay.â€
Saying his earnings amounted to about 40 cents per copy sold, he told the newspaper he had taken a job in the Workplace Relations Commission. â€œI would need to sell a huge amount of books to make a good salary out of [my books],â€ he said. He added: â€œI have to look at the long term and the fact that I have 20 more years of a mortgage.â€
Ryanâ€™s decision came as childrenâ€™s authors hit out at celebrity childrenâ€™s books. Tales of Terror author Chris Priestley told the Bookseller that professional authors were finding it hard to compete for advances and shelf space. â€œItâ€™s a tricky time in publishing at the moment,â€ he said. â€œI met a lot of writers last year who were having a hard time and in negotiations they were finding it harder to get the advances they got a couple of years ago.â€
Priestley said that while the market was tough for all writers, celebrities were at an advantage competing for book deals. â€œIt seems as though if youâ€™re a celebrity you can just express the idea you would like to do a book â€“ like [radio DJ] Christian Oâ€™Connell did on Twitter â€“ and you will get a deal. I still have to pitch my books.â€
In the last two years comedians and YouTubers have rushed into the market, some signing six-figure deals, while professional authorsâ€™ advances slipped to as low as three and four figures. Adding â€œchildrenâ€™s authorâ€ to their CV are the likes of David Walliams, Russell Brand, Danny Baker, Frank Lampard and Pharrell Williams.
CJ Daugherty, who writes thrillers for young adults, claimed ghostwritten childrenâ€™s books risked undermining readersâ€™ trust. â€œWe can tell ourselves that readers must know a C-List celebrity, famous for opening makeup boxes on YouTube, isnâ€™t capable of writing an 80,000-word novel,â€ she told the Bookseller. â€œBut the whole system seems designed to fool people into thinking they are.â€
Author and childrenâ€™s book critic Amanda Craig told the trade magazine: â€œItâ€™s distasteful [that] celebrities and their agents seem to think publishing a novel is a way to use their brand to make more money and, with the exception of David Walliams, theyâ€™re not very good.â€
Authorsâ€™ incomes have fallen dramatically over the past 15 years, with many forced to give up writing full-time and find alternative employment to prop up earnings. According to data published by Queen Mary University for the Authors Licensing and Collecting Agency in 2014, only 10% of professional authors make Â£60,000 or more a year from writing, while the bottom 50% of authors earn less than Â£10,500. The bottom 50% of authors account for only 7% of the income earned by all writers put together.
While many authors have moved into teaching creative writing courses in tertiary education to shore up their income, others, such as Dan Rhodes, have been forced to take jobs outside the literary world; the Timoleon Vieta Come Home author now works as a postman.
On hearing Ryanâ€™s news, author Liz Nugent tweeted: â€œMaybe now people will stop asking me why Iâ€™m driving a 13 yr old car.â€