Last Saturday (April 18) East Anglian Writers (affiliated to the UK's Society of Authors, I'm the EAW membership secretary BTW) held its annual seminar. This year's topic was "Being a Hybrid Writer in the 21st Century" and the two guest speakers were the award-winning novelist, poet, playwright and activist (she led the campaign for public lending rights in the 1970s and helped found the ALCS among other things) Maureen Duffy and publisher turned Curtis Brown literary agent Norah Perkins.
There was an enthusiastic audience - I've never seen so much note-taking during a talk and the Q&A session that followed only had to stop because we ran out of time!.
Discussing the state of the UK book scene today, Duffy described writers as "a grass roots workforce subsidising the publishing industry" because writers provide the raw materials (their content) free of charge and only then do publishers decide whether they'll use it and what price they are prepared to pay. In effect, publishers take advantage of the fact most writers, according to Duffy, write "because we must, because we have to do it, because we love it."
"Publishers," she added, are dominated by sales departments who think they know what people will buy," with the result that publishers' lists "prioritise TV chefs, footballers and soft porn." This also explains why, despite her reputation, she had to self-publish her latest novel because her publishers wanted her to make major cuts she was unwilling to make.
Can you still earn a living as a writer?
Duffy said recent ALCS (the Authors Licensing & Collecting Agency) research showed that over the last six years, writers' incomes had dropped by 29%, with the result that today just 11% of authors can now live on their writing incomes alone, compared with 40% six years ago.
Around 5% of authors earn 42% of total UK book revenues, with earnings of £100,000 not uncommon while 50% earn just a 7% slice of the pie. In fact 17% of authors reported earning nothing last year, despite their books being in print. The median annual income for traditionally published authors is currently between £3000-to-£5000 compared with £500-to-£1000 for self-published authors and £7500-to-£10,000 for "hybrid authors." (More about them later.)
Incidentally, in 2014 only 2% of Arts Council grant money went into literature – which also explains why so many indie publishers are struggling.
These figures prompted Duffy to advise the audience "Don't give up the day-job until you have made your first million." She also warned of the fickleness of publishing fashions - not just in fiction, where vampire and zombie genres are in vogue but even in poetry where "themed collections" are now the fashion. "Reputations may come and go very fast," so even a successful author may not last for more than a couple of books.
So who are these "hybrid authors" ?
Norah Perkins explained that as "money seeps away more and more" from the traditional publishing industry, many of the activities that publishers used to provide, such as publicity, now fall upon the author. This in turn is leading to a new generation of "hands on" hybrid authors who, rather than depend upon increasing unreliable publishers are taking more control of their "product" (as Amazon calls book) and creating their own publishing business that either handle inhouse or subcontract out various aspects of the publishing business, including editing, production, publicity and social media activities.
Perkins warns that if you do decide to do it yourself, you are going "to have to work hard, be industrious" but the rewards can be greater. "Self publishing is online dating," she added. "Fifteen years ago it was a fringe activity, now it is mainstream, more sophisticated and offering more options." And, just in case you still think self-publishing is a little infra dig, Perkins reminded the audience that Virginia Woolf was the first of the great publishers, founding what became the Hogarth Press to publish her own novels.
Traditional publishing still has its benefits, such as advances and access to market via the book distribution channels (which also means you are more likely to get into libraries and benefit from PLR) but that all depends upon you getting a book deal in the first place. Regardless of how you are published, Perkins said "you'll be lucky to get a review these days in print" because so many publications had dropped their review pages.
Maureen Duffy added that poetry had long been the preserve of the hybrid writer. "You have to put yourself about a bit," going readings, constantly submitting to magazines, entering competitions and getting on courses.
And both Duffy and Perkins warned that as hybrid authors it was more important than ever to retain your copyrights so you didn't find yourself being unable to exploit your own work. Try also, they advised to ensure any deals you sign are only for limited periods and/or contain termination and reversion clauses.
Welcome to the brave new world of being a writer in the 21st Century!
Among the topics raised in the Q&A session were:
* Can creative writing be taught? Craftsmanship can be taught, said Duffy, but you still need that spark of talent to be a writer.
* Are agents still useful? Yes, again from Duffy but with the caveats that the agency business is also having a hard time financially and that if you find a good agent, hang on to them. Duffy has had the same agent since the 1960s.
* What are the key things to include in a proposal to either a publisher or an agent? Although the traditional recommendation is a pitch letter + a synopsis + the first three chapters, Norah Perkins said the pitch letter + the title (make it snappy & memorable) + the first page of the first chapter are the things she looks at. Perkins said a pitch letter should be confined to a single page - and that includes the letter heading, address, signature etc so in effect about a three paragraph elevator pitch. As for the synopsis, she admitted she only looks at them to check there are no surprises..."Oh, oh the pitch didn't mention the aliens..."
This is Urban Fantasist
Barrister and Reuters correspondent turned writer, award-winning tech journalist, radio presenter, podcaster, blogger, storyteller, and sometime werewolf-hunter Charles Christian is here to inform and entertain you with tales of writing, radio, geek, tech, media, music, urban myths, folklore, the weird and anything else that intrigues him. The site also has links to all Charles Christian's books including fiction, nonfiction, and the latest reviews. Plus links to his weekly Weird Tales and Smart Radio shows.
The Latest Podcast
In Episode 48 of the Weird Tales Radio Show podcast we sing the sad song of the Mistletoe Bride trapped in her living tomb + take a quiz on some little known legendary facts: seriously King Arthur, your spear is called Ron? + discover a churchyard in Northern Ireland where the graveyard dirt really does deliver a miracle cure.
Follow this link to access episodes of the Weird Tales Radio Show podcast. The page contains links to all our other podcast platforms. Click the player button below to hear latest show.
Hear Charles Christian on Smart Radio
The Midweek Late Lunch
Wednesdays 2:00pm to 4:00pm (UK)
The UK Chart Toppers Show
Sundays 2:00pm to 5:00pm (UK)
and on mobile...
Apple iOS App: Smart Radio GY
Android App: Smart Radio GY
TuneIn Radio App: Smart Radio GY
Weird Tales Podcast Links
The Urban Fantasist website is now averaging over 5000 page views daily and 150,000 page views a month plus over 6000 unique visitors each week.
Tel: 44(0)1986 788666
"Listening to your wonderful show now. I love the stories! Wonderful concept. Great work."
"Charles Christian defiantly makes my world a brighter, funnier place."
"Wonderful show tonight full of all the usual delights we've come to expect."
"The legendary Charles Christian at his eclectic best... his insight and humour alone make this a must-read blog."
"Charles Christian is my inner spirit animal, thank you for making me laugh."
"You always make me laugh! Thank you for brightening my day with your dark humour."
"the funny, wonderful and slightly cantankerous Charles Christian"
"Carlsberg don't make clients, but if they did... they'd be Charles Christian"
"His tech journalism is always witty. He has a talent for pricking the overblown claims of suppliers."
"Charles Christian does awesome!"
Charles Christian's Books
Can I copy content from this site?
Yes... providing you properly credit it. Urban Fantasist content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License which means it may be shared, copied, remixed or used commercially as long as Urban Fantasist or the Weird Tales Radio Show are cited as the source.
Copyright © Charles Christian
& WordsandVision Limited 2019
Tel: 44(0)1986 788666
Urban Fantasist - infotainment fuelled by green tea and dark chocolate
Contact Address: Oak Lodge, Darrow Green Road, Denton, Harleston, Norfolk IP20 0AY, United Kingdom