James Patterson’s daily earnings awaiting collection. Probably.
So, having read my post (because I’m sure you did, didn’t you?) about the English class system and people’s inbuilt assumption that the hoi polloi, the working man – chavs – can’t also be intelligent and creative … Which side of the Shakespeare argument did you fall on?
Are you a Williamite or an Anti-Stratfordian? (And no, I’ve not made that phrase up, honest. Well, the Williamite bit is mine, but it sounds good, don’t you think?)
This discussion about cash, spondoolicks – money – led me to thinking.
You see, our Will did alright out of his quill and parchment, earning enough money through scribbling and investments to build New Place – supposedly the second largest house in Stratford at the time. He even had enough spare that he could famously leave Anne, his wife, his ‘second best bed’, suggesting the old spend thrift owned more than one. Maybe Will snored. Maybe Anne had night terrors and threatened to stab him as he slept.
All this suggests that if you’re smart with your cash – and happen to be a genius – you could make a respectable living from artistic endeavours back then. Something we can’t necessarily claim today.
I count myself a very fortunate woman. I’ve mainly had low paid shop jobs, it’s true. Look at my CV and you won’t be blown away by my achievements (unless you’re impressed by someone who’s done everything from waitressing to working in a farm shop, selling alcohol and measuring mature ladies for corsets, and if you are – God bless you!)
But I am able (thanks to a very understanding husband) to work part time, leaving me a couple of days a week where the house is free of boy and man, to write. This is a good thing for my creativity – such as it is – as I’ve found I’m rubbish at writing in the evening, any brain cells I do possess gradually shutting down as the sun sinks low. I managed to pass a humaities degree working in the evening but creativity after dark doesn’t come easy. Maybe my Muse runs on Vitamin D. Maybe I’m just hopelessly dozy.
Whichever, after the last streaks of gold have fled from the sky, ideas evaporate from my mind like election promises from a newly elected Prime Minister.
I’m doubly lucky with my other half, because despite the large amount of time I devote to writing, I’ve made very little money from it so far. If I had to live on earnings from writing … Well, I’d be squatting under a bridge, keeping warm through newspaper quilts and rubbish bin fires and eating any manky pigeon that happened to limp past. Up to this point, I haven’t earned enough to pay for a weekend away, let alone a week’s rent. And the statistics say that’s unlikely to change.
As with other professions in the UK, the majority of the wealth earned by authors is concentrated in the lucky top 10%, who make £60,000 or more pa. The bottom 50% of authors earn £10,500 or less and as the average wage here is £26,500 (about $41,500 – bearing in mind the cost of living is higher in the UK), you can see that for the majority, being able to write for a living with no additional income is tough.
Added to that is the fact that authors’ earnings continue to shrink year on year and you have a scenario where there will be even fewer full-time writers in the near future (unless they’re kept by truly stunning, amazing spouses of course.)
But is this a bad thing?
I gain a lot of ideas whilst out of the house. Sitting in a café, walking the streets, travelling on public transport, working in a shop you get to see IT ALL.
If I worked from home all the time, I would never have seen an actress playing Lady Godiva whilst riding a horse in the middle of Bristol in the pouring rain armed only with a flesh coloured body stocking and artfully arranged waist length hair. I would never have met Rosa, the elderly ex-café manager with connections to the Mafia. I would never have met the inspiration for Lexie, the leopard print legging wearing force of nature.
And yet … Wouldn’t we all really, truly feel we’d ‘made it’ if we were able to give up the day job and write full-time? It’s justification for all the hours we spend tapping at keyboards in the early morning/late night, for all the times we’re caught staring into space and when asked use the feeble excuse ‘I was thinking.’
There are a few solutions, of course.
Publishers and companies like Amazon could actually pay writers what they deserve instead of entering into price wars with each other where the only one who loses out is the person who produced the raw product in the first place.
Or – and stick with me on this – we could start assassinating those huge authors, the ones who are way up in the top ten ‒ top five ‒ percent of earners. I mean, really, who’d miss James Patterson, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, John Grisham, Suzanne Collins …
Hmm. Maybe I better take that idea back to the drawing board.