Monday, July 29, 2019

Worries of a Mid-List author, or Where did July go?

The first weeks of July were entirely taken up with trying to finish the book which should have been delivered by the end of June. However, youngest son Leo's wedding, together with attendant overseas visitors rather got in the way, and I had to lie down in a darkened room with a wet cloth on my head. Just as the new bride was about to leave to go back to America, a parcel arrived for the new groom, containing, to our surprise, proof copies of his book, due out next April.

Then it was grandson Gus's birthday, then eldest daughter Louise's birthday. And then younger daughter Phillipa arrived yesterday. Within minutes, I was in the middle of a political, philosophical and social discussion between her and her brother, upon which I stopped trying to comment after a bit and just went and got dinner. After which, she set off on her bike training for the triathlon she's attempting next month. When she came back, we ended up having a long conversation about childhood, visiting places around the world and mortgages. More darkened rooms call, I feel. Oh, and by the way, we had HOME MADE ice cream after dinner. Yup - I made ice cream. Not in an ice cream maker, with a bowl and a whisk. Quite a lot of it went over the kitchen work top and me, and Godiva the Elder Cat enjoyed what went on the floor. But it was pronounced lovely, and didn't taste home made.

After all this domesticity I now have to get down to planning the next book, while awaiting the edits on the one I finally delivered in the middle of July. I'm also awaiting the contract for the next book, so there's a sort of shall I/shan't I feeling about it. I asked the publisher, who more-or-less said "Get on with it!" But without a contract I feel a little nervous. This is something that never leaves you as a writer - in fact it's true of most creatives, especially those who are self employed. This means all my family. We're dead worried all the time that the next book/gig/tour won't happen. We all reassure each other, of course, but we still worry. Especially me.

I am still a - rather remote - member of the Romantic Novelists' Association, despite not writing romance, and most of my best writing mates are members, too. So, thanks to soshul meeja I get to see lots of posts/requests for advice/moans from aspiring writers. And most of them appear to think that when they land that elusive first contract, their worries are over. Oh, no. Not on your nelly. Sometimes, a debut novelist is so good, picked up by a major publisher, that she/he has an immediate second book contract and fulfils everybody's hopes. Like my friend Joanna Cannon, whom I met when she was still doing her rotation as a young junior doctor, and writing little bits which I was lucky enough to read. Eventually, she went on to be published by The Borough Press, part of Harper Collins (one of the Big Boys of the industry) with a world wide best seller, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep. Her second book, Three Things About Elsie, did just as well. So, yes, first contract - worries over.

Now let's look at another friend of mine, whom I've known for a good many more years than I've known Jo. An absolute top seller, every book was rich in comedy, atmosphere and often unlikely romance. Her characters were a delight. And then her publisher sold to another publisher and it all fell apart. Luckily, she was picked up again by a further publisher, but it was only after two years in the wilderness with a lot of wrangling over contractural obligations. She and I are still very good friends and spend a lot of time worrying together about this sort of thing. Of course there are people who tell us both that we've got nothing to worry about: "With your track record?" they say. "You'll always be published." No, we won't. See aforementioned reasons.

So there are always worries. And heaven help you if you rely on an income from your books. The powers that be in the publishing industry, who look after our interests, commissioned a survey last year of authors' earnings, in which I took part. The dispiriting results informed us that authors' incomes have fallen by 40% over the last few years. The average author earns less than the designated living wage. I used to get very annoyed with what I called the "dilettante lady writer", someone who relied on her husband's income to support her while she dallied with writing, or had possibly retired on a large pension. I knew several. Writing wasn't essential, although they said it was; "Oh, I have to write," they'd say, waving a limp hand and dabbing their temples with cologne. (No, not really. But you get the idea.)

Anyway, the upshot is that I'm still worrying about my career. Despite having one non-fiction book, two romances, three Alexandrians, twenty full lenth Libbys and three short Libbys, plus occasional short stories in collections and magazines, I am still worried. You see, publishing these days is no longer about nice old men in tweed suits with pipes, shaking hands over a walnut desk. If it ever was. This is what it's like these days. Pretty, aren't they? See why I'm worrying? They aren't exactly my reader demographic...Ah, well. See you all again soon.


Merryn Allingham said...

I'm between contracts, too, and know exactly what you mean - even after 14 books.

Beryl Kingston said...

Very revealing. and horribly true. I was with you every inch of the way. xxxx

David Robinson said...

This resonates... although I tend not to worry about it other than trying to figure out where the money will come from to fund the next Benidorm beefer. These days, I seem to be running faster just to stand still... Metaphorically speaking. Physically, I can hardly walk, never mind run.