The average wage for an author in the UK, or rather the amount an author receives as income from his or her books, is approximately £9000 a year. When you consider that there are several authors out there who make a fantastic amount of money from their books, and therefore skew the figures upwards, the actual amount authors receive is often likely to be less. And will be less going forward, given how the credit crunch crunched advances. Still, despite these rather depressing figures, more and more books are published each year and more and more people want to become writers. Creative writing courses are booming, small publishers sprouting up more often, and ebooks have given self-publishing a lease of life. Being published is the thrill most of us seek, rather than the cash that comes with it. Which is just as well.
However, once you are published, it's always nice when you receive some income in return for your hard work. (Writing books is, first and foremost, hard work. Even when not writing it you can bet nearly every author is thinking about the book they are working on. That doesn't stop until the thing is eventually published.) In the UK, one of the regular sources of authorial income, and often the largest payment some authors might receive for their work, is the Public Lending Right (PLR). This pays authors according to how many times their books are lent from a public library. It is run in egalitarian fashion. There is a pot of money set aside by the Government, approximately £7.5m, each author gets 6p per book lent, and no author can be paid more than £6000 to prevent the most popular swallowing the lot. I've received it a couple of times and it's always welcome, and I know of a few other authors who value the cheque too. Some see it as a compensation for the fact books are lent free in libraries, potentially costing them over the counter sales, though I and some others see it as commitment from those in power to promote reading by supporting authors. Either way, I have never read anywhere someone complaining that it's a waste of cash. And for those authors whose books are out-of-print but still available for lending, it is a modest sum often viewed as a pension of sorts. However you view it, it is a frontline payment which goes along way in keeping mind, body and soul together for authors.
But then we get a Conservative Government (albeit with their Lib Dem fig leaf). Despite the touchy-feely nature of the modern Tory party, and their claims to have altered their outlook and shake the 'nasty party' image, it is rapidly becoming clear, as many of us suspected, that very little has changed about this lot. Under the auspices of cutting the deficit, the Tories are sneaking in any number of cuts. On their hitlist are 'quangos' - publicly-funded non-governmental bodies. Money needs to be saved, they bleat and simper, shaking their heads and wishing it wasn't necessary. It hurts but we're all in it together, they say (er, apart from you - you've got four homes and own half of Lancashire.) It is all a farce. What we are seeing is ideology pure and simple, cleverly cloaked in talk of deficit reduction and necessity, in order to quell as much debate as possible. A chance to slash and burn state public funded services. Yes, chaps, because it was the public sector and not the private that got us in all this trouble, wasn't it?
Now it emerges that among the public bodies facing the axe from our preening, narcissistic Chancellor George Osborne is the PLR. The Tories, while announcing that the body overseeing the PLR will be abolished, have tried to assuage fears by promising that payments to authors will continue, but will be handled by an existing body. No one believes a word of it. The Society of Authors is understandably appalled. While hardly the most militant of organisations, most authors like a ruckus and this is one they're unlikely to back down from. I pity Phil O'Stine, sorry, I mean Jeremy Hunt, the hapless, oleaginous culture secretary who has already had to deal with the Society's President, the formidable P.D James. Over 4000 authors have signed a statement urging the Government to rethink its approach, pointing out the system is wonderfully run and vital source of income to some authors. It doesn't go on to point out that this is a Government which bemoans the modern scourge of illiteracy on one hand, then does all it can to hamper those who write books on the other. But I just did. It's a simple equation: no PLR = fewer authors able to keep their head above water = less books. I can work that one out even with a liberal comprehensive education.
But this isn't just the nasty party. It's the stupid one, too.