Why Would You Want To Be A Writer?
A recent poll showed that the No.1 most desired job in the UK was ‘writer’. Really? When I read that I tried to imagine what those polled thought being a writer was like. Here are a few pointers to the current status of the wordsmith, and bear in mind they’re not complaints, merely facts.
Writers Aren’t Wanted
One of Europe’s best newspapers, The Independent, is closing its doors. But it’ll still be online, you say. Yes, without journalists or feature writers, reviewers or critics. Like most online sites it’ll source news from a central agency, pepper it with a handful of commissioned snippets and pass itself off as a paper. The IT staff will hold the reins. Everyone wants content but nobody wants to pay for it, and the funniest part is that the young, who are the worst offenders, all want jobs in the media. Where do they think their salaries come from?
Writers Don’t Get Paid
There’s a big row brewing over the fact that writers are being required to attend more and more festivals and are being signed to draconian contracts, yet they don’t get paid for appearances. ‘Ah, but you’ll get exposure,’ say the organisers. Sorry, but a table with a handful of books on it is not exposure. Better to stay home and run a blog – you get more contact with readers.
Writers’ Readership Is Disappearing
Most of the nation’s workforce doesn’t read. They simply don’t have time. If they have a long train journey to work, they’re usually on a laptop. And males between 20 and 50 – the largest part of the national workforce – don’t read at all. Go to any panel event and check out your audience. In every 100 people there will be 5 males and 95 old ladies. Where’s the innovative young writing? Online, doing it for free.
Writers Can’t Keep Up
As everything else in life gets faster, the process of writing and publishing remains stubbornly slow and unresponsive. Your book gestates, is edited, edited again, proofed and appears in hardback, then waits for another year before a paperback version appears. Total time for most writers: 3-4 years minimum. In a world where a viral video can turn a person or band into a millionaire overnight, writers are snails, and the procedure for creating books is positively arthritic.
Writers Can’t Earn
The average wage of a UK writer is £7,000 pa. Amazon doesn’t pay self-publishers jack. Being No.1 on Amazon means nothing at all – it’s an algorhythm designs to sell books. Publishers have to take a punt on an author and keep their overheads low. Books are no longer advertised and many aren’t even launched. Publishers make money on aggregate, so they buy a great many novels for almost nothing and wait for one to hit. Don’t you dare mention JK Potter.
Writers Are Unrepresentative
Because of this low earning status, for many writing is now less a career than a hobby. Working class writers, like working class actors, are as rare as hen’s teeth. Where are black and Asian voices? The average writer, and I hate to say this aloud although we all think it, is a nice white middle-class lady from the counties, directly representing her readership.
Writers Work Longer Days Than Doctors
Do the maths. You work through most weekends and even on vacations. My writing day starts at 6:00am and ends at 9:pm. You work alone and despite online research being available, the best source remains experience and books. Like most writers, I spend more than I earn on research. We appear at festivals but we also do damp church halls and teenagers’ drop-in centres, surrounded by leaflets about unwanted pregnancies and chlamydia testing kits.
Writers Have The Best Job In The World
Yeah, I still love it. Why? Because even without a readership I’d still write, just like I did as a kid. It’s breathing.