I was listening to an old Terry Gross (NPR’s “Fresh Air”) interview with the great Gore Vidal, who died last Tuesday. In it, Vidal referred to America as a “primitive” culture, one ruled by superstition and religious bias. It got me thinking (again) about the state of writerdom in the US. Who then, is our audience? Writers toil and bare their souls to produce works of truth and beauty, but who, honestly, cares?
Most adults read little. Women read romances and softcore porn. Men don’t read at all, unless you count comics, or books about how to be a better salesman, or how to cheat at the stock market, which I don’t. Kids read more, but it’s YA, which I couldn’t write if Tickle Me Elmo held a gun to my head. Literary fiction, my passion and my bane, is as popular these days as Obama at a Tea Party social.
Agents and publishers mumble in their sleep, “It’s great, but I can’t sell it.”
I fantasize about someday moving to England or Italy where the millions of literate residents will no doubt appreciate my talents. But wait? Is it any better there? I spent Friday afternoon Googling the possibilities. Here are some snippets:
From The Standard (UK): …the truth is that very few people earn much from writing. British publishers produce 200,000 titles a year. Of these, 190,000 sell fewer than 3,500 copies. A recent survey of writers’ incomes showed that the average income of all respondents was just £4,000 [$6,254]. For professional writers it was £12,300 [$19,232].
The Guardian’s (UK) Books Blog adds: What people really want… is to be broke. At least, that’s one likely interpretation of a new YouGov poll that shows more people in this country would rather be a writer than anything else. Now it’s possible they’ve all got their eyes on the JK Rowling squillions, but the financial reality is rather more depressing. Most book manuscripts end up unwanted and unread on publishers’ and agents’ slush piles, and the majority of those that do make it into print sell fewer than 1,000 copies. So while there are a small number of writers making a decent living, something like 80% of published authors earn less than £10,000 per year.
The Australian Society of Authors reports Australian authors average income is only $11,000 ($11,627 US).
The New Zealand Society of Authors (NZSA) recently surveyed 355 mid-career and established writers regarding income and discovered that “just 17% of New Zealand writers survive solely on their writing income.” The mean total of a writer’s income from all sources (but excluding full-time work) was $15,383 ($13,495 US). The minimum wage in New Zealand is $23,400.
But then, I found this, from a NY Times story by Elaine Sciolino, dated June 20, 2012:
The French, as usual, insist on being different. As independent bookstores crash and burn in the United States and Britain, the book market in France is doing just fine. France boasts 2,500 bookstores, and for every neighborhood bookstore that closes, another seems to open. From 2003 to 2011 book sales in France increased by 6.5 percent. E-books account for only 1.8 percent of the general consumer publishing market here, compared with 6.4 percent in the United States. The French have a centuries-old reverence for the printed page.
Sacré bleu! Or maybe I should say, au revoir! How long do you think it would take me to learn to write literary fiction in French?