A recent survey by Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), highlighted in the Guardian, seems to be saying what some of us writers have suspected for some time – don’t give up the day job; at least so far as writing fiction is concerned.
The rise of free ebook appears to have a lot to do with this. I know many people who used to buy or borrow (from libraries) several books a month, or even a week, are now downloading free e-books or expecting to pay 99p at the most. Every day you see comments by readers and, yes, occasionally publishing professionals, complaining at the “high” cost of e-books. All will cite the lack of overheads as an excuse to scavenge cheap reading matter from the great online.
I have some sympathy with that view because in some cases the downloaded e-book may not be owned by the purchaser. It can’t be easily (or legally?) lent to a friend, or sold on, or donated to charity – or used to prop up a wonky table, or any of the other hundred-and-one things to do with an old paperback. Nor can it be stored on a bookshelf and loving gloated over as many of the bibliophiles amongst us are frequently suspected of doing. Why would you want to pay rental? But that does not help the poor writer.
It was once pointed out to me by an editor with a major publishing house that the book reader and the book fan is not the same beast. Readers do just that; they read and move on to the next book. Whereas the fan hordes and cherishes their purchases, and searches out specific authors and series titles with the enthusiasm of any truffle hound, and yet is discerning about their choice of reading matter. Years in bookselling has taught me the wisdom of that distinction: contrary to what may seem logical, it is the reader rather than the fan who drives sales.
There has been a thriving community in genre fiction that has survived for years on the basis that we publish for the love of the written word and of our chosen sphere; be that fantasy, horror, sf, crime, romance, historical or any other of the niche markets. Yes we want to sell books, and we want to at very least turn a small profit. Few of us could live on the proceeds, but few of us will be put off of from writing and publishing our chosen darlings because it is what and who we are.
It is a lottery: we give ourselves the best odds we can and hope that somewhere along the line we win the big one. Sometimes it does happen … but don’t give up the day job just yet.