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E-book trash, not publishers, keeps authors poor

Once again we poor slaves of the written word are being categorised as an endangered species, especially those of us who devote our energies to long-form fiction and non-fiction.

The Society of Authors is blaming the subsistence level of writers’ earnings on publishers who fail to pay adequate recompense for works that end up as e-books.

It has called on publishers to shell out at least 50 per cent of their revenue from e-book sales instead of the “mere” 25 per cent that is currently paid – if you are lucky.

It’s a fair call and one that might help raise the income of British authors above the present annual median of £11,000.

However, with the enormous proliferation of self-published works, it could be that authors are their own worst enemies. Too many are chasing numbers – in terms of downloads – rather than income. Hardly have they uploaded their book to Amazon, Kindle, Smashwords or wherever than they are offering deals akin to some cheapjack stallholder down Petticoat Lane.

They equate success with downloads rather than with the number of readers willing to pay to read their work.

Writers’ websites are awash with screams of FREE or 99 CENTS, such is the minimal value they place on their creative work.

While the Society of Authors claims low publisher payments are reducing “the breadth and quality of content … that drives the cultural reputation of our creative industries”, it is actually the writers themselves who are doing this. The advent of easy online publishing has opened the floodgates to every Jack and Jill who picks up a genuine best-seller and says “I can do that” and dashes off another 100,00 words of trash to add to the already enormous shitpile that self-publishing has become.

They clearly can’t “do that” but no one is there to stop them or, at least, edit them, as the traditional publishers once did.

By all means reward authors adequately for their work – but first let’s ensure that work has merit some levels above trash that is too quickly becoming the norm.

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