Well Known Authors
Well-known authors who have fallen on hard times are applying to an emergency pension fund for writers because they are unable to persuade publishers to reprint their works.
Nicola Solomon, chief executive of the Society of Authors, warned that applications to the body’s pension fund, intended to tide over those writer in distress, are increasingly being made by name authors.
Ms Solomon said that the annual income of professional authors has fallen to £11, 000, a figure well below the level identified by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation as necessary to achieve a socially acceptable standard of living (£16, 850).
She told the Bookseller Author Day: “Last week I saw the requests for assistance from our Pension Fund, which offers a bursary of around £2, 000 a year to authors who have fallen on hard times. I was struck by the number of once well-known writers who apply.”
Ms Solomon said authors would have a better chance of earning a decent living if contracts weren’t stacked in favour of their publishers. Many sit on an author’s backlist, traditionally the source of a reliable long-term income for mid-range writers, declining to republish their works or send fresh copies to stores. “Some of them (pension fund applicants) could perhaps be earning more if they could have access to their own work, ” she said.
The Society was recently left the estate of Catherine Gaskin, an Irish–Australian romance novelist. “When she died all her work was out of print. We reverted the works and are earning around £7, 000 a year per title from republishing them. That’s far more than we are offering in pensions – yet many of our authors are unable to persuade publishers to revert the rights to even quite moribund titles. That means that works are out of commerce which could be earning money for authors and for the economy.”
The Society wants a “use it or lose it” clause, currently operating in France, so that publishers are not allowed to refuse to republish works indefinitely. “Self-publishing is now a viable business for many authors if the rights revert to them, ” Ms Solomon said.
Henry Bingham, author of the Fiona Griffiths series of crime novels, said: “I previously wrote seven books for HarperCollins which they were no longer actively marketing and I offered to buy the rights back at market value. The books probably made a loss for the firm but they refused to sell them back at any price.”