Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What People Should Know About Writers

Currently the rotten economy has made the publishing industry leaner and meaner.  Rejection notes sound curt and dismissive.  So much so that I caught myself telling a relatively new writer the other day that I couldn't believe I could make a living at it all these years (25).  She pondered at how difficult that must be herself.

The truth of the matter is that many writers earn a living besides blockbuster writers such as J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins or Stephanie Meyers.  What even new writers don't understand is that advances and royalties alone rarely make up that liveable income.

Writing-related income does.

So, the moment you write a book, you are often asked to teach others how to do it.  This could be in a community college or university depending on your own educational background. Or it could be a session at a writer conference. Children's writers also instantly become experts on how to make kids read--parents wring their hands as they approach me about advice on this matter--so income can come from family literacy talks.  We also know how to inspire writing in young people.

If you listen to anyone who is passionate about their work, you realize the potential to motivate and inspire students and others.  Income, and book sales, therefore can be derived from school, library, and bookclub visits.

Strangely, I'm often paid to judge writing contests.  Minimally, still usually enough to pay for a full grocery cart.

Looking at, evaluating and/or suggesting changes on a manuscript should pay the mortgage for one month, depending on the size of the home and manuscript.

The expertise required to write a book can lead to the ability to edit others' work.  I love my part time job editing a parenting magazine called Today's Parent Toronto.

Freelance writing opportunities have become less frequent since everyone gives away information, such as what I'm doing right now, on blogs.   But I have, in the past, written for newspapers and magazines.  This month I hired myself to write a feature called Creating a Passion for Pages.

Additionally I have earned my way through being an electronic writer in residence, through writing a proposal for an internet travel journal and even bartered a museum membership by "trying out" to write the (wall) speech balloons for some microbes.

My family vacations have been structured around weeklong readings where the hotel has an amazing waterslide.  

Lately, most of my royalties come from other countries where I guess kids buy more books than in Canada.A windfall gain might be an Ontario Arts or Canada Council Grant.  I have been fortunate in the past.When a writer wins a GG, TD or other major monetary award, don't even ask what they're doing with the money.  They're paying down their VISA and/or personal line of credit.

Two fairly steady streams of income are public lending rights (moneys paid through Canada Council for books available in libraries) and Access Copyright (blanket licensing that charges small fees for small unrecorded photocopying and digital downloading--saves the user time if he/she doesn't have to write me for permissions)  Monday, I'll be flying into Ottawa to try to convince MPs to tighten the educational exception on the copyright bill C11 to protect the AC income.

Grocery cart by grocery cart, the bits of income all add up.

I think every writer longs to be a blockbuster author.  We feel inadequate when we're not, especially when signing a contract in the publisher's office. Or when a government (municipal, provincial or federal) makes cuts to the arts.

But, does the world only want blockbuster hits?  Think of all the wonderful surprising books that have changed your life that weren't best sellers.

I fondly remember a waitress hugging me after serving me my lunch because her child had stayed up reading her first book (mine) the night before.  I've heard that a young victim of parental abuse came to therapy clutching her favourite comfort, one of my books.  I know at least two young women who have fostered many guide dogs after reading my fiction on the topic.  There are many other touching stories I know about that make me realize that blockbusters are not the only important literature out there.
In fact, I often find the bestsellers rather disappointing.

So for the general public, don't begrudge the writer the fees for talks and other writing related activities.  Also buy the book even if you can put it on hold at the library or borrow it from a buddy.
Finally, tell your MP that the arts and a strong copyright bill are important to you.


Anonymous said...

Excellent points, as always. You'll do a great job representing us in Ottawa.
Gisela Sherman

Debbie Ouellet said...

Thanks for speaking for us, Sylvia.

It’s hard for others to understand the time, sweat and blood that goes into writing a book. As it stands, Canadian writers are paid disproportionately less than the true value they bring to books. That’s especially true for our group—children’s writers.

Our intellectual property is our bread and butter, but more importantly, it is OURS. We have the right to be paid for our work. The educational exemption not only makes it harder to earn a living, it takes away that right.

Good luck with getting the word out,


Lynn Westerhout said...

I am glad you are going to Ottawa to explain how exceptions are starving not only the creators, but also the consumers!
So much is valued only if it has to be paid for. What educational message are we giving students? And governments do not need any more loopholes to escape funding education properly. Thanks for girding your loins and battling to make C11 a fairer bill.
Lynn Westerhout, author, teacher, grandparent and citizen.

Jocelyn Shipley said...

Great post, Sylvia. A strong copyright bill with a tighter clause on educational fair dealing is very important to me, to protect the small income I make from my books. Thank you so very much for representing all writers in Ottawa next Monday. Best of luck!

Beth said...

This is beautifully written, Sylvia. It's such an important topic to keep alive. As a writer of three published books, I'm grateful that you're fighting for all of us. I know I couldn't have a better representative speaking on my behalf. Thank you!

Marsha Skrypuch said...

Sylvia, thank you for speaking out on behalf of authors.

Marsha Skrypuch

Ed Butts said...

Somebody once said to me, "You don't have to pay the manufacturer everytime you use your toaster once you've bought it. So why should writers expect to keep getting paid for something they've written?" Clearly, some people have no understanding at all of how the royalty system works. Nor do they realize that most writers don't make a lot of money. Any changes made to Canada's copyright laws should protect writers, not leave them open to exploitation.

Karleen said...

Good for you, Sylvia, for doing this. You are doing us all an immense favour.

Tightening the legislation on Bill C11 with regards to the educational exemption is crucial. Teachers are paid for their work, why should writers not be?

If writers are not paid for their work there will be no books for schools to use. It's almost as simple as that.

Valerie Sherrard said...

Thank you, Sylvia, for championing the cause of writers. I enjoyed the personal tone of your message, and the way it brought across the fact that there are very real people behind the work we do.

Karen Krossing said...

Thanks for speaking out for the copyright of creators in Ottawa, Sylvia. Your one voice represents so many of us.

Deb said...

So well said, Sylvia. All the writers that I know are the hardest of workers and probably accomplish more in a couple of hours than a lot of people with 'normal' jobs do in an 8-hour work day. Our 'work' is intense and passionate, but we wouldn't want to be doing anything else. As creators, as artists, we continue to be undervalued, and we need your voice to support us. Thanks so much for speaking up!
Deb Loughead

Frances said...
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Frances said...

I'm sure you have many things you'd rather be doing, Sylvia, than trying to convince people that writers can't afford to work for free, so heartfelt thanks for representing us.

What is the point of copyright laws if they don't protect intellectual property?


Rebecca said...

Thank you, Sylvia, for speaking for all of us who write for children. Having a strong copyright bill that protects the creators will ensure the books will be there in the future for the children who so desperately need them.

Karen Bass said...

Thank you, Sylvia, for speaking out for all of us. Content is what teachers deliver in the classroom, and the creators of that content need to be acknowledged and their rights protected. Doesn't copyright mean we have the right to decide how our 'copy' is used?

Genn Gordon said...

I was recently told that the average Canadian writer makes 16K/yr, and that the average Canadian children's writer makes...wait for it...6K/yr. As you say, there are supporting ways to augment that income, but we need all the revenue our IP can provide.

The fair-dealing clause is not one that only affects authors and educators. It affects ALL Canadians.

By not supporting our authors, we risk losing an amazing piece of our heritage and culture, as creators of Canadian content for children are slowly being forced out of the field due to economic pressures.

This is an issue at a crisis point and I am so thankful to you Sylvia for being a voice for us.

No one is looking for a handout, but only the revenue rightly due them.

Jennifer Gordon

Joanne Levy said...

Hear, hear! Thanks for being the voice for this important issue, Sylvia.

Pat L. said...

Good luck in Ottawa Sylvia! Fight the good fight for copyright.

Deborah Serravalle said...

You've clearly outlined the important points of a confusing issue. And you've done so with heart.

I agree with the statement that most people do not understand the system by which writers are paid. That's why speaking out is so important.

I'm sure you'll do a great job in Ottawa. Best of luck!

patricia said...

Thank-you, Sylvia, for speaking up for all of us. Crossing fingers for a successful trip to Ottawa!

Lena Coakley said...

As a short story writer with stories in educational anthologies with multiple authors, this bill would allow people to copy my stories legally with no remuneration to me at all. It would be a huge blow.

So glad you will be representing us in Ottawa, Sylvia.

Rachna Gilmore said...

Thanks for shining the spotlight on this, Sylvia. It's hard enough making a living -- a meagre living -- without having to spend time defending the pittance we make. When politicians think of cutting into the livelihood of writers perhaps they should stop to think back to the books they read when they were young -- books that made a difference. What would their lives have been like if they hadn't had those books? How do you think those writers lived/survived so they could write those books?

Joan Marie Galat said...

Thanks for your dedicated efforts to protect copyright. My entire income is derived from writing and writing-related activities.

People who follow their passion to write and create books already make many financial sacrifices. They deserve the backing of meaningful and effective copyright legislation.

Joan Marie Galat
Author of the Dot to Dot in the Sky astronomy/mythology series and other books.

Super Happy Jen said...

Sent this post to my writing group. Enjoy the onslaught of new readers (okay, there's only 6 people in my group, but still)

Sharon Clare said...

Popping in from Jen's critique group. Thank you for sharing, Sylvia, you make some great points. Jen participated in my first writing retreat in September and with the feedback I received I see an opportunity here!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much, Sylvia, for speaking on behalf of us this week! Copyright Bill C11 is definitely a concern for all authors. The "fair dealing" clause/ educational exemption needs parliament's immediate attention. My intellectual property is how I feed my family, and pay bills and taxes. We need a strong copyright bill in Canada. It's fair and win-win for all Canadians.

Regards, Cheryl Archer

Anonymous said...

Thank you Sylvia for your comments and your support of Copywrite Bill C11! I have much to learn as I struggle through completion of draft number one of my very first novel and you give me hope :)
Carole-Ann (one of six from Super Happy Jen's writing Group :) )