The Society of Authors recently conducted a survey amongst members and established that the average amount earned by authors was £12,000 per anum. That’s not really enough to live on these days. So most of us do other things as well. Sometimes they’re things we want to do and sometimes it’s just work. Occasionally, other work may be more attractive than mere jobbing writing: e.g. doing shift at the pub to pay your rent and for food, then spend all of your creative energy on the writing you’re really interested in.
Even the great and good didn’t necessarily have it easy.
Here are a few examples:
Yes, his plays were good and he was a risk-taker. Instead of just taking the royalties paid for the scripts, he actually also invested in the theatres and the theatre companies until he built his own. He was a business man as well as a creative practitioner.
Note, however, when Walter Scott invested in his publisher and printer, the firm became bankrupt, almost taking him with it.
He actually only lived at Dove Cottage for eight years. That was a really romantic time, however. He could really spend time writing and also enjoying family life. Financially he only managed to do that because he got a sponsor. He received a legacy of £900 from Raisley Calvert to pursue a career in literature. Someone believed in his work and paid for him to live. Whilst at Dove Cottage he worked on the Lyrical Ballads. At the time, these did not sell all that well. In 1842 he received a government pension and a year later became Poet Laureate. He wrote no poetry whilst he was in the role, however. In his youth he had a day job which gave him financial security.
He was mainly poor whilst alive though in May 1949 Thomas and his family moved to his final home, the Boat House at Laugharne purchased for him at a cost of £2,500 in April 1949 by Margaret Taylor. Again, someone had faith in his writing and thought he was worth sponsoring.
Louisa May Alcott
Alcott had other means which were just about adequate. She wrote mainly to supplement these. She wrote well and professionally for about twenty years and then wrote Little Women followed by the other books in the series. Little Women alone earned her over $5000 which was a fortune in those days. She invested this money wisely in the railways and became a rich woman. She was so rich that when someone could not afford to pay the mortgage she had set up with them she simply waved her hand and dismissed it.
J K Rowling
Yes. Okay she has done well. Very well indeed. She has become very rich though has given a lot away to charity. She had a difficult time whilst writing the first Harry Potter book. Chances are anyway that if she had put that amount of good creative energy into any other industry she would have made even more money. Not that it matters- where else would she want to put her energy?
As for me?
I’m not rich or famous but I am comfortably off and known. My big dream isn’t about being published by the Big Five or having a super-duper agent. I wouldn’t turn down a best seller, however. I have yet to find my Little Women. I am mainly where I am because I’ve worked for nine years as a lecturer in creative writing, three of them as a senior lecturer. I’m retired from the day job now but never from writing. My various pensions, my little income from writing and some investment in property make for a nice life style.
The bottom line for me is that I want people to pay for my work so that I feel justified in writing.