The death of the author – is there any money in books?

They say everyone has a book in them…but does that mean anyone will read it? Digital publishing has vastly changed the book world in the last few years, but does that mean it’s easy to be an author, or is the author as we know it dead?

Even up to a few years ago, it was difficult to get a publishing deal if you wanted to become an author, but now almost anyone can publish their own books with easy-to-use programs. This seems to be flooding the market, though, and with a flooded market, that means prices are drastically reduced…it’s not uncommon to see new authors’ books on Amazon for $0.99. When you factor in Amazon’s takings from each book and consider how much time it can take to write a book, it really doesn’t paint the most glamorous of pictures if you have ever dreamt of being an author.

In this year’s Digital Book World survey, 1,600 self-published authors said they were more concerned with making a book that people will buy as opposed to one that makes money. While that is all well and good, do we really live in a world where authors cannot be rewarded for their efforts…with money?

I recently attended a book signing by Australian writer and comedian Justin Heazlewood – he is a self-proclaimed “share-household name” – who said that his friends were surprised that he had already acknowledged his new book would not see him rake in money. He was an author, wasn’t he? He could get thousands, right? People knew him! Apparently this is a big misconception, particularly in Australia. Answer this question: how many books do you think a bestselling Australian author needs to sell? 50,000? 5,000? Nope – it’s more like 500. There’s a bit more maths to it than that, but essentially if you sell enough books in independent and chain bookstores in a week, you can be considered a bestseller. But how does that translate into money for the author? Andrew Stafford, the author of bestselling novel Pig City, told the audience at Justin’s signing that he still has to drive taxis to support his writing career, and although he’s a best seller, his book has made him $18,000…in 10 years, and that’s great by Australian standards.

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But what about Stephenie Meyer (Twilight) and E.L. James (50 Shades)? They are pretty much an anomaly in this digital publishing world. They were ahead of the curve in both their genres and are now far richer than they thought possible that first day they put a book up on Amazon for a few bucks.

There are so many writers nowadays that it can be hard to make a statement when you’re just a small fish in a big pond, plus everyone’s a writer too, because with digital publishing you can self-publish without the standards of traditional publishing i.e. an editor, a proofreader, or a typesetter.

So why is paying authors important anyway? Some of the best book authors are also writers – writers for publications we read every day. There’s a common misconception that all online content should be free…it’s online, isn’t it? Well not really: writers need to be paid so they can continue to write quality content. The less writers are paid, the less people will want to become book authors, and the less we will see great books on our shelves. That has to matter, doesn’t it? What would you do if your favourite author didn’t want to write anymore because they couldn’t pay their bills?

Of course digital publishing has its perks: you can find an audience even for the most obscure of topics. Grumpy Cat’s book just spent 10 weeks at the top of New York Times’ best sellers list….and it’s a cat that can’t stop frowning. While all of this may dishearten you, there is a light at the tunnel…the joy of writing. The joy of having a physical (or digital) copy of something you created. Everyone may have a book in them but how many of them actually write one? We should pat ourselves on the back if we’ve ever sat down and punched out a 250+ page book, no matter if it sells 1 or 1,000 copies.

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What do you think? Is the traditional author dead? Do you think writers should expect to make a profit or should they be happy just to be published at all? Have you ever written a book? Discuss below!