The first comprehensive survey of writers' income in the UK since 2005 has thrown up some shocking figures, not least the fact that our income has fallen by almost 30% in the past 9 years.
The median - in other words, the middle of a list that starts at the bottom with me (probably) and ends at J.K.Rowling or E.L.James - is a mere £11,000. Compare that to the £16,850 the Joseph Rowntree Trust says is necessary to achieve a minimum standard of living and you get some sense of the problem.
And that median, you know, comes in the middle of long list. Everyone knows that 10% of authors earn over 90% of the money made by writers. But if the remainder can at least earn a crust by their efforts, well... we can always move into that garret can't we?
It's not hard to see why most authors are poor. Although I sometimes see people raise their eyebrows when I tell them where I live and why I ride a bike instead of driving a rolls. So, just to be clear, here's how it works:
An advance, first. I've had a few. (But then again, too few to mention.) But that's an advance against future royalties - a loan if you like - so you don't get anything else on top. Not until you've paid off your debt (out of royalties, that is.)
And that, dear reader, can take an awfully long time. Two of my books retail at £9.99 per copy. My fairly standard contract means I get 10% of the net royalties on each sale. So do I get 99p? Do I ever...
Because the tenner you hand over in the bookshop goes to the bookseller, who will have bought the book you're now holding from the distributor/wholesaler for considerably less (let's be generous and say £7).
But that £7 goes to the wholesaler. I'm nowhere near my slice yet. Because the wholesaler buys from the publisher for around, say, £3. They've got a business to run, after all.
I'm sure you can do the maths. It's that £3 that I get a tiny fraction of (because let's not forget the publisher has overheads too). And so you'll see that it takes an awful lot of sales to make a living. And that's without mentioning a host of reasons why we might get paid even less - such as bulk discounts, library or Book Club editions, and, of course, the 'A' word - Amazon .
It's no wonder so many established authors turn to self-publishing. (Incidentally, even J.K.Rowling has done it. The first of the Harry Potter books were published before the advent of the eBook and she very wisely kept the electronic rights of her books to herself and has now, effectively, self-published her back list in eBook format. Clever!)
But until the rest of us have anything approaching her reputation we'll need to do it the hard way.
I don't see the situation getting better in a hurry. I mean, who seriously pays £9.99 for a book these days? A return to the rich patron of yesteryear would be no bad thing. In fact (here's a revolutionary suggestion) perhaps that top ten percent of hyper-rich authors should each agree to sponsor a struggling beginner, someone at the foot of the ladder? They'd get mighty kudos knowing that they're helping the next generation.
And who knows, the next generation might even include another J.K.Rowling...