Why English Writers Accept Being Treated Like Dirt

Homeless Writer

I recently read an article on The Spectator titled, ‘Why English writers accept being treated like dirt.‘ The author of the article, Nick Cohen, writes eloquently on the subject of writers being expected to work for ‘exposure’ rather than actual pay (bringing up the Oxford Literary Festival and their treatment of writers), and how this pushes the viability of writing for a living in to something only within the grasp of ‘those whose parents are wealthy enough to subsidise them.’

Before I started writing a novel I knew it was gong to be hard work, but nothing could have prepared me for quite how much time and effort it entails. I already knew going in, that any money I made from selling copies wouldn’t equate to anywhere near the numbers of hours I put in to writing it. But having experienced the process now, I’m completely gobsmacked at how low the value of writing actually is. I think that if I took the time I used writing my novel as an unknown author, and instead used it to sit in the street with a sign asking for small change, I would come away with more money.

Cohen’s closing statement says it all:

‘Pay the bloody writer.’

© 2016, Gavin Zanker. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Photo by Ritesh Nayak licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.

3 thoughts on “Why English Writers Accept Being Treated Like Dirt”

  1. You’re probably right about panhandling for spare change. 🙁 In our wonderful (ha ha) market-based economy work isn’t valued by how difficult it is or how important it is. It’s valued by how much people are willing to pay for it. For first novels, this is generally “not much, if anything,” It’s not all that much more for second and third and fourth novels, unless the writer gets lucky, in which case what people are willing to pay has less to do with the quality of the work and more to do with the buzz that comes with it. Some writers, however, do more than OK financially. This is because they are able to crank out one or two or even three novels a year in a genre that has a lot of addicts — uh, “readers” — anxious for the next fix. I’m thinking romance here, where hardcore fans are said to read seven books a week. (To me that’s not reading; that’s “using,” but I digress . . .) Commercial publishers have encouraged the proliferation of genres and sub-genres because this enables them to sell books like widgets. It also enables writers to create them like widgets: follow the formula, vary it just enough to fool the readers, and there you go. Sometimes I wish I could do that, but mostly I don’t.

    For a high-profile literary festival, or even a low-profile one, to expect writers to speak for nothing — that to me is unconscionable. Unless, of course, the sound techs, the ad agency, and all the rest are also expected to work for nothing. Published writers often make more money from speaking engagements, teaching, and leading workshops than they do writing.

    1. I can’t disagree with anything you said. I suppose the only way to make a living writing real, decent books these days is to reach a compromise between the writing and the advertising. I already do a lot more of the non-writing side than I would prefer, and it’s not enough to have any noticable effect on spreading awareness of my work.

      Sometimes I wish I could do that, but mostly I don’t.

      I know what you mean. While it would make more sense financially to churn out reskinned garbage every month, I would quickly end up hating what I did. I would be better off finding a job in another industry instead, and just enjoy writing as a hobby in my spare time.

      But I’m too stubborn to give up on my dream of writing full-time at this point. As Bukowski said, ‘If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start.’

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