Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Society of Authors’

What Is Writing Worth?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 28th June, 2018

wordcloud writing.pngThere is a massive paradox at the heart of Britain’s creative industries: though these are now worth over £90billion a year (and growing much faster than the economy as a whole), writers’ earnings have been declining sharply. In other words, the packaged goods are booming, but the people who produce core content are not getting properly remunerated, which inevitably means that many are having to search for other ways of earning a living. Let’s take a look at the figures. According to the latest survey of authors’ earnings — carried out by the University of Glasgow, on behalf of the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS)*, and launched at the All Party Parliamentary Writers Group summer reception in Parliament yesterday — the average actual earnings for professional writers in the UK last year was £10,437. That’s well below what someone on the minimum wage would earn for a 35-hour week. Worryingly, this sum is down from £12,330 in 2005 and £11,000 in 2013, when similar studies were carried out — and that doesn’t even take inflation into account. For part-time writers the figures are even worse. Now, I have met people who say “writers should write because of their love of writing, not for the money!” But that’s rather like saying, “chefs should cook for their love of cooking, not for the money!”. And just as one should not expect a free meal in a restaurant — or at least, one for which the chef is not being paid — neither should people expect free content when they get a book or other form of creative content. Sadly, one of the adverse effects of new technology and the ability to download content to all sorts of devices has been that consumers do increasingly expect a lot for free. But to do so risks cutting off the supply of the very thing they want. That’s why the work of bodies such as ALCS, the Society of Authors, the Writers’ Guild and others is so important, in campaigning for the respect of copyright and proper payment for creators. Work on copyright awareness is increasingly taking place in schools and other sectors, fortunately. So as this new alarm bell over writers’ impoverishment is rung, does that mean that when a further study is done in a few years time, we’ll see an upturn in the median earnings? Like most authors, I fervently hope so — but I’m not holding my breath.

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Engaging with Readers

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 23rd January, 2018

Eccles Cakes Eccles LibraryYesterday, together with several other Memoir Writers, I took part in my first Facebook event, which was an opportunity for us to talk about our books and for people to ask questions. Each of us who had signed up to the event had an average of an hour to be the focus of attention, while Brenda Mohammed (a prolific autobiographer living in Trinidad and Tobago) moderated. You can catch up with the discussion here:

Writing can be a lonely business, as by necessity one needs to spend large amounts of time undisturbed at one’s desk (or wherever one writes most fluently) day after day for months or even years on end. When I first started publishing books, the only contact I had with readers was the occasional letter that someone would write, sent to me via the publisher. Book signings — which I did for three of my books: George Fox and the Children of the Light Soho in the Fifties and Sixties and my childhood memoir Eccles Cakes — were an opportunity to meet some readers face-to-face, though inevitably those encounters were brief and superficial. However, with the development of new communication tools and people’s changing expectations, readers are often no longer satisfied just to be passive consumers, but instead want to engage more meaningfully with authors.

JF writing FortalezaThe proliferation of literary festivals in Britain is one manifestation of this. Festivals have sprung up like mushrooms across the country and some of the most established, such as Hay and Cheltenham, attract capacity audiences. Often these events give readers the opportunity to ask writers searching questions, and from the author’s point of view, they can boost sales. Thanks partly to pressure from the Society of Authors (the UK writers’ union), writers at festivals are increasingly paid a fee, as we should be. People are paying to hear us, after all, and time away from actually writing is something of a sacrifice.

All authors, whether self-published or not, are encouraged to do their own promotion these days, by going on book tours and badgering local or even national media to cover one’s new book. And growing numbers of us have blogs (like this one) or Facebook pages. In fact, I have several Facebook pages: a more personal one, for friends and followers, a political one, a writer’s one and most recently one for Eccles Cakes. I was a bit sceptical about creating a page for a specific book, but in fact it makes a lot of sense. People who like that page get updates whenever I post anything on it relating (however tangentially) to the book. They can ask questions or make comments, and of course there is a button enabling people to buy the book if they don’t already have it. Take a look, and see what you think! —

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Writers in Parliament

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 7th December, 2016

simon-rendell-and-valerie-amosYesterday the House of Commons terrace hosted the Winter Reception of the All Party Writers Group, sponsored by the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), on whose Board I sit. These events seem to grow each year, which is a good reflection of a growing awareness in both the Commons and the Lords about the challenges facing writers today. The creative industries contribute at least £70 billion a year to the UK economy and writers are a vital part of that production, yet writers’ incomes have in general fallen drastically in recent years. The J. K. Rowlings of this world are the exception, as the average professional writer these days earns only about £12,000 a year, which is barely enough to subsist on. Moreover, tough challenges are coming down the line, not least Brexit and the advance of the digital age. This means a lot of uncertainty lies ahead, which is why it is so important that writers have allies in Parliament to intervene as appropriate when relevant legislation is being discussed, from the digital economy bill to EU copyright directives. In recent months a new body, UKWriters, on whose steering group I sit, has been coordinating some of the lobbying work and priority-setting by writers’ organisations, including ALCS and the Society of Authors.

andy-mcnabSeveral of the MPs and peers present at yesterday’s receptions are authors themselves (and therefore beneficiaries of secondary royalties from ALCS, as well as Public Lending Right (PLR). It was good to see, among others, Tim Clement-Jones, Valerie Amos and Richard Balfe. However, the peer most in people’s minds was the late Ruth Rendell, in whose name an award was created, to recognise the work of someone who has promoted literacy brilliantly. I was honoured to be the ALCS representative on the judging panel and delighted that the first winner was Andy McNab whose back-story as a writer and brave exploits in “unsafe spaces” for literature (such as factories and prisons) richly merited the accolade. He was alas unable to be present to accept the award from Ruth Rendell’s son, the psychiatric social worker, Simon, as he was yomping somewhere far-flung. But Simon had come over from Colorado, where he lives, and Andy McNab was represented by a witty and impressive recorded message redolent of the sort of originality and quirkiness that makes him so special.

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Writers Hot under the Collar

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 27th September, 2012

The AGM of my trade union, the Society of Authors, held at Conway Hall in Central London this evening, was unusually contentious, as various members objected to the way things have been handled recently. But those concerns were postponed to another day, when an extraordinary general meeting can be summoned. In the meantime, we got the panel (minus one person who had already left) most of us had come to hear, on The Best of Times, The Worst of Times, moderated by my fellow biographer Anne Sebba. The publisher Larry Finlay (Transworld) and literary agent Anthony Goff (David Higham Associates) shared their impressions of the literary scene today. Anna started the discussion gloomily by pointing out that one new book is published in the United States every 10 seconds every day. Small wonder that many authors struggle to get noticed, even if they are published. At the same time, megastars such as J K Rowling (though one could argue she is one of a kind) can command front page coverage in every UK newspaper just for bringing out a book that isn’t about Harry Potter, as she did today. Nonetheless, Larry Finlay argued that we writers owe a debt of gratitude to J K Rowling, for making reading hip among young people. He was also quite upbeat about the rise of Kindle and other electronic reading devices, pointing out that most people who use Kindle also read physical books. Anthony Goff, in contrast, declared that the degree of author-care on the part of publishers is the lowest he ever remembers. He also bemoaned the fact that many publishers now oblige their authors to do most of the publicity for their works themselves, on blogs and social media such as twitter. There was general agreement that the upsurge in free content is undermining authors’ rights. However, Larry Finlay stressed that in Transworld’s case, at least, they employ piracy monitors who issue take-down notices when they locate pirated material.

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The Ghost of GBS and Michael Holroyd

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 25th April, 2008

Last night, I was at Conway Hall in Red Lion Square, Camden, that hotbed of socialist fervour, for a special meeting of the Shaw Society, at which its new President, the biographer Sir Michael Holroyd, was induced and toasted with deliciously chilled cava. Before the induction and refreshments, Jeremy Crow of the Society of Authors gave an informative and amusing account of George Bernard Shaw’s involvement with that body, on whose governing council he sat for several years, before withdrawing because of his anti-War views in 1915. Michael Holroyd, of course, wrote a celebrated 4-volume life of GBS, and has inherited tangentially a nice combination of seriousness and wit. The surroundings of the Tower Library at Conway Hall were just perfect for the event, and the assemblage of people appropriately diverse and (for the most part) quintessentially English.,uk


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