“So you want to write … then go home and bloody well write”.
Is 2018 a good time to be a writer?
Well, Ben Stubbs thought it was a good time to be a writer, Dr Kiera Lindsey regarded being a writer as an honour, and Stephen Orr said there have been worse times.
But, are these Australian authors right? Let us explore briefly what it takes to be a writer in Australia.
THE BIG PICTURE
The Australian book industry is in decline. A major problem is the uneven playing field between local retailers and their global competitors. For example, if you buy a book at Amazon -the biggest book retailer worldwide- you will find it cheaper because you don’t have to pay the Goods and Services Tax (GST). According to a recent survey by the Australian Council for the Arts, 40 per cent of book purchases in Australia are made through online websites. Australian people like reading. The problem is that they are not buying enough books from local retailers, therefore having an impact on the whole industry.
Also, more and more large publishing houses, as well as department stores like Big W, are making decisions based on sales and marketing data, rather than on literary motives. Why does this affect authors? Well, the number of titles on the shelves is limited to top-list authors, therefore reducing chances for other authors and genres; particularly the literary fiction and poetry genres, which have become less popular in recent times. Orr said the smaller publishers are the ones “putting out the best writing.” One of these publishers is Michael Bollen from Wakefield Press, who believes publishing good books is the best way to boost literature, beyond income expectations.
The possibility of law changes is another issue against authors. These changes include to remove the Parallel Import Restrictions (PIR) on books.
The PIR ban local retailers from importing books for sale in Australia – within 30 days – if those books were published overseas and in Australia. The removal of the PIR would help local booksellers to offer cheaper books, but it would further affect the revenue of publishers and writers.
The average income of local authors is A$13,000.
Orr said that if you are not a top-list author, you would need a second job to survive.
“Even a great writer like Frank Moorhouse recently admitted … that after fifty years of writing he is now broke … Of course, you can spend your days applying for every grant going, but that’s a major contraceptive to any idea of creativity.” Orr said.
THEN WHY DO WRITERS WRITE?
If you’re still reading these lines, you might be asking yourself that question, and maybe Stubbs had the best answer.
“I love writing. It’s what gets me up in the morning.”
“If I make a little bit of money from it … it’s great. But if it doesn’t, I’d still do it.”
And perhaps the current conditions are not as bad as they seem, in comparison to other times.
Orr wondered, “Was it ever a good time?”
“Australian writers in the forties and fifties had it worse, with very few local publishers, and everyone reading overseas books.” Orr said.
Dr Lindsey -an expert of Australian history- says now there is a “highly literary marketplace”, whereas in the nineteenth century there were “thousands and thousands of people who couldn’t read.”
“If you look at the Australian environment, we have a Writers’ Festival in most large cities… So, there’s a lot of platforms …”
The Books Create Australia campaign said about 300,000 people attend our Writers’ Festivals each year.
“We have more stories that need to be told, more stories that need to be explored and addressed … I can’t see how it could be a bad time to be writer!” Dr Lindsey said.
NO ROOM FOR BAD WRITERS
But, regardless of time, you have to work hard on your writing skills.
“You’re not going to become Hemingway overnight”.
“(I)f each day, you spend an hour tied to the chair… and you write, your writing is going to improve a little bit.” Dr Lindsey said.
And Orr’s advice is about an essential element which everybody seems to overlook: grammar.
“Listen to your English teacher and work out the difference between affect and effect! (and a thousand other grammatical screw-ups I see every day).” Orr said.
DON’T GIVE UP ON YOUR DREAMS
Orr recommends aspiring authors to follow their dreams despite adversities.
“Don’t buy the line that writers need to cater to the market. Cater to your own interests. Better failing at that than becoming some sort of ficto-robot. Accept that yours will be a difficult life, financially insecure, full of self-doubt and difficulty.”
“Better a well-crafted sentence than a new Porsche.” Orr said.
BEWARE OF SOCIAL MEDIA
Nowadays, readers review their books, tweet during book events, and have their say on YouTube.
Social media and the Internet are essential for writers in their self-promotion. Despite this, authors have become wary of readers’ feedback as it might play against you at times.
“It’s not worth getting angry about.”
“People are entitled to their opinion, and any writer who wants to keep their sanity shouldn’t look at any, anyway.”
“With Ticket to Paradise (Stubbs’ first book) … when I started radio interviews, one night, people were sending feedback and it got me really anxious, because I felt like I had to defend it and everything.” Stubbs said.
Dr Lindsey told me a story about the brilliant English writer G.K. Chesterton:
He was once invited to Cambridge to talk to a group of aspiring writers and he was asked, “What is your advice?” Chesterton walked down the aisle as everybody was trembling with excitement. He took the podium, looked around at all these people, and he pronounced only these words, “So you want to write … then go home and bloody well write”.
Words by David Bucio-Lueza
Illustration by Jasmin Green