This week we read that the average income for authors has declined. A typical author now earns around £11,000, not a living wage. At different times blame for authors' declining remuneration has been thrown at the reading public, television, teachers, the end of the net book agreement, Waterstones undermining independent bookshops, amazon ousting physical bookstores, charity shops - but perhaps the problem now lies not with readers but with writers themselves.
The number of readers may be fairly steady (in our obsession with writers has anyone researched this?) What is clear is that the number of writers has grown hugely. These days it seems that everyone wants to be published - traditionally published, self-published, hybrid, any which way published. Agents are inundated with manuscripts flooding in from hordes of talented hopefuls. Creative writing courses are proliferating.
There must be a limit to the number of authors the reading public can support, and perhaps we have reached it.
Then there is the vexed question of quality. Of course not every traditionally published book is any good, and there are many brilliant writers who self-publish because they are unable to find a publishing house prepared to invest in them. Some self-published writers are very successful. I have no problem with them per se. But the traditional model did impose a strict limit on the number of books it was feasible to publish each year. With self publication, there is no restraint. Anyone can upload a manuscript and be a 'published author'. If enough people are 'published', the title becomes meaningless.
Most of us are able to speak. We don't all believe we should therefore be recognised as orators. In the same way, literacy doesn't automatically guarantee the ability to write a book. A vast number of people have confided to me their ambition to become authors. They are just waiting to think of an idea so they can write their book. This attitude concerns me deeply. F Scott FitzGerald said, 'You don't write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.' It's a crucial distinction. Authors are not merely people who can write. The talent to write well is a prerequisite of being an author. But to define authors as people who write is a misrepresentation.
Authors are story tellers. That is what authors do. Writing is the medium. In an illiterate society, authors are the people spinning tales out loud, because they have stories to tell. Authors in ancient civilisations were the creators of myths, weavers of legends that were told in verse, which allows an oral tradition to be passed on more easily from generation to generation.
This year I'm very very grateful not to fall into the category of a "typical author", but next year, who knows? As an author currently earning a comfortable living from writing fiction, I can only hope that more people take time off from writing to read more... and hopefully to keep buying my books!