This article by Toby Young originally appeared on The Telegraph on 1/16/15.
Writing’s always been lopsided, but it’s got a lot worse in the last decade
I envy William Hague. Not the £2.5 million country house he’s just bought in Wales, although that would be nice. Rather, the fact that he plans to spend his retirement writing books.
These days, you need a substantial private income – or a public sector pension – to be a full-time writer. Last year, a survey of 2,500 professional authors found that their median income in 2013 was £11,000. That’s a drop of 29 per cent since 2005 and significantly below the minimum salary required to achieve a decent standard of living.
The writing game is notoriously lopsided, in which a small handful of bestselling authors earn a fortune and the vast majority live on scraps, but it’s got worse in the past decade. “You’ve always been able to comfortably house the British literary writers who can earn all their living from books in a single room,” says the author Will Self, whose own royalties have tailed off in recent years. “That room used to be a reception one, now it’s a back bedroom.”