Nothing much to see here

My main source of income these days comes from writing – I am a writer.  One of the things about writing is that there is often a long tail to your income. It’s a long thin tail rather than a long fat tail (in my case, anyway!) but it is a long tail.

I am still getting royalties, twice a year from Pelagic Publishing, from sales of Fighting for Birds which was published in 2012 (and therefore largely written in 2011).  Pelagic also published the two books I’ve ‘written’ with Keith Betton, Behind the Binoculars and Behind More Binoculars. Of course, having a co-author means that one has a co-beneficiary of the royalties from the book, so when I tell you that my latest payment from Pelagic for royalties for all three books was a five-figure sum only if you include the pence then you’ll see that the tail is fairly thin. And when I tell you that the three-figure sum involved was an awful lot closer to £100 than £999 you’ll see that this book-writing lark is a modest money-earner. I’m not complaining – nobody forces me to write – in fact some people would be rather relieved if I stopped!

There is a tendency, not a very laudable one, for all authors and writers to think (perhaps fear?) that everyone else is coining it in. Some may be, but not very many who write about the natural world and who have a campaigning zeal.  Let’s take George Monbiot for example. I know George well enough that I could walk up to him, call him George rather than Mr Monbiot, and he’d say ‘Hello Mark’ and we’d have a chat, but I can’t remember actually speaking to him for about a couple of years, and in that time we have not as far as I can remember spoken on the phone (I don’t have his number) nor exchanged emails. We do, occasionally, in public, refer to each other in tweets and RT each others’ social media views now and again.

I admire George Monbiot’s work immensely.  I think his books are very good but I rate his journalistic polemics as superb as a whole, and that applies to his environmental writing as well as those more related to social matters.  He is also a very, very good public speaker. George sets the bar very high in areas where I would like to think of myself as quite competent. And so he does in another area – disclosure of his financial interests.  Before I give you the link to check George’s financial position just spend a few minutes guessing how much he earns, how much he is worth and what his financial prospects are. Now go look see here.

So, were you right?  George is doing OK, pretty well thanks to having a contract at the Guardian and being a successful author but he is freelance, as I am these days, and so has to find everything to cover illness, holidays and a lengthy retirement into old age.  Compared with some of the salaries earned at the BBC (at least by men) George Monbiot is not richly rewarded – I would have guessed he would earn more (and that’s what we all tend to think about others).  Whatever you think of how much he earns, all credit to him for such full disclosure.

For some years now I have done a similar, though far less detailed, account of my sources of income.  I updated it a few weeks ago – you can find it here.  I know, it’s a bit dull really!  It consists these days of payments for writing and fees and expenses for giving talks.  There may be some minor omissions (I sometimes find something insignificant to add when I do my tax returns each year) but no major ones. So the fact that there is no mention of payment to write this blog means that nobody is paying me to do it!

I noticed that George Monbiot received all of £3.76 from the Irish Public Lending Right – I was very envious of that. I registered with them too but have not yet had a bean!  As far as the UK PLR is concerned, I see that George got £284.73 in his last payment in February 2017.  At the same time I received  £77.80 (which I told you a little while ago) which I think compares quite well.  George will have just received his latest payment, as have I. My UK PLR payment for July 2016- June 2017 (received February 2018) was £78.73 so things are looking up, although not keeping up with inflation.

Since leaving the RSPB my most highly paid contract has been a four-month (three days a week) spell working for WWF before I headed off to the USA to research and start writing A Message from Martha. And the book from which I have made most money, and will continue to, over the next few years, is Remarkable Birds which is selling across the world and which is now translated into Chinese, French and Spanish and which is being translated into Russan too.

When I started this blog I thought it was going to be short, but it’s actually quite long.  Apologies!

Many thanks to everyone who buys or borrows my books, buys the magazines or newspapers for which I write and who comes to talks that I give. And many thanks to all my publishers for their tolerance and confidence in me.


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10 Replies to “Nothing much to see here”

  1. And we all thought you were only writing this blog - and campaigning against driven grouse shooting - in order to boost sales of your books and maintain your luxurious lifestyle!

    Refreshing transparency from yourself and Mr Monbiot. Perhaps you should both challenge some of the people you write about to follow suit?

  2. Interesting Mark. I've been a writer (of books and articles) for much of my career, first combining it with a salaried role, and latterly as a freelancer without another income. Another income-related topic that is not always in the open - and can be puzzling for new authors - is the percentage royalties that authors are given for their work on books. My 28 titles have all been in the range of a 10-15% royalty (i.e. that proportion of sales income is passed on to me), but I've heard that new authors are often now being asked to accept 8% or even less, which seems pretty outrageous. I should add that, for me, PLR and ALCS fees have been a helpful additional income over the years.

  3. A very interesting post, Mark.

    And thanks for your blog and books...I'm a huge fan.

    I'm off to order Remarkable Birds from my indie bookshop now. I choose to pay the full price, not the discounted price from Amazon, a company that avoid taxes, or from another discounted outlet, because I value what you have to say and hope you can continue to keep saying it! I realise the likely 10% royalty should buy you a cup of coffee...but hope you enjoy that cup of coffee!
    I choose to support my local indie bookshop too, because they provide a small market town with a wealth of knowledge of literature available and not just a small sample selection of celebrity books upon the supermarket shelves.

    James Mayhew's excellent and thought provoking blog demystifies the sources of income for children's authors and illustrators...and it's well worth a read. It may apply to your field of writing too;

    I am fortunate to have enough money be able to buy books.

    If I couldn't afford the book then I would borrow one from my library and you would rightly benefit via PLR too. And here is an excellent blog about the importance of libraries by Neil Gaiman

    "We all-adults and children, writers and readers-have an obligation to daydream. We have an obligation to imagine. It is easy to pretend that nobody can change anything, that we are in a world in which society is huge and the individual is less than nothing; an atom in a wall, a grain of rice in a rice field.But the truth is, individuals change their world over and over, individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different." Neil Gaiman.

    1. Gill - thanks. As you know, I am a great fan of your writing.

      I will decide which cup of coffee you have paid for and enjoy it all the more for knowing it's from you. Thank you.

  4. As I didn't know just how the PLR scheme works, I've looked it up. Apparently, only a sample of libraries are used for the scheme. Fortunately, the county I use is... so I shall look out for quite a few of the aforementioned books in future, and re-read them now and again!

  5. Mmm buy a coffee - that got me thinking. I usually read your blog over breakfast and you sometimes direct me to articles in the Guardian where the last few times they ask for a donation.(which I must admit to not giving -yet.)
    If I bought a paper it would cost, so how about an innovating a "buy you a coffee button". OK so a rural priced coffee button then, or low key and pop up once a week.

  6. Really? Transparency? Your main source of income is writing? I would have thought that your main source of income is your RSPB pension? If not, then you must be quite hard up #prayformark

    1. I note none of the sources of income are actually listed as earnings. Probably because none of them have been earned #prayformark


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