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Much Ado About Royalties

SpudOn the Run

John van de RuitMichelle Matthews and Arthur Attwell Ben Williams Ben Trovato

Alert! Published and be damned… to keeping your day job. Most writers know this. Writer Anton Ferreira, however, sees a silver lining: because expectations are so low, when it comes to making a living from writing in South Africa, our writers are immune to discouragement in the face of a global depression. If you weren’t going to make much from royalties during the boom times, why worry when things go bust? Just keep typing away.

Your Correspondent and Electric Book Works‘ Arthur Attwell are quoted in Ferreira’s article on the relatively optimistic writing and publishing scenes in SA. At the end of the piece, I’m quoted as saying that Ben Trovato “made a lot of money” from his self-published On the Run. This prompted the following note from Mr T:

Dear Mr Williams,

I was sailing with Steve (King) and Dean (Koontz) off Martinique last week and we were taking bets on who among us had the most money. But since none of us had bothered to check our bank statements in years, we couldn’t be absolutely certain of who was the winner. However, this matter has been resolved in the wake of your comments in today’s Sunday Times. As an author with impeccable sources and unquestionable credentials, you have conclusively indicated that I am, in fact, the richest of them all.

Thanks you so much for reminding the literary world that I am not a man to be trifled with.

Yours in clover,

Ben Trovato

PS. I expect the gentlemen from the Revenue Service will be wanting a word with me this week. I shall not hesitate to return the favour and direct them to your home.

What I meant, of course, was “relative to other self-published authors”, i.e., “it’s possible to make some money as a writer in SA, though we all can’t be John van de Ruit“:

It sounds like a fairy story, but one group of South Africans has yet to feel the impact of the global economic meltdown: writers who eke out an income from royalties on their books.

Granted, few of them have much to lose in the first place.

“In South Africa, writers don’t write books for the royalties,” said Ben Williams, who runs one of the leading websites for South African authors,

“I would say most writers don’t do it for money, they do it for love. When royalties go up or down, it’s just a matter of a couple of hundred rands either way. It doesn’t make a huge difference to your pocket book, unless you’re John van de Ruit.”

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Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    February 9th, 2009 @10:57 #

    Very interesting, although I choked at the phrase "writers eke out an income". Er, no. Because I am so unwise as to have compiled a bunch of anthologies (which means paying copyright fees -- usually in a hard currency), my royalty statements have healthy five-figure sums on them -- until you spot the minus sign in front of them. This meant that in the case of my poetry anthology, I sponsored the profit my publisher was making on it (which was healthy) for three years.

    One thing gave me the wobbles reading this: did anyone spot that Jacana -- yes, Jacana -- is publishing less fiction? This after Oshun and Zebra decided to drop fiction from their lists about 18 months ago.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Arthur Attwell</a>
    Arthur Attwell
    February 9th, 2009 @13:01 #

    I'm still waiting for Ben Trovato to invite me onto his boat; he's owed me since I told him how rich he would get from On the Run, a few months before he self-published it. I like Ferreira's article, though was bemused that he says EBW has only ten self-publishing clients. I'd never have bought this Rolex if that were true.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Ben Trovato</a>
    Ben Trovato
    February 9th, 2009 @14:07 #

    Bad news, Arthur. Steve had one of his episodes and took a chainsaw to the hull while Dean and I were doing a line off Paris Hilton's tummy. He's never been the same since the accident, you know.
    So, no more boat. But Ricky (Branson) is lending me the Gulfstream this weekend. It'll be a squeeze, but I can pick you up at Hartleyvale Stadium at 10am on Saturday. Try to clear the field before I land. The last thing I want is to suck half a hockey team into Rick's engines and plough into Valkenberg insane asylum.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    February 9th, 2009 @14:20 #

    There is no other way to say it: ROFLH (H is for hysterically).

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Sarah</a>
    February 9th, 2009 @14:43 #

    Do any writers - apart from John Van der Ruit of course - even "eke out a living" from writing? The living is almost certainly subsidised by the proverbial day job. If it's any consolation, Patricia Highsmith, in her book on plotting and writing suspense fiction, reminds writers that they have both their jobs (which pay the bills) and their work (their writing). One of the strange things about finding myself unemployed is how I fill my days with writing - in the knowledge that I won't actually be able to survive on any royalties that accrue from my work.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Anton</a>
    February 9th, 2009 @17:38 #

    Er, it was "eke out an income", Sarah.


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