Mark’s Say, February 2019

A recent study by the Authors Guild in the United States has shown that the median income for writers in the US dropped 42% between 2009 and 2017. The director of the Authors Guild, Mary Rasenberger, said that in the mid-twentieth century a good literary fiction author could earn a middle-class living just by writing. Royalties and advances are down almost 30% and other sources of income from newspapers and magazines have also declined. Ms Rasenberger said this is largely because of the growth of Amazon, and its subsidiary Book Depository; their disruption of the market and drive for lower prices has led to diminishing returns for publishers, particularly small and independent publishers, which in turn has led to lower advances and royalties for authors. The picture is the same in the UK where a study has shown that earnings for professional authors has plummeted 42% since 2005. The CEO of the Australian Society of Authors, Juliet Rogers, says that there is not much data on Australian authors, although in 2013–14 Macquarie University did a survey of Australian authors which showed a median income of $12,900 from their creative writing. “We are working on getting up-to-date figures so that five years down the line we can compare. I would be hugely surprised if this figure had improved,” she said.

On a brighter note, Melbourne boy Bram Presser has won the Goldberg Prize for Debut Fiction in the National Jewish Book Awards in the US for his novel The Book of Dirt. Published by Text in 2017, The Book of Dirt is a fictional version of the life of Presser’s grandfather, a survivor of Theresienstadt and Auschwitz, who rarely spoke about his experiences to his family. It also won the NSW Premier’s Prize for Literature in 2018.

If you’ve spent time in Lygon Street or around our shop in Acland Street you will have noticed a dramatic rise over the past few years in the number of people asking for money on the streets. When I go to work early in Lygon Street I sometimes see ten to fifteen people curled up asleep in doorways and shopfronts. It makes me feel ashamed, disgusted and sad that such a wealthy and privileged society as ours can tolerate the fact that our fellow citizens are forced to live in such dire circumstances. I’ve had contact with some of the people on the street, heard their stories, and made friendships of sorts. As quickly as they appear they disappear and you wonder if things have become better for them. Their stories are rarely told. Homelessness is an issue that many of us just want to go away. In his new novel The Rip, Mark Brandi tells the story of a homeless couple. It’s a brave move but it’s a compelling and moving story. Brandi was drawn to the idea over a number of years; he used to work in the city around the corner from the Salvation Army centre and encountered homeless people there. Over time he became drawn to their stories and so the idea for the book and the central character began to form. While part of Brandi’s hope is that his book will help people pay more attention and care a little more, he really wanted to give voice to his character and to the story. With a recent study showing that Victoria spends half as much on social housing as does NSW, let’s hope The Rip is successful on both fronts – it’s out at the beginning of March.


Mark Rubbo is the managing director of Readings

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The Rip

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Mark Brandi

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