Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize winner Kathy Page has been writing professionally for over 30 years and she still struggles with the low pay writers receive.
It's a story as old as the craft itself: an impoverished author, serving coffee or scrubbing floors while writing what would become a seminal novel.
Except in Canada today, tales of financial hardship extend to writers who are established, have published several books and even those who have won major prizes.
When the Writers' Union of Canada recently surveyed its members about their incomes, the results were sobering: an average writer made $9,380 a year from his or her writing. That's 27 per cent less than what writers made three years ago, and a whopping 78 per cent less than they made in 1998.
Even for established authors, tales of financial hardship are increasingly common.
Last year's Giller winner, Michael Redhill, famously shared what was left in his bank account before he deposited the $100,000 cheque: it was $411. In 2015, another Giller winner, Andre Alexis, joked with host Rick Mercer that winning the prize would "bring him back to zero."
Then there's Charles Foran, an Order of Canada member and author of 11 books. Foran recently won the $50,000 Writers' Trust Fellowship for his body of work, which has allowed him to quit his full-time job and work on his next book.
In 2016, Foran raised some eyebrows in literary circles when he opened up about his finances in an essay for Canadian Notes and Queries magazine. In it, he explained how despite awards and healthy sales, his finances after the publication of his popular 700-page Mordecai Richler biography still left him needing a full-time job.
"I was deliberate in doing something writers never do, which is I talked about money," Toronto-based Foran told CBC. It took him five years to write the book, people liked it, and it was awarded "all these prizes," he said. Even then, "it still doesn't add up to the income of a middle-tier banker for one year."
Reasons for the decline
In recent years, the publishing industry has contracted, with some houses folding and others, like Penguin and Random House, conglomerating into one. That means fewer venues for writers to publish their work.
At the same time, publishers are looking for immediate returns.
It used to be that a promising writer would get a two- or three-book deal with a publisher, allowing the author to fail but still keep writing. Now, many publishers are focused only on those books that are sure to sell well right away.
This article also appeared in the January 2019 edition of Haven Toronto's eMagazine, don't forget to subscribe!
Source: Adapted from piece by Deana Sumanac-Johnson, CBC News