07/31/2014 12:52 pm ET Updated Sep 30, 2014

Hey, Whiny British Authors... You Want Fries (Ahem, Chips) with That?

Whatever happened to that steely British resolve, that famous Churchillian stiff upper lip? When did the English become as whiny as we Americans?

Evidence has arrived in the form of an article in the Guardian, a leading British newspaper, that British authors are earning Dickensian starvation wages, and that such a state of affairs isn't, as a writers organization leader puts it, "fair."

According to a new survey, British authors today earn a mere £11,000, about $18,850, down 29 percent since 2005.

Which is less than they'd make if they went to work at McDonald's, making fries, or chips, as the British call them.

At the same time, the Authors' Licensing & Collecting Society, which surveyed authors to come up with the £11,000 figure, pointed out that creative arts actually contribute more than £71 billion to the British economy.

Worse, the survey says, publishers, bookstores, and agents take more of a cut than in the past, leaving less money for the poor, beleaguered authors.

"Authors need fair remuneration if they are to keep writing," the Guardian quoted Society of Authors chief executive Nicola Solomon.

You gotta be kidding.

Contrary to popular belief, at least in Britain, there's no job title called "author."

Solomon seems to be suggesting that society ought to pay people to write, the same way get paid to practice law or fry cooks get paid to... cook fries.


The attitude of entitlement here irks me.

The authors seem to be saying, "We want to write books. So someone should pay us."

Again, no.

The unfortunate reality for authors today is that fewer people are buying books. The other unfortunate reality, which apparently neither British authors nor British authors' groups want to confront, is that writing is only half of an author's job.

The other is promoting what you write.

Maybe the British are more reticent than we bold American chaps. But you can't expect that someone is going to publish your work and also market it for you.

You could have expected that half a century ago. But not today.

Today, authors must be entrepreneurial.

They must see themselves not just as creators but as their own sales force.

Marketing and selling tools exist as never before: Amazon; print-on-demand publishing; eBooks; social media.

But most authors, apparently across the pond as here in the United States, want other people to do those things for them.

So they can just sit home and create.

It really sounds a lot like Father Mackenzie, the minister celebrated in the Beatles song Eleanor
Rigby, writing sermons that no one will hear.

Even to think of an author's annual income as a "salary" - as the British survey implies - indicates the out-of-date thinking going on here.

There's no such thing as a job called "author."

There is a place in the world, however, for subject matter experts who can turn their wisdom into information that others will pay for.

Those people earn far more than that measly £11,000.

But if that's the earnings of average authors, the next question is this: if average authors are only writing average books, why should they earn even that much?

Who wants to read an average book?

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for writers making all the money they can.

But rather than whinging (the British variant of whining) about how much money publishers are getting, writers should be focused on how they themselves can market what they write.

If they can do that, then they don't need to share anything, not even a farthing or a sixpence or a half crown or any of those other entertaining coin names, with a publisher.

British authors, like American authors, must face the new realities of the marketplace.

Writing is only half of what makes an author an author today.

The other half is selling what you write.

Whether you do the selling via Twitter, Amazon, or door-to-door.

That's the only way they can make more than the guy doing fries, or chips, at Mickey D's.

So Brits, learn from us spunky, entrepreneurial Americans.

Writing stuff and expecting a paycheck? That's so 1973.

Writing stuff and then selling the hell out of it?

Welcome to the brave new world.

Where writers can make a lot more than £11,000, only if they embrace their responsibility not just to write... but to sell.