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Authors' advances slashed

28 September 2009

Authors' advances are being cut radically as a result of the recession. Together with the cancelling of contracts because a delivered manuscript is 'not good enough' or is late, this is all part of publishers' attempts to cut their costs. The cutting of publishing lists to reduce investment in books has been the main feature of the recession to date, so far as far as authors are concerned, with a consequent devastation of the midlist. New authors are experiencing greater difficulty than ever before in getting their books taken on by a publisher. Now evidence is emerging that even big authors are having their advances cut.

Author Iain Banks has spoken publicly about taking a pay cut, telling the Guardian: 'I'm getting less money for my next book contract. But I've heard of writers having their advances cut by 80%, and others getting nothing.' Agent Mic Cheetham, who represents Banks, commented: 'The climate has changed. I think it's called "a haircut" - a little trim. You have to look to keep the haircut to an absolute minimum.'

The new chair of the Society of Authors (SoA), Tom Holland, told the Bookseller this week: 'The Society of AuthorsThe British authors’ organization, with a membership of over 7,000 writers. Membership is open to those who have had a book published, or who have an offer to publish (without subsidy by the author). Offers individual specialist advice and a range of publications to its members. Has also campaigned successfully on behalf of authors in general for improved terms and established a minimum terms agreement with many publishers. Recently campaigned to get the Public Lending Right fund increased from £5 million to £7 million for the year 2002/2003. Regularly uses input from members to produce comparative surveys of publishers’ royalty payment systems. is to explore options for urgent collective action against the cuts in author advances.' He said authors were 'becoming the whipping boys for the revolution going on in publishing' and that the recession was being used 'as an excuse' by publishers to cut back on advances.

'The increasingly monopolistic Amazon and the supermarkets are kicking the high street chains who are kicking the publishers who are kicking authors. The recession is being used as an excuse but the real reason for cutting advances is structural changes [in the industry]. We want to make sure that we are not at the bottom of the food chain.'

The acting president of the Association of Authors' AgentsThe association of UK agents. Their website ( gives a Directory of Members and a code of practice, but no information about the agencies other than their names. The association refers visitors to the UK agent listings from The Writers' & Artists' Yearbook on the WritersServices site., Anthony Goff, confirmed that advances were being cut by as much as 70%.'For big brand authors their position is stronger than ever,' he said. 'Elsewhere the reductions range from 5% to 70% - if it is much below 70% they are just dropping the authors. Publishers are cutting lists and there is less competition out there in the market, so there is a natural economics going on.' Goff said the question remained as to whether this shift was a "blip" in the market caused by recession, or a permanent shift.

Holland said he would be canvassing 'a broad range of opinion' as to what action SoA could take, and that time was of the essence. 'Such is the pace of change that any opportunity for action will be lost within two years,' he said. 'The SoA will never be a mass block trade union, and trying to organise authors is as easy as herding cats, but equally there is no point in having the Society if it does not respond at a time of unprecedented change.'