OK, so who’s paying the bill?

A man walks into a bar, and tells the bartender to line up seven glasses of his finest whiskey. The bartender does so, and then watches in astonishment as the man quickly goes down the line, downing each with one gulp.

The bartender says: “wow, I’ve never seen anyone drink like THAT”

The man replies, “You would drink like this too, if you had what I have”

“Why… What do you have?” said the bartender.

Man: “Sixty-five pence”

Now then, you might have heard of William Boyd. (Who so far as I know always pays for his drinks.)

He is the author of ten novels which won lots of prizes and at least one of his books is described as ‘best selling.’

And now he’s written another book. It’s a 76 page story and it’s published by Jaguar Land Rover USA. It’s free on kindle. Apparently the book was commissioned by Landrover and features a Landrover Defender (as well as the more usual main characters.)


And people are asking, should writers be doing this?

The problem I have with the whole thing is that I’ve been a freelance journalist/writer for over thirty years. The money that it brought in was necessary, because trying to make a living out of livestock on a small farm is real bed of roses (sounds great but get too close it’s all thorns and sh*t)

Earlier today, reading the paper, I read an article on the Publisher, Emap. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/mediatechnologyandtelecoms/media/11314679/Publisher-Emap-recovers-after-10-year-slump.html

Things are looking up for them. That’s nice, over the years I’ll undoubtedly have made money out of them for various articles written for various editors. One set of figures did come as something of a ‘wake-up call’.

“In 2008, digital represented 12pc of our revenues,” said Ms Christie-Miller. “Print publishing represented 69pc and events 19pc. Today, print is 38pc, events are 40pc and digital is 22pc.”

Where’s the money? It’s not in writing, whether digital or in print, it’s in events. I’ll come back to this.

But should writers take money for ‘product placement?’

One issue is that the boundaries between advertising and ‘art’ have been fuzzy for a while, way back there was that ‘romance’ that was done as part of a series of coffee adverts (Nescafe was it?)

And look at Meercats! Advertising hasn’t done them any harm

I know there have been times when people have said to me that the adverts are the only thing on telly worth watching.

So perhaps we’re moving back to patronage. You want your chapel ceiling painting; who are you going to call?

You splash out serious money and you get this. (Eventually)


OK so it’s perhaps a bit exclusive and not everybody can see it all at once, but eventually word leaks out and the great unwashed get to stare at it as well


We have a problem. There seems to be a long term trend. You see, if the actual viewers/readers aren’t willing to pay for books, or music or whatever and expect stuff cheap, then somebody has to fund it; because otherwise the best stuff won’t happen.

Great writers who could turn out good stuff will end up working overtime to be able to afford the family holiday/help pay off the mortgage/whatever, rather than writing another book, because whereas ten years ago, that book made a contribution to the family finances, now writing it is just dead time. A luxury you allow yourself when you have a bit of free time and the kids don’t need chauffeuring somewhere.

So what can we do?
Well musicians have it easy, they can do live performances. Everybody likes a good gig, and if you’re lucky you might make a few quid extra selling a couple of CDs you had made.

The problem is, whenever I’ve heard of people wanting authors to do readings, they’re not expecting to pay them, because they assume that the author will perform free, ‘because they’ve got a book to sell.’

So perhaps William Boyd has squared the circle. Perhaps he has spotted the way forward. A friend of mine who is an erotic novelist has already been selling ‘bespoke fiction.’ He has occasionally been commissioned to write ‘one off’ stories which will never be published but will exist only for the person who has commissioned them.

I could do that. At my standard freelance rate, you can have your own fantasy or SF book for £200 per thousand words! Throw in an extra twenty quid and we’d probably be able to get it done as a print on demand hardback for you. OK so it isn’t the Sistine chapel but it’s an art work entirely of your own.

And then there’s the whole field of events. I said I’d get back to this topic didn’t I. Well rather than writing the book, or in parallel with writing the book, for discerning clients, we would offer not merely ‘Swords for a Dead Lady’


but perhaps ‘An evening with Benor Dorfinngil.’

And they thought product placement was getting a writer into something of an ethical dilemma!


If you’ve not met Benor, then perhaps you really ought to read this?

As a reviewer said, “These are four excellent short stories introducing the early days of Benor. Each tale pulses with humour as the well-drawn characters engage in various adventures. Each story features great dialogue, lots of good food, wine and ale, all taking place in a believable and well-drawn world where the streets pulse with life. The reader gets a powerful sense of being there in a real world with real people going about their real lives.

I look forward to reading the next book and wish I’d read this one far sooner.”

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17 thoughts on “OK, so who’s paying the bill?

  1. The Story Reading Ape December 28, 2014 at 7:17 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog….. An Author Promotions Enterprise! and commented:
    Author Jim Webster makes a valid case here, why not add YOUR opinions in the comment boxes on his blog 😀

  2. Matthew Wright December 28, 2014 at 8:14 pm Reply

    Writing never has been valued. When you look at the skill base required, the costs, the intermittent income and so on, authors could realistically charge $150 an hour. They don’t/can’t. I gave up newspaper and magazine freelancing in New Zealand after more than 20 years of regularly writing in that area, because it was a seller’s market, the rates became dismal, and they were laggard paying. Not worth it. Books still worked, but of late the self-pub revolution has devalued royalty returns – so yes, I think the only practical way out is to find patrons. Advertising? Sure, if it’s clever. Writers gotta eat…

    • jwebster2 December 28, 2014 at 9:23 pm Reply

      I always read with envy tales told about the ‘pulp’ fiction writers in the states. Two cents a word in 1950, which with inflation equates to 60c a word today. In English terms that means the rate was 1p a word and should now be 39p a word. I’m considered to be doing damned well at 20p and that’s not for SF or Fantasy. No wonder people like Lovecraft and Howard could live on what they wrote.

      I’m afraid that I’m someone who came in on the self-pub wave and helped screw the market. I cut my teeth on writing articles for Slingshot and the military history wargaming magazines, graduated to trade press and finally got told by friends I ought to write something ‘real’.
      If an advertiser or major company approached me, at the very least I would give them a friendly reception 😉

  3. M T McGuire December 28, 2014 at 9:46 pm Reply

    You know, I’m not averse to a bit of product placement. Patronage has always been a big part of art. Take the 16th and 17th Century low countries. You have Holland where people pay their own way and there is not so much of a nobility. Pictures get small and depict every day genre scenes – even if there are a whole truckload of symbols in the pictures that tell a story to the viewer which we, for the most part, no longer see. The big commissioners are merchants and some are religious orders. Big painter Rembrandt. Hop over the border to Flanders: feudal, most of the money with a very small part of the population. Pictures are huge and there are more portraits, classical subjects etc. Big painter Reubins. I’m sketchy because it’s been years but the gist is that in both types of society you got some paintings that were never going to be produced unless someone with a lot of money paid for them.

    Writing, any creativity, is not valued much. You only have to look at people like Tracy Enim to see that the trick these days is marketing above all. The thing is not that the story is free but that the writer is being paid by someone. I’d be very happy if Jaguar, Lotus, Mercedes and Maserati paid me for the K’Barthan Trilogy and if they came to me asking, I’d have happily written it for them if that ‘s what it took to get it written and food on my plate while I did so!



    • jwebster2 December 28, 2014 at 9:50 pm Reply

      My problem is that I’m not sure who to approach for the advertising. A Yak ranch perhaps, and perhaps a firm specializing in fitting security locks on bedroom windows…….

      • M T McGuire December 29, 2014 at 5:57 pm

        I’ll just keep churning out crap and wait for them to approach me. 😉

      • jwebster2 December 29, 2014 at 8:46 pm

        Probably the best way, play it cool, don’t seem too eager 😉

      • M T McGuire December 29, 2014 at 11:35 pm

        I’m rubbish at playing it cool but I can forget and then it looks as if I’m playing it cool when really, I simply don’t remember.

      • jwebster2 December 30, 2014 at 10:11 am

        We’re artists, form over substance every time 🙂

      • M T McGuire December 30, 2014 at 4:17 pm

        Mwahahahrg! Exactly.

      • jwebster2 December 30, 2014 at 4:28 pm


  4. theopeningsentence December 29, 2014 at 9:35 am Reply

    One of the big debates at the moment is people earning a ‘living wage.’ It’s not just writers being underpaid and/or undervalued. It seems most people are struggling to be paid an honest rate for what they do. No sign of it changing either.

    If actors lend their name to a brand to sell it, why not writers. It sounds like an interesting challenge to me. (Gibson guitars, if you’re reading this, three of my characters play your instruments. . . .)

    • jwebster2 December 29, 2014 at 10:35 am Reply

      That’s the downside for Fantasy and Sci fi writers. Most of the products either don’t exist yet or cannot exist 😦

      It’s interesting, the idea of a ‘living wage’. I’ve been self employed all my life, small livestock farm. One year I calculated I’d been paid nine pence an hour for my labours, another year I’d actually paid for the privilege of working. And in those years government actually trumpeted their success in ‘keeping the price of food down for working people.’

      • theopeningsentence December 29, 2014 at 11:55 am

        My guess is that the prices in the shops, particularly supermarkets, are hiked by the number of middlemen in the distribution chain. I buy food from local farmshops (I sometimes see the produce wandering around the yard!) Food prices won’t come down until the ridiculous to-ing and fro-ing of food between wholesalers and distributors is reduced.

      • jwebster2 December 29, 2014 at 1:32 pm

        Frankly I don’t think prices will come down in a major way in the long term. The rest of the world is growing wealthy and are competing on world markets. In the west we’ve got people used to eating total rubbish, burgers which are the product of ‘more than one species’ and that sort of thing. In the UK the only way prices can come down is by retailers cutting their margins, but as the major retailers are terrified that they might be entering a death spiral, they prefer to grind down their suppliers first. I realise in other places things are different, the US has a different set up, some of those producers are considerably larger and harder to push around

  5. Will Once December 30, 2014 at 9:46 am Reply

    Why not? Film makers and television companies have been using product placement for decades. Bond drives an Aston Martin … except when he’s Pierce Brosnan driving a BMW.

    I don’t see that writing is so special that we cannot have advertising or that a company can’t pay for something to be written. After all, isn’t that where many of Shakespeare’s sonnets came from? Writing is a business – a commercial transaction to make products that we hope someone will want to buy.

    Writing is a gamble. It’s like buying a lottery ticket. We do it thinking (hoping) that we are going to win the jackpot. But the reality is that most of the people who try to write a novel will earn diddly squat. Just as the overwhelming majority of people who buy a lottery ticket will lose money.

    That’s the deal. In order to win the jackpot you have to gamble against the more likely possibility that you’ll not make enough to cover your time.

    The alternative is to be a salaryman. There’s no jackpot and the job isn’t guaranteed to last. But while it’s there you get a regular income.

    What William Boyd is doing is mixing the two – writing as creativity and a job. And I’ll come back to my first comment …

    … why not?

    • jwebster2 December 30, 2014 at 10:13 am Reply

      Yes I’m with you on this one Will. I entered writing through the door marked ‘This has to be a paying proposition’ so my attitude is coloured by that 🙂

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