Author Philip Pullman said the grants of up to £2,000 designed to meet urgent need ‘will be enormously reassuring’
A £330,000 emergency fund for authors is being launched to support those facing “unmanageable” losses from the cancellation of events, book tours and school visits during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Society of Authors, which launched the emergency fund, said that many authors were set to be affected, with some already losing thousands of pounds a day as work is called off.
“The financial challenges facing authors had become acute even before the current health crisis, with an increasing number approaching us for financial support. But now, they’re seeing unmanageable losses,” said chief executive Nicola Solomon. “It was clear that current levels of funding would fail to meet needs.”
Author Philip Pullman, the society’s president, said that the pandemic was making it “impossible” for authors to do their work, as much of it consisted of lecturing, visiting schools and teaching.
“When part of the crisis consists of not knowing enough about the crisis itself to be able to plan with any certainty, it will be enormously reassuring to many authors to know that this fund exists,” said the His Dark Materials author. “With the cancelled event there also disappears, of course, the author’s fee. This is the situation that many of us now face, and which the Authors’ Emergency Fund will do a great deal to mitigate.”
The grants are open to all professional authors resident in the UK or British subjects, are likely to be up to £2,000, and are “designed to meet urgent need”.
The dire situation comes as the book industry is shaken to its foundations by Covid-19. While Waterstones, the UK’s biggest bookshop chain, remains open, independent bookshops are closing their doors to protect staff but hand-delivering books to customers to stay afloat. Publishers are offering free ebooks and audiobooks, and Amazon is prioritising essential goods, raising fears among publishers that book sales will dramatically drop.
Children’s author and illustrator James Mayhew, who writes the Ella Bella Ballerina books, said he has had 13 events cancelled this week alone, amounting to losses of around £6,000.
“It suddenly seems like all of my many possible sources of income are about to evaporate. I rent and am self-employed. I am the breadwinner in my home,” he said. “Am I about to see a 31-year career come to a halt? Of course, I look at the bigger picture – what the virus has done to Italy. It breaks my heart. Health before wealth, always.”
Haleh Agar’s debut novel, Out of Touch, is due out on 2 April, but all her speaking engagements and launches have been cancelled. “As someone who also suffers from an underlying heart condition, I’m feeling extremely anxious and find it difficult to concentrate and be productive at this time,” she said. “Although this is so disappointing, I’m hoping for a silver lining, that as we’re trapped in this strange new reality of distancing and isolation, that more people will read books by debut novelists who especially need a leg-up at the start of their writing careers.”
Children’s poet Joshua Seigal, who is giving away books online, said his entire work schedule has been wiped out for the foreseeable future. “Schools have all cancelled my visits, which was by far my main source of income. Festivals have cancelled. I do not know how I am going to pay my bills,” he said. “This is an incredibly difficult, scary time. However, my job is based on sharing joy, and I am determined that I will keep doing this, in whatever form it takes.”
Like Seigal, many authors are taking new and innovative approaches. Author Glenda Young has been left with boxes of books she had lined up to sell at events, so she’s teamed up with a local florist who is offering a book and a bouquet for Mother’s Day, and says they’re “flying off the shelves”.
Bestselling children’s author Philip Ardagh said he was already “around £2,000 out of pocket and counting” with multiple events and a launch party for his new picture book Bunnies on the Bus cancelled. “I’ve been a published writer for around 30 years and have been working from home for about 25 of them, but it all feels very up in the air at the moment. I’m still writing away but have put up a Bunnies video on my YouTube channel, along with other silliness, which I’ll be adding to soon, to try to keep children entertained during their six months or so off school,” said Ardagh.
The Society of Authors already distributes around £95,000 a year to authors in need, via grants of up to £1,500. Charities and corporations who also contributed to the emergency fund include the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society, the Royal Literary Fund, the TS Eliot Foundation in partnership with English PEN, and Amazon UK, which added an additional £235,000 to the fund. The society hopes to increase the pot through talks with further funding bodies.