Recently, The Toronto Star published an article stating that after the Canadian Writers Union conducted a survey, Canadian writers make an average of $9,380 CAD per year. There are many problems with this survey, the primary one being that this is strictly a survey of the Canadian Writers Union, and I would hazard a guess that most Canadian writers do not belong to the Canadian Writers Union. For example, someone like myself doesn’t see the CWU as being a good investment because it does little for genre writers, the membership fee is somewhat high, and American publications do not qualify to earn your membership. That last detail is significant and I’ll explain why I think so later.
However, what is clear is that Canadian writers probably do not make nearly as much money as their counterparts in Europe or the United States. The CWU seem to be concerned with uncompensated copying that happens in educational settings, something which has changed in recent years, and therefore makes a logical subject of complaint. I’m sure it’s a factor, but I don’t think it’s the most significant one. I have some other ideas:
Canadian Market Pay SUCKS
One of the most significant Canadian science fiction publications is On Spec magazine, a publication that publishes roughly on a quarterly basis. On Spec pays flat rates that are nowhere near “professional rate.” This is fairly typical of Canadian publications. It’s not their fault; the Canadian market is smaller, so the income to be made just isn’t as high. If they tried to pay competitive rates, they would simply go out of business. Therefore, it seems to me most wise English Canadian writers would compete for the American market instead, or self-publish; neither of which would have been considered in this survey.
The American Market Absorbs Everything
With a neighbour with ten times our population right next door, the American creative market often absorbs Canadian talent, for the simple and logical reason that there’s more money to be made over there. Flat out, the bottom line matters.
American / U.K. Privilege
It’s much harder for Canadians to compete in the American market. American editors have American cultural biases that are more difficult for Canadian writers to fit into. Canadians write about subject matter that Americans just aren’t interested in (like Canadian history – or in my genre, Canadian alternate history). The same holds true in trying to compete for the lucrative U.K. market, which is also an option for Canadian writers who aren’t satisfied with the limited market in Canada.
Even indie Canadian writers are suffering. One big reason that I’ve certainly found in my own career is shipping rates. To send a single trade paperback to one person in the U.S. costs me $17.00. The American postal service, by comparison, has a media rate that limits the expense of shipping literature. I just can’t compete. I think if the CWU wanted to do Canadian writers a favour, they would pressure Canada Post to bring in an equivalent media rate for us.
It’s harder for Canadian writers to get to the significant events, such as writer cons and SFF cons, where important connections are made to advance in the industry. It’s also harder to get to the big writing classes that are offered in the U.S. I assume this probably has parallels in the French-language market as well.
There’s also greater distance between major cities when you’re planning a book tour or a signing, so a Canadian writer spends more on travel, which cuts into profit margin.
Not only are Canadian writers getting paid less in the Canadian market, and not only are our shipping costs higher, but the exchange rate makes our dollar value shrink. Which leads to:
Prohibitive Canadian Book Pricing
My book The Witch’s Eight Paths of Power was published by an American publisher. It’s worth $20 if you buy it in the U.S. It started out as being worth $25 CAD. When our dollar reached near parity to the American dollar the Canadian price was raised to $27.50. They didn’t drop it when the dollar fell again.
This kind of thing is an ongoing complaint from Canadian readers. While Eight Paths was a success in the American market, I sold many more copies in Canada, because I’m known here, and this was where I did my book tour; mostly because exchange rate made an American tour financially prohibitive. Publishers: you could sell a whole lot more books in Canada, and make a lot more money, if you’d attend to this little detail.
If you’re a Canadian writer, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Why do you think we’re making less money, and what can we do to fix that? Let me know in the comments!