The county of Dorset, England, has to be one of the best holiday destinations for the aspiring writer. Think Dorchester and the Thomas Hardy trail, John Fowles’ Lyme Regis, not to mention Bridport, home of the coveted short story and poetry prize. Much as I enjoyed all of these places last week, it was a visit to the quiet village of Tolpuddle that provided the most inspiration and – it has to be said – a few moments of sombre reflection too.
Remembering the Martyrs of Tolpuddle
In 1834, six poverty-stricken agricultural workers, led by George Loveless, formed a Friendly Society to take collective action against the erosion of their weekly wages. Following a tip-off to the authorities by their disgruntled landowner, James Frampton, the men were arrested on the flimsy pretext of “administering illegal oaths”, found guilty and transported to Australia for seven years, until they were eventually pardoned and allowed to return home. Their real ‘crime’? Daring to form a trade union to protect themselves and their families against harsh economic conditions and falling income.
Writing – another precarious trade?
Just as the farm workers of nineteenth-century England faced threats to their livelihood, so do writers today. The sad fact is that the majority of professional writers in the UK do not make a living wage from writing alone. But we’re also fortunate in that at least we have the option of joining long-established trade organisations like the Society of Authors which seeks to “protect the rights and further the interests of authors”.
Writing is by nature an isolating profession. And when I began writing EFL textbooks in the early ’90s I don’t think it occurred to me that there would be such a thing as a union for writers. (Surely you just signed a contract with the publisher, got some money in advance, and then chained yourself to your desk until the manuscript was finished and delivered to your editor?) I was lucky in that pretty quickly I was mixing with other more established and industry-savvy writers who told me of the benefits that the Society of Authors had to offer, i.e. a confidential service for vetting publishing contracts; help with chasing money owed to you; member discounts; a trade journal offering practical and reassuring advice and guidance. I was glad to become a member back then.
And now, as I’m beginning as a different kind of writer, I’m even more glad to have renewed my membership. If you want to join you can check the Eligibility Criteria here.
Finally, once you’re actually published, you should register with these organisations to claim the additional revenue that you may be entitled to.
- The Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) collects revenues from secondary uses of your work (such as photocopying or digital reproduction) and pays out twice a year, in February and September. They have a handy online tool to check whether any titles you have in print have uncollected royalties. The (one-off) membership fee is £25 and you don’t even pay this unless you actually have any money owing to you. Members of the Society of Authors get free membership of the ALCS.
- The Public Lending Right (PLR) is your right as an author to receive money when people borrow your work from a public library. You can apply for PLR online.
Questions and comments welcome. How important is it for writers to act collectively? What other trade organisations do you recommend? Let me know what you think.