10 August 2020
The SoA launches Step Up, a fundraising drive to call for donations to the Authors’ Contingency Fund to ensure it can continue to offer hardship grants to authors, as emergency funding runs low and the health crisis continues.
‘It is no exaggeration to say that this grant helped me, and my family, to survive. Writing is, was and always will be a precarious profession but these are remarkable times. I have been a full-time writer for 22 years and the risk of losing all I’ve worked for is a raw and tangible thing.’
Rob Young, writer and Authors’ Contingency Fund grant recipient
Highlighting the ‘collective power of the small donation and the sustainable difference it can make’, the Society of Authors has called on all authors and their supporters to come together as a community to make sure the Authors’ Contingency Fund can continue to support authors in financial need.
For the past 60 years, the Fund has provided small grants to professional authors of all kinds facing hardship, paying out around £95,000 a year. Since the beginning of the health crisis, the ongoing demand for grants has increased exponentially. The question now is whether we can continue to meet the need.
With the long-term financial impact of the health crisis still uncertain, if we are going to support authors in financial need, we need to raise more funds to sustain our grant giving into 2021 and beyond.
Supporting authors through the health crisis
In March, author incomes were hit hard overnight as lockdown began. Book tours were cancelled, along with lectures, talks, performances and school visits. Contracts were postponed indefinitely as colleges and other commissioning organisations closed their offices. Too many self-employed workers fell through the gaps in eligibility for emergency financial support from the Government. Many writers, illustrators, translators and other creative professionals were among them.
The SoA already pays out around £95,000 annually in small grants to authors in need, so in March we responded by partnering with others on an emergency, industry-wide, coordinated response. The Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), Royal Literary Fund, Arts Council England, the T S Eliot Foundation in partnership with English PEN, the Literary Consultancy, the National Association of Writers in Education, Amazon UK, and many individuals, generously contributed a combined £1.1 million to our existing Contingency Fund.
Welcoming the donations at the time, SoA President Philip Pullman said:
‘At a time of crisis, 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.’
Since March, we have shared almost £1 million in grants of between £1,500 and £2,000. However, according to our own research, by May, 57% of authors had already seen a substantial drop in income as a result of COVID-19, and as we wait to see if the UK is about to experience a second wave of infections, these losses look set to continue.
Although bookshops have now reopened it is likely that appearances and events will not restart until 2021 at the earliest. Schools are not booking author visits as they are too busy with key practicalities, and venues are not reopening for performances of poetry or drama.
While book sales overall have held up, supermarket and online sales tend to favour established big-name authors at the expense of emerging and midlist authors. And the approaching recession will affect the livelihoods of many who need to take on other work to support their writing.
We have made a big difference this year with the funds available – supporting many authors through personal health crises, others to take on caring responsibilities, many simply to make ends meet, while enabling others to continue to work through lockdown. But funds are running low as applications continue to come in. We estimate we will need another £400,000 to keep awarding grants at the current rate until the end of 2020 – and more to sustain the Fund into the future.
Announcing ‘Step Up’
To do this, we’re asking authors, supporters and others across the creative industries to Step Up as a community with pledges to make sure the Authors’ Contingency Fund can continue to provide vital support to authors in hardship throughout the health crisis and beyond.
These pledges include making purchases via our fundraising links (anything from book purchases from Hive, Blackwell’s and Waterstones to buying homeware from Argos and John Lewis), organising sponsored activities and charity auctions, and making cash donations or remembering the Fund in a will.
This is a community cause. It is an opportunity for authors of all types to take collective responsibility for the Fund to ensure it can continue to help them and their peers in the future.
SoA chief executive Nicola Solomon said:
‘Step Up is about the collective power of the small donation and the sustainable difference it can make. This year, large donations from partners enabled us to help a huge number of authors facing financial hardship. They were there to help us in the moment, but they won’t sustain the Contingency Fund into the future. If we can unite authors and their supporters to each contribute a little if and when they can – by clicking the fundraising links on our website when they shop online at Blackwell’s, Hive, Waterstones, Argos, M&S and other retailers, by organising a sponsored activity or charity auction, by making a small direct donation if they can afford to, or remembering the Fund when they make their will – then a lot of small donations will add up to make a massive difference for authors in financial need. Everyone can make a difference.’
In the grant recipients’ words
Grants paid out since March have enabled many recipients through personal health crises, others to focus on caring responsibilities, and others simply to make ends meet in the face of event cancellations and other financial losses.
Julian Sayerer described how his grant gave him ‘invaluable peace of mind concerning how to get to the end of the month’. He said:
‘The unconditional and non-judgmental nature of the grant also felt like a reminder of the spirit and purpose of writing at all, at a moment when it was easy to doubt.’
For others, it has enabled work to continue at a time when it would have stalled. Emma Warren described her grant as:
‘a lifeline and meant that I could concentrate on finishing my proposal. This resulted in a book deal, which came through a few weeks ago.’
While Suzie Grogan said, ‘Receiving the grant quelled the panic that was rising at a loss of income from writing, speaking and editing and meant that I could relax and complete my current project,’ adding, ‘It made such a difference to know that even with all the uncertainty about the future and the changing nature of the workplace, the support was there when I needed it.’
Award-winning writer Rob Young said:
‘It is no exaggeration to say that this grant helped me, and my family, to survive. Writing is, was and always will be a precarious profession but these are remarkable times. I have been a full-time writer for 22 years and the risk of losing all I’ve worked for is a raw and tangible thing.
‘People often mistake of seeing writing as a self-indulgent activity, but I use my craft to help NHS leaders communicate complex health issues like HIV and FGM in a way that is warm, welcoming and accessible to all, empowering clinicians with the skills to improve patients’ lives. I do valuable work that can easily slip under the radar, from helping young Cancer survivors to tell their story, to working with leading researchers to communicate concepts such as chronic pain.
‘It is not just me who the Society of Authors are helping, it is everyone I help in return. For every drop of help they give, there’s a ripple.’
We have compiled a range of resources and links to help fundraisers, donors and shoppers get started at www.societyofauthors.org/fund.