I confess I had never heard of the American thriller writer Russell Blake until I discovered that his books have earned him over £1.5m ($2.4M) in the last two years and he is currently sixth in the Amazon thriller chart behind Dan Brown, Clive Cussler and Tom Clancy.
Then again, you won’t find his books in Waterstones. Blake doesn’t even have a publisher. Instead he is one of the growing number of authors self-publishing their novels in e-book form. In 2012 there were estimated to be 391,000 self-published titles and last year self-published books accounted for a third of the 100 best-selling e-books on Amazon.com.
Admittedly few of these authors have had the same level of success as Russell Blake. Since launching his career in 2011 Blake – real name Craig Osso, a retired property developer now living in Mexico – has sold an eye-watering 450,000 copies online.
The main reason for this is his extraordinary productivity. In 30 months he has written 26 books, which equates to one every five weeks. Last month alone he released two new titles – a noir detective tale featuring a Hollywood gumshoe and an action-packed international spy thriller. Apparently he works from 8am to midnight, using a desk attached to a treadmill – which seems horribly apposite considering his output.
As someone who is fortunate enough to have a publisher, I nevertheless wonder if Russell Blake is the shape of things to come for anyone who wants to make a living out of writing.
This week I received an email from the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), that wonderful organisation that calculates the revenue from various uses of your work and sends you a nice little cheque every January.
They are currently surveying members to determine how much the average author makes from their writing.
A similar ALCS survey in 2007 made for grim reading. It concluded that the typical income for a professional author in Britain was one third below the national average wage of £23,000 ($37,000), and most made an average of just £4,000 ($6,500) per annum. I have no doubt it will be even less in 2014.
So while most would-be authors dream of writing one novel a year and spending the rest of their time in a gite in the Dordogne, the reality for 99 per cent is “don’t give up the day job”.
Unless, of course, you are Russell Blake and are prepared to work 14 hours a day, write 10 books a year and hope to become successful through sheer weight of numbers.
Sounds like a plan if you ask me. And as soon as I’ve wired up the treadmill to my desk I shall start work on my next book and wait for the money to come rolling in.