Support funds for UK authors hit by pandemic are running out


Almost £1m has been given out to nearly 700 authors since the end of March, to help those facing financial crisis through the coronavirus pandemic.

However the Society of Authors has warned that funds are now running low, and that losses for writers are set to continue into next year.

The authors’ body set up its coronavirus emergency fund in March, warning that writers were facing “unmanageable” losses as events were cancelled, school visits were called off and bookshops were closed. With donations from organisations including Arts Council England and the TS Eliot Foundation, the pot reached £1.1m. But on Monday, the Society said that it has given out £954,000 of that fund and now needs to raise more money to help writers survive.

According to the Society’s research, 57% of authors had already seen a “substantial” drop in income as a result of Covid-19 by May, with writers, illustrators and translators among the self-employed workers falling through the gaps in eligibility for emergency financial support from the government. The Society predicts that the losses are “set to continue” even with bookshops open again, as author events are unlikely to restart before 2021, schools are not booking author visits, and venues are not reopening for poetry and drama performances.

Even though book sales have held up in the crisis, the Society says that these have gone mostly to big-name authors favoured by supermarkets and online algorithms “at the expense of emerging and midlist authors”.

“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,” said the organisation on Monday.

“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.”

The Society is now launching a new fundraising drive, Step Up, to enable it to continue offering hardship grants as the pandemic continues. It is asking individuals to make cash donations, remember the fund in a will, organise sponsored activities and charity auctions, and to make purchases via its fundraising links.

“If we can unite authors and their supporters to each contribute a little if and when they can … then a lot of small donations will add up to make a massive difference for authors in financial need. Everyone can make a difference,” said chief executive Nicola Solomon.

Writers said the emergency grants had helped them keep their heads above water. “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,” said Rob Young, who writes for stage and film and also advises the NHS on communicating with patients on complex issues.

“Writers are a resilient bunch but the pandemic has scorched the earth where once we planted our seeds,” added Young. “The Society of Authors stepped in to help and to be honest, I was shocked, humbled by the kindness of strangers who are not strangers at all. They’re my peers, my saviours and my friends.”

Emma Warren, author of Make Some Space, said that getting the grant “was a real boost at a pretty dark time. I cried, and I never cry.”

“It felt like someone was acknowledging that my work was worth supporting and that I could do with a helping hand. On a very practical level it meant I could stop spending whole days pitching stories that weren’t going to get published – to editors I didn’t know – and concentrate on the work at hand,” she said.