Literature and Life
In 2014, writing for “The Guardian” Alison Flood reported that a survey reveals that 54% of traditionally-published authors and almost 80% of go-it-alone writers made less than $1,000 a year. Over nine thousand writers took part in the 2014 Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Author Survey, presented at the 2014 Digital Book World conference. The survey group was composed of beginning writers to highly acclaimed, well-published authors and then divided the 9,210 respondents into four camps: aspiring, self-published only, traditionally-published only, and hybrid (both self-published and traditionally-published). More than 65% of those who filled out the survey described themselves as aspiring authors, with 18% self-published, 8% traditionally-published and 6% saying they were pursuing hybrid careers. Just over 77% of self-published writers acknowledged they made $1,000 or less a year, with “a startlingly high 53.9% of traditionally-published authors, and 43.6% of hybrid authors, reporting their earnings are below the same threshold. A tiny proportion – 0.7% of self-published writers, 1.3% of traditionally-published, and 5.7% of hybrid writers – reported making more than $100,000 a year from their writing. The profile of the typical author in the sample was ‘a commercial fiction writer who might also write non-fiction and who had a project in the works that might soon be ready to publish’,” according to Flood’s report.
It should, therefore, come as no surprise that this is one of my favorite quotes about writing: “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” It was said by today’s featured author, Jane Austen. Jane Austen is a world- renowned English author who completed just six works during her time. Few have such a small portfolio that have managed to command the legion of fans around the world that Jane Austen has. Her timeless stories have been turned into a plethora of movies, television shows, and modern adaptations in addition to being translated into multiple languages to cross cultural boundaries. Today she remains as popular as ever and is revered as much as any literary figure in the history of the English language.
During her lifetime Austen wrote approximately 3,000 letters but only about 160 survive. Many of the letters were written to Austen’s older sister Cassandra, who in 1843 burned the greater part of them and cut pieces out of those she kept. Ostensibly Cassandra destroyed or censored her sister’s letters to prevent their falling into the hands of relatives and ensuring that “younger nieces did not read any of Jane Austen’s sometimes acid or forthright comments on neighbors or family members”. Cassandra believed that in the interest of tact and Jane’s penchant for forthrightness, these details should be destroyed. Ironically it is the humor and wit of Austen’s characters that have made her writings so popular and timeless.
Austen lived a relatively short life, even for the time period and yet, she read many books, volumes of poetry, and plays. Some of her favorites included “The Corsair” by Lord Byron and “The Mysteries of Udolpho” by Anne Radcliffe. Her all-time favorite was reportedly said to have been “Sir Charles Grandison” by Samuel Richardson. Austen endeavored to incorporate Richardson’s epistolary style in her own writing, but found the flexibility of narrative more conducive to her realism, a realism in which each conversation and gesture carries a weight of significance. This narrative style utilized free indirect speech – she was the first English novelist to do so extensively – through which she had the ability to present a character’s thoughts directly to the reader and yet still retain narrative control. The style allowed her to vary discourse between the narrator’s voice and values and those of the story’s characters. Jane Austen is considered one of the best authors to have used syntax and tone in the presentation of not only the characters but also the plot and storyline progression.
Critic Robert Polhemus once said “To appreciate the drama and achievement of [Jane] Austen, we need to realize how deep was her passion for both reverence and ridicule … and her comic imagination reveals both the harmonies and the telling contradictions of her mind and vision as she tries to reconcile her satirical bias with her sense of the good.” Austen herself proclaimed: “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book! … but for my own part, if a book is well written, I always find it too short.”