Rankin calls for help for new authors

The Rebus author says a tax incentive would encourage new writers

REBUS author Ian Rankin has called for tax breaks to support budding authors as the internet squeezes out publishers’ advances.

He suggested publishers were taking advantage of the fact authors were having to sell books online for ‘virtually nothing.’

The multi-million selling author has pointed to the Irish system of artists’ exemptions as a way of nurturing the nation’s literary talent.

Rankin is due to read from his first novel, which was rejected by publishers and has remained unseen, at the First Fictions book festival this week.

He said: “If you want to give new writers a start, then a tax incentive is one thing you can do.”

Publishers used to offer generous advances for first novels to encourage a promising writer.

But online shopping giant Amazon and ebook downloads are changing the tradition.

He continued: “The internet has plusses and minuses.

“It’s easier than ever to get your stuff seen by people. But it’s harder than ever to make a living from it.

“Look at the money that publishers are paying for new writers… less than they paid 20 years ago.


“They know first novels don’t sell many copies and, if writers decide… to sidestep the traditional publishing route and sell their stuff online, they’re having to sell it for virtually nothing, 99p.”

The Irish tax scheme means new writers, composers or visual artists do not pay any tax on the first £33,000 earned from their work.

The Rebus author’s claims of hard-up writers are supported by research from the society of authors, which says 46% of writers earn under £5,000.

Kate Pool, the Society’s Deputy General Secretary said authors were lucky to get advances of up to £3,000, compared to £10,000 20 years ago.

Rankin’s first book, Summer Rites, was rejected by Gollancz after he submitted it to the publishing house.

The story is a black comedy which the writer has only found again recently after coming across it in a box.

He originally penned the tale in 1983.

The author recalled his first inspector Rebus book was turned down by five publishers.

He said: “We don’t become successes overnight.

“A lot of us have got stuff in the bottom drawer that we’re either very embarrassed about or we’re glad it never did get published.”

The First Fictions book festival at the University of Sussex will celebrate first novels throughout the ages.

It will run from 20 January to the 22nd.