Donal Ryan has returned to his day job in the public service.
It’s a headline that did the rounds in recent times in literary, entertainment and cultural circles, with many people lamenting the fact that a bestselling author should be somehow 'forced' back to regular, salaried employment, because the income from book sales is so low.
On Today with Sean O’Rourke, this particular bestselling author put some context on his decision, even lamenting the fact that he had ever made the move public and, in particular, a royalty figure he had cited of 40 cents per book.
“The last thing I would ever do is complain about my life. If I won the Euromillions tomorrow, I couldn’t be luckier than I am today. I have had far more success than I ever thought I would have as a writer.”
Donal’s debut novel, The Spinning Heart, published in 2012, won that year’s Guardian First Book Award and was long listed for the Booker Prize the following year. Since then, he has published three more novels, including last year’s All We Shall Know, and has become one of the most respected young authors Ireland has produced in recent decades.
“Spinning Heart is the main book that I receive royalties from”, he said. “That is published in 20 languages. In some territories, you might get three or four cent as a royalty, because it is sold as a discounted paperback. Some territories, you might get 80 or 90 cent. So, it will work out at an average of about 40 cent per book.”
But in case the public were to think that this level of royalty is somehow disrespectful, Donal was keen to set the record straight.
“Lilliput were almost named as the publisher who gave me this very hard contract. They are not at all. Without them, I’d be nowhere…. I’ve been so lucky, I managed to pay off a huge chunk of the mortgage in the last three years. It has definitely plugged the equity gap.”
Donal is actually delighted to be going back to work. He loved his job and missed it enormously. And as he says, “I can’t presume that writing is going to keep me another 40 or 50 years.”
But what about taking the plunge, to dedicate himself full-time to his writing craft? Would this be too big a step? On that question, Donal describes himself as “not brave enough to take the chance”. “Another book down the line might do it for me,” he said. “Although my publishers have been very generous, always.”
“I could be really brave and say, okay, feck it, I’ll resign. But it was never really on the cards that I would retire from salaried employment at 40, on the strength of a few books.”
Donal was joined in studio by another bestselling and highly respected author, Anne Enright.
To listen to the full interview, listen below: