Double your money

June 16, 2000

Review books, write obituaries and get yourself an agent.John Sutherland tells low-paid arts academics how to earn an extra few thousand by moonlighting.

I have often thought that instead of name-tags, participants should have salary tags at international conferences. Apart from anything else, it would be easier to target the big people. British academics, alas, would rarely qualify.

Over my 35 years I have witnessed a calamitous slide in the remuneration of my British colleagues. Consider two economic indices - books and houses. When I took up my first position (assistant lecturer, Edinburgh University) in 1964, the price of a new Penguin was 3/6d. Six to the pound. It is now Pounds 7. My starting salary was Pounds 1,000. By that index, a starting salary in 2001 should be Pounds 42,000. Dream on.

The first house I bought, a first-floor New Town flat (probably the nicest property I shall ever live in) cost Pounds 2,000 - twice my salary. They now go for Pounds 200,000. By that index, the starting salary of a young academic in 2001 should be a hundred grand.

One other calculation. I have, over the past few years, spent nine months teaching in the United Kingdom and three months in the United States. Without going into personal details (no salary tags here) my US income pro-rates at twice my UK.

A. H. Halsey has called the process "proletarianisation". The Association of University Teachers made two fatal mistakes in the early 1960s. It went along with the establisment of "lecturer" as a career grade (most academics enter and leave the profession at the same grade) and as part of the same package, accepted that the ratio of unpromoted staff (lecturers) to that of promoted staff (senior lecturers and above) would be 60:40.

It is too late now. The "adjustment" needed to bring academic salaries back to professional levels will never be achieved by wage bargaining. One of the first savings an academic can make is to cancel the AUT standing order.

How can British academics regain their lost parity with the other professions? I shall concentrate on my own field, literary studies, but some of the suggestions are transferable to other fields.

Academics still have valuable assets. They have more disposable time than other professionals. Academic employers do not usually (although they legally can) take any cut from outside earnings. Nor do they ask awkward questions.

The only practical way the average academic salary can be bumped up is by moonlighting. Respectable moonlighting that is - no minicab work or lap-dancing. The aim should be to double your salary - manageable if one's assets are properly utilised.

In devising a programme of moonlighting, two rules should be observed. First, "career" is the academic's principal asset. Nothing should be done to prevent advancement up the hierarchy to professorship - at which point the academic is a free bargaining agent.

Second, do no work that is not paid for or does not have a clearly foreseeable career payoff. Reviews for learned journals count for little in the research assessment exercise or in promotion terms. Neither does most committee or (unpaid) editorial work. Choose your conferences carefully - attend none where your expenses are not paid or an honorarium is not given.

Most academics go into the profession because they want to teach. But classroom performance is one of the hardest ways to get promotion. It can be done, but it is exhausting, time-consuming and frequently heart-breaking. Teach according to your professional bond, no more no less.

A tiny handful of academics will achieve celebrity and stardom. Tom Paulin has a regular slot with Mark Lawson; John Carey is lead reviewer on The Sunday Times; Amanda Foreman is a bestselling author. But for most of us, the lottery is a surer bet.

Traditionally, for junior academics, A-level marking has been a way to raise cash for the summer holiday. But if you rate your time at Pounds 20 an hour (a fifth of what a middling lawyer would expect) you need to mark ten scripts an hour. Do not undertake this work unless you are desperate.

So, too, with PhD examining. It pays around Pounds 100. Ten hours' reading, five hours' travelling and interviewing for the viva, another two hours for the report all adds up to pro bono service. Do it out of the goodness of your heart or because the student's research interests you.

More attractive is reading manuscripts for publishers. This can be done quickly and pays as much as Pounds 100 a time. You should announce yourself to a range of publishers, talking up your specific qualifications. Five or six such jobs a year will be painless (and keep you up with the cutting edge). Expect Pounds 500 a year from this kind of consultancy.

There is a voracious market for paid reviewing in the newspapers, from the Times Literary Supplement and London Review of Books to the Good Book Guide and the airline in-flight magazines. Payment is variable, but Pounds 100 per 1,000 words is the minimum. Get into the The Mail on Sunday, and you have hit the jackpot. If you must write academic articles, do it for journals that pay, such as Critical Quarterly.

Editors want well-written prose that arrives on time to the right length. The trick is to offer something specific (check publishers' catalogues for forthcoming books). Read and write fast. Establish a stable of outlets and aim for Pounds 1,000 a year.

Features and obituaries are constantly needed by the quality newspapers. Analyse the market and make offers. Information technology supplements are easy targets; travel supplements impossible to break into. An easy Pounds 1,000 a year, if you are imaginative. Radio work (begin with local and World Service) is also hard to get into and pays peanuts. But once your name is on their Rolodex, they ask you regularly.

Chances are, for a first book you will get no great advance or royalties. For career ends, you will want to place it with one of the university presses. Not untypically, they offer royalties after the first 1,000 copies and print only 800. Commercial presses - Macmillan, Longman, Routledge - pay better, publish faster and sell more, in my experience.

But by mid-career the aim should be not a friendly publisher but a hard-nosed literary agent. For an author producing a book every three years, an agent can secure advances that pro-rate to at least Pounds 3,000 a year. It was literary agent Alexandra Pringle who saw that Foreman's PhD thesis about the Duchess of Devonshire could be a bestseller.

Penguin Classics, World's Classics and the Everyman reprint lines pay between Pounds 800 and Pounds 2,500 for critical apparatus. They are adding and renewing texts all the time. Lay the ground carefully (find out the name of the commissioning editor, look for gaps in the list) and aim to do one or two a year. If desperate, go for Wordsworth (Pounds 300-ish). There is also a surprising amount of work available producing educational CD-Roms.

Work abroad, particularly in North America, is lucrative. Generally, if you do a summer quarter (our long vacation) your employer will not stop your British salary. Nor, by amnesty agreement, will you pay American tax. And BTA (been to America) is a useful career asset. A once-every-three-years summer quarter in America should yield, when spread out, Pounds 1,500 a year. Broadcast yourself: I had to write 50 letters for one hit my first time round.

Stipendiary trips to American libraries and research centres (which pay an average $2,000 a month) are less lucrative. But you still come out ahead if your British salary is being paid.

There are other ways of enhancing an academic salary. All depend on intelligent use of the one professional possession we, as academics, still have - free time and a free hand on how to use it.

How long did this piece take, and how much will I get? Three hours and Pounds 170. I've been paid better.


Reading consultancy with publishers Pounds 500

Reviewing Pounds 1,000

Features, obituaries and media Pounds 1,000

Book income Pounds 3,000

Reprint editing work Pounds 2,000

Overseas teaching Pounds 1,500

Total Pounds 9,000

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