|A critic's house. ((Morguefile.)|
So far I’ve written eighteen novels. Louis Shalako has sixteen novels, Zach Neal has one novel, (a thriller), and Dusty Miller has a novel.
Looking back, it’s pretty obvious that I didn’t really have to publish every single one of them independently. If you can write eighteen novels, sustaining yourself independently on the literary field of battle for years at a stretch, (against some pretty darned good competition I might add), then you could probably have gotten yourself a publishing contract. Why ever would they not be interested in a guy like me?
You like character, don’t you? Fluff-heads don’t write books and we all know it.
Okay, so we’ve all got some character.
Here’s my big challenge.
A twenty thousand dollar advance would come in one lump sum. Under the guidelines of the Ontario Disability Support Program, I’m only allowed a couple hundred a month without penalty. I’m only allowed to have six or seven grand in my personal account. It would be considered income. Assuming I’m running it as a business, I would be allowed about the same in a business account. The trouble is that I would be over the limit, and they would sort of insist that I take money out of the account. At that point, it is income and they can penalize me, taking fifty cents on the dollar. Since we’re talking a few grand in my hot little hand, I would lose the pension, (eleven hundred a month) for at least a few months. There’s a real incentive there to piss it away as quick as you can—hoping to get your pension back without a big fight.
That’s money I don’t have to work for—it’s already mine.
Investing back into the business is also possible, but you have to clear it with them first. They don’t always agree. This is not the most responsive business model and all for what, a couple of hundred bucks? A thousand bucks on a computer or something, a no-brainer when you get right down to it. Funny thing is, someone can give you a gift of five grand, and they don’t penalize you at all.
Just promise you won’t spend it on food, shelter and clothing.
That’s what’s so funny about this system. It’s a complex situation, and I’m not here to explain all the guidelines, which even long-term staff members can’t do either.
It’s not that easy dealing with the ODSP. They can be tough when their instincts are aroused and especially so if you present them with a fait accompli.
They have to go by the book—and my situation isn’t in the book.
Just think about that one for a minute.
They’re bureaucrats—and they have to go by the book, which is written by lawyers and handed down by the Ministry.
Next thing you know there’s a fifty-foot microscope up your ass. They’re giving you all sorts of problems, (just doing their jobs of course) and the most important thing you need to do is to write your next book.
At some point, you’ve run out of cash. Eventually you should start getting the full monthly benefit again. If you take money out of your personal account, that’s one thing. You’ve already paid the penalty on it as income, and theoretically they shouldn’t give you a rough time because you spent it. They tried to double-ding me once, but I rather doubt they’ll try that one again. Not with me, but someone less well-informed for sure.
That’s why I like informing people.
But if you’re short of cash, need car repairs, the kid needs braces on their teeth or something, taking money out of the business account, and spending it for personal needs would be considered income. And they tag you for fifty cents on every dollar as income.
I would have a hard time trying to explain to a publisher that I really need a forty thousand dollar advance just to get the same benefit as any other person getting twenty. A member of the bourgeoisie can be making a hundred and fifty grand a year. To them, twenty thousand is still useful money. People in certain income brackets have more tax shelters than someone like me, where every penny of disposable income goes into keeping a roof over my head, shoes on my feet and food in my belly.
There’s a kind of disconnect there. There is some question of fairness. I get hit with penalties and risk my pension, where some other person, another first-time author, can at least get the whole thing. They’re not risking their daytime job. They can stick it into a registered retirement plan, and defer the taxes until they take it out after age sixty-five. For them, it’s a big plum. Presumably, they would be getting a lower tax rate on that money as they are no longer working when they take it out. But. People over sixty-five still work—and Revenue Canada (the tax people) aren’t hitting them with a fifty-percent gouge just for taking a part-time job.
Otherwise, people over sixty-five wouldn’t want to work, because at some point it’s just not worth it.
Also related to fairness, a person on ODSP is living thirty to forty percent below the poverty line already. Sticking them with employment penalties of fifty cents on the dollar seems grossly unfair when they’re already rising above themselves. We are risking much by going against the grain of apathy, despair and self-destruction which is all too common among a certain subset of the population. We are doing what is most assuredly not expected of us.
So. Earning a couple of hundred dollars a month (and not much more) is not such a bad thing.
The ODSP leaves me alone. I don’t have to fight with them constantly.
Okay, here’s my challenge. Book sales are cyclical. (Also seasonal to some degree.) You never know what you’re going to earn next month—and next month is when that ‘overpayment deduction’ is going to hit your cheque.
It gets worse. After two hundred dollars, they start hitting you with that fifty percent penalty.
People talk about traction in this business. I’m standing on a greasy slope, pushing a boulder uphill already. Traction is in short supply around here.
Every little thing is already stacked against me. That’s why they call it disability.
I would need a twenty-grand advance once a year, every stinking year, just to replace that disability pension, which includes things like drug, dental and eyeglass benefits.
All your medical is covered under ODSP and Ontario Hospital Insurance Plan benefits. Once you’re off the pension and self-employed, you are paying for all of that yourself—eyeglasses, dental and OHIP premiums. And you’re still living below the poverty line.
This is the challenge faced by millions of Canadians making minimum wage, incidentally.
And what are the odds that you can get that kind of advance, each and every year? Not if you’re not selling a ton of books. Lots of midlist authors are dropped and they have to go looking. They don’t always find what they need, either.
Let’s say you just plain run out of luck—a word that I personally despise. How are you ever going to convince the ODSP that you are incapable of writing anymore? I fought for two and a half years to qualify for the pension. My brother, whose back is worse than mine, fought them for four years before finally proving his case.
The real benefit of independently publishing my books, is that I at least have control—I can pull the fuel rods out of that reactor if I absolutely must. Also, with eighteen books out, one might think that any potential advance would (or could or should) be greater.
Because you know what I can do. Because you know I’m going to finish what I start.
In order to replace my pension, (assuming I live to be about eighty-five years old), I would need approximately $377,000.00 over the next twenty-nine years. (And I would still be living below the poverty line.)
Things might be different if I was twenty years old. But I’m fifty-six. I am getting kind of unemployable anyways. That is to say, for anything except a minimum-wage job, where they will essentially take anybody...
That sort of advance money, that level of book sales, doesn’t just come out of nowhere. It’s really only thirteen grand (or twenty say) worth of royalties in any given year. What percentage of ‘professional’ writers make that much money, year in and year out?
If you seriously wanted me to ghost-write a novel for you, you need to bear this sort of thing in mind. If you think there are easy answers, you are wrong.
As sales mount, if the monthly numbers go up, there will be a rather painful state. This is where they’re chiseling away at the benefit cheque at their dirty little fifty-percent rate, and I’m struggling away, working eighteen hours a day and still living seven or eight thousand dollars below the poverty line.
This is an obvious disincentive to success as it is presently defined by someone else, who in my particular case, has no idea of what they’re actually fucking talking about.
This is why I make political statements on behalf of Ontario’s seven hundred and fifty thousand disabled people from time to time.
I will probably keep on doing it.
Because someone has to do it.
It’s called character, ladies and gentlemen.
It’s a real good word when you think about it.
I’m not ungrateful for the pension. It’s just that certain improvements might be made. The pension is meant to provide for certain living expenses. It is subsistence, nothing more. This is all it was ever meant to be, and that much is understood. It is also a guarantee of a lifetime of poverty, with all of its attendant issues of quality of life, not to mention increased health-care costs to a system already overburdened by an aging and quite frankly sedentary population.
Thank you for reading.