I've been following an interesting discussion over on the IATEFL YLT-SIG discussion list about authors and money. This discussion has been all the more interesting because of contributions from some very well-known ELT authors like Stephen Krashen and Andrew Wright.
The general consensus that authors of resource books in ELT make fairly meagre income from royalties (compared to say coursebook authors, who inevitably sell many MANY more copies of their work) concerns me. While it is all well and good to claim it is all about the passion for spreading knowledge and not strictly about money, we do have to remember that these people are experts in their field and contribute in a major way to the ongoing development of language learning and teaching thinking - and they have bills to pay and families to feed like anyone else.
My general opinion is that publishers don't do nearly enough to support these writers financially. Resource and methodology books add a lot of prestige to major publishers' reputations, and there is definitely a flow-on effect to sales of the more lucrative products like coursebooks, CD-roms, etc. Consider, for example, the big TEFL and TESOL conferences, where the "VIP" methodology and resource authors take pride of place in publishers' jockeying for attention and the drive to place as many bottoms on as many seats as possible. These writers are the draw at events like these, and it is also at these events that the publishers flog whole wagon loads of other products, and find new and ingenious ways to burn their company logo into the backs of as many eyeballs as possible.
These ELT writers are definitely not paid for their time at or contribution to these major events (they will get their travel reimbursed and accommodation and meals paid for - but not the time they give up to travel to and participate in the events). Even I, as a mere "coursebook writer", have experienced some of these gruelling publisher tours. They are exhausting and take a big slice out of the time you need to dedicate to your regular jobs - the ones that tend to actually pay the bills. The more important ELT writers out there are called on to attend many more events, and to say this helps them sell their own books and earn more money is a bit disingenious, in my opinion. Even if an event has 500 teachers attend, and every one of them buys one of these author's resource books, it's only 500 books sold - and pales in comparison to the tens of thousands of coursebook sales that are promoted through such events.
To be fair, we need to remember that major ELT publications help a writer's prospects in a variety of ways. It helps them get university appointments or lucrative teacher training contracts. Some are even paid to associate themselves with major school chains. There are certainly many possible streams of income that flow out of being a major ELT writer or researcher. For the ELT resource book writer who laments that he or she can make more money in one day or week by doing paid teacher training seminars than a year's worth of royalties brings in, he/she ought well to remember that the whole opportunity to do that teacher training work came mostly from the validation provided by their well-known ELT resource book. And the more of these books an author has out on the market and the more major events they attend, the better their asking price becomes for industry-associated training programs or salary as part of a stint at a major school or university. In this case, major ELT works in writing do not comprise major sources of income in and of themselves - they basically open a whole range of doors to some very lucrative income in other areas of the industry.
That said, I'd like to tie this up by returning to the issue of publishers and how they look after their writers, major and minor. I think for authors whose written work and public appearances contribute significantly to a publisher's brand image, these publishers ought to go beyond mere royalties (and drop the "you're helping yourself sell more books by presenting at such and such an event" line) and actually reward the writers financially for their part in increasing the publisher's brand building and, by extension, all the profits they make in all the far more lucrative sales lines in their catalogue.
Good ELT writers will continue to make resource books and attend major events because they enjoy spreading and sharing knowledge and touching base with real teachers in a variety of contexts. But just because they're not doing it strictly for the money doesn't mean these publishers should continue to milk them for it.