The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Monday, June 07, 2021

Coronashift: working (and earning) through a pandemic

It's that time of year when I sit down to do my accounts - the UK tax year ends at the start of April so I usually get round to totting everything up to submit my tax return around now. Before I get down to the serious book-keeping though, I just spent a couple of hours making myself some graphs to see how work's panned out over the past year.

Most years, I make a graph for myself to see how my different sources of income break down. It's partly just out of curiosity, but it's also useful for tracking where the main focus of my work has been and assessing whether it's the kind of balance I'm after. This year, of course, has been a bit different with the coronavirus pandemic breaking out just before the start of the 2020-21 tax year.

So, below are the graphs for April 2019-2020 - to give a pre-pandemic comparison - and then for April 2020-2021:

The main points to come out seem to be:

Grants: I had a long patch of 4-5 months last summer with almost no work at all as publishers cancelled or paused projects. I was luckily able to claim government grants for the self-employed. So these made up nearly a quarter of the year's overall income.

Talks & training: Around 10% of my income in an average year is generally made up of talks and training in some form; at conferences, events, workshops, etc. This year, for obvious reasons, that dropped off a cliff and made up less than 1% of my income (for a single paid webinar). 

Royalties: These were down both as a percentage of my income and in real terms. With everything going on, some teaching cancelled and the rest shifting online, people haven't been buying new ELT books. Publishers' reps haven't been able to get out to chat to teachers and schools, bookshops have been closed, some publishers have even struggled at points to get books printed or moved around the world. So, royalties for writers have dropped and because they're paid in arrears, I suspect they'll continue to go down before they start to recover.

Writing vs. consulting: In terms of the kind of projects I worked on, it looks like there was quite a big shift from lots of consulting to more writing. 'Consulting' is a bit of a 'miscellaneous' category for work I do for publishers which isn't really materials writing. It might involve reviewing, giving input on syllabus or word lists or the like. One project that slightly skewed the 2019-20 figures was my work on the Oxford 3000 word list and the position paper I wrote for OUP. I've lumped it all in as consulting, even though the final bit involved writing the paper for publication, just because it was all part of one project. Over the past year or so, the extra writing has come from four main writing projects - creating writing workshops for the Oxford Discover Futures students books (levels 5 and 6), plus two forthcoming projects which I'll post more about when they're published.

The first couple of months of 2021-2022 tax year have been very quiet so far with only a few odd bits and pieces of work; a couple of online talks, some blog posts and quite a bit of (unpaid) work in my role with the Hornby Trust.  Fingers crossed though there's a new project in the pipeline which might see a whole new category added to next year's chart and hopefully, a bounce back in the talks and training category whether that's online or maybe even in-person.

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