by Sara Wolf
It is a frequent occurrence in the news to hear about authors cutting multi-million (or even billion) dollar book or movie deals. Famous examples of ridiculously successful authors, such as J.K. Rowling, E. L. James, and Stephen King, often lead people to think that becoming an author will undoubtedly lead to an equally as lucrative outcome. However, it turns out that the average author makes much, much less.
The University of London released a report of almost 2,500 working writers which found that fifty-four percent of traditionally-published authors and almost eighty percent of self-published authors earn less than $1,000 a year. But even earning this small amount of money is an accomplishment; according to the same report, in 2013, seventeen percent of authors made no money from their writing. Long gone are the days where the only thing a writer needs is a room of her/his own to make it in the publishing world. Now, one needs dedication, luck, and probably a day job.
Of course, some people do make it big by writing books. According to the same survey, less than one percent of self-published writers, one point three percent of traditionally published writers, and over five percent of hybrid writers reported earning more than $100,000 a year from their writing. Jeremy Greenfield, co-author of the report and an editorial director for Digital Book World, explains that, “The top 2% or so of authors make a good living and the most successful authors—including self-published authors—make a tremendous amount of money.” A quote from the report echoes this statement by saying, “It appears that writing is a profession where only a handful of successful authors make a very good living while most do not.”
After the study was published, many people had commentaries to add about the nature of this business. Award-winning author Philip Pullman points out the divide between these statistics, and those of the publishers. He remarks, “In the past ten years, while publishers’ earnings have remained steady, the incomes of those on whom they entirely depend have diminished, on average, by 29%.” Nicola Soloman, the chief executive of Society of Authors, adds, “That confirms our observations that publishers are tending more and more to concentrate on safe choices and celebrity brands, sometimes at the expense of supporting backlist and midlist authors who sell steadily but more slowly.”
Others also point out the inequities between different authors or genres. Fiction authors are much more likely to make money from their writing compared to non-fiction or academic writers. Similarly, women make eighty percent of what their male counterparts earn. Clearly, a great deal of disparity exists between authors, with some (like celebrities) being potentially predisposed to success, and authors (like women or non-fiction writers) facing a much harder time making adequate money from their work.
While all of this may sound discouraging, Greenfield’s co-author Dana Weinberg helps put these numbers into a more realistic perspective. She notes that, “The question of money is a tricky one. Publishing a book for sale is a matter of both art and commerce. I would agree that for most writers publishing is not only about money; it’s about a lot of other things including touching readers and sharing stories….”
It is also important to recognize that no report can perfectly capture all nuances. Self-published author Hugh Howey says, “…a conservative estimate would be that five to ten times as many people are paying bills with their craft today as there was just a few years ago. And that should be celebrated.” Clearly, there is more to being a writer than just what the black and white numbers of reports can capture.
While becoming a wealthy author may take more than a room of one’s own in today’s market, it still remains possible for many writers to supplement their incomes, and also possible for others to rely entirely on their craft. While you probably won’t become filthy rich from being a full-time author, you can still enjoy the gratification from the difficult but rewarding act of publishing something you wrote yourself.
Sources: The Guardian and Publishing Perspectives
Guest post contributed by Sara Wolf at the Blooming Twig. The Blooming Twig is an independent, boutique publishing house that supports the adventurous tastes of its readership.
I wonder what the average earnings of publishers and agents are?
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The art of writing must be driven by passion in order to guarantee the success of an Author. If it is driven by the financial rewards, then the zeal to write may be cut short by the jolt of the slightest challenge. This is my humble personal opinion to a very insightful and realistic post. Great work.
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I actively supported myself via two non-fiction books for about 2.5 years from 1988 to 1991. Advances were common then, even from the smaller presses, and without an agent. The climate has certainly changed today.
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Reblogged this on WordyNerdBird and commented:
I’m always interested to see how different people react when I tell them I’m a published author. You can never really tell which way it’s going to go.
I’m accustomed to people saying, “Oh, that’s nice” or “Oh, interesting! I’ve never met an author before!”. Some people look at me with pity, others adopt an expression that suggests I have three heads.
I am, I confess, always puzzled by people who say, “I don’t read”. I have absolutely no idea what that kind of existence must be like, so I just smile and nod.
The response I find most confronting, though, is “Oh, you must be rich!”
I have two favourite responses for those people: I either say “Nobody gets rich writing poetry!” or “You don’t become a writer if you’re looking for an easy way to make a buck.” To write really well is hard work. It takes time, commitment, energy and attention to detail – and those things generally don’t see a vast return in cash.
My motivation as a writer doesn’t come from money – if it did, I’d have quit after the first book. Sure, I’d like to sell more books, and be able to quit my job and write full time. That would be great… but it’s not likely to happen anytime soon.
For me, writing is a passion, a drive that I find it almost impossible to resist. When I write something good, I feel fulfilled. When I refine it, edit it, craft it, polish it and finally publish it, it’s both exciting and immensely satisfying.
The real thrill comes when a reader responds positively to my work, especially my poetry. To know someone has enjoyed one of my stories or been touched by one of my poems is the best feeling because that doesn’t happen accidentally.
This post by Sara Wolf, which I found on Ryan Lanz’s blog, addresses the issue of the vast differences between what the majority and the minority of authors earn. It’s a well-written article with a message that comes as no surprise to me or any other Indie author.
Most authors aren’t rich. Some manage to make a living. Only a very small percentage make it into the big league and get rich and super famous.
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Reblogged this on Kim's Musings.
The financial statistics are sobering, so are the sales volumes – the ‘average’ book only sells 3000 copies in its lifetime, but its something I enjoy doing and hope springs eternal!
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Thanks for all your valuable pointers!!! I’m a very new Author with tons of motivation, and love any and all advice about “author blogging”!!!
I’d write if I was selling or not; but as I like to be able to eat, I write as a full time job.
It’s not the writing which is a problem. It’s the marketing. I cannot sell myself …as a Brit, I am even more handicapped in being self-deprecating and unable to blow my own trumpet. I get a dozen or more novels out a year, and the odd non-fiction work which is my reward for writing novels. But marketing? we hates it, my precious.