Saturday, September 19, 2015

Median Income of Authors is Pitiful

An article (and broadcast) on the National Public Radio website
will probably surprise you as much as it did me with some of the sales and earnings figures in highlights.  It will probably also make you as sad and concerned as it made me.

I knew that, with the exception of a handful of authors (many of whom write little but exploitive and derivative trash), it is not easy to make a living strictly as an author.  "Day jobs" are common among writers, even the best of them, especially if their names are not James Patterson, Dan Brown, John Grisham, Danielle Steele and the like.
So what is a good sales figure for any book?
"A sensational sale would be about 25,000 copies," says literary agent Jane Dystel. "Even 15,000 would be a strong enough sale to get the publisher's attention for the author for a second book."
But if that second book doesn't sell, says Dystel, odds are you won't get another chance. And that brings us to the Authors Guild survey. Just over 1,400 full- and part-time writers took part in the survey, the Guild's first since 2009. There has been a 30 percent decline in author income since then and more than half of the respondents earned less than $11,670 (the 2014 federal poverty level) from their writing related income.
For me, the key takeaway from this article extract is that author income has declined 30 percent just since 2009, meaning that less than half of those considering themselves to be authors are making more than $12,000 per year.  As a lifelong reader, and someone who loves books dearly, I understand the motivation that drives people to write.  And now I appreciate them more than ever.

Oh...and just what has happened in the publishing industry since 2009 that might explain this drastic income drop?  Can it be blamed on the proliferation of cheap (and often free) e-books that are so readily available nowadays?  Are more readers than ever making their reading choices strictly based on how cheaply they can get new books?  Is all that self-published trash out there so flooding the market that the worthy stuff is lost in the gigantic haystack of garbage self-publishing has produced?  (I'm not saying that all self-published writing is bad.  But I am saying that at least 95% of it should have never seen the light of day - and that having it out there now makes it much harder to find the good stuff than it used to be.)

Most readers don't read literary magazines or the book sections of newspapers that support and publicize quality writing.  They depend on one or two websites that offer free or almost-free books every day of the week.  And they get what they pay for - junk.  Meantime, quality writers and their work are being lost in the shuffle.  And that makes me sad.

Please do read the whole article over at NPR...and you will see that the writer of the piece does not entirely agree with me when it comes to all the free stuff being the main culprit here.

Post #2,565


  1. Sam, that is appalling! I just finished an absolutely superb book today, and when I read the last page, I actually felt bad that I did not BUY the book. I got it from the Library. It's Jonathan Franzen's new book, Purity. Now -- he is probably NOT one of those authors below the poverty line [for sure], but still -- I said to myself, "I just read 560 pages of the best writing ever.... FOR FREE."
    It seems wrong.

    1. Don't feel bad, Cip. If authors can sell enough copies to libraries they are almost guaranteed to be close to qualifying for the various bestseller lists. I've heard several writers say how much library sales mean to them and what a high percentage of their total sales come from library purchases. They want begrudge you taking advantage of libraries at all. Are libraries supported by local taxes up in Canada like they are down here?

      Hey, good to hear from you again. It's been a long time.

  2. I knew writers didn't make much so I expected the number to be low but not that low! That is incredibly depressing.

  3. As a child, I dreamed of having a career as a novel writer. Up until a few years ago, I dreamed that actually. I know there a lot of things I have to do on my end, but it greatly saddens me to know I've pretty much lost my opportunity to accomplish that dream.

    1. It's not too late, Annie. Many successful writers were not even published at all before they turned 50, so you have a lot of years to go yet. Just keep your day job until the money starts coming in...