The shocking truth about author earnings 7 Comments

Only 11.5% of Authors earn their income through writing alone. It is not easy to be a professional writer. With the pay gap in author earnings growing between the best sellers and the rest of us, being a professional writer is getting harder all the time.

You should not believe everything you read – many blogs and sites (especially those with something to sell you) claim that it is easy to write. It is not easy. A recent Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) survey, showed that many authors struggle to make a living from writing.

A few years ago, The Guardian revealed that the median earnings of professional authors fall below the minimum wage. According to a comprehensive study of UK writers, the bottom 50% of UK authors make less than £10,500. That’s about £6,000 shy of the minimum necessary.

In another article under the headline Authors’ incomes collapse to ‘abject’ levels, The Guardian said:

The number of authors able to make a living from their writing has plummeted dramatically over the last eight years, and that the average professional author is now making well below the salary required to achieve the minimum acceptable living standard in the UK.

Do you want fries with those author earnings?

When you could have earned more money selling burgers and fries at a local fast food place, it is hard to justify being a writer at all. That is bad for writers but it is just as bad for the rest of us. Authors and writers contribute a great deal to our culture, yet that part of our collective soul is being left to starve in favour of big names and celebrity elites.

Some of the blame has to fall on publishers and big retailers. They rake in a huge slice of the industry’s income but do not share a just amount with those authors who provide the very stock they are using to make that money.

Is earning as an author is getting too hard?

According to a survey quoted by The Guardian:

Commissioned by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society and carried out by Queen Mary, University of London, the survey also found that in 2013, just 11.5% of professional authors – those who dedicate the majority of their time to writing – earned their incomes solely from writing. This compares with 2005, when 40% of professional authors said that they did so.

In other words, more and more authors are being squeezed out of work while the publishing industry continues to do very well.

The author Neil Gaiman insists that our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming and yet, it seems, we are letting that slip away.

What can we authors do?

This might seem hopeless but there are steps that both Authors and Readers can take to stop us losing an entire generation of amazing writers.

Join a guild or trade union

There are organisations dedicated to fighting for the rights and interests of authors and writers. The greater the number of members these organisations, the more of a voice they have. A voice they use to stand up for authors.

In the UK we have a few choices:

While it might seem counter-intuitive to suggest that due to low author earnings we spend what little we have on membership fees, there is a good reason to do so. We authors need to enable power voices to defend our income and our right to be paid a fair ammount for the work we do.

Organisations like the ones I have listed not only speak up for authors but many offer professional advice on contracts. Would you rather sign your next book deal and hope it is okay or get it vetted and know what you are getting into?

Support local writers charities

Charitable groups like Thanet Creative Writers do a great deal of good for writers. Often, this good work is limited to a smaller geographical area. Fair disclaimer, I am currently a trustee of this charity.

Our example charity, Thanet Creative Writers, ask only for a minimum yearly donation of a pound for membership. They run a number of local events and supported the creation of this site.

As authors, we can support local charities by volunteering a little of our time to attend events as guest speakers. Your contribution will enable literary charities to reach a wider audience and so positively contribute to the work they are doing.

Think of this time given as a donation rather than effective marketing. While it might not make sense to do all charity events for free, consider setting a lower charitable rate. Talk to your accountant about how offering discounted or free time to charities can be beneficial for your tax return.

Never work for the exposure

We authors are often paid far too little, if anything, to attend big events. Our participation is too frequently offered to us as if the festival organisers were doing us a favour. The truth is that we authors are part of the draw of such festivals. It is time that we stop selling ourselves and our industry short.

Author earnings from festivals are frequently pitiful. When event organisers – people who expect to turn a profit from the event – ask you to “think of the exposure”, remind them that exposure does not pay the rent or put food on the table.

Become an active participant in your own marketing

The way that distributors favour celebrity titles and the “big sellers” is doing no one any favours. There is a better way.

Author earnings are largely contingent on marketing and promotion. If big industry has abandoned us then we authors will have to protect our earnings and do the promotion ourselves. I recently wrote an article for Thanet Creative Writers about how Andy Weir shot to fame by building a solid platform. Andy Weir’s success was not just an accident of fate. Weir built a following and success followed.

Author Buzz UK exists to help authors do the same. We are building an infrastructure to support authors and the writing community.

If you are an author we cannot promise you overnight success but we can promise to work with you to give you a fair share of the limelight. All you have to do is join (for free).

If you don’t already have an account then create one now and be part of what we are doing to make things just a little easier for authors.

About Matthew Brown

Matthew is a writer and Geek from Kent (UK). He is the founder and current chair of Thanet Creative as well as head geek for Author Buzz. His ambitions include appearing on TableTop with Wil Wheaton and seeing a film or TV series based on something he wrote.