How Much Do Writers Earn? The fact and the fiction

Another question from my Writers’ Forum postbag. The thorny old subject of money again. £60,000.00? I wish! I don’t think I even know any writers who earn that much but I stand to be corrected 🙂

Q I went on a website called “Indeed”. It claims that the average annual salary for an adult fiction writer is £60,000.

From what I read writers earn very little and don’t have the privilege of an annual salary, so I am a bit confused.

Is it because the salary varies geographically?

I also read something that certain type of authors (both fiction and non-fiction) can be employed? Is this true?

A There are all types of writing jobs. Editors, staff writers, copy editors journalists, script writers and novelists all come under the category of writers. Some are employed by magazines, newspapers or publishing houses and they receive an annual salary. Some are self-employed.  This is probably where the confusion arises.  However, I don’t know of ANY fiction writers who are employed and paid a salary.

An article published in The Guardian in July 2014 estimated the average writer’s earnings to be £11,000. This figure is lifted by the fact that a tiny percentage of writers earn a great deal. Think J K Rowling and E L James.

Another interesting statistic is that ten per cent of authors make fifty per cent of sales. It’s a sad and rather shocking fact that the lowest paid salaried employee in a publishing house will earn more than most writers.

A few years ago I was working at the London Book Fair, which was packed to capacity with industry specialists. There were very few writers – the people who make books actually possible. It struck me and my colleague that writers are at the bottom of the food chain.

And here’s another fact that underlines this perfectly. To celebrate the record sales of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, Random House US awarded every employee a bonus of $5000 dollars. Their authors did not receive this bonus.

According to a survey commissioned by the Authors’ Licensing & Collecting Society (ALCS) the numbers of authors making a living from writing are as follow. In 2005, 40% of authors earned their income solely from writing. By 2013, this had dropped to just 11.5%.

Making a living solely from writing fiction is very tough. Few writers succeed. The market is fiercely competitive. The reality is this:

Most ‘full time’ self-employed writers, particularly fiction writers, subsidise their income by some other writing-related activity. These include talks, teaching, workshops, critiques, columns. Some have a separate income from non-writing related activities.

Most professional writers work very long hours and they dream that their next novel will be the BIG ONE.  Which, of course, it might! There is always the possibility that you might be able to break into being one of the top ten per cent. Hold on to the dream. But keep expectations realistic.

By the way, my novel, The Morning After The Life Before is 99p this week (till 22 October). Now maybe if I could sell 60,000 copies of that… 🙂 


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9 Responses to How Much Do Writers Earn? The fact and the fiction

  1. Linda says:

    Qu: How much does a writer earn?
    Ans: Unless they are are best selling author – very little.

    And yet still we are driven to do it.

    Conclusion: best job in the world. Would be even better if we could make it pay!

  2. Liz Hurst says:

    Great article Della!

    …and perfectly timed for me as I making plans to leave ‘Corporateville’ in the next couple of years. To that end I’m investigating courses in proofreading to make sure I have a sideline which will (hopefully) pay most of the bills while I scribble my literary masterpieces (!) in the rest of the time.

    Here’s wishing us all the best in prosperity!


  3. Nicola says:

    Great post, Della. I think a side-line that gets us out of the house is healthy. I locked myself away for eight months in order to get my novel finished and I’d actually forgotten how to socialise 🙂 Finding the right balance, both creatively and financially is key – and a whole lot of luck! Have a lovely weekend. All the best.

  4. Sarah says:

    I have just started writing for a local magazine. I will get around £200 pcm for the amount I’ve been asked to do. It’s nice but not enough to give up the day job 🙁 !

  5. Emma Ashton says:

    I remember reading your answer in Writers Forum and felt a dip in enthusiasm but it didn’t last. I now think of my writing as a hobby that may, one day, make me proud.

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