One-Minute Book Reviews

March 5, 2012

‘The Average American Author Earns About $9,000 a Year’ / Quote of the Day

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:51 am
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Herman Melville died broke after his publisher refused to give him an advance for Moby-Dick, one of America’s greatest novels. Do contemporary writers fare better? You might wonder after reading a recent essay by Scott Turow, the president of the Authors Guild. Turow noted that American publishers want to pay authors a royalty on e-books that is about half of what they pay for books on paper:

“The problem is that the average American author earns about $9,000 a year from writing as it is. Decreasing the rewards will inevitably drive more people out of the profession. And it is hugely unfair, because publishers do quite well with e-books. They have no costs for paper, printing, warehousing or distribution — and no risk, as is the case with physical books, that the volume will be returned for full credit by the bookseller, which is the great bugaboo of publishing.”

The plight of writers looks worse when you consider what Turow didn’t say: The federal poverty level (the threshold for government benefits) is $11,170 for one person. And the $9,000 a year figure he cited appears to have changed little in the past half century. More than 30 years ago, the American Society of Journalists and Authors surveyed its members and found that they earned slightly more than $10,000 a year from writing. The Authors Guild and ASJA figures suggest that writers earn roughly as much as migrant farmworkers, who have a median annual income of about $11,000.

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  1. I knew it was bad, but not this bad. The figures are so discouraging. Yet, the reality of it is helpful to know as I’m figuring out what to do with my useless English degree. Thanks for sharing. The tidbit about the migrant farm workers really put things in perspective for me.

    Comment by Monica Men — March 5, 2012 @ 4:28 am | Reply

  2. Thanks, Monica. These figures show that you can’t count on making a living from freelance writing, whether you do articles or books. To the degree that you could ever do that, it’s becoming harder all the time. Authors’ advances for books, for example, are either stable or going down (depending on whose figures you accept), but the cost of living keeps rising.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — March 5, 2012 @ 1:19 pm | Reply

  3. I recently received my 1099 form. I earned $9120 from my writing last year. It feels good to be above average!

    Comment by Moonbeam McQueen — March 6, 2012 @ 5:31 pm | Reply

  4. Just FYI, it is still possible to make more than $9000 per year as an author. A lot more. I started as a freelance journalist, moved into nonfiction books for children, then into young adult and now adult fiction. I made a decent living in journalism/nonfiction, but with the move to novels in 2004, am living very comfortably. Comfortably enough so my husband retired three years ago, at age 50. It was also a long journey, with several turns. Patience is necessary. You can’t expect the first book you write (and many do) to become an instant bestseller. There’s a lot of work involved, even now, in self-promo, and in growing my audience every way I can. It was never easy. Was it worth it? Oh, yeah.

    Comment by Ellen Hopkins (@EllenHopkinsYA) — March 6, 2012 @ 7:09 pm | Reply

    • Thanks for the perspective, Ellen. I agree with all that you said, especially that many people have wildly unrealistic expectations for their first (or second or third) book. Often the ability to earn a living from writing comes only after many of those $9,000 years.

      Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — March 6, 2012 @ 9:13 pm | Reply

  5. Part of the problem with e-books comes from the facts that (a) many authors want to sell their books at $.99 or for a few dollars, and (b) the public considers e-books “just files” and either wants them free or for a pittance. The public acts like its paying only for the production and distribution costs of a file rather than for the content in the file.


    Comment by knightofswords — March 6, 2012 @ 11:29 pm | Reply

  6. […] The Average American Author Earns About $9,000 a Year’ – “Herman Melville died broke after his publisher refused to give him an advance for […]

    Pingback by Book Bits #164 – Scholastic’s e-reading app, e-book gurus, ‘Gods Without Men,’ and more links for writers | Malcolm's Book Bits and Notions — March 7, 2012 @ 11:11 am | Reply

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