ALCS, the Authors’ Licensing and Collection Society, has released a report based on a survey of 2454 working authors: “The Business of Being an Author.” The 2014 survey was conducted by Queen Mary University of London, and looks at authors’ earnings.
Here are a few of the more interesting points to emerge from the report:
*A typical professional author (who spends over 50% of their working life writing) earns UK £11,000 (US $16,561) per year. This is the median figure. Taking inflation into account, this is a decrease of 29% compared to 2005. This figure is lower than the UK minimum wage.
*The top 10% of authors (who earn UK £60,000 or more; US $90,359) earn 58% of all the money earned by professional authors. The top 5% (UK £100,100; US $150,741) earn 42.3%.
*Only 10% of professional authors make a living from writing alone. Everyone else does other jobs.
*Women authors typically earn only 80% of what men earn.
*Most earnings come from books, followed by magazines/periodicals, and then digital publishing.
*Of those authors who published between 2010 and 2o13, 17% made NO money from their writing in 2013.
*Typically, authors start earning from their writing in their late 20s or early 30s. Earnings usually peak when authors are mid-40s to 50s. After this age, there is a steep decline in earnings.
*The highest-paid type of writing is audio-visual, e.g. writing for TV. The lowest-paid is academic writing.
*25% of authors have self-published a book.
*46% of authors have signed a buy-out contract, i.e. the publisher pays a one-off fee to the author and no royalties.
*42% of professional authors have an agent. Of all writers, 26.2% have an agent.
Overall, times are tough for writers. Taking inflation into account, authors in general earn around 20% less than they did ten years ago. Mean average earnings are vastly inflated by a few very successful writers: the likes of James Patterson, JK Rowling and Stephenie Meyer. The rest barely make a living. The vast majority of writers (90%), in fact, do other jobs to make ends meet. The gender gap, while getting smaller, is still present. Authors’ advances are dwindling, perhaps due to publishers focusing on a few star author/celebrities, and investing less in smaller names.
Is there any good news? For people who like those quaint old things called books, the statistical evidence says paper is still king. Despite oft-heard comments that books are going the way of dodo birds and woolly mammoths, digital earnings cannot yet compete with traditional print royalties. Two cheers for that. And while authors’ perceptions are that they have a weaker bargaining position with publishers than ten years ago, the survey results don’t back this up. We still have some clout, and long may it continue.