Crisis of Epic Proportions

In 2018, the Authors’ Guild conducted the largest survey ever undertaken of professional writers in the US. 5,067 published book authors responded to questions regarding author income. Authors Guild, Romance Writers of America, Society of Children’s Book Writers, Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, Textbook and Academic Authors Association, National Association of Science Writers, American Society of Journalists and Authors, Association for Garden Communicators, Independent Book Publishers Association, PEN American Center, Authors Alliance, Next Big Writer, B&N Press, Authors Registry, Ingram Spark, Reedsy, and Lulu all took part.

Median incomes of all published authors who were surveyed—including part-time, full-time, traditionally published, self-published, and hybrid-published authors—for all writing-related activities (including book royalties, guest speaking, teaching, editing, consulting) was down 3% from four years ago. Worse still, median income based solely on book royalties was down 21%.

Roughly 25% of authors surveyed earned $0 in book royalties during 2017.

While self-published authors were the only group to experience a significant increase (up 95% in book-related income from 2013 to 2017), self-published US authors as a whole still earned 58% less than traditionally published US authors in 2017.

‘More book authors, even those who consider themselves full-time writers, are forced to hold down multiple jobs to earn enough money to survive. This includes authors who have written books for decades and have survived on their writing in the past’ – The Authors’ Guild.

Only 21% of full-time published authors derived 100% of their individual income from book-related income.

‘Furthermore, the number of full-time newspaper and magazine journalists has declined by more than 60% since 1990 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The pay professional writers receive to create blog posts and other online content generally translates to well below the hourly minimum wage, despite the fact that 52% of the published writers surveyed have advanced degrees compared to 11% of the general population’ – The Authors’ Guild.

On the flip side, more people are writing and publishing books than ever before. 33% of those surveyed published their first book in the past five years, and the number of authors self-publishing books rose by 72% since 2013.

‘While mainstream publishers enjoy the cachet and increased sales that stem from publishing award-winning authors, in general they remain risk-averse, chasing “blockbuster” and celebrity authors. To land and keep these top-selling authors, publishers are forced to pay six-figure advances and then spend enormous resources promoting these books to recoup the huge outlays. This leaves fewer resources for mid-list writers—the 90%—where most literary fiction and non-fiction authors reside’ – The Authors’ Guild.

How do you feel about the dominance of Amazon and the decline of physical bookstores? Love to see your views in the comments section.

For me personally, I value the ability to Indie publish and be the master of my own destiny. The success of my books is solely dependent on how much effort I put into marketing and promotional activities. I value that control, and rate the larger royalty percentage of Indie publishing. However, as a reader, I mourn the loss of physical bookstores. I used to love to browse the shelves. Now I find myself a regular visitor and avid supporter of my local library. Long live our local libraries and public lending royalties! – Carolyn Martinez.

Statistical data sourced from The Authors’ Guild.

Carolyn Martinez

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