How much do authors really earn? Some answers

Ann Bauer recently wrote at Salon on Why it’s a problem that writers never talk about where their money comes from. She’s wrong – they do talk about it. Not everyone does of course, but enough that a few web searches will find them. I guess she didn’t do much research before writing this? Independent authors talk about it more, but with a handful of web searches I found plenty of examples.

Some of these links I’d seen before and some I researched in ten minutes this morning.

Bauer’s essay is well written and an admission of her being “sponsored by her spouse” and depending on family is a common way for artists to start, or maintain their careers (e.g. Van Gogh depended primarily on his brother Theo). When I started planning to quit my job we saved money beforehand, and my wife took a more stable job to help give me time to sort out my new life.

In the news we hear almost exclusively about famous bestselling authors who make more than 95% of all authors living or dead ever did. They are extremely rare, which is confusing since they are the most well known. It’s a surprise to many that most books don’t sell well and 100k are published every year in the U.S. alone. Writing has never been and never will  be an easy way to make a living. Almost no one is forced to be an author – it’s a choice.

Many authors have and continue to write about their finances and how they made it or try to make it work. Give them a read (above) and if you appreciate their forthcomingness, thank them.

[photo credit]

12 Responses to “How much do authors really earn? Some answers”

  1. Lois

    Why did Bauer say no one talks about this? I suspect that she means no one in her literary/academic-leaning/high-brow-aspiring circle of book authoring and publishing. The examples she gives in the article are in that category. I don’t think the authors listed here by Scott are in the same genre category, which is not to imply they shouldn’t be heard, but I suspect it’s a class issue on Bauer’s part.

    1. Scott

      Lois. You make a great point. She doesn’t name the author whose reading she was at which would have helped orient her context (some names, like Stephen King, transcend the literary world, others, like David Sedaris, are big names if you happen to read books or hang out in libraries)

  2. flipsockgrrl

    John Scalzi recently observed that ‘genre’ authors seem to be relatively comfortable with talking about their writerly income — perhaps because ‘genre’ fiction (science fiction/fantasy, crime, etc) has traditionally been viewed as ‘commercial’ writing rather than ‘literature’. (Hmm. How many ‘scare quotes’ can I put into one brief comment?)

    1. Scott

      Thanks for the link – You are currently the scare quote record holder, but now that’s it a category, game on!

  3. elisa

    I was thinking about becoming an author, but now I am second guessing myself. My Lit. teacher says that I should go all the way, but I’m only 13 so it’s not to late to change my mind. I’m just wondering what are the odds? Like the true odds of someone making it all the way into at least a stable income?

    1. Chennele B

      Elisa, it is a difficult career to make it in. But that shouldn’t stop you in doing so. If it’s what you’re really passionate about, start now, start as early as you can. Continue to hone your skills. My only advice is to 1.) Don’t publish before you feel your writing is ready. Let yourself get better for a little while, you’re still young. 2.) Have a secondary career choice that also doesn’t get in the way of your writing too much.

      It can take a long time and a lot of work to get to the point of a stable income but that shouldn’t stop anyone who really has a passion for it.

    2. M.S

      Yeah, I’m kinda in the same position. I really want to be an author when I grow up, but after seeing how much authors really make, I’m doubting that. I really like writing, but I also want to make a good profit. I guess I can choose a different job and be an author for a hobby?


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