Both my daughters are poets and one of them also writes non-fiction articles and chapters related to her job. I think they’re lucky because they come to writing with the gift of knowing the real fiscal facts of a writer’s life. They have no illusions.
They know that even a hard-working writer like me, with lots of published books and a long track record, foreign editions, fabulous reviews in the national media, would be better off financially working in the local supermarket. Harsh but true.
They know that even to make ends meet, I’ve had to develop various related income streams from things like teaching workshops, working for a literary consultancy and doing school visits, all of which take chunks of time away from the writing.
The Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society have published a major piece of research into authors’ earnings this year. Some of its headline findings are
- only 11% of professional authors (those who dedicate the majority of their time to writing) earn their whole living from writing
- the typical income of a professional author is £11,000 a year, less than two thirds of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Minimum Income Standard
Novelist Joanne Harris commented, ‘It’s good to see that finally we are becoming aware of just how little the average author earns.’
Poet Wendy Cope commented, ‘Most people know that a few writers make a lot of money. This survey tells us about the vast majority of writers, who don’t. It’s important that the public should understand this.’
It wasn’t always so. When I started out more than twenty years ago nearly half of professional authors could make their whole (if basic) living from writing.
On the upside, we now have the self-publishing option, but we need to approach that with our eyes open too. As you’ll know if you’ve been following this blog, I was very much guided in my recent self-publishing venture by the advice of Diana Kimpton at www.helpwithpublishing.com. She says only spend what you could afford to lose.
This really needs considering. With self-publishing, you are not only likely to earn little, you may very well make an actual loss.
I would never suggest to anyone that they give up the day job and commit a hundred percent to writing; I would never encourage them to believe they will ever be able to do so, unless they have an extraordinary stroke of luck.
If you want to be a published author, travel hopefully by all means, but be aware that the chance of earning a basic living from writing alone is low, and the chance of making a good living from it is very low indeed.
All of which is not to say don’t go for publication, just don’t go for it with your eyes closed, or you’ll bump into some hard facts down the line.
I’m looking forward to the day when my daughters have their collections published – I’d love them to do a collection together. That would be completely amazing!
Being published won’t mean they can give up the day job, at least not without years of hard graft and good fortune, and if they ever do want to make writing their main occupation, they will probably have to supplement it with other work.
But what being published will mean is that they are honouring and sharing their gifts, and opening to new opportunities as writers.
If you approach publication in that spirit, rather than as a chance to quit the day job, you will not be disappointed.
Here’s a wonderful, clear and thorough assessment of the current financial situation for authors by Emma Darwin on her brilliant blog This Itch of Writing.