Author Wages

Median earnings of professional authors fall below the minimum wage

It’s not easy to make a living as a writer, particularly as a novellist.

I’ve known this for a long time. With writers like Charles Stross, Kameron Hurley and Jim Hines posting regularly about where they make their money, if not their actual authorial income, it’s pretty apparent that switching to making a living wage from fiction away from making solid money as a software developer is a fantastical idea.

There are two broad themes to write about here.

Firstly, the market is changing: it is getting harder to receive a living wage from established channels, and newer channels aren’t necessarily lucrative either.

Secondly, how on Earth do you plan around that?

I’m going to focus here on the second point, because that’s what I actually understand.

A good friend saw that piece in The Guardian and asked me, if median wages are so low amongst professional authors, how could any responsible adult take up writing as a career? And by “responsible adult” he was particularly thinking of someone with children.

To be clear, I don’t think writing has ever been an easy gig (absent Terry Pratchett’s remark that it’s indoor work with no heavy lifting) – it’s always been hard to break into a publishing deal, or to get paid your due for the work put in. Part of the difficulty with getting paid for writing and for creative work in general is that people do it anyway: expressing yourself creatively is a tremendously important part of being human. Still, it’s always been difficult to transition from creating as a hobby to creating as a job. The creative industries and audiences are fickle and tend to squeeze the means of production rather than the publication infrastructure.

This question of responsibility has arisen for me before. I’ve mostly been working at start-ups for the last decade or so but when I first started doing that another friend asked me how I could do work for a start-up when I had a young family. The answer I gave then was that jobs at large companies were actually no more stable than those at start-ups: I’d been laid off recently at that point, and since then almost all of my friends in the technology industry have either been laid off from apparently¬† stable companies or jumped before they were laid off.

Of course, technology start-ups pay better than writing.

My main hope with that survey is that the respondents including a lot of hobbyist authors like myself, who write because they want to write and take any actual income as a bonus. At least that survey covered UK authors who have access to healthcare whether they are earning or not: that particular glory is not available in the States. However with the limited time available to someone working a full time day job, the choice is to write well or to write prolifically.

And that really is my plan: to write as well as I can in the time I have, and to look for opportunities to publish that work when it is good enough. It would be nice to have the money to spend more time writing now, but that is not likely to happen any time soon*.

So, back to making stories.

[*] see myriad resources on what the stock market has done since 2001, and the functional collapse of household wages since the 80s.

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