The Authors Guild, whose “mission is to support working writers,” and “advocate for the rights of writers by supporting free speech, fair contracts, and copyright” commissioned an in-depth look at what it means to be a professional writer in the 21st century. Shocking absolutely no one—except your great aunt who told you that one time at Thanksgiving that you should write a book about rival pastry chefs who fall in love and make a million dollars—the 50-page report by Dr. Christine Larson doesn’t contain much in the way of good news.
If you are currently—or planning to become—a professional writer, please sit down. According to a summary of the report:
Half of full-time authors earn less than the federal poverty level of $12,488. Literary authors are the hardest hit, experiencing a 46% drop in their book-related income in just five years.
80% of all authors earn less than what most people would consider a living wage.
Authors are expected to do what publishers once did—market their own books. Authors spend a full day per week promoting their books, which takes them away from writing and results in longer stretches between new books being published and lean years for many writers.
Oh, and according to novelist and Authors Guild president Doug Preston (and, to be honest, anyone who spends any time at all on literary Twitter): “Anger, frustration and sorrow are three of the most common emotions expressed by authors cited in the report.”
And even if you manage to score a book deal with a Big 5 Publisher, you shouldn’t really get your hopes up. Says agent Eric Simonoff:
I once asked a publisher why the bottom third of the list is utterly ignored by publishers. He said that when a publisher acquires a book, only a small number of people have read it. Over the next long, slow 12 months, many more people within the publisher will read it, and there’s a process where some people get excited, and certain titles rise. The stakes of greenlighting a project are very low.
And if certain titles rise, other titles… What’s the opposite of rise?