Something-Something Blah-Blah Author Income Survey

I’m not so sure about this survey.

Or, rather, I’m not so sure about the portioned and parceled bits of said survey, because to buy the actual results you’d need $300 — and given that the report clearly states most writers earn under $1000 a year, they’re asking most authors to give up 30% of their salary to read the report. (Which suggests it’s not for or about authors at all, but rather for and about big publishers.)

Quite a few reasons I am dubious about that result — that “authors” are basically broke-ass degenerates and that the author career is one where hunger is answered by generic-brand Cheetos and thirst is quenched from bottles filled with your own tears.

How do you define “author?” Already a loaded word. (A little pretentious, too.)

Are these all professional authors? And only by self-selection?

What if you have one book out? What if you had one book out three years ago? Or ten?

Is this a salary based purely on earnings? Are losses figured in?

The survey has 65% of the answerers as “aspiring author,” which suggests that 65% of the survey-takers listed zero dollars as income (which might, ohh, I dunno, skew the results).

If those folks were taken out of the pool, that leaves about 3000 folks providing monetary data.

(Edit: okay, it looks like “aspiring author” is still figured into the monetary equation.)

(Which is pretty fuckin’ wonky — aka, “fwonky.”)

What if I make money as a writer of other things besides books?

Are these part-time authors? Full-time authors? Professional hobbyists?

Would one short story sale count?

The survey also seems, as has been pointed out, to try to compare the very different career (and financial) paths of self- and traditional-publishing in a way that isn’t perhaps equitable. And so it’s skewed against self-publishing, likely unfairly.

The thing is, I do understand that writing is not the HERE’S HOW YOU GET RICH IMMEDIATELY career. But the results of this survey suggest it’s the THIS IS ALMOST NEVER HOW YOU EARN A LIVING career, which is horseshit. If this survey were accurate, it would not only mean that a writing career is a tough row to hoe but also that it’s basically the worst idea ever from a financial standpoint. It suggests that book culture is damaged because those who help to create it cannot subsist. It suggests that both traditional- and self-publishing is punishing and oppressive.

I don’t buy it.

But, what the fuck do I know? I’m privileged. I know I’m privileged. The money I make from writing is comfortable. Maybe the bottom will fall out on me, who knows?

Just the same, I’m pondering —

Maybe I’ll do a survey.

Something informal, but something whose data will be here for all to see.

I have an audience reach at least as big as the authors sampled by the DBW survey (especially if you take out the 65% of “aspiring authors”).

Would that be a thing that interests you?

What questions would you like to see posed? What rigors placed on the data?

How to answer? Publicly, here in the comments? Online survey? Email to me?

Would it offer you any value at all or be worthless?

(For the record, if I do such a thing it still won’t be a complete picture — maybe it won’t even be that meaningful. As such, I would never charge money for the results.)

Toss your thoughts on the survey above — and the potential survey — in the comments.

87 responses to “Something-Something Blah-Blah Author Income Survey”

  1. Cool.

    Perhaps differentiating between writers who consider writing (related activities?) as their only source of income, and writers who have other income sources (from non-writing related stuff) in addition?

    • Hmmm – I phrased that poorly, what about:

      Writers who only get income from writing
      Writings who also get income from other sources

      As a consideration in the survey?

  2. I know this isn’t what you are asking but I’d love to know how much unpublished writers
    spend in a year on how-to-books, seminars, writing clubs, submission fees etc. (perhaps another article?)

  3. The point you raised about net income v. gross income would be interesting. Professional writers hire other professionals — editors, cover designers, etc. A real picture would take those costs into account. Size of backlist is another important factor to consider in the equation. Those two factors alone would filter out the aspiring writers (except for those who use vanity presses).

  4. I would suggest an online survey it should be easier to caculate the results. Have a comments section as well so writers can describe their particular situation or share information they couldn’t in the survey itself.

  5. I would also want to know with how many books this income was generated. There is a difference, if you try to live from the income of one single book, or if you have several published.

    • Earnings per book would be great, especially when ranked according to total number of books published. I have no freaking idea how to generate that graph except to maybe sort authors into numerical classes: 1 book, 2-5 books, etc–and then compute earnings per book.

  6. Comparing training and background would be interesting too, in addition to number of publications a writer produces. I’m guessing writing experience, and therefore skill, would impact a writer’s sales.

  7. How do you define a writer though? Sorry about this but I’m going to take myself as an example because I know far more about myself than anyone else.

    You see, I call myself a writer, because I spend all the time I have available for work writing, or trying to persuade people at gun point to read my- er hem, sorry, trying to promote the things I’ve written. If you ask me what I ‘do’ I’ll say I’m a writer.

    However…. ‘all the time I have available for work’ is very little; a couple of hours a day in term time, because I’m a stay at home Mum with a five year old so my ‘work time’ is what’s left after I’ve done the other work (chores, meals etc) and only during school hours. So already, no matter how serious my intent, I’m writing part time, but if I looked at how likely it is and how long it would take, I would have walked away. I wouldn’t have finished my first book, let alone four. I’m driven to do this. I write because I have to. If I could do something easier, I would.

    But… to write full time I must pay child care and to do that I must earn, which means I must earn from my writing first and then, when I’m earning enough to pay child care, I can write full time. Except I earn very little, it’s OK, it’s more than I’d earn if I was still hawking my work round agents etc but it’s not much. So no chance of magicking those hours up then. Clearly, officially, I’m a hobby writer. But to me my writing is not a hobby. I am deadly serious about this. My aim, in this mad enterprise, is for the day to come when the action figures lined up along my desk are from my own stories…. (yeh, I know, I’d better crack out the fimo clay and get modelling).

    From what I read on the internet, it’s becoming increasingly clear that it’s only the people with the kind of sales skills that Satan, himself would envy (damn, not me then phnark) and also time, and lots of it, who make a living from self publishing fiction.

    As I will never have the kind of time to put in required to make it out of the self published pond slime, eventually, I will have to bite the bullet and go trad. I haven’t yet (I don’t take rejection well). So can I, should I call myself a writer? Bearing in mind that even working as fast as I can, it’s unlikely I’ll earn a living from my writing this side of my 70th birthday can I even call myself aspiring? Hell, at the moment, I don’t even earn enough to pay my taxes.

    I’m probably not a ‘proper’ writer, I’m probably not even aspiring, but I call myself a writer because I can write a bloody book, even if there are fossils that have formed in less time than it takes me to produce each one. And also, pretty much every job I’ve ever had, when I ran the rat race, involved crafting words.

    So isn’t the first problem that asking someone whether or not they’re a writer is basically saying, “has something clicked in your head or not?”

    I know I’ve gone around the houses a bit here but does any of that make sense?



    • Yeah – exactly. All this for me too. Fist-bump for the stay-at-home mums! 🙂

      Also, the category of ‘aspiring author’ in the ‘official’ *hur hur cough snuffle* survey that Chuck talks about is pretty flaky too. Did the number-crunchers define any difference between the ‘aspiring author’ who says “I’ve written this number of books, but haven’t got any of them published so far” and the ‘aspiring author’ who says “Oooh, I’d love to write a book and be published one day – and I will… eventually… when I get the time…” *wafts through rest of life with dreamy look on face*… Okay, that’s being a bit flippant, but you know what I mean…

      Maybe have some stronger ‘entry rules’ for categories like that. Or at least a good idea of who really fits into them.

  8. It’s all hard to pin down because there are so many writers at so many different levels of their career with most falling into some for of the “aspiring” category. Counting the aspiring is a bit like doing a salary survey for lawyers and including the salaries of those still in law school who maybe have a low paid internship.

    I roll my eyes every time I see one of these surveys because I think most people understand that when you are trying to break into any art based career (Acting, Writing, Music, Painting…) that there is a high probability you will never earn any substantial money. I get that they are trying to dispel the myth that with self-publishing you can upload a few titles and sit back and watch the money roll in, but the people who are already convinced that they will be able to do this are not going to be swayed by a survey. They will just reason that those who aren’t making money at it are doing it wrong and that they know the secret way to do it right. You, hopefully, write, sing or act because it is who you are and you love doing it. Sure everybody wants to be successful at what they do and in this world, success is largely measured by income, but I think most of us already understand that in these types of career paths, our odds are always going to be long.

    Having the option to self publish maybe shortens those odds a bit, but thinking that self publishing makes those odds disappear is a bit like the gambler who thinks that if they follow a system in Craps or count cards in Black Jack, they will have an advantage over the casino. Sure they can improve their odds, and they will make small wins here and there, but since there is that tricky element called luck involved, if that player keeps playing long enough, they will eventually give all their money back to the house.

  9. I’m not sure if there can ever be an accurate study of writers. It’s like herding cats, it’s a difficult if not impossible task to get answers.

    The biggest problem, among the ones listed above, is *how* do you get those who are not doing well to participate? It’s not like the national census where you must answer the form questions. Those who are making money writing are going to respond – those who aren’t doing well or perceive themselves as failures aren’t likely to enter their stats. You can’t force participation which means you’ll be hearing from those who want to admit their earnings – and those, most likely, are those who are being successful.

    Which is not to say a survey can’t be useful – but I’m always leery of any survey when you’re dependent on the respondents putting in their replies. I’ve seen many self-published authors list low earnings. I’ve seen a lot of small press authors say they’re not making much. But I’m willing to bet neither group is going to answer a survey in large numbers because they’re feeling put upon because they’re not being successful by that definition.

    I don’t know if it can be done. I do know that whatever comes out of this you’ll be questioned and bleated at by everyone who disagrees with the results.

    JMO of course.


  10. Gosh darn but I’d love to see a survey on this that wasn’t commissioned to push a particular agenda. I’d like to see the correlation between firstly – what’s your income after expenses? and then correlate that to – how many books do you have out at the moment? when did you last publish a book? when did you last publish an article? when’s your next book coming out? how many books/articles will you write this year? how many did you write last year? are you active in social media/blogging – and if so, how active? any other promotional activity?

    Because I’ve got a feeling that the answers to that survey would give more of a glimmer of hope for everyone who is willing to really work hard and persist.

    And if they don’t I shall quietly crawl off and shut myself in the cupboard.

  11. Internet anecdotage including such examples as Bear, WJW, Bull, Ahmed, and Scalzi have taught me that vanishingly few writers/authors/whatv are able to abandon their day jobs. Those that do, pull it off by living in cheap areas of the country and/or having a spouse who brings in a more reliable income.

    “it’s basically the worst idea ever from a financial standpoint.”

    Certainly looks that way. *shrug* Even if I get a publishing deal and meet with moderate success, I don’t envision being able to quit my job. I’ve got kids to put through college.

  12. Some days, when the moon is full and the wind is blowing from the East, I consider myself an author. (My card actually says “novelist”.) Of course, my income is zero because my three books are POD via Lulu, and they are specifically NOT for sale, so I don’t often consider myself a “real” author, and would never consider adding my details to a survey of author incomes…

    I think I had a point when I started but it has escaped me… 🙂

  13. Methinks ’tis good to have it broken by self-pub, traditional, and hybrid. If you would like to eliminate “aspiring” and people who have only sold a couple of short stories, maybe limit it to folks who have published a novel? And does audiobook income count? Might also be good to say this is 2013 income only. What did ye make from writing in the most recent year, novelists?

    • I like the whole focus on 2013 income and a division between self/trad/hybrid. I would, however,like to somehow capture those people in the “finished” stage and know a bit more about whether they are planning on self/trad/hybrid. Anyone who hasn’t finished a book, or is thinking of writing a book should be filtered out from the get go.

    • Yeah, all this makes sense. No more “aspiring” — this is a survey about profession, and aspiring doesn’t count.

      And I’d get rid of the “author” language and instead go with “novelist” — definition being — well, what? Someone who had a book published in 2013? Too limiting? A book published in the last five years? With some breakdown of how much of that money is from advance, how much is from royalties, how much is from self-publishing? (There might also be worth asking about self-publishing income — how much from Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, iBooks, Kobo, and direct distribution.)

      Maybe worth seeing income from 2012 *and* 2013. I dunno.


      — c.

      • breakdown by channel would be fascinating. I’m seeing:
        75% Amazon, 22% Nook, 1% Apple, 1% Kobo, 3% print…

        but I hear wildly different things from other authors. All over the map.
        Amazon > 50% seems to be the only constant.

      • I think you are on the right track as far as how much from advance, how much from royalties, and self-pubishing. I don’t think digging down for kindle, B&N, smashwords would be worth going after – for people to dig that data out would take a lot of work and they might decide not to participate at all if they have to dig that deep.

        • Maybe, yeah. That might be a separate survey focusing on self-pub authors only, anyway. (Still useful, though! Good for authors to see how the breakdown goes in terms of readership/online distrib.)

  14. Writing is a weird industry.

    Every other professional industry I’ve worked in (video games, professional services consulting, software development, aerospace/defense) has independent, unbiased, accurate salary survey data available. From entry level to CEO, there is never any mystery about the ranges and averages.

    But in this industry, the “official” surveys are so transparently propaganda that you can figure out who commissioned them by reading the title.

    Writing is a weird industry.

  15. I think I had five books out before I felt safe to use the term ‘author’. I’d only go as far as admitting ‘I write stuff’ up until then.

    I think a survey identifying the rewards of perseverance may be more helpful, e.g. the average income of one book, two book, three book etc authors. Then perhaps the people who are earning nothing because they’re at the start wouldn’t feel like giving up when faced with depressing statistics and a future of unpaid bills. I think it took 3 years for me to start earning royalties from my first so, if I’d been asked the question in my second year, the answer would have been more miserable than now!

    Interestingly the longer you’re at it then the more linked opportunities arise – paid events, grants for projects, teaching gigs etc, etc. I think of them as part of my author’s income because they are a direct result of it.

    All the other ideas for questions will show interesting information but more so if there’s an indication of the author’s body of work…

    Now I need to get back to that manuscript I’ve just avoided for the last 15 minutes… before I become and ex-author…

    Great post, thanks, Alison

  16. I know a handful of self-published authors who are able to do it full-time and I know of 100s that have done the same (more than trad published actually). But again how do you define “writer”, how do you word the questions (have you quit your day job & maintained standard of living)? And of course the survey will be skewed as people will self-select in who answers. How do differentiate between big 5/mid-size/small press/self-published/vanity press (you can’t let the authors do it since many get fleeced by vanity press & think they have a publisher or…), Gross income, publishing expenses, marketing/promotional/PR expenses, number of ebooks sold, number of hard/paper books sold, number of audio books sold, % of royalties they receive on each format (average or what most books are at?), name of publisher, number of books for sale, years having books for sale. I’m sure given a bit more time I could think of more critical questions to help in evaluating the $$$s answer but this is what I have off the top of my head.

    I think if you do a survey Chuck your followers & other interested parties can help it go viral. I say go for it but take a few days to think about the questions, run them past any friends that have survey experience as well as gender/cultural expertise for possible bias language, and hit us with it. 😀

    • Seems to me that the definition (for the purpose of this survey) is that you’ve finished one or more books and have them in a “submission” form – which means you would feel comfortable submitting to an agent/publisher or submitting to the channels for self-publishing.

      • I’m not sure why aspiring authors need to be included. If one is looking at income shouldn’t it be based on people who have at least one book for sale?

        After having taken a number of your surveys if Chuck takes you up on co-authoring the survey and knowing you took the original survey I’m sure the outcome would be fine. I love that you always include boxes to add additional thoughts to all questions!

        • I think aspiring as in – I’ve written and I’m submitting should be included so that we have apples and apples. The self-publishing slush pile is exposed in their pile – but the traditional numbers don’t have these so we are seeing the “top” of one group and “all” of another.

          Glad you like the way I structure my surveys. I get a lot out of them.

          • I agree that the comparison isn’t fair, but unfortunately the definition of “professional” by the survey I’m imagining would require “I got paid” as a minimum. If that means you got paid from readers directly, okay. If that means you got paid for a publisher, okay. But submitting to agents isn’t meaningful in terms of the actual money earned.

  17. I think maybe you should pick a year, like 2012 or 2013 and just ask how much people earned from writing in that year. I’m personally interested in the lower end of things like for instance people who only sold a couple of short stories. I see no need to include aspiring authors but if someone got paid to write something, anything, then that person is a real author. Limiting it to just novels isn’t fair because authors write lots of things besides novels. You could have it broken out by categories like novels, novellas, short stories, games, scripts, essays and articles, blogging, nonfiction, etc. and ask how much was earned from each category. I guess it depends on if you want to focus on all writing that generates income or just novelists.

    • It would really be cool to see both 2012 and 2013. I think knowing the number of each (novel, short stories, novellas, etc) would be good to have in the data set then people can filter/analyze as they see fit. For instance, for myself. I’d like to to look at some data for people who have done one or more novels, but I would like to see of that group what else they write – such as novellas and short stories.

    • You have to be really specific about what it means to “earn” from writing in a given year. If you got a $50,000 advance for two books due one per year for two years, some people will average it out and some people will say they got $50K the year they got it (assuming lump-sum payout which doesn’t happen but for the sake of the argument, the principle is sound.) The question would have to be very carefully drafted or, even better, there should be separate questions for “how much did you get in advances?How much did you get in royalties? How many books pending release that you were paid advances for in prior years do you have?” Etc.

      • Yeah, I literally made double in 2012 what I did in 2013 because of a couple good advances. It doesn’t mean my career tanked in 2012–the books sold great–but a hefty chunk up front skews things.

  18. The bias in the survey is evident in the slide you linked to titled, “What advantages do traditional publishers offer authors” which then presents the income ranges broken out by self-published vs. published. They’re clearly trying to show causation when the data in the graphic doesn’t suggest any such thing. Clearly there is a huge selection bias inherent in the whole thing. Anybody who has uploaded a free 10 page “book” onto Amazon counts as a self-published author. So there’s a huge “apples to oranges” issue there also.

    What I find fascinating is that over 50% of published authors make less than $1000. I assume that represents people who didn’t have a book out in 2013? But still, doesn’t really sell the “publishers get you paid” argument does it?

    • Again, the problem is that the question is overbroad. I, technically, am a Published Author: I got paid to write some articles for a law journal many years ago. If you ask me how much money I made from traditional publishing, though, I’ll tell you zero for as far back as you’re likely to ask. How many people are in similar boats, with one sale, or a few, a longlonglonglonglong time ago, but still consider themselves published authors and answer surveys accordingly?

      When I answer such questions or discuss such matters, I disregard that portion of my writing career, which I feel is more honest, but that’s just me and I wouldn’t call the guy who sold one story to Analog in 1983 a liar for referring to himself as a Published Author.

      • It’s hard because we don’t know what screener they used to let people take the survey. But there hopefully was some sort of “had written work available for commercial sale within the past 5 years” criteria to actually take the survey. Because I’m with you – if you got paid for a magazine article in 1973 it shouldn’t qualify.

        I turned down (wisely or unwisely, time will tell) a publishing contract last summer and so I always feel that surveys like these are trying to suggest that anybody who would do that is a dolt (possibly true but technically still an unknown at this point). However if somebody did a fair version of this with appropriate screeners, that could account for variations in “people cranking out crap” vs. “indie publishers who take their work seriously” it would be enormously helpful for people trying to navigate options and make informed decisions.

  19. I would definitely like to see a survey..and would even be willing to co-author it with you if you’d like. I have a poll daddy account that would make the collection of data easy to analyze. The important thing is to release the “raw data” (minus any identifying information – for instance I would allow people to add their email to get a copy of the data – but strip that field before sending) so that people can slice/dice the data different ways. I participated in the survey and there are number of questions I would like answered that could be if I had the raw data to work with…but instead I have to rely on how they divide things out.

    For instance we have that whole problem of counting self-published authors (all of them) verses only a fraction (only those that make it through the slush pile). If the questions were asked properly we could include these people and get a more apples to apples comparison..

  20. You might get more honest results from an anonymous survey. People, regardless of job, tend to be cagey about income and round up or down if they think it fits the average better.

  21. Survey Monkey would make a great survey engine. Several people, like R.M. Nicholls suggested great questions. Yes. I’d love to see and participate in the survey. Categories of authors though, I’d suggest published (self or traditional) and non-published as the categories. I’m an author/publisher, to use Chuck’s term, but only for two years. That could fit two categories. Including all sources of writing income is also good. I have both fiction and non-fiction published. No matter what you use, there needs to be an Other selection for every question and a block to put the outlier answer. Good luck.

  22. I’d also like to see a separate survey for traditionally published authors that would focus on contract related issues such as:

    1. What is the term of your contract (copyright, 5 years, 7 years)
    2. What rights were transferred (print, ebook, audio, movie/tv, foreign)
    3. How many books signed
    4. How much advance per book
    5. Debut contract or subsequent one
    6. ebook royalty rates
    7. Option clause?
    8. Non-disclosure clause?
    9. Non-compete clause?

  23. Many surveys also ignore the small presses. It’s either the Big Six or self-publishing. There’s a lot of decent small presses who put out books in both digital and print form and they tend to slip through the cracks because they don’t get the same attention from the media.

    And, of course, definitions of small presses are needed then. Those who put out XXX number of books vs those hooked to a larger publisher vs those who are small university presses…

    Yeah. I wouldn’t want to step in those waters. Way too much room for variations.

    • They survey that was done did look at small presses. One reason for needing the raw data is so we can analyze data on them in different ways. – Like what is the income of those from small press verses income from big-five. Both Hybrid and Traditional had almost identical number of “small press” included and it was by far the highest amount 58% as opposed to the big-six which was 19% of the traditional segment and 23% of the hybrids.

  24. Am interested. I’d like to see questions such as:

    Do you make living writing fiction?
    Do you make a living writing otherwise?
    If you do not make a living writing fiction, have you tried? How long did you try?
    What did you make your first three years broken down by year?
    How many books do you have out?
    Which of those are self published?
    What genre or genres do you write in?
    How long did you write seriously before becoming a full time author or quitting?

    My suspicion has always been that most of the “business” is made up of people who quit before they really failed.

  25. Good points Chuck. It might be helpful to look at the types of writing being done. I’ve placed a few pieces of fiction over the years, but when I was writing full-time I made my living with non-fiction. The first year I wrote, I made $15,000 and this continued to grow until five years into my freelance career when I was making $70,000. This included all sorts of patchwork jobs including grant writing, magazine and newspaper work, guidebooks, and business writing. So how does one go about breaking that down? I didn’t have an agent because I didn’t need one. My guidebooks were paid by a flat rate. I am a single mother of twins and we all survived just fine on my writing. And I know many other freelance writers who make a decent living from their words. Only two have agents for their non-fiction books. On the other hand, I only know one fiction writer. It just so happens he has been tremendously successful. (However, one of my non-fiction writer friends has a drawer of four novel sitting in a dusty drawer. He earns close to six figures a year with his non-fiction, but can’t sell a novel to save his life. Does this mean he is a success or a failure?) The survey you are discussing seems skewed towards fiction writers. (Doesn’t everyone want to be the next Great American Novelist?) But I wonder how many aspiring writers have even finished a short story let alone an entire novel. You know as well as I do that wanting to be a writer is a very different thing than actually sitting down and doing the work. The final numbers wouldn’t look nearly as grim if you focused on writers who are actually working and included writers of both fiction and non-fiction. A snapshot on a specific frame of time might also be beneficial. I don’t know how you find the time, but I think a more realistic picture would benefit all of your followers.

  26. a well-designed survey could take into account all of these variables. Ask people to choose how many books they have published in each category (small, trad, self-pub), how long they have been writing, other sources of income, gross vs. net, etc.

    Also see Beverley Kendall’s excellent recent survey (for romance authors, but awesome data). What she did well was look for success factors – series, free books, etc. in self-pub world, but this could be done across the board.

  27. Rock on, Mama! I’m in the same boat, a SAHM with a 2 year and about 2 hours a day to write. Sometimes, it feels like I’m moving at a snail’s pace, but at least I’m moving!

    I don’t think aspiring authors should be included in a survey on income. Of course, I would define “aspiring” as someone who has not yet published, regardless of medium or method. So, by my definition, MTM would not be “aspiring” because she earns at least some income for her published books. But someone earning $0 would completely skew the data. (Side note: from what I understand on that original survey, they included “indie” authors that were “aspiring”, but not traditional “aspiring” authors, because those authors wouldn’t have made it through the slush pile to an editor. Essentially, that includes the “indie” slush-pile but not the traditional slush-pile, a definite bias.)

    For normalization purposes, I would also like to see info on Net Income vs. Gross Income, number of titles published, number of titles currently available for sale, and the date of first publication. It would also be interesting to know how many books each author has sold in total, but I doubt that data’s available, especially for the trad-pub group.

    By the way, as a former analyst, I love data. Can you tell? 🙂

    • I forgot to add, we should also differentiate between direct writing income (books, articles, short stories, etc.) and other indirect income (speaking engagements, webinars, master classes, etc.)

    • Yay so that’s three of us who are going to be creeping along together gnashing our teeth and eating snail and tortoise dust! We should start a collective! Everyone’s heard of slow food, what about slow writing!



  28. I think that a survey, any survey, needs to begin with a clear statement of the goals of the survey creator.
    Good luck with that. The comments are rich, and there are a lot of them. More by the minute.
    I am interested in self-published writers, since I am one, and I am in a minority in that I do all the jobs related to self-publishing myself. That is a long way from someone who actually has an agent, a publishers, and noticeable sales.
    As far as who is a writer, who is an author, and who is a winner or loser, that seems to be hopelessly subjective but also would be helpful and interesting to have at hand.
    Finally, I get this nagging feeling that the underlying reason for a survey is to give the finger to the people who are asking for a bunch of money for little or nothing in return.

  29. Saw the survey and had the same thoughts. So, yes! Do a survey. Ask straight questions. First –you must be a published author. Second –indie, traditional, hybrid (that’s a good thing to know), how much gross income, how much net, if your a hybrid author how much money from each –traditional, self. Total years being published. I know people are making money –I know half a dozen just on the other side of my keyboard.

  30. Okay I sprung for the full report. and can shed some light on this. Of the 5,972 “aspiring authors”

    * 36.4% have finished a manuscript
    * 51.1% have started but not finished
    * 12.5% haven’t even started

    The 726 who haven’t started were not included in any of the other analysis.

  31. I’d definitely be interested in the results of a survey, if you conducted one. I’d recommend using a survey website instead of the comments, or you’d go crazy trying to compile it. I’d be most interested in knowing about the spectrum of published (self and trad) authors, on the spectrum of a few short stories per year and up, but not so interested in “aspiring authors” – that, by definition, means not there yet. You’d have to love data crunching to want to do this though!

  32. Honestly, I wouldn’t waste your time putting together a survey. For one thing, it’s going to suffer from self-reporting bias (same as the DBW ridiculousness): It’ll be anecdotal data from the number of folks who chose to respond. For another? It’ll just be another log in the fire. Folks who agree with its results will tout it, folks who disagree will hold it up as an example of skewed partisan propaganda. We really don’t need more ammo, do we?

    I doubt that any survey at this point is going to tell us anything that the level-headed among us don’t already know: Traditional, Hybrid or Self-Published, some authors are doing very well, some are doing OK, some are doing poorly. There is no magic bullet, no One True Way; what works for you works for you — know yourself, know your weaknesses, know your strengths, and go with the method that suits you.

    • For “traditional” income – the best thing to do is to have the agents enter in their contracts into a database and then strip the author information (after combining an author that had contracts with multiple agents as one record. I bet that would produce some really interesting data.

    • You might be right — certainly any survey is going to contain its own special slathering of bullshit over it. That said, I don’t agree that it’d be anecdotal. The point of providing multiple data points would be to combat anecdotal information. Another log on the fire is exactly the point: to strain the metaphor perhaps overmuch, more logs make for a bigger, brighter fire. A clearer picture, as it were.

      “I doubt that any survey at this point is going to tell us anything that the level-headed among us don’t already know: Traditional, Hybrid or Self-Published, some authors are doing very well, some are doing OK, some are doing poorly. There is no magic bullet, no One True Way; what works for you works for you — know yourself, know your weaknesses, know your strengths, and go with the method that suits you.”

      That’s true and maybe the best reason not to do one. The reason I thought of doing one is more to satisfy self-curiosity more than anything: how much are people really making? The value of art — and whether you can make a living wage in this weird Internet age — is a meaningful question.

      — c.

  33. In addition to asking folks to self-identify as traditionally published, author-published, or hybrid:

    1) How long have you been pursuing publication?
    2) Do you consider yourself a less-than-part-time writer, a part-time writer, or a full-time writer?
    3) Do you have income as a writer that doesn’t come from book or short-story sales?
    4) For author-publishers (solely author-published or hybrid), what are your expenses as a publisher each year?

  34. I’d go survey–collating all the email would make one sad. Perhaps questions like “Have you published a book ever/in the last five years/in the last two years/sold but not yet published” would help refine some of the data.

  35. Here is an important piece of information about this survey….

    “While advances were seen as a key advantage of traditional publishing, most of teh authors in this sample who traditionally published did not receive them.”

    This tells me that the traditionally published sample contained a large number of small -press or e-only published authors.

  36. As an “aspiring author” who is currently an “actual scientist,” I’m really glad that you pointed out the flaws in this survey design. Surveys are not science, and any data that comes from opt-in surveys is not reliable, ever, SO SAY THE LAWS OF SCIENCE AND STATISTICS.

    That said, I always like to know what books/authors other writers like. Something opinion-based and fun. Otherwise, at least one person will take the survey results as gospel and their life will be ruined forever.

  37. Wow. Are you sorry you asked?
    I read that article, too and couldn’t quite get my brain around the angle.
    *Don’t *Please* limit the survey to novelists, except maybe as a sub cat. – cause as you have eloquently stated many a time, to make an income as a writer you have to write ALL KINDS OF STUFF. So, I fall into the less than category even with ghost-writing and story sales and freelance – but I’ve just started this quest. So I’d like to see, how long does it take for all of these puzzle pieces to come together into an income above the poverty level 🙂

  38. I often don’t know what to do with labels when it comes to my writing. I definitely wouldn’t call myself an “aspiring author.” I don’t think there’s any such thing. Either you write or you don’t. I know the survey is treating the term “aspiring” to mean, “Hoping to earn some money from my writing,” but I feel like there’s built in implication in the article that, despite pointing out that “a minority of respondents listed making money as ‘extremely important,’” writing for something other than money or recognition is an empty pursuit. Or just a hobby.

    And there’s nothing wrong with that. Writing is writing.

    I guess I’m not comfortable with calling myself an author, either, for two reasons. First, the word seems to connote books. Like novels. Or anthologies. Second, the term is painted in prestige. It suggests that you’ve achieve a certain level of success: money, fame, respect, book tours, etc. It also says you have a corpus of works. The survey was published in The Guardian, so maybe those in the UK associate the term with other things.

    Anyway, I know it sounds like I’m parsing semantics here, but I’d be willing to bet a lot of people perceive a different in the way the two terms “author” and “writer” are treated.

    I think we should just use the term “penmonkey” and be done with it.

  39. Here’s the survey I would like to see:

    Writing Income vs. Years Published (or books published, potentially)

    It’s not enough to compare self-published to traditional, I think we need to take in other variables. I would assume that most traditional authors make more than most self-published authors early on in their careers, given that trad authors are likely to have a ~$5000 advance and self-published authors won’t get that, and the first few books of a self-published author might not earn $5000.

    But three years (or three books) into their career, who’s making more money? What happens when the self-published authors gain traction? At what point do the higher royalties make up for the lack of an advance/cost of doing it yourself? Where’s the tipping point?

    I’d also like to see sales growth for the two. Every author wants to make money. But in my mind, the goal shouldn’t be to make money — the goal should be to grow your audience. The money comes with audience growth. So… even if the self-published authors are making less early on (because they’re usually pricing their books lower than traditional), are they making more sales? Maybe their audience is growing faster — something that might not pay dividends until a few years later.

    My $0.02.

  40. Chuck,

    Forgive me if someone has already linked to Bev Kendall’s survey of trad/self-pub/hybrid authors. I blew like seventy hours reading the original thread on PV and feel guilty I’m not writing THIS MINUTE.

    Here’s the link:

    I love the idea of a large, statistically significant survey with quality respondents and cohorts. Honestly, I don’t give a rat’s ass who’s right, whether it’s Joe Konrath or Steve Zacharias. I want to know the facts about income from writing. As a former veterinarian (a profession that gets surveyed, monitored, spliced and diced by the accounting industry), I’m shocked writers haven’t asked these questions before now.

    Give ’em hell, bud!

    • T. D. Hart – Thanks so much for linking to that survey – I hadn’t seen it before. I love reading evidence that confirms my prejudices!

      Personally I only have one book out, self-published, and am writing the next one. Hence I’m not earning much beyond the price of a cup of coffee but I don’t feel at all hard-done-by. I don’t expect to earn anything beyond pocket change until I have at least a series of five or six books out – I think that’s realistic. I feel like I’m serving my apprenticeship at this stage, just learning and making a bunch of mistakes as I go.

  41. I remember your flowchart around the time of NaNo, that if you write, you’re a writer; if you get paid for your writing, you’re a professional writer. I think the number and depth of these comments shows the interest in the area of writing income, and in better data. (Even crap data generates interest!)

    I also appreciate the way you’ve clarified how long writers can write, before selling a book, an unpaid investment in skill and craft, that depending on when you survey, can look either like long-term failure, or overnight success. This would be a fascinating research area of its own… how long did you write (p/t or f/t hours) before you had saleable mss?

    I guess it’s the ‘art’ component that makes it something people are wary of openly discussing. Other industries, as noted more than once above, have a more matter-of-fact approach to income. Curious thing to ponder, that…

  42. I would participate in said survey, and it seems to me this would be a dandy crowd to poll since we clearly are serious about our craft. Well, serious enough to flock to your profanity-laced doses of realistic advice and your whiskey-fueled sermons about getting out there and writing actual words that are readable and stuff.

  43. Chuck– I would love to see these kinds of survey data.
    I’m one of those “aspiring” with a full time job. But I’m dreaming of quitting to write full-time and my wife and I are wondering what my chances for income are.

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