In September, the Authors Guild, in collaboration with 36 other organizations, conducted an extensive survey on author income in the United States. This study involved 5,699 published authors and emcompassed both traditionally published and self-published authors. Respondents were diverse: 8% identified as Black, 4% as Hispanic, and 2% as Native American. 12% identified as LGBTQIA+, 6% as nonbinary, and 11% met the criteria for the ADA’s definition of impairment.
Here are the findings. (I am summarizing the takeaways found in this article.)
Median Author Income
For full-time authors, the median income from their books in 2022 was $10,000, with a total median earnings of $20,000 when other author-related income sources were considered. This broader category includes activities like editing, blogging, teaching, speaking, book coaching, copywriting, and journalism.
Full-time authors in commercial markets (excluding academic and scholarly books), the median book income increased to $15,000, and the total author-related income reached $25,000. Half of all full-time authors earn less than minimum wage in many states and below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour from their books alone. Most authors earn half of their writing-related income from sources other than their books.
For all authors who completed the survey, regardless of whether they write part-time or consider themselves professional authors (80 percent), the median book income in 2022 was only $2,000, with a median total writing-related income of $5,000.
Full-Time Self-Published Author Income
Full-time self-published authors experienced a substantial increase in median income. In 2018, the median income was $13,700. In 2022, it rose to $24,000. Full-time self-published authors primarily earned their author-related income from their books, with little coming from other writing-related sources. In 2022, they earned a median of $12,800 from their books and $15,000 from all writing-related sources, with only 15 percent coming from sources other than books. Traditionally published authors earned 40 percent of their writing income from other sources.
Genre Author Income
The study also examined author income by genre, revealing disparities:
- Authors of romance and romantic suspense had a median book income of $31,725, which increased to $37,000 when considering all author-related income.
- Graphic novelists had a median book income of $15,000 and a combined income of $25,000 when including other author-related income.
- Mystery, thriller, and suspense authors had a book income median of $10,000, with a combined median book and author-related income totaling $15,010.
- Literary fiction authors earned a median book income of $5,000 and a combined median book and author-related income of $13,500.
- Biography authors reported a book income median of $3,500 and a combined median book and author-related income of $9,200.
- Authors focusing on literary works had a median gross book income of $2,800, and their overall income, inclusive of other author-related sources, was $10,100.
4. Author Income by Race
Full-time Black authors earned a median income of $2,412 from their books, compared to $10,985 for white authors. When looking at total author-related earnings, Black authors earned a median of $15,250, while white authors earned $20,000.
Among all full-time and part-time authors combined, Black authors’ 2022 median book-related income was $800, in contrast to white authors at $2,000. White authors were 36 percent more likely to be traditionally published than Black authors (38 percent vs. 28 percent) and spent nearly two and a half times more on book marketing in 2022 ($7,658 vs. $3,182).
I guess the good news is that full-time romance authors, making less than $18.00 an hour (this assumes their writing takes just 40 hours a week), are the most financially successful writers. And one presumes that the Nora Roberts (23M in 2023) or Danielle Steels (10M in 2023) didn’t fill out the survey and thus didn’t skew the curve. But the bad news is writing, for most, doesn’t make enough to live on.