Are Authors Going Broke? A Reality Check

Pic via Pixabay

A few weeks ago, the Author’s Guild released the results of a survey revealing the salary of the average American author has gone down by 24%. It of course made its rounds on the internet as well as another article published last year about the salaries of U.K. authors. Same script different cast. Apparently it sucks to be an author on both sides of the pond. Many people including myself, find the Author’s Guild survey suspect because the survey only took a sampling of 1,674 people. This is not enough data plain and simple.

As if that weren’t enough, Reedsy, an online site connecting authors with freelancers, launched their own survey in partnership with ALLi (The Alliance of Independent Authors) and The Bookseller at the beginning of September. I can only imagine what that will reveal. I’m sure it will be all kittens and lollipops, but back to the story…

Are Authors Really Losing Money? The Truth

According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics the average writer/author in the U.S. makes around $64,870. This is actually up from their previous report in 2012 of $55,940. These stats are much more reliable than the AG’s survey because career stats are what the BLS does exclusively. And let’s not forget, the word statistic is actually in their title. However, the one thing the BLS does not tell us is how much the average indie author makes versus a traditionally published author. That’s the interesting data that no one seems to have, even Hugh Howey’s Author Earnings only tells us about what’s selling on Amazon.

The only people who seem to be losing money in the publishing industry are the traditionally published authors despite the fact that business is booming. Sadly, these authors aren’t sharing in the wealth and many of them blame self-publishing or the Amazon monopoly for the decline in their income. However, if they would only listen to the fiscal reports that many of the major publishers give to their investors every quarter, they are likely to hear their publishers brag about all of the millions they’re making. That’s odd because when it comes to negotiating with authors, publishers always claim poverty. They often tell authors and their representatives that they can’t give a better advance, or offer a better royalty split because they’re just too darn poor.

Possible Reasons Some Authors Are Losing Money:
• Bad contracts.
• Hiring poor representation: Some agents/lawyers are actually encouraging their clients to sign unfair contracts.
• Not considering all the options like self-publishing or hybrid publishing.
• Insisting on behaving like an employee rather than an independent contractor.
• Holding on to the delusion that publishing a book is an art and not a business.

On The Self-Publishing Front

I know several self-published authors who are making a living from publishing books, and though they’re not millionaires, they certainly aren’t making poverty wages like the AG authors. Yes, there are tons of articles that say indie authors earn next to nothing, but that’s not what I’m seeing. For those authors who are writing and publishing regularly, they are seeing an uptick in their earnings little by little with each publication. And those authors who treat their writing like a business are making the most money people like H.M. Ward, Barbara Freethy and J.A. Konrath.

In Conclusion…

I wrote this article because I wanted to cut through the hype, the Author’s Guild actually started a fair contract campaign initiative last May which explains this survey. They need to present a strong case to the public and to those within the industry that authors are worth more than what they being offered. Sadly, that usually isn’t enough in a situation like this. Generally, writers have to go on strike to get their pimps, oops, I mean publishers to even come to the negotiation table. This happened several years back with the 2007 writers strike in Hollywood. Of course the quickest way to resolve this problem is to stop signing bad contracts! But apparently the Guild hasn’t gotten that extreme.

No matter what side of the fence you’re on, it’s important that authors of all stripes decide what’s best for their careers and pursue that path with tenacity. Who cares if a couple of authors signed a bad contract? Let that be a warning to never compromise the value of what you do for a living—ever!



  1. I was going to comment on this, because I think you’re misinterpreting the BLS data, but your comment section appears to be closed. If it’s not, let me know.

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