how much do professional writers make

how much do professional writers make

Professional Writers’ Earnings

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1. Introduction

In more recent times knowledge of the earnings of writers is worth having because it is against this that real and potential authors can weigh the uncertainties, efforts and rewards of literary labour. Numerous funding opportunities abound for aspiring writers such as the Australia Council Grants, university scholarships, an array of publication prizes and awards. These prospectors need to know what further earnings may come from their various writing enterprises while still maintaining eligibility for such funding. As for established writers, income from grants and academic or editorial work may detract them from creative writing and it often becomes difficult to learn book rebuffs across from possible content or style defects. Any writer will find it useful to compare his lot to others in the trade.

Professional writers’ earnings have become a topic of increased interest. One of the main reasons for this is that financial returns in a writing career are often long in coming and scanty, particularly in the case of men of letters. Historically, there has been a romantic acceptance that the impecunious scribe is somehow more genuine in his craft. Pound suggested to Bunting that he make a vow of poverty in return for a civil-list pension of five hundred a year. Bunting declined on the grounds that what wealth he had was not interfering with his work and a source of money would be no less a source of irritation. Eliot in his middle years received a large income from the sales of records of his readings, at a time when there were few other earnings from poetic elocution, but he felt that it damaged his reputation as a poet of high seriousness and later tried to discourage the sale of the records. On Les Murray’s online forum his readers enquired about his wealth and it so came about that he wrote ‘Quite accidentally, I’ve been on to the lost position of being a moderately paid poet,’ as though it were some strange piece of essential Toryism. In any case he has often held concurrent careers such as a translator or academic. It wasn’t until the latter half of the twentieth century that professional writers sought to disabuse the notion that to live from the earnings of one’s pen is dishonourable.

2. Factors Affecting Writers’ Earnings

For each concept, various research and publications have produced differing results. This tendency suggests that there are a large number of variables influencing how much a writer can expect to earn. For example, work by Kroll (1990) suggests that material success for poets is predictable by talent and motivation. He observes that essentially all poets are highly motivated as the financial rewards in no way reflect the poets’ level of effort or the standard of their work. Quantity of written work by writers has been observed to produce differing results. Ward and Wolf (1975) and Winston and Zimmerman (1975 in Ben-Porath, 1976) have conflicting findings where the former observe that the amount of writing for poets is negatively related to material success and the latter found the percentage of work published to be higher for fiction writers with more published stories. Allen et al. (1977) found success and income to be higher for fiction writers with more published work in the last decade. McGuinness and Pitt (1977) found that poetry income was not related to quantity of work, and Rose (1984) suggested that it was not worth the effort for poets to spend a great deal of time writing. These results put quantity of work in an ambiguous position as to its effect on earnings for each type of writer. A further example of ambiguity is education with Ben-Porath (1976) finding that US poets and fiction writers with college teaching experience had lower income from their writing. Allen et al. (1977) found higher education was positively related to income for fiction writers and poets. The differences between genre and time period and the relatively low samples of full-time writers may account for these differing conclusions. These education income findings show the complexity of separating the effect of education from that of occupational characteristics. Overall, it is clear that there are a large number of variables that can potentially influence a writer’s material success. Variables do not exist in isolation, however, and often interact with each other to affect earnings. Variables related to writing and publishing will be the focus in the above concepts, and those related to characteristics of the writer in the latter two sections.

Concepts-based factors Content-based factors Time-based factors Writer-based factors Conclusion

3. Average Earnings of Professional Writers

If we look at only full-time workers, the average income rises to $60,000. The high income of part-time writers is somewhat surprising. This may be because many part-time writers are self-employed older adults working from home. Older writers have high earnings, income increases with education level, non-fiction writers have higher earnings than fiction writers and those writing at a professional level have far greater earnings than those writing at a trade or novice level.

In comparison, the 2004 median household income in the United States was $44,389. For a further comparison, those in education and sport at PhD level with 21 years of experience or more have an average income of about $80,000. It would therefore seem that writing is a quite viable career from primarily a financial perspective, especially when we consider the very low income level at which a significant portion of writers would choose to write only if they ‘could write what they wanted to’ as shown in the following table.

When looking at the writers surveyed, the greatest surprising fact is that the best paid are those in salaried positions and the bottom earning group are the self-employed. The average income of the professional writer in 2005 was $48,000. It is important to remember that this includes all writers – not just those working full-time as a writer. Writers whose primary source of income was something other than writing, who were retired or only worked part of the year, those on leave during 2005 and those with no income at all in 2005 are included. The average income of those that have been writing for 10 years or more is $66,000 rising to $76,000 for those writing for 15 years or more.

4. Strategies to Increase Writers’ Income

Where the writer chooses to work has a definite impact on the hourly rate, and sometimes even the connotations of the work title. A writer working in today’s academic market, for example, might be termed an “Essayist”. It is a title with classical implications, but comes with an association of earning very little money. An essayist today might be lucky to pull in $10 per page for work often taking over five hours to complete. Compare that to the technical writer working in a high-tech environment, who may pull in $40 an hour writing the very same page. The difference here is the nature of the work, and the earning potential is much higher in fields using informational and promotional materials. In this case it may be wise for the academic writer to consider a career change, no small task, or possibly writing off-hours under a pseudonym.

Efficiency in writing often comes down to a matter of experience. It is not so much that an experienced writer gets more money per hour, but rather that he can write the same thing in less time, raising his effective hourly rate. Take, for example, a novice writer who can earn $20 per hour for freelance assignments versus an experienced writer earning $80 per hour. The experienced writer, though it may take more than twice the time, can still write the same piece and take home more money collected over this and future assignments.

Although many writers are content to eke out a living on ten to fifteen thousand dollars per year, others wish to earn at least a middle-class income. The strategies for doing so are threefold: increase the hourly rate by becoming more efficient, target a higher paying market, or write an additional number of hours.

5. Conclusion

This project has been an attempt to estimate the earnings of professional writers. It is based on over 200 responses from writers and incorporates a wealth of public information on the topic. Unfortunately, there is no government data available for the specific category of “professional writer”. This current project, however, provides a reasonable lower bound estimate of what the typical professional writer can expect to earn. The major findings were that the average hourly rate for writing was $10 per hour. Non-book authors reported earning a 41k yearly income from writing-related work. Book authors reported a 50k yearly income from book-related work. Keep in mind that both book authors and non-book authors will generate additional income from book sales in years subsequent to the writing of the book. However, this was excluded from the current analysis. It was also found that the estimated marginal earning rate from experience was about 1 percent. In general, it is difficult to obtain an accurate measure for intensity of experience in terms of years worked, but this could be a rough indicator for discouragingly slow earnings growth in the writing profession. Finally, diversity in writing skill was shown to carry a benefit ranging from 20 to 200 percent in estimated hourly rate.

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