The Daily Telegraph has raised this hoary chestnut once more. Why do we rise to the bait I wonder? The Passive Voice brings us a link to the story.

Toby Young writes “I envy William Hague. Not the £2.5 million country house he’s just bought in Wales, although that would be nice. Rather, the fact that he plans to spend his retirement writing books. These days, you need a substantial private income – or a public sector pension – to be a full-time writer. Last year, a survey of 2,500 professional authors found that their median income in 2013 was £11,000. That’s a drop of 29 per cent since 2005 and significantly below the minimum salary required to achieve a decent standard of living. The writing game is notoriously lopsided, in which a small handful of bestselling authors earn a fortune and the vast majority live on scraps, but it’s got worse in the past decade. ‘You’ve always been able to comfortably house the British literary writers who can earn all their living from books in a single room,’ says the author Will Self, whose own royalties have tailed off in recent years. ‘That room used to be a reception one, now it’s a back bedroom.’” Even if it’s true that authors are earning less now than they did in the past, I’m not sure why that’s a reason for general complaint, though I can see the problem for the individuals concerned. 2,500 isn’t a vast sample, and one or two fluctuations at the extremes will tend to influence the picture quite dramatically. The explanation for the change may be no more than something like J.K.Rowling’s not having published a Harry Potter book recently.

This chart is from Digital BookWorld‘s 2015 report on authors’ earnings. I’ts a bit hard to read this, but it looks like 50% of traditionally published authors earn less than $3,000.


We all know that there are successful authors, some wildly successful, and also many not so successful ones. Most writers didn’t make “author” their career choice because they expected to make as much money as if they’d opted for financial analyst, oil executive, lawyer, doctor, politician, or even, for heaven’s sake, engine driver. They did it so they could say what it was they felt compelled to say. Now we of course have no beef with their bringing home big bacon, but let’s not spend too much time going on about how iniquitous it is if they end up, as most do, making relatively little money at their chosen craft. We should spend more time worrying whether they are getting satisfaction from their writing. Grub Street has always been a tough place to earn a living. Why does Mr Self think things should have changed?