word craft



It was Samuel John­son, the great 18th Cen­tu­ry Eng­lish crit­ic, writer, and dic­tio­nary cre­ator, who famous­ly said, “No man but a block­head ever wrote except for money.”

author royalties and payments

Con­sid­er then what the Authors Guild, the USA’s pre­mier writ­ers’ orga­ni­za­tion, recent­ly learned in a mem­ber­ship survey:

“The medi­an income of authors (from all sources relat­ed to being a writer, not just books,” went down 42% from 2009, to $6,080.”

“If you mea­sure author’s income from just their books, that fell 21% since 2013, to $3,100.”

“For those authors who were pub­lished before 2014, medi­an incomes from all writ­ing-relat­ed sources are actu­al­ly slight up from $6,250 to $8,170.”

For lit­er­ary writ­ers, medi­an incomes are down by 27%.

Some self-pub­lished writ­ers have seen a rise in income, “but they still earn some­what less than tra­di­tion­al­ly pub­lished authors.”

It would appear there are many rea­sons for all of this. The gen­er­al cul­tur­al sup­port for lit­er­a­ture and read­ing is far less than it was. There is a neg­a­tive pres­sure from dig­i­tal games and TV. Think how many hours kids are in front of a screen. The pop­u­la­tion of read­ers is dimin­ish­ing. There is the con­vert­ing school read­ing to plat­forms for test­ing, which push­es kids away from read­ing. The num­ber of book­stores is declin­ing. There is a huge adverse impact on the book mar­ket by Ama­zon. School book bud­gets are down. Library bud­gets are down. The mar­ket­ing of books by pub­lish­ers is way down. Indeed, most book mar­ket­ing is by social media, which in itself dis­cour­ages reading.

Still, from my expe­ri­ence, most peo­ple I meet in a casu­al way think that I, as a suc­cess­ful writer, must be, quite sim­ply, “rich.”

I wish.

One of the things we don’t learn in the midst of all this is how tra­di­tion­al pub­lish­ers con­tribute to the prob­lem. What are their incomes? Talk to peo­ple in the writ­ing com­mu­ni­ty and you will quick­ly learn that advances are way down. Why?

And yet … and yet …

Yet, when I was very much younger than I am now, and try­ing to become a pro­fes­sion­al writer, I thought very lit­tle about mon­ey. I assumed I would have a day job, accept­ing the notion that “Real writ­ers have day jobs,” or so we joked. Indeed, I worked at day jobs for more than twen­ty five years—mostly as a librar­i­an. Con­trary to: “No man but a block­head ever wrote except for mon­ey,” I did. As do many oth­ers today.

That said, liv­ing a life like that is very hard, hard on cre­ativ­i­ty, hard on life, fam­i­lies, on par­ent­ing, and ulti­mate­ly on writing.

What might be the future of books if these trends con­tin­ue? Hard to know but it doesn’t look good.

Any thoughts out there?

4 thoughts on “Money”

  1. I had to smile at your post. It brought me pause. No author I know makes their bread from writ­ing. Writ­ing is the but­ter, the jam, the cin­na­mon sug­ar. It’s nour­ish­ment for the soul. The authors I know are teach­ers, con­sul­tants, speak­ers, or have a spouse to help sup­port their writ­ing habit. 

    The future of books is in ques­tion, no doubt, but I will keep writ­ing, keep that fire in me burn­ing. I have faith the tables will turn, but in the mean­time, I won’t quit my day job.

  2. I always feel a bit guilty bor­row­ing a bril­liant book from the library, but I can’t always afford to buy them new. How to tell the author that their book is very much appre­ci­at­ed? How to have some sort of impact on ‘the pub­lish­ing busi­ness’ that would make it more prof­itable for the writ­ers? I have no idea. But THANK YOU for writ­ing anyway!!

  3. If you’ve enjoyed a library book and would like to show your appre­ci­a­tion, one thing you can do is write a review, even a short one, and post it on Good Reads or oth­er review sites. Good reviews sure do help, not only sales but author morale as well.


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