Earning a Living Wage Writing

Blog12 ImageIf an author wants financial success from writing, should she choose legacy (traditional) publishing or self-publishing?

Much of the evidence one way or another is anecdotal.

However, in The Tenured vs. Debut Author Report, Hugh Howey and a colleague have attempted to provide data-driven answers to two closely related questions. First, what are an author’s chances of being able to earn a living from writing? And which publishing path gives the author the best shot at eventually being able to do so?

Every time I look at this report, it impresses me. I highly recommend a thorough reading of it since it addresses many other interesting questions.

What the report concludes is that from 2010 to 2013, more debut indie authors earned a living wage from their writing than debut authors signed with one of the big five publishing houses. They arrive at this conclusion by estimating that:

  • 637 big-five debut authors from 2010 to 2013 earned more than $20,000 (US) annually, an amount the report’s authors doubt is a living wage, while
  • over 700 debut indie authors earned more than $25,000 (US) annually in the same years from Kindle eBook sales alone. These earnings, plus earnings from other platforms and print on demand, are considered a living wage.

I do think these conclusions support the idea that debut writers must seriously consider self-publishing. But I would add some perspective.

First, among many thousands of writers, only a small number make a living wage. The report’s authors acknowledge this, too.

Second, if the 700 Indie authors earned, say, 30% more from platforms other than Kindle and print on demand, their annual earnings are more than $32,500 (US). From the report, some earn more than $100,000 from Kindle eBooks sales alone, but for those earning closer to $32,500, bills will be tough to pay.

Third, some authors may be very ambitious and want to become rich from writing. I’m not aware of statistics on the best-earning authors, but I suspect many, though not all, are signed to those rare publishing house contracts with meaningful advances and/or access to non-domestic markets.

Many thanks to the great crowd that showed yesterday for my presentation at the Dundas Public Library.

Copyright © 2014 Peter Fritze

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