September 27, 2023
Updated October 25, 2023
The Authors Guild, the leading professional organization for writers in the United States, in collaboration with 36 other organizations including Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group, Ingram, B&N Press, PEN America, African American Literature Book Club, and many others, has conducted the most comprehensive author income study to date in the United States.
The survey reveals several interesting takeaways. Though overall author incomes are still low, experienced self-published authors have nearly doubled their earnings since 2018, with the help of effective marketing efforts. Authors of romance and romantic suspense are still out-earning other genres, with graphic novelists coming in a close second. In addition to book sales, author-related activities bring in a significant portion of those incomes.
A total of 5,699 published author participated, and the survey sample was meticulously divided, with representation from both traditionally published and self-published authors, making it the most representative author income survey to date as well. Of the participants, 21 percent (more than 1,100 authors) did not identify as “White,” including 8 percent who identified as Black, 4 percent Hispanic, 2 percent Asian American and Pacific Islander, and 2 percent Native American. Additionally, 12 percent (700 authors) identified as LGBTQIA+, 11 percent (626 authors) fit the Americans with Disabilities Act’s definition of “impairment,” and 6 percent (322 authors) did not identify solely as male or female.
By conducting the Author Income Survey, the Authors Guild set out to gather comprehensive data that can provide invaluable insights into the economic realities of authors today. The survey is more than a survey; it is a call to action to acknowledge the economic challenges faced by authors and to work collectively to protect and sustain the literary voices that shape our world.
Below are key takeaways from the survey:
The median author income for full-time authors from their books was $10,000 in 2022, and their total median earnings from their book and other author-related income combined was $20,000. Book income includes advances, royalties, and fees from licensing and subsidiary rights. Other author-related income includes work such as editing, blogging, teaching, speaking, book coaching, copy writing and journalism.
When looking at full-time authors whose books are in commercial markets (i.e, excluding academic, scholarly, and educational books), the median book income was $15,000 and median author-related income was $25,000.
This means half of all full-time authors continue to earn below minimum wage in many states from all their writing related work, and well below the federal minimum wage of just $7.25/hour from their books. It also tells us that most authors are earning half of their writing-related income from sources other than their books.
The median book income for all authors (including those who write part-time) who completed the survey (80 percent of whom consider themselves professional authors, but only 35 percent of whom considered themselves full time), was just $2,000 for 2022, and the median total writing-related income was $5,000.
The median income of full-time self-published authors in 2022 was $12,800 from books and $15,000 total from all writing-related activities. Full-time self-published authors who had been publishing since at least 2018 reported a mean income of $24,000 compared to $13,700 in 2018, a 76 percent increase.
Full-time authors of romance and romantic suspense had the highest median gross income from their books, out-earning mystery, thriller, and suspense writers by over three times and literary fiction authors by a staggering nine times. They reported a median book income of $31,725, and their combined median income reached $37,000 when factoring in both book and other author-related income.
Graphic novelists ranked second, earning a median book income of $15,000 and a combined income of $25,000 when including other author-related income.
Mystery, thriller, and suspense authors had a book income median of $10,000, with their combined median book and author-related income totaling $15,010. Literary fiction authors earned a median book income of $5,000 and a combined median book and author-related income of $13,500. Biography authors reported a book income median of $3,500 and a combined median book and author-related income of $9,200. Lastly, authors focusing on literary works had a median gross book income of $2,800, and their overall income, inclusive of other author-related sources, was $10,100.
The comparison of incomes by race is startling. Full-time Black authors earned a median of only $2,412 from their books, as compared to a median of $10,985 for white authors. The disparity is also grim but not as bad when looking at full-time authors’ total author related earnings, with Black authors earning a median of $15,250 and white authors $20,000.
When comparing all full-time and part-time authors combined, Black authors’ 2022 median book-related income was $800 vs. white authors at $2,000. Interestingly, participating white authors were 36 percent more likely to be traditionally published than Black authors (38 percent vs. 28 percent), and on average spent nearly two and a half times more on their book marketing in 2022 than black authors ($7,658 vs. $3,182).
The most effective marketing channels identified by respondents were Kindle Unlimited, other subscription programs, ebook discounts or promotions, and author email newsletters. Kindle Unlimited was particularly effective for self-published authors, who earned 67 percent more book income from the platform than traditionally published authors make on book-earnings alone.
While social media and blogging were typically rated least effective, TikTok was a particularly effective platform for romance and romantic suspense authors as well as authors of African American fiction, poetry, YA fiction, and new adult and erotic fiction.
Audiobooks are dramatically underused by both traditional and self-published authors, with 55 percent of traditionally published and 64 percent of self-published authors having no books published in audiobook form.
The Authors Guild’s 2023 Author Income Survey highlights areas of growth, disparities, and opportunities for improvement. This comprehensive data will guide our efforts to advocate for authors’ rights and fair compensation. The previous survey conducted by Authors Guild in 2018 is available to read here.
Media Contact:Raluca AlbuRalbu@authorsguild.org
With more than 14,000 members, the Authors Guild is the nation’s oldest and largest professional organization for published writers. It advocates on behalf of working writers to protect free speech, freedom of expression, and authors’ copyrights; fights for fair contracts and authors ability to earn a livable wage; and provides a welcoming community for writers and translators of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and journalism. Through its educational and charitable arm, the Authors Guild Foundation, it also offers free programming to teach working writers about the business of writing, as well as organizing public events that highlight the importance of a rich, diverse American literary culture and the authors who contribute to it.
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