February 14, 2019

What it takes to survive as a writer today


By now we’ve all heard, lamented, and begun to speak up about the horrible string of layoffs plaguing journalists and media professionals. Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, Vice: Thousands of writers have lost their jobs. It begs both the media and publishing industries to take stock on the lifeblood of their respective industries—writers.

Mary Rasenberger, executive director of the Authors Guild, wrote for Publishers Weekly about a recently conducted survey of 5,067 published writers in an attempt to get a deep sense of the average income. The result? The data outlines a profession in crisis:

… while full-time published authors earned a median income from all writing-related sources of $20,300, only $12,400 of that income derived from their books. Such incomes fall near or below poverty levels, making it impossible for authors to rely solely on writing and writing-related income to support themselves.

The survey revealed that 53 percent of participants listed writing as their full-time profession, and 37 percent marked their main source of income being their book publications. The data suggests that most working, full-time writers cobble together their income from freelancing and other forms of work.

What do we do with that information (other than cry in the corner, ahem, again)? Rasenberger suggests that we encourage a larger conversation, one that values books and places “the importance of a rich American literary culture” to explore the crisis within the publishing and media industries. This means finding ways to better fund writers; it means exploring new means of earning money from publications. It means combating the digital hurtles (Amazon, piracy, etc.) to create a sustainable means of income. If our writers cannot afford to write, what will become of the quality and diversity of our publications?



Michael Seidlinger is the Library and Academic Marketing Manager at Melville House.