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Survey Results: How Writers Support Themselves

Thank you so much to everyone who participated in the survey. You guys are awesome. Here are the results:

Sixty-five writers took the survey. Of those, 42% are novelists, 18% are nonfiction and/or memoir writers, and the rest are broken down below. 43% of the writers support themselves through non-writing-related jobs (see below for a list of those jobs), and 41% support themselves through a writing-related job like teaching, editing, or writing. Another 32% write freelance articles for newspapers and magazines, 28% are supported by a partner or spouse, 17% make a living freelance editing, and 14% support themselves by selling books (this includes both advances and royalties), and 3% (two people) are independently wealthy.

Sixty-one of the writers surveyed answered the question: “What is your (TOTAL) annual income?”* 23% of those who responded earn an annual income of less than $25,000; 26% earn between $25,000 and $50,000; 21% earn between $50,000 and $75,000 a year; 15% earn between $75,000 and $100,000; and 15% make more than $100,000.

Sixty-three of the writers surveyed answered the question: “On average, how much money did you make from your writing during the past three years?”* 59% of those who responded made an average of less than $10,000 over the past three years from their writing. 14% made between $10,000 and $25,000, and another 14% made between $25,000 and $50,000. Two people made between $50,000 and $75,000; three people made between $75,000 and $100,000; and three people earned more than $100,000 per year, on average, for the past three years.

*A couple of people commented that they had trouble answering the income questions because they may make close to $100,000 one year and almost nothing the next, so they had a difficult time averaging their incomes.

Number of writers who took the survey: 65
41.5% write novels
9.2% write short stories
18.5% percent write nonfiction and/or memoir
4.6% write poetry
18.5% are journalists
7.7% chose OTHER

Those who chose OTHER write:
Magazine/newspaper features, advertising & educational copy, website copy
Graphic novel/memoir
Nonfiction books/memoir AND journalism
Short stories, novels, personal essays, press releases
Essays and light journalism

Healthcare field
Clothing design, retail window displays
A crappy administrative job at a university
Online community management
Illustration and income from a rental unit
Self-employed where writing and creating interest through story is important
Consulting for former employer
School district support
Fact checking, project management
I run the PR program for a Real Estate Investment Trust
I am a teacher. I took the last year off teaching in order to write. I saved this money by teaching at the highest paying university in South Korea for several years. My husband and I are also living with my parents right now so that I can write and he can study language.
Administrative work
Edit a website
Full-time job
Part-time HR
Contract interpreting and translating
Administrative assistant
Security guard, census taker, dog walker, 401 (k) ‘90s money
Marketing (after writing exclusively for three years)
Fast food management
Something having absolutely nothing to do with writing
Quality system manager

So what does it all mean? It means that 87% of the writers surveyed earn less than $50,000 a year from their writing, and 74% earn less than $25,000 a year. If you live in the Bay Area, it’s not easy to survive on less than $50,000 a year. And if you live anywhere else in the U.S., it’s not easy to survive on less than $25,000. In other words, don’t quit your day job. Too late? Well, next week we’ll take a look at different ways writers can support themselves and which are the most viable. Meanwhile, what did you think of the survey results? Surprising? Expected? What other questions would you ask next time?

18 comments to Survey Results: How Writers Support Themselves

  • Fascinating data. Thanks for doing this survey.

  • "In other words, don’t quit your day job. Too late?"

    LOL Are you talking directly to me or what?

    Very interesting information. Thanks for breaking it down.

  • Kristan – I have to admit, I did think of you and another blogger when I said, "Too late?" But I think taking off a year to write is different from, "I'm quitting work forever and going to make a ton of money writing books."

  • So all those things I've heard agents/editors/writers saying for years are true. Your survey confirms the bleak wage-earning potential of your average writer.

    Near as I can figure — given how long I've been sponging off my husband — I pretty much owe him the first $12 million I make off my writing.

    Fortunately, I have a winning personality. That's why he keeps me around.

  • Kristen – Thank God for winning personalities! I owe my husband about $12 million, too, but don't tell him that or he may make me pay up.

  • I have an award for you on my blog. Hope you're over the virus!

  • Kittie Howard

    I saw on Anne's blog that you're also fighting the flu. Hope you feel better soonest.

    I enjoyed your blog. Thanks for sharing the stats. I'm following you now.

  • Anne, thank you! I love awards! 🙂

    And Kittie – nice to meet you! I'll come over and check out your blog right now.

  • I love the idea that we are workers! It's where we get some of our best story lines, right? Don't want to sit next to us at Starbucks. Might become immortal.

  • Judith – makes me wonder whether any of my Starbucks conversations have been immortalized. I'll have to start keeping my voice down.

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