Authors earning below poverty line – truth or an attempt to knock out the competition?


Will write for food

I saw this article posted by another writer in my Facebook feed yesterday. The title was compelling enough for me to click through to read the article. The article is short and you can read it for the specifics but the long and short of it is that writers are earning below the poverty level. Based on their survey. Which was conducted within their own membership and consisted of only 1400 participants.

Personally, I don’t put much stock in the results of this survey because:

  • Given how many authors exist in this country alone 1400 participants is a very low sample
  • They only surveyed their group members (it would be more accurate to say that within their own group, authors are earning below the poverty line, but that doesn’t make the news, does it?)
  • We have to blindly accept that the data given by participants was true (not everybody tells the truth and particularly about finance).
  • It seems to reinforce their position that Amazon (or some other villain) is causing writers to earn poorly.
  • We do not have the raw data. Who did they ask? What career stage are the participants in? Beginning, end, middle? What were the questions? How were the questions couched? All of these things are important factors to consider
  • How many indie authors participated? (there are thousands and I’m sure many of them would have been happy to add their data to the mix.)

Ironically, the Author’s Guild is involved in attempting to sue Amazon for anti-trust, claiming that their business practices are somehow oppressing writers or their ability to earn income. Since Amazon created the Kindle and the digital book revolution by offering writers of all stripes a level playing field the suit seems laughable. What other company has enabled so many writers to make a viable living? I’m not aware of any, but if you know, please advise.

This page from the Bureau of Labor Statistics from the U.S. government paints a very different picture. Something tells me the U.S. government probably has access to much more data, and a wider cross section of writers, than one writers group.

To me, this type of article serves only one purpose – to discourage authors. The message is, “you won’t make money so don’t bother.” And perhaps that would be good for a group who might want to knock out some of the competition. In fact, lately it seems I’ve seen several authors forward this type of information, which seems counter intuitive to me. If they agree with this then why are they bothering to write books and trying to sell/market them?

Perhaps I am naive or too optimistic but I believe that in large part you create your own destiny and outcome. Even if the above survey results were/are true it doesn’t mean that you can’t succeed, nor does it mean you should stop trying to succeed. And I think as writers/authors we should be encouraging one another not trying to discourage each other. Hey, I know that writing is a tough gig but so what? Does that mean I should just pack up my laptop and go sell shoes? I don’t think so.

What do you think? Does this type of article affect you? Does it discourage you or make you want to work harder? As authors, do you think we should focus more on encouraging each other? Feel free to tell us your views in the comments.

13 thoughts on “Authors earning below poverty line – truth or an attempt to knock out the competition?

  1. I am skeptical of ALL surveys. I need to know the answers to the questions you ask? 1400 is a small sample. Are they self-reporting (everyone says they go to church regularly, you will notice)? Do they analyze the so-called data? I have more to do today, so my thoughts will have to focus on reality for a while. Thanks for the reminder, though. Some people like to be pitied.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Mary,
      I too am skeptical – having worked in marketing and related fields, I understand how ‘surveys’ ‘polls’ work. The article gives little information on how the survey was conducted, what controls were employed and what questions were asked – the only demographics that I can see is members of the Author Guild. So that could be anybody on any level of membership and career. There is also no reference to how or if the data was analyzed.

      I agree, some people do like to be pitied and wear the victim cape quite well, while most of us are doing what we can to move forward.

      I think my biggest beef with this and similar articles is that it is presented as though the information is some sort of definitive statement. And in the modern world there is so much skimming of headlines rather than reading of the articles, that I’m sure a lot of authors are walking around believing this is true. The other beef I have with this is that other authors are forwarding the article and contributing to driving authors into apathy. Which is why I wonder aloud if maybe it was more about knocking out competition than forwarding bona fide information.

      Thanks for your thoughts. Much appreciated.



  2. Interesting post–both the study and yours. I only wish more people were skeptical of “results” from survey studies and studies in general.

    In terms of studies, 1400 doesn’t sound that small to me, however the fact that they only sampled from one group is obviously concerning. But maybe I’m thinking more of drug trial studies instead of survey studies, and 1400 is actually a small number for this kind of study?

    Yet I’m not surprised at this result either. Most published authors profess to not make a living on their profits from writing–at least the ones I’ve talked to. I think the ones that do manage to make a living are the authors that make some sort of best seller list. The other ones that make enough to live on are the career ones who take their writing seriously and write more than one book.

    However, I am not an expert on this and simply relay what I have heard other authors say (including a traditional best selling author I know). But I would be interested in more data from the study as well–the very fact that data is not released along with the results is a concern in terms of truth! I wonder if you contacted them that they would give you their survey? That said, all data can be manipulated to say what you want. It all comes down to interpretation–and one person’s interpretation may very well be different from another’s!

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post! Apologies if my comment doesn’t really make much sense!


    1. Your reply makes total sense. Apologies from me as I didn’t see this comment until today. My bad.

      In terms of sample size if you are hoping to get a viable result from a survey there are many factors to be considered. But as you point out that all the participants were from one group it is problematic. Especially since it was a private membership group. So it obviously did not include a wide cross section of demographics. How many women? How books published? How long have you been writing? All these points would have weight the survey one way or the other. And considering how many tens of thousands of authors there are in this country it is a very small percentage to be touting some kind of accurate results.

      Yes, authors who are career, absolutely are more likely to make a decent living or even a great one. A one book author probably won’t. Although, anything is possible. But to me you can strip it down further than that. Authors are self-employed individuals. Anyone who is self-employed can tell you the amount of work that is involved in creating your own business and keep it going. And those who succeed do so not by luck but my continued perseverance and work. If an author writes a book and then sits back expecting that they will just rake in the dough then they are being unrealistic. And unfortunately many writers don’t approach their careers as a business, which it is. You have to understand that it is not a sprint but a marathon and that big success will not come overnight and be in it for the long haul.

      Anyway, I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

      Annie 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Quite true. A lot of authors have misconceptions about the work involved, and I probably do as well, as I have yet to take the plunge. (Planned for next year sometime.)

        I think writing books can be a viable career if you’re looking to live simply, put in the time and work, and make it a business and treat it as such. I do think, however, that there tends to be a little bit of “luck” involved. Even successful authors will admit to that, as sometimes it takes the MS crossing the right desk at the right time in the right market for a bestseller to emerge. And call it luck or Fate or God, there is a time that control leaves the author’s hands.

        Anyway. My two cents! Thanks for the wise words to ponder!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well, we all have misconceptions about things that we haven’t yet experienced. And often the only way to learn how things work is to step into that world. Good for you on the novel – best of luck. It’s a big endeavor but it can also be great fun and a good learning experience.

        Perhaps my view is a bit different because I make my living as a freelance writer. And I’ve learned that you can make a very comfortable living through writing. It may be why I believe that authorship is or could be the same. However, even in freelancing you don’t experience instant success no matter how good you are or aren’t. You pay your dues, learn the ropes, get better, practice, find a voice and your footing.

        Yes, certainly luck does play a part in life. I guess what I mean to say is that you can’t rely on that happening to you. And even those who admit to having been lucky saw the opportunity on some level to create that luck.

        To me, it’s about making the commitment and following through. You will become disheartened if you think it is easy and find out that it’s difficult. But that is true of any career, regardless of the field. Right?

        You’re very welcome for the ‘wise words’. Although, I don’t know how wise they are. But I’m happy to share my experiences with anyone who might benefit from them.

        Thanks again for your nice comments.


      3. Yes, I think that’s the key–too many depend on luck and get angry when it doesn’t come their way and things don’t turn out as they envisioned. And here’s the cynic in me talking: People are ultimately lazy and don’t want to put in the work. Those that do the work will find their reward because of it! 🙂

        I do, however, see a difference between freelance writing and being “only” an author. It seems to me a great difference between making a living only via your published books, and through selling articles and such. Those modern day indie authors that find success appear to be hybrid authors, such as ones that publish both traditionally and independently, or write articles and other such things. I will defer to you, of course, since your experience is much greater than mine.

        I love to read of others’ experiences as I start in on this journey. I know that a lot of people–myself included–often start a project or career they don’t finish because of lack of knowledge or realizing halfway through that it takes a lot more work than they are willing to put into it. I.e. they don’t want it enough. If you are only halfhearted about something, then your results will only be halfhearted as well. 🙂

        Thanks for sharing your experiences–that’s why I read other blogs! Keep them coming and we’ll keep benefitting!


        Liked by 1 person

      4. Hello again Kelsie,

        I think you’ve made a good observation – many people don’t want to put in the work. And it shows. And sometimes if they happen to catch a trend just at the right time, they may succeed with substandard work. However, that stuff catches up with you. In my mind, it shouldn’t matter what other guys are doing or ‘getting away with’ you should always strive to put out the best work you possibly can. That’s probably going to give your best chance to succeed.

        I agree there is a huge difference between freelancing and just writing books. There is more immediate demand for freelance copy and it’s much shorter and quicker to produce. However, it does require building a client base (readership), promotion, marketing and delivering a good product. So there are many elements that are the same. It took me years to build up my business enough to be able to live on that income alone. Also, I’d recommend that authors consider doing the same because you do benefit from writing other things. Just learning how to write clean copy, write efficiently and from other viewpoints, will certainly help you in your fiction writing efforts as well.

        Don’t worry too much about starting and then discarding projects – all writers do that. Sometimes it takes a while to find an idea or story that we can carry through to the end. The important part is to keep trying and to keep writing. Yes, reading about other writers’ experiences can be helpful, provide tips and give you ideas – but the thing that will really create a solid foundation is to write. Then write some more. Then keep writing. The old saying, ‘practice makes perfect’ really applies to writing. Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) is coming up and you might want to consider signing up for the challenge. It’s so very cool and very tough ‘on the job’ training for writers.

        I’ve really enjoyed our exchange here. And I thank you sincerely for reading.



  3. I don’t know about surveys… I think they make interesting reads, but they’re not gospel. A lot of things are relative. That said, I do believe that writers struggle to make a living. But this isn’t news. Except for the wildly successful, writers have NEVER been knows to make a lot of money. But who’s in it for the money, right? 🙂


    1. Sure it’s interesting on a local level. But my problem with articles of this type is the inference that it is a definitive statement. True, many writers do not make a lot of money. But many writers do make a living that supports their needs for income. And like any other self employed person, it is a struggle. I don’t know that any writer is in it for the money (like to become a millionaire type thing) but certainly writers at least hope they can support themselves and their families on their income. That would certainly be a goal I would think, that is common to authors.


  4. Amazon gives you an opportunity to get your work out there. It’s up to the individual to promote it and do things to encourage sales. I find it ridiculous when people paint Amazon as the villian. If they don’t like it go and try to get physical copies of their books in local bookstores or chains. Good luck with that, it’s way harder and more expensive.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with you whole-heartedly. I believe that Amazon has practically single-handedly changed the landscape of books, publishing and author visibility. In my mind, no company has done more for writers. You’re right, you can control your own fate by getting in there and promoting, etc. Unfortunately, there will always be a sector of any group who feels most comfortable as victims.

      Thanks for your comments.

      Annie 😀

      Liked by 1 person

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