Late last week PW published a scary report on a recent The Authors Guild survey. According to Rachel Deahl, the state of the American author was dismal, with the majority earning below the US poverty line (56%, in fact).
While that datum is indeed in the report, and so were all the other details shared by PW, but what Deahl left out of her story speaks volumes.
I have the unreleased data in front of me, and it paints a very different picture. Yes, 56% of respondents indicated that their 2014 income from writing was less than $11,670, but another section of the report also said that 39% of respondents “supported themselves exclusively through writing related work” in 2014.
Narrow that down to full-time book authors, and the number jumps to 53% (up from 51% in 2009). Only 31% of part-time authors could make a similar boast.
The authors who had an agent earned an average of over three times as much as those without ($4,000 vs $14,500).
Authors who had a 4-year degree tended to earn the most from their writing ($12,500), and the average income dropped as the level of education increased. A graduate degree (or even just a few classes) cut the average author’s yearly income from writing to $8,000, and an MFA reduced it to $7,000. Getting a PhD dropped an author’s income to $6,250, and an MD or JD reduced it the most, to $3,750.
Income also inversely correlated with age, with authors under 45 earning the most ($25,000) and older authors earning less as we progress from one age group to the next.
Authors with ages between 45 and 49 earned an average of $12,500, while the 50 to 54 crowd earned $13,500, those ages 55 to 64 earned $8,750, and the senior citizens earned $5,500.
The correlation between income and age is especially important because it shoots down the premise behind Deahl’s clickbait headline.
Remember, 89% of the survey group were older than 50 years of age. Half of that 89% was over 65 (629 out of 1,406), with the next largest concentration in the 55 to 64 bracket (425 out of 1,406).
This means that the age groups which were disproportionately over-represented in the survey were also the one that earned the least.
Obviously that throws off the earning figures, but it also casts a new light on the 60% of the survey group that aren’t earning all their income from writing.
Given that at least 44% of the survey group are receiving retirement benefits from the US govt or from their pension, suddenly that 60% doesn’t mean nearly as much as you would think.
And while we’re on the topic of disproportionate representation throwing off the results, a quarter of the survey group had a JD, MD, or PhD. Around 11% had an MFA, and another 25% had a graduate degree. (Do you suppose that may have biased the results just a little?)
There are all sorts of small details that change the entire picture, but perhaps the most interesting detail that Deahl left out of her PW piece was the fact that the 11% of respondents under fifty are earning a heck of a lot of money. Furthermore, the data shows that the younger age groups are earning far more in 2014 than they were in 2009, while the older age groups tended to earn less.
Far from showing the demise of the American author, this survey actually shows that the youngest authors are better off than they were before.
I can’t give you a specific reason as to why (we would need a larger sample group from the younger cohort for that) but I bet you can guess the answer.
Suddenly this survey doesn’t look nearly as pessimistic as it when you read about it last Friday, now does it?
image by Jorge Franganillo