How Much Do You Earn From Writing?

Money, money, money, must be funny, in a rich man's world

Money, money, money, must be funny, in a rich man’s world

OK, I’m not really expecting you to answer that, but now that I have your attention…

The reason I’m asking is that a person I know, new to writing, has told me today that very soon, their intention is that writing is to become their ‘main source of income’ and it’s definitely ‘not a hobby’.

Now, while I applaud the ‘not just a hobby’ part and I’m the first to encourage anyone to try to earn hard cash from their writing, I had to voice my concerns to this person and say that it’s very, (VERY!) hard to make even a half-decent income from writing. Even established novelists have to supplement their income by teaching and the like – and if you’re a beginner, it’s even harder to earn anything.

See this SHOCKING article from the Guardian (January 2014), which claims that a writer’s average yearly earnings is £600! Gulp. Gasp. Now, that includes all kinds of writers, including ‘aspiring’ and those who self-publish and hardly make a bean (but are still writers, of course) but it’s still surprising.

Take yours truly. I am not a beginner by any means but could I live on what I make from my weekly writing class, my Writers Bureau tutoring, my ALCS income, my short stories, my (occasional) articles, my (very occasional) competition wins and my e-book of short stories?

*Pause while she laughs hysterically*.

Er.. no. Not even with my part-time job at the charity, which brings in a little bit each month. I can only do what I do because I have the support of a lovely partner, who is happy to pay the bills (and er.. just in case he is reading this and not on the golf course, “I am ETERNALLY grateful! Would you like a cup of tea?”)

What’s really annoying though, is that everyone thinks writers are rolling in it – right? But the reason that there’s such as song-and-dance about novelists who secure a 6-figure deal for their first novel is because it’s so unusual!

My dad, bless him, is convinced that if I can only get a short story accepted for Radio 4 and/or a novel published, I will be made, financially. But everyone knows that the BBC doesn’t pay very well and I read somewhere that the average amount made from a debut novel is £5000.

So, the answer to my friend who wants to make writing their ‘main source of income’?

1) Write for love, not money.
2) Don’t give up the day job!

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25 Responses to How Much Do You Earn From Writing?

  1. Wendy Clarke says:

    Oh dear. I have my head in my hands. Like you, I can only do what I do because of the financial support of my husband. I’m lucky that I do have an income from my magazine writing and story collection, but it amounts to a couple of decent holidays a year. I couldn’t possibly live off it.

    • Ah, yes, Wendy, what would we do without them? And does that make us ‘kept women’? I suppose it does – oh well, never mind! When we’re rich and famous, we can thank them in the forewords of our best sellers!

  2. Catelyn Cash says:

    How much do I earn? £500 more than I would have if you hadn’t posted the details of the Ann Summers erotic short story competiton back in January. I came second, so thank you very much!!!

  3. Ann says:

    You’re quite right that few people make a decent living out of writing but so much depends on how much time you spend writing. If you write one article / short story / essay a month then you won’t tally up much cash. But if you treat it as a job and sit down and write ( or do writing related activities such as marketing / research etc) every working day then if you still only make £600 a year you should do someting to change it..
    If you’re writing a lot and not getting much published/ accepted then I suggest take a course in whatever your genre is and getting professional feedback.
    If it’s because the pay is so awful then find other publications/ websites to write for.

    You may not make a good wage but you can certainly earn far more than the depressing firgure the Guardian gave.
    Good luck.

    • Ann, I agree that you need to spend time on your writing in order to have any chance of earning a decent living but I think (unless you’re very talented/lucky) that also includes time spent learning your craft. So, as a beginner, it might take you at least a year or so before you’re even capable of writing the kind of story that a women’s magazine would want to buy and publish and writing a novel takes months if not years, during which time you won’t be earning anything from your writing…

      • Ann says:

        You’re definintely right, because being a full time writer isn’t a job, it’s a self-employed business and few businesses make a profit to begin with.
        So no writer should give up their day job until they have seen that they can sell their work ( you can do a lot of writing courses and part time writing whille still working- I did it for years)
        What I meant was once you have started to sell your work regularly, then you have to treat writing as a ‘real’ full time job and work at it every day and you should see a far higher income than £600 a year.

  4. I probably just about break even, comparing sales with the cost of editors/proofreaders and covers. That doesn’t include the £300 a month childcare cost so I can have a couple of days a week at home to write. Like you I have a wonderful supporting hubbie who thinks he gets the best part of the arrangement because he never has to take time off work to tend to a sick child, cover the school holidays or go to assembly, and he never has to cook!
    Worryingly I have just (finally) started the Groupon purchased Write Stories for Children course and the whole first module seems to be about how much money JK Rowling made, how lucrative it is to write children’s stories, how stories get made into movies and make big bucks etc. It made me want to weep, thinking of all the people starting out as newbies, reading that and believing a word of it. It’s definitely a theme in the course (although I’m only on module 3) and while I think it’s good to be aware of what publishers want, etc, anyone going into writing to become the next JK Rowling is destined for disappointment… You HAVE to write for love, even if what you really want to do is write for money…

    • Amanda, I agree that’s worrying that the emphasis on the Writing for Children course is on how much money you can make! Hah, if it was only that easy..! There are going to be a lot of very disappointed people out there.

  5. cltaylorauthor says:

    Very true. It’s only now, after dozens of short story sales and comp wins and two 2-book deals (four novels written), that I’ve been able to give up my day job. And I KNOW how lucky and unusual that is. And once you give up your day job there’s no guarantee you’ll continue to make a living as a writer. The industry is fickle and it’s always a good idea to have a back up plan if it doesn’t work out (my ex-boss said I am welcome back any time. Phew!)

  6. philippabowe says:

    You gave your friend the right advice, Helen. While it’s good to encourage someone wanting to take their writing seriously, ultimately you write because you have to write, and the possible financial benefits come second – a sad indictment on our society maybe. As effectively a full-time freelancer, I don’t get a huge amount of time for writing and so obviously don’t make any money from it – but I do love the writing time I do manage to squeeze in!

    • Philippa, the friend has only started writing in the past 2 – 3 months – that’s the really worrying thing!

      • philippabowe says:

        Yes, that is worrying – pretty out of touch with reality. It’s great to give up everything and concentrate on writing, but only if you can live off something, and if it’s a minimal something, if you’re prepared to make lifestyle sacrifices – which of course is possible, plenty of writers have done it. Often in the flush of youth – what sort of age is your friend?

  7. Tracy Fells says:

    Thank you, Helen, for raising this taboo topic. The big earners in the publishing world are the exception, but those who don’t write never believe this. I think very very few writers earn a living income from writing/teaching. My ambition is simply to start paying tax again – but that goal is laughable right now. Without commissions any income from writing waxes and wanes – you simply can’t predict what will sell or be successful. In the last 2 months I’ve earned ZILCH. So thank goodness my family no longer rely on me for income – we’d starve! Anyone thinking about giving up a job to write needs to assess what they can truly live on & what they’d have to sell/write every month to earn that. Not helped by the fact that magazines may not pay until publication etc.
    If you can write without the pressure to earn money from your writing then enjoy that luxury. It means you can write what you want – not what sells …

    • I don’t think anyone should give up a day job that they are relying on financially, until they’re well on the way to earning a decent living from their writing and as Cally has said in a comment on here, for her that was 2 published novels down the road, not including all the work she’d had published before that. It’s such a precarious business, most of us just can’t afford to take the risk of relying solely on writing to earn a living. We’re at the whim of too many editors and it’s such a competitive field!

  8. Ninette says:

    Interesting post – as usual. Realistically, I know I will never earn a living as a writer…I am in the fortunate position to be able to enjoy my writing as I’m retired and have a small pension plus a working husband. However, if I’m honest there’s always a little niggle at the back of my mind that says ‘maybe one day I’ll hit the big time…’ I think that’s what keeps me motivated when I don’t get shortlisted in competitions or accepted for publication. I can hear that play of mine on BBC Radio 4…I can see my TV serial taking off and of course my novel being turned into an Oscar winning production….Dream on baby….:)

    • Ninette, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with dreaming! Yes, dream on! Actually, I think the (eventually) successful writers are the ones who can imagine themselves hitting the big time – or at least, getting their work published – because they keep on writing and sending stuff out, even when they get rejected. Lots of people just give up along the way…!

  9. juliathorley says:

    I have a ‘proper’ job (well, two actually), but take my writing seriously. The trouble is that writing is speculative, so I have to earn the money to pay the bills before I can set to and work on an article or story that might or might not boost my income. Yes, £200 for an article, is great, but I can only spare the time to research it if I’m not busy elsewhere; and if I’m not busy elsewhere, I’m not earning enough to… well, you get the picture.

    • Yes, Julia, I know what you mean – it’s that proverbial vicious circle and part of the reason that I’ve never (yet!) actually finished writing a novel. I can’t AFFORD to write a novel because any time I have available for writing, needs to earn me something, so I write articles and short stories instead!

  10. rosgemmell says:

    I suspect most of us are in exactly the same category as you, Helen! I too am partly a kept woman, although I do proofreading etc for my husband for which he pays me a little. And I also earn some of my money from talks and adjudications, but I’ll never be well off as a writer (unless something unexpected happens!).

  11. rosgemmell says:

    Sorry for duplication – don’t know it happened and I can’t delete it!

  12. Linda Casper says:

    I guess writers, like artists, aren’t really in it for the money, though it helps. Some writers and artists only made money posthumously, so maybe I should include a suitable clause in my will!

  13. KH says:

    I agree with everything that everyone is saying here. I make enough as a writer for a few UK holidays a year, and, in some ways I know I’m luck to be able to earn at all given the markets are shrinking etc. That said, I did read a book once, which advised that if you want to succeed at anything you have to believe you can, burn your bridges and go for it. Maybe sometimes that level of madness changes the energy around us and can lead to success. I hope, for your friends sake, it does. Good wishes KH

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