A new author income study released by the Authors Guild provides a dizzying array of numbers and breakdowns about how all types of authors—traditionally published and self-published, full-time and part-time—fared financially in 2022. With such a deep trove of statistics, the survey offers something for everyone, but the main takeaway is that most authors have a hard time earning a living from their craft.
The survey, which drew responses from 5,699 published authors, found that in 2022, their median gross pre-tax income from their books was $2,000. When combined with other writing-related income, the total annual median income was $5,000. The median book-related income for survey respondents in 2022 was up 9% from 2018, adjusted for inflation, with all the increase coming from full-time authors, whose income was up 20%, compared to a 4% decline for part-time authors.
While the combined income (book income plus other writing-related income) of full-time, established authors (those who had written a book in 2018 or before) rose 21% in 2022 (to $23,329) from 2018, the median income was still below poverty level. Earnings solely from book-related sources increased from $9,997 to $12,000 in that period. The importance of nonbook writing-related income to authors cannot be overstated: 56% of respondents reported that such activities as journalism, conducting events, editing, ghostwriting, and teaching more than doubled their income.
The report did have some good news for aspiring authors, finding that the top 10% of established authors who participated in the survey had median book income of $275,000 last year. On the flip side, the bottom 50% had median book income of $1,300.
The survey, conducted by the Codex Group, also took a close look at how traditionally published authors fared compared to self-published authors. Here, the report delivers what appears to be an important emerging trend. While in 2022, the median book-related income for full-time self-published authors was $10,200—much less than full-time traditionally published trade authors, who earned $15,000—established (five-plus years of publishing experience) full-time self-published authors more than doubled their book income in 2022 compared to 2018, to $19,000. Over that time, established full-time traditionally published trade authors’ book income only rose 11%, to $15,000, demonstrating that experienced self-published authors are now significantly more effective at boosting their earnings than their experienced traditionally published counterparts.
The survey suggests, however, that publishers may be paying more attention to the threat from self-publishing. Newer full-time traditionally published authors (those who published their first book in 2019 or later) saw their income rise in 2022 to $18,000, compared to $15,000 for their established counterparts. Publishers have plenty of incentive to lure self-published authors. The survey found that the overwhelming majority of authors under 55 years old earned the majority of their book income by self-publishing. Even among authors 65 and older (which comprised the largest reporting demographic), 41% reported earning the majority of income from self-publishing.
Other key survey findings
● Traditionally published authors earned more in 2022 from nonbook writing-related income than book-related income ($5,000 vs. $7,400), while self-published authors earned more from book income.
● Among full-time authors, Kindle Unlimited users tied full-time traditionally published authors in 2022 median book-related income. However, traditionally published authors had 22% higher combined median income thanks to their far greater reliance on nonbook writing-related income.
● Romance authors had the highest median gross income from their books, out-earning mystery, thriller, and suspense writers by more than three-fold and literary fiction authors nine-fold. Graphic novelists ranked second in book-related income, leading in combined book and nonbook earnings.
● Black authors’ 2022 median book-related income was $800 vs. white authors’ $2,000. Participating white authors were 36% more likely to be traditionally published than Black authors (38% vs. 28%).
●The audiobook format is a dramatically underpublished growth opportunity: 55% of traditional and 64% of self-published authors have none of their books in audiobook format.
While 80% of respondents considered themselves to be professional authors, only 35% said they were full-time authors while 53% said they were part-time authors (with the balance being one-book authors or undecided). The primary writing occupation of part-time authors outside of publishing books was professor/academic (8.5%), followed by book illustrator/author (4.2%), editor (2.9%), poet (2.4%), journalist (2%), teacher (2%), and entrepreneur (1.5%).
By far the largest percentage of respondents, 79%, were white, followed by 8% Black, 4% Hispanic, 2% AAPI, and 2% Native American. Twelve percent identified as LGBTQIA+ and 11% identified as disabled, meeting the ADA’s definition. The survey did find that diversity efforts were beginning to bear fruit—Black, AAPI, and Hispanic authorship has increased the most since 2019, and LGBTQIA+ and nonbinary authors were also above average among new authors. Sixty-one percent of respondents were women, 34% men, and 5% nonbinary.
A sobering picture
Authors Guild CEO Mary Rasenberger said the newest author income survey “paints a sobering picture of the financial realities authors face today.” The low earnings “underscore why the Authors Guild’s advocacy is so critical on issues like fair contracts, copyright, freedom of expression, and livable incomes for creators.” She added that the survey results document that “50% of full-time authors continue to earn below minimum wage in many states,” and that the guild cannot accept a status quo in which Black authors earn substantially less than white authors.
And even as difficult as it is now for authors to earn a living, new challenges like exploitative AI, unconscionable contracts, and book bans are applying new pressure on authors’ livelihoods, Rasenberger said. “Lawmakers, publishers, and the public must recognize authors as professionals deserving fair pay and dignity. We urge collective action to build a system that properly values the essential contributions of writers to society. The Authors Guild will continue this fight until the stark income disparities revealed in our survey are remedied by overdue reforms.”