How Writers Earn Money

Welcome to the first post in my new series: How Writers Earn Money. When I told a writing friend my idea, he said ‘That’s going to be a short series. You only need two words: they don’t.’

It is unfortunately true that very few writers in Australia earn a living wage exclusively from royalties. A study of 1000 writers published in 2015, conducted by Macquarie University, found that ‘writers averaged $12,900 from creative work, $14,000 from associated work such as editorial or teaching creative writing and about $20,000 from non-arts work.’

This series will look closely at the myriad ways writers keep food on their table and clothes on their backs, including:

Rights & Royalties

  • Advances
  • Lending rights
  • Subsidiary rights

Related Jobs

  • Teaching/Academia
  • Professional Writing

Writing-Related Income Streams

  • Online courses
  • Freelance writing
  • Blogging
  • Public speaking – festivals (inc. chairing)
  • Workshops

Other Income Streams

  • Grants
  • Prizes
  • Crowd-funding

Each post will include tips and stories from contemporary Australian writers of all stripes on how they make ends meet, as well as industry insights from agents, publishers and booksellers, elucidating:

  • What skills are required
  • What makes people successful
  • How to get a foot in the door
  • How much you can expect to be paid

My first post will be on the ins and outs of advances. If you have any questions about advances, or any other areas related to writers’ incomes, let me know in the comments.

13 thoughts on “How Writers Earn Money

  1. This series is a great idea, Annabel. Though I’ve always considered myself a fiction writer — I’ve always written fiction — I’ve never submitted, and therefore never published, any fiction. I’ve always made my living as a professional writer, but I don’t identify in the least with this role!

    1. Thanks Steve, yes sometimes our ‘day job’ is much less tied to our sense of self than the thing we fit around the edges and don’t get paid for. Why have you never submitted anything – do you feel your work is not ready for that or is something else holding you back?

      1. I haven’t been satisfied with what I’ve produced. I keep at it, though, because I love it, and continue to see improvement. These days I feel I’m not far from submitting something.

  2. Hi there Annabel,
    I might put in a quick plug for the “lower-case w-writers” (i.e. unknowns) and the “Upper-Case W-Writers” (knowns) who earn their livings by doing jobs that are unconnected with the literary sphere. There have been many examples over the years – Anthony Trollope (postal clerk and bureaucrat), Elizabeth Jolley (cleaner), Sarah Drummond (fisher), Arthur Conan Doyle, Somerset Maugham, Peter Goldsworthy (all physicians.) Then again, even in the digital age there’s still so much writing involved in non-primary service and non-primary care work – all of which, while not ‘literary’ as such, might be argued to involve ‘creativity’ (i.e. composing text which conveys ideas, concepts, and arguments by invoking logic and encoding it all in language.) Jolley also maintained that a ‘writer’ should have another job in order to ‘get out in the world’ and expose oneself to life influences. So can we ever say that a job, career, or activity is unrelated to writing, if writing is what one says one does (even if only in private or in one’s head?)
    Apparently Trollope has been credited with the idea of the pillar box mailing system. Some people are just too damn clever… 🙂 🙂

    1. You’re absolutely right that people need life experiences – you need something to write about! But I’m amazed by people who can do demanding full-time jobs AND write books – if I have too much else going on in my life I’m too depleted to write – I know it’s different for others.

  3. Really looking forward to this, Annabel. I think writers are encouraged to keep quiet about their individual contracts and negotiations and the only people that benefits are the publishers. I negotiated my own contract, in part by using a friend’s contract, and the business affairs department feigned horror that such information would be shared. It’s empowering to share, to talk, to help each other. Count me in!

    1. I think you’re absolutely right, Cass. I don’t see how keeping this stuff ‘secret’ can benefit writers. Although I guess there is the aspect of losing ‘face’ if you have not been paid a large advance.

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