The Writers’ Survey Results

First of all, I want to thank everyone who took the time out to answer my survey.

So, can writers of sci-fi, fantasy and horror novels make a living solely from their writing?

The results are in and posted below.

The majority of respondents were female (60%) with a fairly even split between the UK and abroad. Of those that didn’t live in the UK, responses came in from the USA and Canada. The age range was dominated by the 35 to 44 group but the remainder showed a wide spread of ages.

As this survey was targeted at sci-fi, fantasy and horror writers, it was necessary to exclude other genres from the survey. Fortunately, 91% of responses came in from these genres.

An overwhelming majority of 95% stated that writing is not their main source of income. Taken alone, this statistic would tend to highlight that writing doesn’t provide a living but of course, the definition of what a living entails varies from person to person so absolute incomes need to be examined.

Earnings from writing were dominated by the £0 – £250 group with 62% of responses coming in from this range. However, it is interesting to note that a few responses were much higher in the £20k – £40k zone.

All respondents stated that they also work in areas other than creative writing. Does this mean that it really isn’t possible to earn a living from writing or are the respondents just hard-workers? A significant majority of 82% also work in fields unrelated to writing.

Almost half of the respondents are unpublished writers. However, the published majority has at least 29% using traditional publishers and only 10% using self-publishing methods. The remaining 14% has used both channels.

A huge majority of 95% don’t have an agent. It’s interesting to note that some writers that are published through traditional methods actually don’t have agents.

The final statistic looks at the mood of writers towards the industry’s future. Over 50% are positive in the outlook and 29% negative. Maybe things aren’t so glum after all or we are keen to think the dream is still possible.

The survey also gave the option for respondents to leave any comments and here are a select few:

It’s very difficult and you need multiple income strings. It’s not enough to just write books, you need to be selling short stories, articles, giving paying interviews, maybe talks, classes, etc and even then it might not be enough to live on.

I think it’s possible but I am beginning to wonder whether it’s going to be enough to live on if I ever get published! Have read a lot of articles suggesting it’s a struggle and that those who become wealthy are few and far between.

Because of the breadth of people in the industry (writers are and live everywhere), it’s difficult to form a consensus about what to charge for a book. There is an inherent conflict of interest in setting a proper fee scheme and gaining recognition for one’s work. Writers have raced to the bottom of fee schemes to gain an audience. Each writer chose an individual low price for his or her book, and an inadvertent “norm” came about, such that readers now view $3.99 as “too much” for a book. Had indies been part of a narrower, better-defined group, they could have set norms more conducive to higher earnings. I’m not suggesting collusion. I merely mean that with a less watered-down sampling, indie writers would have been able to more clearly see what their work is worth. Traditional publishing can SEE what goes into the final product across the industry of traditional publishing and charge accordingly. Indie writers have only the next writer’s cheap price as a measure for what to ask for their work. That cheap price CAN stem from inexperience, fear of no recognition, lack of concern, etc. and shouldn’t be the sole or primary or majority measure. Until indies can assign a price that aligns with how highly they surely esteem their work, it will be difficult to earn a living as a writer.

It’s bloody hard and takes time to build.

If you’re willing to put in the work, heck yeah it’s possible.

Determination is key – and good writing of course. If you have both, sooner or later you will succeed. Imagination is essential too, both in writing, and marketing your stuff.

A clear theme rings through all the results in that 95% do not earn their incomes solely through writing. This is quite an eye-opening figure and supports the result that nearly 49% of respondents are unpublished.

As this survey has only a small sample size, any conclusions need to be taken with caution. However, the results from this survey are reflected in other, similar surveys such as that undertaken by Neil Mosspark (see the survey here). In Neil’s survey, question 3 asks for the respondents annual income and the distribution is very similar to the results obtained in this survey. Sadly, the lowest income bracket is the modal group.

It seems significant that despite this lack of financial reward, most of the respondents were either neutral or positive in their outlook towards the future of the writing industry. Maybe we writers are an optimistic bunch and perhaps the writing itself is the reward rather than the money? The comments left on this survey show a mix of admitting that making a living from writing is difficult and requires a huge amount of effort and will to succeed in this industry but there is also the belief that it is possible.

Other surveys and opinions

I thought that it might be interesting to take a look at the opinions of the wider industry when looking at writers’ incomes.

The 2014 report surveys incomes from 1,910 authors. Of these, 1,393 state that they do not earn a living from their writing. Looking at this from the opposite direction, this means that 505 actually do earn a living (12 were undeclared). The evidence here seems to support the view that most writers don’t make a living from writing although this doesn’t take genre into account so its perspective on this survey can only consider general patterns.

Rachel Caine has written an interesting overview of the state of the genre and her experiences developing a writing career as a fantasy writer (you can read the full article here). Rachel comments that ‘for the first 12 years of my writing career, I earned less than $20,000 a year (often less than $5000). And I only quit my day [job] after 17 years of being published.’  So, a difficult path to earning a living but one that was ultimately achieved. The message here must be that hard work and perseverance is vital if you want to write as a career.

Another interesting summary of the monetary life of a writer was written by Carol Pinchefsky (you can read this article here). Depressingly entitled Don’t Quit Your Day Job, the article talks about the realities of writing in the sci-fi genre. ‘Despite its thriving community and dedicated fan base, writing novels may not the best way to make a living’  comes the warning. The internet seems to be abound with articles about the difficulties of writing and how hard it is to make a living.

Carol comments that ‘According to Jane Jewell, executive director of SFWA, very few science fiction and fantasy authors live the lifestyles of the rich and famous. In fact, only a few support themselves solely on their writing income.’   We all see the monumental incomes of the big names like J K Rowling, Steven King and others famous writers but the vast majority seem to struggle to earn very little.

In an age where every man, woman and their uncles all want to be writers, it’s now easier than ever to publish with services such as Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. Has this ease of access caused a flood of writing that leaves wannabe writers struggling to keep their heads above the waters? The messages seem to be clear: it’s hard, most don’t achieve a full-time career but if you have the talent and commitment, it could be possible. For many writers though, I would imagine that the joy of writing pays more dividends than the money we earn which is why we keep at it.

If you have any comments on this, please use the form below. Many thanks.

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