What do writers earn?

In my university writing classes my students frequently ask me what they can expect to earn. Well this varies depending on the kind of writing they intend to do.  Below, I have outlined the main areas of work for a writer. Note these are British rates. For American writers please consult the Writers’ Guild of America. For other writers, consult the relevant writing body in your country. Note too that I am not covering copywriting or business writing in this discussion (ask your favourite search engine instead).

Journalists

Full-time journalists can expect to earn a living wage, averaging around £24,000 a year. For a discussion of how salaries may increase over your career visit the Graduate Prospects website. Freelance journalists are likely to earn considerably less and £12,000 a year or below is fairly common (although higher earners do exist). However, what you lose in money you gain in time and freedom. For details of what freelance journalists in the UK can earn, please visit the National Union of Journalists website. Be aware however that employers are not compelled to pay these fees and that smaller media companies, where you are likely to get your first paying work, frequently pay less.

Prose writers

For more creative writing  the average annual earnings from writing alone is around £5,000. This includes average royalties from published novels and PLR fees (a small percentage you get when someone takes your book out of the library) and fees for published short stories. Most writers have to supplement their earnings with other jobs. The most common include teaching, lecturing and leading creative writing workshops. But any job will do as long as it is flexible and gives you time to write. A friend of mine has just taken on a job as a dish washer in a cafe’ while he finishes his novel. Another writer I know is a street sweeper. He says the early morning rides on his sweeping machine give him lots of creative thinking time. For a realistic overview of what creative writers can earn, visit the careers advice website. If the thought of earning so little from your writing horrifies you, then perhaps this is not the right career for you. Most creative writers write because they love to and getting paid is simply a bonus.

Scriptwriters

Writing for stage, radio, TV and film can potentially bring in more money than prose writing, but professional commissions are few and far between and it is very hard to get your first break. Earnings start at around £6,000 for a full-length stage play (which could take you quite a few years to write, get commissioned, developed and produced) up to around £40,000 for a full-length feature film script that actually gets produced (you only get the full fee if the film gets finished; many don’t). This fee is for feature films with a total budget of over £2 million. Films with a budget of less than that will pay less to the writer. For further details of agreed rates for scriptwriters, see the Writers’ Guild website. Again, most scriptwriters have to take on additional work to keep them above the bread line.

Poets

I have never tried to earn money from my poetry. The reasons are two-fold: firstly, I don’t write enough poetry to make it a serious career choice and secondly, because I know that it’s the most poorly paid of all writing ‘jobs’. Even more than prose writers, poets do it for the love of words not the love of money. Many poetry presses simply give the poet some books to sell themselves.  For a discussion on poetry and pay visit Empty Mirror Books. Poets can earn a little by giving workshops and entering competitions for cash prizes. But the poetry itself, even if published, earns them next to nothing.

Self-publishing

I can guarantee that as soon as I publish this post I will be inundated with adverts and comments about people earning mega-bucks from self-publishing their own books or co-publishing (splitting the cost of production with the publisher). This is not as wonderful as it sounds and while a few people may make the big time, most people do not. For a fuller discussion of this topic, check out the pros and cons of co-publishing.

For a very interesting discussion around what writers earn that attracted writers from all over the web and a bit of a bun fight visit Can you earn money as a writer?

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