A Penny for Your Words

The Authors Guild recently released the results of their study on author incomes. They polled their nearly 1,700 members, most of whom are full-time or part-time authors. The results showed that 56% of respondents earn below the poverty level of $11,670 per year. And the medium income for authors has dropped 24% since 2009. They listed several reasons, the demise of brick and mortar stores, the rise of Amazon, piracy, publisher consolidation, etc.

Now remember, some of these people are full-time workers, not hobby writers, and they are not even making the equivalent of a full-time employee at McDonalds!

We writers hear these statistics and scoff. Tell us something we didn’t already know. The general public hears these numbers and shrugs. “No one is making you be an author,” they say, but that isn’t really the point. No one is making someone choose other low-earning jobs, either, but we’re awfully glad there are people to clean our hotel rooms and pick our strawberries, and when we want to sit down and relax or we need to learn something new, we are awfully glad that authors choose to write books.

It’s easy for someone who has never written a book to say, “Just write it in your spare time.”  Writing is not the same as learning to play bridge. It takes thousands of hours of practice and education to get good at writing. It takes far more time, focus, and concentration than taking a Bollywood dance class at the local Parks and Rec. It’s tempting to think we could all be hobby writers and still turn out good work, but if people want high-quality writing, if they want experts to teach them how to live and work better, if they want books that educate their children, we need to support people who take their writing more seriously than just a hobby.

These arguments usually fall on deaf ears, which is one reason you don’t see writers walking around looking for sympathy, but sometimes I wonder why. How is it that we became so complacent with our lot? It’s as if we believe we belong to some sort of class system and writers are the lowest class and, heck, that’s just the way it is. But class systems only change when the people at the bottom refuse to stay there any longer.

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