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Authors’ Income Study Reveals Challenges and Trends in the Literary Landscape

The Authors Guild’s latest income study paints a sobering picture of the financial realities faced by authors in the United States. The survey, conducted in 2022, reveals that the median gross pre-tax income from book sales for authors was a mere $2,000, with a combined annual median income of $5,000 from writing-related sources.

Key Findings:

  • In 2022, the median gross pre-tax income from book sales for authors was $2,000, with a combined annual median income of $5,000 from writing-related sources.
  • While the median book-related income increased by 9% since 2018, adjusted for inflation, this growth was primarily driven by full-time authors, whose income rose by 20%.
  • The median income of full-time, established authors rose by 21% between 2018 and 2022, reaching $23,329. However, this amount is still below the federal poverty level, highlighting the challenges authors face in earning a livable wage.
  • Nonbook writing-related activities, such as journalism, editing, ghostwriting, and teaching, significantly contribute to authors’ income. 56% of respondents reported that these activities more than doubled their income.
  • The top 10% of established authors had a median book income of $275,000 in 2022, while the bottom 50% earned a median of $1,300 from book sales.
  • Full-time self-published authors saw a significant increase in their book income, with established authors more than doubling their earnings from $9,997 in 2018 to $19,000 in 2022.
  • Newer full-time traditionally published authors also experienced income growth, earning $18,000 in 2022, compared to $15,000 for their established counterparts.
  • Traditionally published authors generally earned more from nonbook writing-related income than from book sales, while self-published authors earned more from book income.
  • Kindle Unlimited users among full-time authors tied traditionally published authors in median book-related income in 2022. However, traditionally published authors had higher combined median income due to their greater reliance on nonbook writing-related income.
  • Romance authors had the highest median gross income from their books, significantly outperforming other genres. Graphic novelists ranked second in book-related income and led in combined book and nonbook earnings.
  • Black authors’ median book-related income in 2022 was $800, significantly lower than the $2,000 median income for white authors. Black authors were also less likely to be traditionally published.
  • The audiobook format presents a growth opportunity, as 55% of traditional and 64% of self-published authors do not have any of their books in audiobook format.


  • 80% of respondents identified as professional authors, with 35% being full-time authors and 53% being part-time authors.
  • Among part-time authors, the primary writing occupations outside of publishing books included professor/academic, book illustrator/author, editor, poet, journalist, teacher, and entrepreneur.
  • 79% of respondents were white, followed by 8% Black, 4% Hispanic, 2% AAPI, and 2% Native American. 12% identified as LGBTQIA+, and 11% identified as disabled.
  • Diversity efforts have shown some progress, with increased authorship among Black, AAPI, and Hispanic authors since 2019. LGBTQIA+ and nonbinary authors were also above average among new authors.
  • 61% of respondents were women, 34% were men, and 5% were nonbinary.

Challenges and Advocacy:

Authors Guild CEO Mary Rasenberger expressed grave concern about the sobering picture painted by the survey, highlighting the low earnings and the need for advocacy on issues such as fair contracts, copyright, freedom of expression, and livable incomes for authors. Rasenberger emphasized that 50% of full-time authors continue to earn below minimum wage in many states and that the income disparity between Black and white authors is unacceptable. Emerging challenges, including exploitative AI, unconscionable contracts, and book bans, further pressure authors’ livelihoods. Rasenberger called for collective action to build a system that values authors’ contributions to society and urged lawmakers, publishers, and the public to recognize authors as professionals deserving fair pay and dignity. The Authors Guild pledged to continue fighting for reforms to address the stark income disparities revealed in the survey.

Authors' Income Study: Challenges and Trends in the Literary Landscape

The results of the Authors Guild’s income study serve as a clarion call for action. It is imperative that we, as readers, publishers, and society as a whole, recognize the value of authors’ contributions and strive to create a more equitable and sustainable literary ecosystem. By supporting authors through fair contracts, promoting diversity, and advocating for their rights, we can help ensure that they receive the recognition and compensation they deserve for enriching our lives with their words.