The number I’ve heard (and this comes from someone who wrote and/or ghostwrote several Trek novels) is that your typical writer makes around $7,500/yr from their writing, and that its only a very small number who make enough to even make writing their fulltime job.
Most fiction writers don’t make a living wage just from their writing; I’d estimate about 10% or so (and the number is shrinking). However, you can make a living in other ways – technical writing, teaching workshops and classes, etc. I know one poet who made a living solely through poetry even though she rarely got paid for her publications, but she did tons of workshops and classes and sold chapbooks of her work.
The numbers and situations are probably similar for other artists. There are a small handful who make big bucks, a slightly larger group who make enough to supplement their regular income, and the vast majority who sell things occasionally but not regularly.
Thanks for the info. And yeah, I’m aware that there are other avenues for writers to get income (I work with tech writers on a regular basis, a couple of whom write poetry or fiction in their spare time).
I was mainly just tempted to write a “put things in perspective” comment in that thread to the effect that you were statistically more likely to be able to make a living as a professional athlete than as a professional fiction writer…but then realized that I didn’t actually know whether that statement would be accurate.
Nobody knows the answer to this question mostly because nobody asks.
Several writers organizations have tried to survey their membership, but writers are notoriously bad at responding. And there are dozens of writers organizations for various types of writing, some of which mix fiction and nonfiction writers, so no group gets at the whole population or even a significant fraction of it. In addition, the surveys tend to ask for income ranges due to writing, which limits the ability to say more about total income or lifestyle.
Publishers are even worse. They are the one major industry that does not do any market research into their suppliers or consumers.
And writers tend to write in all ways and in all fields. Some certainly write novels and nothing else, but the vast majority write in every possible form: fiction, nonfiction, short stories, articles, poetry, plays or screenplays, software writing, textbooks, public relations, marketing, editing, blogs, and a million more types of writing, as Chuck mentioned. Making money from speaking, teaching, workshops, speechwriting, ghosting, and other auxiliary fields is part of the overall package, even, perhaps especially, for those who could live on their writing income alone.
It’s frustrating being in a field where information this basic is almost totally unknown, but that’s the reality.
Most of the successful writers I know personally could probably scrape by on royalties and such direct income for a short time but derive the bulk of their regular income from teaching gigs, which they consider a perk of a successful writing career. IOW, if you’re making 15,000-30,000 annually on average from your publisher, but you also get an offer to teach a faiirly light load as the Writer-in-Residence at a university and get paid a very regular 75,000 in addition to that (but only because of your publication record), would you regard the teaching part as separate from your writing income?