The Writing Life, Part One

The Authors Guild, founded in 1912 as The Authors League of America, is the nation’s oldest and largest professional organization of writers.  From time to time, the guild conducts a survey of its members’ incomes, “to learn how best to align our work with today’s authors’ needs.”  The 2018 survey was completed by 5,067 published authors—-traditionally published, self-published, and hybrid-published.  [Hybrid publishers are a new trend; they form partnerships with authors, both parties sharing costs and profits equally.]  The median writing-related income  was $6,080, down 42% from the 2009 survey.  Poverty level incomes make it impossible for writers to support themselves on writing alone.  Why the decline?  Self-publishing and inexpensive e-books mean there are more books on the market than ever before, yet in spite of the boom in quantity, the total number of books sold has been flat for the past five years.  Supply exceeding demand results in less revenue per author.

“Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money.”  Jules Renard  (1864-1910)

And that ain’t all, folks.  Newspaper advertising and circulation revenues in the U. S. are down, way down.  Advertising in 2006 brought in $49 billion, in 2016 it was $18 billion.  Why?  That’s right.  Readers are turning to digital distributors of news—Facebook , Google, etc.—so newspapers are struggling and disappearing.  In the 1960s through the 1990s, total Sunday circulation was more than 60 million.  In 2016, it was 38 million, the lowest since 1945. 

“The only reason for being a professional writer is that you can’t help it.”   Leo Rosten

Ahhh, but all is not lost.  Have you heard of the Future Library?  In a protected forest north of Oslo, Norway, 1,000 spruce trees have been planted in a project that will let them mature until 2114, when they will be harvested and made into paper for a collection of books.  Writers are invited to contribute unpublished works in any genre or language.  Amid the current pessimistic prognoses for print, the Future Library is a bright spot of optimism.

To be continued . . . .

*Written by Carol Cail. Read more from Carol at


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