Nearly everyone can list off at least a dozen famous authors who are still alive today — and those will inevitably be among the top earners. What is the average annual salary among less well-known book writers, though, and how do you become a book writer?
Average Salary for Book Writers
The latest data provided by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which tracks salary average across a wide variety of different professions, shows that writers and authors earn a median salary of $67,120 per year.
Salaries in this profession are influenced by a great number of factors, of course. They include a writer’s number of years of experience, their educational background, their geographical location, and the type of writing they engage in. The lowest 10 percent of earners make less than $35,880 per year, the BLS says, while those in the top 10 percent bring in more than $133,460 a year.
Book writers — some of which are published authors, and some of which are ghost writers or book writers who work on technical or other books with an entire team of people — can certainly be found across this entire salary spectrum.
Some barely earn enough to pay their bills, and may have to take on additional jobs as they work on becoming successful as writers. Others are celebrated, famous, and wealthy.
- The popular salary-tracking platform PayScale indicates that book writers earn an average of $51,693, indicating that ranges between $30,000 and $94,000 per year are common in this field.
- Glassdoor’s data suggests that the average annual wage for book writers is $55,509. They add that most book writers earn between $32,000 and $98,000 per year.
- Chron offers interesting data that more closely reflects the ways in which authors and other book writers tend to get paid. They report that major publishers tend to offer advances between $50,000 and $100,000 once a book deal is signed. (Note that those who are traditionally published can expect to share around 15 percent of this number with their literary agent.) Most debut authors get much less, at $5,000 to $10,000. In addition, most authors earn a commission of 10 percent per book sale.
What Do Book Writers Make Per Hour?
PayScale suggests that book writers have, on average, an hourly rate of $20.83, but it is important to note that this number may reflect the time spent writing far more closely than the entire time dedicated to the work. Background research and revisions take up a very large portion of a book writer’s work, and this time will not necessarily be paid.
Unless book writers are employed, such as to produce a regular stream of trade books, their stream of income is highly likely to be unpredictable. As such, hourly earnings are difficult to quantify.
Salary Based on Experience
Unambiguous figures to indicate how a book writer’s salary is influenced by their experience in the field are not available. However, book writers can certainly anticipate that their income will rise as they accumulate work experience in the field. This is true for a number of reasons:
- More experienced book writers may have built up a good reputation within their niche, which will allow them to attract gigs or book deals that earn more.
- Book writers who engage in technical work such as writing trade manuals or textbooks will likely become faster over time. If they are paid per book, this will enable them to earn more per year.
Salary Based on Education
National trends across all professions show that education has a large influence on a worker’s earning potential in almost all cases:
- Workers who have earned a high school diploma or equivalent earn, on average, $746 per week.
- Those who have completed some college but who do not hold a degree have average weekly earnings of $833.
- Workers with an Associate’s degree earn a median weekly wage of $887.
- Those who have completed a Bachelor’s degree earn a median of $1,248 per week.
- Professionals who hold a Master’s degree earn, on average, $1,497 per week.
- With a PhD or equivalent, the median weekly salary shoots up to $1,861 or more.
Within largely creative fields such as book writing, these trends continue to hold true to some extent. However, talent and experience can often be a substitute for formal education. This is more the case among novelists and other fiction writers than among technical writers who pen trade books.
Top Paying States
Data offered by the Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics program shows that writers and authors earn most in Washington, DC, California, Connecticut, New York, and Massachusetts.
However, many book writers are able to work from anywhere in the country. Authors, whether they are self-publishing or going the traditional publishing route, have more freedom to work remotely than ghostwriters or book writers who are employed to craft trade books.
Between now and the year 2030, jobs for writers and authors are projected to grow by nine percent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says. This is just one percent more than the job growth projected across all industries.
The BLS additionally reports that many writing jobs are becoming digitized, which translates to fewer career opportunities for book writers in print publishing, but more opportunities for those working within the ebook sector. Technical book writers may, therefore, especially enjoy varied work offers, while more openings may also become available to ghostwriters.
Some book writers can, as their careers progress, opt to become editors instead, managing large teams of writers. This higher level of responsibility can be associated with a significantly higher salary as well.
What Exactly Does a Book Writer Do?
At the most basic level, book writers are engaged in the process of writing books. They may be:
- Published authors, whose work appears under their own names.
- Self-published authors who are responsible for print or ebook publications of their own works.
- Technical book writers, who are employed to craft trade books or manuals, academic books, or textbooks, for instance.
- Ghostwriters, who work with the authors under whose name the work will be published in order to convey that person’s message.
If the average person were to look at their physical or digital bookshelf, they would likely see, there, a variety of how-to, self-help, and informative books in addition to the novels and non-fiction titles most would typically associate with the word “author”. All these books are written by book writers.
Over the course of writing a book, or part thereof, book writers may need to:
- Conduct background research, which may include interviews with relevant persons.
- Ensure that the client’s style specifications are met.
- Revise, edit, fact-check, and amend as new data becomes available.
- Work with other members of the editorial team.
How to Become a Book Writer?
Since the profession of book writer is such a diverse one, the paths toward becoming a book writer are also varied.
Completing a degree in a relevant field, which may include English, communications, journalism, or creative writing can certainly help equip future book writers with the skills they will later rely on. From there, some book writers may:
- Author their own novels or non-fiction books with the goal of self-publishing or having them traditionally published.
- Create print or electronic books to client specifications, including in highly technical areas, as freelancers.
- Find employment in a company that regularly publishes (technical) books.
Freelancers and those seeking employment alike will benefit from having a strong portfolio that showcases their skills and experience.
Qualifications to Be a Book Writer
Not all book writers need formal qualifications, but in technical fields, a degree will be required. Completing a Bachelor’s degree in an area such as English, journalism, communications, or creative writing is most common.
Those who write trade manuals or other technical books can also enjoy career opportunities in this field with a relevant degree in their niche, such as engineering, business, or psychology, to name but a few. In some cases, the academic writing skills their degrees will have equipped them with are sufficient. Some aspiring book writers who hold degrees not related to writing will, on the other hand, additionally wish to pursue writing courses.
Skills to Be a Book Writer
The skills a book writer needs to be successful depend, on a large extent, to the niche within which they are intending to build their careers. However, some of the talents and aptitudes all book writers would either need or strongly benefit from include:
- Excellent writing skills that are also suited for the field within which a book writer works; academic writing does not prepare someone to write riveting novels, while creative writing doesn’t set someone up to craft a full-length history of the vacuum cleaner, either.
- Meticulous attention to detail, which is necessary while editing, proofreading, and revising but also while researching and analyzing data.
- Strong interpersonal skills, including, in the case of self-employed book writers, sales and negotiation skills.
- Outstanding research skills, something that holds true for fiction and non-fiction writers alike.
Can You Be a Book Writer Without a Degree?
Yes, in many cases. Whether an aspiring book writer needs a degree highly depends on the area in which they wish to build their careers, but some opportunities will be available to strong writers who have not completed college. This is especially true within the field of fiction.