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December 7, 2022

New survey results show Australian authors earn on average $18,200

In 2015, Macquarie University researchers investigated the experiences of Australian authors and reported the oft-cited finding that writers earned on average $12,900 per annum from their creative work. This figure has now been updated, following the 2022 National Survey of Australian Book Authors, to $18,200 – a figure that still falls well below the poverty line, and ‘represents growth of less than 3% per annum over seven years.’ This research confirms what you have been telling us and we’ve been reporting to government: author earnings are precariously low, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to establish a sustainable career.

In total there were 1,152 usable responses to the survey this year, representing an increase from 993 usable responses in 2015. The key findings offer concrete data to support the wave of author submissions to the National Cultural Policy earlier this year: most authors are entirely unable to earn a living from their creative practice.

As might be expected, annual income from practising as an author varies by genre. The $18,200 average lies between the $5,700 per year earned by poets, the $14,500 for literary fiction, the $26,800 earned by children’s book authors and the $27,300 earned by education authors. Royalties and advances make up around half of this figure.

Many authors rely on multiple sources of income to make ends meet. Even so, the average total income for authors, including all sources of income, was $64,900, which is over $5,000 less than the average personal income in Australia in 2020-21.

Given the need to generate income from other sources to make ends meet, authors are spending only half of their working time producing original work. It’s distressing that so many of our writers who have invested years in refining their craft cannot find the space or means to create. This is despite high levels of education: More than 80% of authors have attended university and almost half have completed a postgraduate degree. How many Australian stories are we losing to the harsh financial realities of scraping a living as an author? Which stories are not being told? What will the publishing landscape look like when only those who can afford to write are doing so?  

Given the low levels of income earned from their creative practice, funding from Government bodies and external organisations could represent an important cash boost for authors. Yet, a significant majority (over three quarters) of trade authors did not apply for funding.

This reflects the ASA’s 2022 Survey results: most authors have not applied and do not intend to apply for funding from Australia Council (56%), Copyright Agency (59%) or their State Government arts bodies (52%). 

Does this represent a broad-based pessimism about funding for literature, which has declined by 40% over the last decade through Australia Council?

As many authors put it so well in their submissions to the Cultural Policy, we cannot rely on the resilience of authors – who are already stretched thin – to prop up Australian literature. They are crying out for much-needed investment and strategic vision for the sector. For too long we’ve taken our literature – and our authors – for granted, and now we risk losing it.

What’s next? We await the announcement of the Federal Government’s National Cultural Policy due out this month. We will provide a full report on the National Cultural Policy in our first newsletter of the new year. 

You can read the summary and full report on the Macquarie University survey results on the Australia Council website. The ASA will be reporting in depth on other key findings in the survey in the new year.

Our warm thanks to Macquarie University academics and researchers Paul Crosby, David Throsby and Jan Zwar, and to Australia Council for the Arts and Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund for their support of this vital research. We’d also like to thank all of the authors who contributed to the survey – this data will be crucial for the ASA’s advocacy on behalf of Australian authors and illustrators.