Booksellers Enjoy Strong Sales, but Most Writers Still Struggle

By Italie, Hillel | THE JOURNAL RECORD, May 27, 1994 | Go to article overview

Booksellers Enjoy Strong Sales, but Most Writers Still Struggle


Italie, Hillel, THE JOURNAL RECORD


NEW YORK _ Michael Crichton and Pat Conroy will be among the bestselling authors featured at this weekend's American Booksellers Association convention, but a new survey reports the vast majority of writers make so little money they depend on outside income to survive.

According to figures compiled by Princeton Survey Research Associates on behalf of the Authors League Fund, only one in five writers earned more $20,000 during the first half of 1993 and just 9 percent more than $50,000. Twentyfive percent received no income from writing at all, and an additional 16 percent made less than $1,000.

The survey is based on 637 interviews with members of The Authors Guild and The Dramatists Guild, all of whom have published at least one book, one play or three magazine articles. The study updates a 1979 report conducted by Columbia University in 1979 that also said few can support themselves solely by writing.

"The overall message is that in the last 15 years the situation is unchanged or a little worse," Authors League Fund president Herbert Mitgang, a critic and correspondent for The New York Times and author of several books, said earlier this week.

"The average author, just from his writing, lives below the poverty line. The big authors, all of those million dollar advances you read about, are rare. In a sense, serious writing becomes a luxury, in which you have to have either a second job . . . or you have to have a private income or a spouse who is working."

But struggling writers will be the rare ones at the ABA convention, which begins Saturday at the Los Angeles Convention Center and runs four days. With some 30,000 booksellers and industry people expected, the convention is a chance for publishers to showcase their stars.

Many of the writers attending will have received more in advances than the average author makes in a lifetime.

Among the featured speakers will be recent Pulitzer Prize-winner E. Annie Proulx, Crichton, Conroy, Joyce Carol Oates, essayist Cornel West and novelist and New York Times columnist Anna Quindlen. …

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