I got caught up today in industry statistics, since planning a move to New Hampshire would require me to come up with a fair amount to use as compensation for personal services to my publishing business. My search for this information led me to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which compiles all sorts of fascinating information about employment statistics, including in the arts. In the Federal category of NAICS 711500 - Independent Artists, Writers, and Performers, the BLS estimates a total employment of 43,590, with a mean annual salary of $43,590. For starters, this is more than I expected it would be, but I suppose there's a lot of self selection going on if they don't contact starving artists. The truth is, I don't really understand if they are estimating total numbers of writers employed, or only estimating the total number of writers for whom they believe they have data.
Of the 43,590 independent artists, writers and performers, only 1,710 are listed as "Writers and Authors", with the mean annual salary of $75,140. I think there's a little trick involved, because they get the mean annual salary by multiplying by the mean hourly rate, and they use a full-time year of 2080 hours. This means if they are getting the hourly rate any other way than dividing the annual gross by 2080 hours, they are probably overestimating. On the other hand, if they can't get hourly data for a group, they use the reported annual income. My disclaimer is they didn't contact me for the survey, so it can't be too accurate:-)
Despite only 1,710 listed independent Writers and Authors, there are an estimated 43,020 working writers in the survey data. The majority work for either newspaper, book, and directory publishers or advertising and related services. These jobs pay less than our independent group, $47,950 for the book publishing grouping and $57,400 for the advertising. This might leave you with the impression that there's no better paying work for authors than working independently, but even if we accept the mean salary measure on the face of it, there's one group that out earns the $75,140 earned by the independents. That's the $79,800 earned by the motion picture and video industries writers, with 1,300 employed.
Again, if we accept all these averages as meaningful, it would mean there are just about 3,000 authors and writers in the country earning over $75,000 a year, with those working in California earning more than $10,000 a year more than New Yorkers and even Conneticutians. There is no separate category for self publishers, at least not that I can find, so it's not really clear if the data they are using for authors is limited to authors working for royalties or work-for-hire. One of the funny things I've encountered in writing about our industry is that even though there must be tens of thousands of self publishers trying to make a go of it, there's no way of surveying ourselves, since most of us have no affiliations whatsoever. It's much simpler to make sweeping statements about subsidy published authors, using companies like iUniverse, Xlibris or Authorhouse, since those companies have all the vital information for the tens of thousands of authors they have published, and occasionally let a little something slip. My own estimate, from extensive correspondence, data releases and watching Amazon, is that the average subsidy published author never earns back the fees paid for publishing.