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How much do I make from writing?
During the final year of my Arts/Law studies in 2019, I was offered a full-time, salaried job to become a lawyer. I accepted it. To me, this meant two things: I remained determined to pursue both my creative and legal careers at the same time and it allowed me to divorce the idea of creative success from money.
It felt really freeing to divorce my creative pursuits from money. I knew that I could probably find a job that would allow me to use my creative skills if I wanted to, probably in something like advertising or marketing. But I didn’t want to do those things. My dream writing job is to write and publish a young adult novel. So once I realised that no one was going to offer me a full-time, salaried job doing that, it made sense to find one in my other career.
It’s rare for writing to pay the bills
I’m not alone in being a writer who relies on an unrelated job to pay the bills. A 2022 national survey by Macquarie University found that 59.7 per cent of Australian book authors rely on day jobs not related to writing their book. And that was a survey of writers ahead of me in their careers – I still haven’t published a book.
This is one of the reasons I think that talking about money in the arts is urgent and necessary. Practically every other creative person I know – especially the writers – do not and cannot make a living from their creative work alone.
It definitely makes me feel vulnerable to talk about how much I earn in detail. But I’m a big believer in pay transparency and the need for artists to be fairly and equitably compensated for their work.
So here are the details of how much money I made from creative work in the previous financial year of July 2021 to June 2022.
Like I said, I am not a full-time artist or writer. I have a day job as a lawyer. I do not depend on the income from my creative work to put a roof over my head or food on the table. This piece does not and is not meant to represent my full financial picture. It also doesn’t include any expenditure. I hope that it will give you a good idea of what I earn from creative work.
I am an emerging writer who has not published their first book yet. I live and work in Australia and all figures are in Australian dollars. My main creative priorities and projects during 2021-22 were working on both of my young adult manuscripts Song of the Summer and Murder at St Thérèse College, pursuing freelance writing opportunities and shooting Fragments.
So, let’s get down to the juicy stuff. How much money did I earn from creative work in the 2021-22 financial year?
I made a total of $6,671.30 from creative work in the 2021-22 financial year. This is the most I have ever made in one year by a pretty overwhelming margin. For reference, I made $652 in 2020-21. This is just over ten times that.
It was a multidisciplinary year: I made $3,761.30 from writing, $2,150 from photography, $560 from filmmaking and $200 from design.
In order to break down the $3,761.30 earned from writing further, let’s use the categories from that Macquarie University survey.
Other publication payments and personal book sales - $150
Salary/wages from working as an author - $3,111.30
Literary prizes - $500
The bulk of this money comes from the writing internship I did with ABC Sport. I earned $3,111.30. The reason this is so high is because I got paid per hour worked instead of by output. I also got paid for both the hours I spent working on the stories themselves and hours spent on general learning. This is exceptionally rare.
This will probably be the most money I earn from a writing activity for a long time to come. I owe my thanks to my brilliant editor Amanda Shalala who saw promise in my writing and offered me the internship.
I won the Cook Creative Writing Prize from the Capital Arts Patrons’ Organisation for Song of the Summer which was $500 to further my writing practice. Even though I had to write a proposal for how I would spend the money, I’ve categorised this as a prize given the casual nature of that proposal, the fact that they let me include artist fees in it and that I didn’t have to write an acquittal afterwards.
I had one paid publication in that year which was my 4,000 word essay The Hollywood War with Portside Review for $150.
Trying to make it as a writer in Australia is tough. You can always choose to engage with your favourite authors as much or as little as you want – but this is one of the reasons that I will continue to buy their books, borrow their books from the library, recommend their books, like their social media posts, show up to their launches and more.
Where can I read more?
My decision to write this piece and share this information publicly was inspired by several artists who have talked about pay transparency:
‘So how much money do you make?’ by Alison Evans
‘Don’t give up your day job: how Australia’s favourite authors are making ends meet’ by Rafqa Touma for The Guardian
‘Are any of you lot making money’ featuring Sian Campbell, Jules Orcullo, Caitlin Ellen and Noemie Huttner-Koros at National Young Writers’ Festival 2021
I’d also encourage you to read the 2022 National Survey of Australian Book Authors by Macquarie University and supported by funding from the Australia Council for the Arts and the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund. You can read the overview, the explainer on author income and the full report.
This piece was written as part of Insiders which is usually exclusive to paid subscribers. I have chosen to make this post freely available given the importance of talking transparently about money in the arts.
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