The results from the Authors Guild’s second survey of authors (members and non-members) show that incomes in the writing profession continue to decline, with state unemployment, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, and the Small Business Administration loan programs providing scant cover to those in financial distress.

Of the 1,234 total respondents, 738—or 59.8%—reported that their income (from any source) had declined since the crisis began. On average, respondents indicated that they had lost about 43% of their regular income during the crisis.

The main takeaways from our survey are:

1. Authors are noticing a perceptible decline in their typical income because of furloughs, layoffs, and shrinking of work opportunities, including:

  • Freelance journalism work
  • Speaking engagements
  • Teaching jobs
  • Non-writing related work

2. With respect to every relief program, the vast majority of applications are still pending, and at least half of those that have been acted upon have been rejected.

3. Authors are struggling to access PUA because:

  • Many states do not have a PUA system in place.
  • The application forms are confusing and the state departments of labor, due to the volume of unemployment claims, are unable to answer queries.
  • Authors with mixed-incomes (W-2 and 1099) are being forced to apply for state unemployment even though their qualified state UI income is meager compared to their PUA-eligible 1099 income.
  • Authors who don’t qualify for the 10 COVID-19-related reasons listed in Section 2102 of the CARES Act are deterred from applying. There is a lot of confusion about the DOL’s additional criteria—many applicants are not aware that it exists or are confused about its applicability to their circumstances.
  • The forms for some states with PUA in place require meeting one of the 10 COVID-19-related reasons listed in Section 2102 (they do not list the DOL additional criteria) and a statement that the person is not able to telework.

Results Summary

Sources of Income Decline

Authors cited loss of freelance journalism work and cancellation of speaking engagements as the leading causes of their income decline, followed by layoffs and furloughs from non-writing related jobs. Declining book sales, contract cancellations, payment delays, and teaching furloughs and layoffs were some of the other factors contributing to the income decline. The survey results showed that:

  • 347 (28.12%) reported losing income from speaking engagement cancellations.
  • 260 authors (21.05%) reported losing income because of loss of freelance work.
  • 168 (1.4%) reported losing income due to furloughs from non-writing related jobs.
  • 168 (0.14%) reported losing income due to loss of book sales or revenue through self-publishing.
  • 106 (0.9%) reported losing income due to book contract cancellations or payment delays. 51 (0.4%) reported losing income due to loss of writing-related teaching jobs.
  • 46 (0.4%) reported losing income due to loss of non-writing-related teaching jobs.

COVID-19 Relief

18% of authors reported that they had applied for unemployment or another type of COVID-19 relief.

Of the respondents who applied for regular unemployment:

  • 20.4% reported that they had been approved.
  • 23% reported that they had been rejected.
  • 34% reported that their application was still pending.

Of the respondents who applied for PUA:

  • 13% reported that they had been approved.
  • 10% reported that they had been rejected.
  • 43% reported that their application was still pending.

Of the respondents who applied for PPP loans:

  • 8.6% reported that they had been approved.
  • 12% reported that they had been rejected.
  • 23% reported that their application was still pending.

Of the respondents who applied for EIDL loans:

  • 4% reported that they had been approved.
  • 9% reported that they had been rejected.
  • 26% reported that their application was still pending.

Narrative Responses Highlighting Difficulties of Accessing Unemployment Relief

  • Freelancing, as you know, is tricky, and the PUA asks specifically if you’ve lost work due to a business you work with going out of business. But the reality is that outlets have just slashed or abolished their freelancer budgets but there’s no way to make this clear on the PUA application, and no way to be eligible for money without lying.
  • My state won’t allow normal unemployment for anyone that can work at home, which basically means writers. So we lose our income but can’t quality for unemployment assistance simply because we work at home.
  • Since my state (Colorado) got its PUA site up and running, the process has been fairly smooth, although it took a few weeks for the money to start flowing. I have heard of other writers in my state who were rejected from the PUA site because they had a minimal amount of W-2 income and yet they are not eligible for the regular unemployment site. That is a huge problem for many freelancers/self-employed types!
  • While I’m relieved to hear that I qualify for unemployment benefits as a self-employed worker, I’ve been rejected by the system, and am hashing through the red tape to try to find financial relief. I am in desperate need of this income.
  • Louisiana is one of the states that make getting unemployment (third lowest in the nation) impossible by design due to its racist and classist past and present. Applications for all other loans and grants were kicked back because they have no idea how to handle freelancers or the inconsistent pay we receive over time. The whole thing has been crushing.
  • My state (RI) unemployment/PPP computer platform does not permit me to file for unemployment because they did not design it for freelance writers or self-employed writers. It asks for data like every employer’s detailed name, address, phone, etc. I work through Upwork, a freelance platform that does not give me access to that information. I would have to contact a dozen or more clients (whom I hope to reemploy me in the future) to ask for their home addresses, etc.
  • New York State is of course already famously far behind on even regular unemployment benefits and I have very little confidence that I will ever see the PUA assistance that is promised. There is simply no way by phone or website to follow the status of the claim. I will probably take early Social Security as an alternative, which is not a desirable step.
  • I’m in the state of Oregon. The initial reports indicated freelancers could apply for unemployment, so I did. Then I received news reports that we would not be eligible. I never heard back from the state. Eventually I heard that now we could apply for “PUA,” pandemic unemployment assistance. I have been going back and forth with the state’s security email system, and I’m pretty sure I managed to send them the application this morning, finally.
  • I am a 99% independent contractor but because I received one W-2 in 2019 for very little income, I have been told I must submit a regular UI claim rather than qualifying for PUA. So, that negated me from applying because I had to list my consulting clients and why I was terminated. Since I wasn’t an employee, I wasn’t terminated and there was no other answer to select on their online application so I couldn’t complete it. I fall through the assistance cracks. In CO, I cannot simply apply for the PUA. It is very disappointing. And I have tried to call the CO UI office for assistance but their phones lines are busy and if you do by chance get through, they refer you to the website which isn’t addressing my unique issue.
  • Too difficult to apply for PUA because I had some income from W-2 and my business didn’t completely die, I just lost half my revenue (and might not be able to get more clients). I tried filling out the forms but it was all too frustrating. I decided to spend the time trying to drum up new clients.