The results from the Authors Guild’s third and most recent survey of authors (members and non-members) show that incomes in the writing profession have continued to decline during the pandemic with a higher percentage of writers reporting some loss of income.

Of the 669 total respondents, a staggering 71.4% reported that their income (from any source) had declined since the crisis began. Respondents reported losing 49% of their regular pre-pandemic income on average.  

The results from this survey contrast the strong revenues and sales posted by large trade publishers in 2020—driven largely by children’s and YA and the success of political, BLM, and celebrity-authored books. This is the first of our three surveys in which a substantial percentage of authors reported lower than normal book sales as a major cause of their income losses after loss of speaking engagements and freelance opportunities.

While the results show some improvement in authors’ ability to access unemployment relief since the start of the pandemic—in so far as a greater percentage of authors who applied for PUA were approved than before and fewer applications were pending—a relatively small percentage of authors, only 24.5%, reported applying for any benefits. This may be due to a lack of knowledge about benefits or the fact that some states make it difficult to obtain PUA and have not granted PUA benefits to authors and other creators who have a small amount of W-2 income (the most recent COVID-19 relief package passed in December 2020 does allow those with both W-2 and 1099 income to obtain up to $100 per week in supplemental MEUC (Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation) benefits in addition to state and federal payments). Moreover, most authors have not attempted to obtain PPP loans because of a lack of understanding of how that program can assist them, earlier reports that the funding was going primarily to corporations, and a lack of clear guidance on loan-forgiveness terms. Further, a number of respondents complained about the non-responsiveness of their state unemployment agencies, difficulties in accessing applications, and rejections.

We thank everyone who took the time to respond to our survey. The data we collect from these surveys is critical to our advocacy.

Causes of Authors’ Income Declines

Authors cited cancellation of speaking engagements and loss of freelance journalism work as two leading causes of their income decline, followed by lack of teaching opportunities, declining book sales and self-published income, contract cancellations, and payment delays as the other contributing factors. The survey results showed that:

  • 46.3% reported losing income from speaking engagement cancellations.
  • 32.2% reported losing income because of loss of freelance work.
  • 21.6% reported losing income due to loss of book sales or revenue through self-publishing.
  • 12.9% reported losing income due to book contract cancellations or payment delays.
  • 12.7% reported losing income due to furloughs from non-writing-related jobs.
  • 7.9% reported losing income due to loss of writing-related teaching jobs.
  • 5.4% reported losing income due to loss of non-writing-related teaching jobs.
  • 3.4% reported losing income due to motion picture options getting extended or not paid.

Access to Unemployment and Other Benefits

The most recent survey suggests a higher percentage of authors may be looking to unemployment and other financial relief to supplement their income losses. 24.5% of the respondents of our latest survey reported that they had applied for unemployment or another type of COVID-19 relief.

Of the respondents who applied for regular unemployment:

  • 13.7% reported that they had been approved.
  • 8% reported that they had been rejected.
  • 1.6% reported that their application was still pending.
  • (76.7% answered N/A)

Of the respondents who applied for PUA:

  • 17.1% reported that they had been approved.
  • 3.2% reported that they had been rejected.
  • 3.8% reported that their application was still pending.
  • (76% answered N/A)

Of the respondents who applied for PPP loans:

  • 9.5% reported that they had been approved.
  • 1.6% reported that they had been rejected.
  • 0.9% reported that their application was still pending.
  • (88.1% answered N/A)

Of the respondents who applied for EIDL loans:

  • 9.5% reported that they had been approved.
  • 1.8% reported that they had been rejected.
  • 0.5% reported that their application was still pending.
  • (88.3% answered N/A)

Of the respondents who applied for an emergency grant or loan from a private foundation or fund:

  • 4.6% reported that they had been approved.
  • 3% reported that they had been rejected.
  • 1.6% reported that their application was still pending.
  • (90.8% answered N/A)

Selected Narrative Responses

The following is a sampling of the almost 300  narrative responses we received that highlight the factors contributing to the decline in income, including flagging book sales, difficulties in accessing unemployment relief, and lack of speaking engagements, teaching jobs, and freelance work:

  • Our sales are down by a significant amount. First month sales dropped by about 25%, second month sales dropped by 67% on our last release.
  • My 20+ year business as a copywriter collapsed instantly when COVID hit. I specialize in marketing copy for technology conferences, product launches, and new business launches. Everything slated for 2020 was abruptly cancelled.
  • I figure that my freelance career is over.
  • My speaking and performance tours are essential to overseas sales of my books and recordings. Last year I could not tour. I did not apply for assistance because I was discouraged by reading that most of the funding for small businesses was given to large corporations.
  • Long-awaited publication of my book happened just as COVID hit. I had many public events lined up to promote the book but they were all, of necessity, cancelled. As a result, sales have been greatly impacted.
  • Again, the added attention through zoom has been wonderful. But, people expect you to appear without charge. I have tried to negotiate even just a donation, but have not been successful.
  • There is relatively little relief for independent journalists or at will employees. There are plenty options for payroll employees but very little for independents.
  • Unemployment was a miracle for me. I picked up some freelance work unrelated to my book work so I went off it. I later was granted a PPP loan.
  • I applied because the AG suggested it was a good idea. I doubt I would have done so otherwise. It took several months to be approved, I think because I did not have the proper tax ID for my employer.
  • Film option extended without pay under Force majeure. Two-book contract that was a verbal agreement in March 2020 was postponed due to the acquisition editor contracting COVID-19. The contract was offered again in May but at about half of the original offer. The publisher cited instability and uncertainty in the industry and inability to promote through normal indie bookstore events and trade shows. A large part of my income is from private teaching. I received 70% less revenue from that source in 2020 than the prior year, despite increased advertising spending.