In its ongoing effort to track the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on author incomes in the United States, the Authors Guild conducted a fourth survey of members in April 2022. This survey compared the frequency, amount, and sources of income losses suffered by respondents during the first and second years of the pandemic (March 2020–March 2021 and March 2021–March 2022). The results reveal consistent patterns of income decline in each of the two years of the pandemic, with a majority of authors reporting that they lost roughly half of their pre-COVID income. Further, the survey shows that for roughly 55 percent of respondents, incomes have remained down relative to pre-COVID levels, suggesting both a slow pace of recovery and possible long-term impact on the writing profession.    

Pandemic Year 1 (March 2020–March 2021)

Income Levels

About 63 percent of respondents reported that their income (from any source) had declined during the first year of the pandemic, between March 2020 and March 2021. Responses indicate that authors lost about 48 percent of their regular income during the first year (median income lost was 50 percent). 

Sources of Income Decline

Authors cited the cancellation of speaking engagements and loss of freelance journalism jobs as the leading causes of their decline in income, followed by declining book sales, contract cancellations and payment delays, and furloughs and layoffs from writing and non-writing jobs. Below is a breakdown of the responses:

SourcePercentage
Speaking/performance engagements canceled49.0%
Freelance journalism/business writing31.2%
Loss of book sales or revenue through self-publishing24.0%
Book contract canceled or payments delayed13.0%
Non-writing-related work—furloughed or laid off12.0%
Teaching position (teaching writing)—furloughed or laid off9.7%
Partner’s loss of income8.8%
Teaching position (teaching other subjects)—furloughed or laid off5.2%
Motion picture option extended or not paid4.6%

Pandemic Year 2 (March 2021–March 2022)

Income Levels

About 57 percent of respondents reported that their income (from any source) had declined during the second year of the pandemic, between March 2021 and March 2022. Responses indicate that authors lost about 47 percent of their regular income during the second year (median income lost was 50 percent). 

Sources of Income Decline

Year 2 patterns matched Year 1, with the cancellation of speaking engagements and loss of freelance journalism jobs cited as the leading causes of authors’ decline in income. They were followed by declining book sales, contract cancellations and payment delays, and furloughs and layoffs from writing and non-writing jobs. Below is a breakdown of the responses:

SourcePercentage
Speaking/performance engagements canceled47.3%
Freelance journalism/business writing31.9%
Loss of book sales or revenue through self-publishing21.3%
Book contract canceled or payments delayed11.72%
Non-writing-related work—furloughed or laid off10.6%
Teaching position (teaching writing)—furloughed or laid off10.3%
Partner’s loss of income7.7%
Teaching position (teaching other subjects)—furloughed or laid off5.5%
Motion picture option extended or not paid2.6%

Financial Support

Survey results show that authors were often reluctant to apply for financial support from the government. About 78 percent of respondents reported that they did not apply for any federal or state pandemic relief. Of the respondents who did not apply for any federal or state pandemic relief, 48 percent said they were ineligible and 42 percent said that they believed they were ineligible at the time. An additional 7 percent of respondents cited the complexity of the process as a deterrent while 2 percent said that they did not apply because they had heard that similarly situated people had been turned down.

Of the subset of respondents who did apply for government support, 83 percent reported getting the requested relief.

The following table shows the percentage of respondents who received specific forms of support in Year 1 and Year 2:

Type of Government Support ReceivedYear 1Year 2
Regular unemployment90.9%45.5%
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)90.5%57.1%
Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan85.2%48.2%
Stimulus checks from federal government94.3%80.0%

Conclusion

Results from the Authors Guild’s fourth income survey collate the results from the previous three surveys (here are the results from Survey 1, Survey 2, and Survey 3). Together our data indicates that a majority of authors in the United States experienced profound declines in their income as a result of pandemic-related disruptions such as speaking engagement cancellations, book tour cancellations, loss of freelance writing jobs, and teaching furloughs. While there has been some recovery, it clearly hasn’t been enough to raise authors’ incomes back to pre-COVID levels.