Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Why the Digital Book World-Writers Digest Money Survey Is Flat-Out Wrong

A lot of trad publishing pundits, including Steve Zacharius of Kensington, have been quoting a survey done by DBW-WD saying the average income for writers is $1000.

Why do I think it is highly misleading on earnings for writers? Let me reframe WD's basic supposition regarding income to apply to plumbers instead of writers.

I grew up on a farm. My dad taught me the basics of home repair. I can swap out gaskets and bobbers on a toilet. I can replace a faucet. I know where the cut-off valves are for each inlet and the main one for the entire house.

Does this make me a master plumber? Hardly. Can I go to True Value Hardware and buy the parts I need? Yep. Does this mean I made money? Excuse me while I laugh.

For things that surpass my meager abilities, like replacing the hot water heater or the garbage disposal, I call our plumber Bob. Bob is a licensed master plumber and has been for twenty years. This is how Bob make his living.

For simplicty's sake, let's assume Bob makes $60K a year. If we averaged my income from plumbing ($0) and Bob's, we get $30K a year in income. Add in my husband and son who've never touched any plumbing in their life and the average goes down to $15K. Then we turn around and say all plumbers in Houston average $15K in income per year.

Silly, right? The number isn't close to being accurate because three out of the four people averaged are not plumbers!

Yet, this is exactly how WD did their survey. 64% of those surveyed haven't finished writing a book, MUCH LESS STARTED ONE.

Why on earth would you include people who HAVEN'T PRODUCED A DAMN THING?

Sorry for the shouting, but this REALLY pisses me off!

Before anyone jumps on my case, I know what it's like in the beginning. How hard it is to finish that first story. How that first novel took years to write. Been there, done that, have the t-shirt.

But nowhere in my wildest dreams do I think my $0 income from 2004 should have been included in a survey regarding the 2004 income of professional writers.

The definition of "professional" means you are making money from a trade. I wasn't making money from my writing in 2004 because I didn't have anything for sale. 64% of folks from the WD survey didn't make any money because they didn't even have anything to MAKE AVAILABLE for sale. Therefore, WD's conclusion is meaningless.

If you want to check out a survey that at least talks to writers who have stories for sale, I recommend Beverly Kendall's look at published writers. I think it gives a far more accurate look at which writers are doing what and why.

Do I think publishing will make every writer a millionaire? Heck, no! But as the late, great Mark Twain said once, "There lies, damn lies, and statistics."

Trust your gut and always question someone's statistics.


  1. Exactly. Professional means paid to do that job.

    So stupid, I say.

  2. Funn, I've been hearing that "Your average professional writer makes about $1000 per year" thing since the 1990s. Maybe the late 80s. At the time, someone commented that they were factoring in Stephen King and everyone who ever made $50 on a short story or a poem, and that there were a lot more of the latter than the former. That actually made sense.

    But the fact that the recent WD survey came up with the same number makes me massively suspicious. Sure, if 64% of the respondents have never finished a story, then the low figure makes sense. (It's completely worthless, but one can see where it might've come from.) But still, a thousand dollars? Again? Still? Why wasn't it $1200? Or $800? Why that big, round number? Why that same big, round number that's been circulating for at least twenty-five years?

    I'm just a tiny bit suspicious here.


    1. That sounds about right. I remember reading the same thing in Kathryn Falk's how to romance book back in 1993. (If the darn thing wasn't packed away deep in our storage unit right now, I could tell you what page it was on.)

      The meme's pernicious. I commented on another writer's blog about how the numbers were wrong when she mentioned the survey, and she answered that it had to be true because she'd been hearing it for years. *facepalm*

  3. Right, because urban legends never circulate for years.... [sigh/eyeroll]