Writing pays badly. Does it matter? Moira Butterfield


I’ve been a full-time children’s writer for many years now. I first chose it as my path when my kids were small and I needed to be available as the parent at the nursery door, the school gate and the doctor’s etcetera. Once the children could look after themselves I took on lots more work and did a lot more ‘creative practise’ to learn my trade. Like a professional sportsperson or a musician I feel it necessary to put in a great deal of time and effort to do what I do well and to keep my standards high. 


Yet I am part of an increasingly rare full-time group. From 2022 figures published by the ALCS we know that overall author earnings are in steep decline, and now just 19% of writers are full-time. The average earnings of a fulltime author dropped by 60% in 16 years and is now £7000, under the minimum wage. This report was published in a year when UK publishing houses posted record overall profits. The report makes sorry reading (for more, there's a link to the survey at the bottom of this blog). 


I look at the prospects for young people starting out now and, given the cost of living and the cost of a place to live, I think that the idea of being a full-time author is pretty much going extinct. Starting out, I could never make that choice now. It seems you can only afford to spend time writing if you have another main job, a pension from a previous career or a high-earning partner who will support you.  


Meanwhile publishers say they want a more diverse writing world, with people from all sectors of life…Well there’s a massive elephant that’s filling the whole of the room here and it’s carrying a sign in its trunk – WRITING DOESN’T PAY ENOUGH FOR THAT TO HAPPEN. The money is not being shared round enough for anybody who is not well-off to consider it a main career option. 

The elephant that lives in big profitable publishing companies. 

In addition to writing, publishers now expect us to pay for our own book launches and book publicity efforts. For those who aren’t well-off it doesn’t seem possible. School visits might provide a main income for some but most people with young kids or another job simply couldn’t travel round the country, let alone wait for months for appearance payments.  


Recently we have had large conglomerate publishers sending round well-meaning diversity surveys to fill in, but no amount of bureaucratic box-ticking is going to help with this. 

Publishers need to acknowledge the elephant that stops so many people coming through their doors. It’s money. 


Share the profits out more fairly with creatives or writing becomes an exclusive hobby-world for the elite. 


Moira Butterfield has written many internationally-sold books for children and has been a full-time writer for over two decades. Her latest publications are The Secret Life of Oceans (Bloomsbury), Look What I Found On the Farm (Nosy Crow) and Does a Monkey Get Grumpy? (Bloomsbury) 


Moira Butterfield



twitter @moiraworld 

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The link to the author earnings survey referenced above: 








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