How Much This Academic Writer Earns

I have been writing for Policy Press since 2011. I am contractually forbidden to tell you the level of royalties they pay me, but I can tell you it is higher than any of the other publishers I work for. However, there is nothing to stop me telling you how much money I make from the writing I do for them. I just received my most recent royalty statement, which is my tenth. 

Before we get to the actual figures, you need a sense of the scale of the work I have done for them. I have written three full-length sole-authored books. Two are now in their second editions, and the third edition of the first one will be out early next year. I have co-written two full-length books and co-edited three e-books and a full-length book. I have also created four short digital books, adapted from chapters in my first full-length book. Even over 11 years, that is a lot of work. And my books sell well.

However, you also need to know that, as yet, none of these books have been translated into other languages. Translations are great for writers because they are effectively free money. This means they are good for publishers, too, and I know Policy Press has tried to get translation deals for me. Maybe one day they will succeed. But in the meantime, all the money I have earned to date has been from the original English-language editions.

I began writing in early 2011, my first book was published in September 2012, and I received my first royalties in October 2013. Royalties are calculated on sales from August to July. Here are the amounts, by year:

  • 2012-13 – £128.39
  • 2013-14 – £324.76
  • 2014-15 – £482.70
  • 2015-16 – £1,040.00
  • 2016-17 – £1,627.20
  • 2017-18 – £1,663.70
  • 2018-19 – £947.46
  • 2019-20 – £1,901.93
  • 2020-21 – £5,197.57
  • 2021-22 – £2,417.27

Total: £15,748.98

Average per year (11 years): £1,431.73

Assuming 42 writing days per year: overall, on average, £34.09 per day.

You can see the upward progression has not been smooth. Between 2017 and 2018 there was not much increase; between 2018 and 2019 there was a big reduction. 2021 was a bumper year, probably because the pandemic led to lots of e-book buying (and I had negotiated higher royalties on e-books with Policy Press), but 2022 was again a big reduction.

I negotiated a good royalty deal when Policy Press were a younger, more idealistic organisation, wanting to support independent researchers and others outside the academy. I don’t think any author would be able to negotiate such a good deal now, even a more experienced author, even if their books sold well.

It is fortunate that I love writing books. Also my Policy Press books increase my income in other ways. I get well-paid teaching and speaking work, particularly because of my creative research methods and creative academic writing books. And I was accepted to work as an ethics expert for the European Commission largely because of my research ethics book.

Also, I get a few hundred pounds every year from ALCS (the UK Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society, which gathers income from mysterious sources such as educational photocopying). I get very little from PLR (Public Lending Rights, which gathers income from library loans) because they don’t include academic libraries. 

So it’s not just the royalties. But they do count. And their count is surprisingly small. Even if I add on my royalties from my other publishers (which are very much smaller) and from my self-published books (smaller still), I don’t get anywhere near the average income from book sales for an author in the UK. The latest survey, done in 2017 and published in 2018, found that the average was £10,500. I dream of my royalties hitting five figures, but I have a long way to go.

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5 thoughts on “How Much This Academic Writer Earns

  1. Thank you Helen for your remarkable openness and honesty about how much book royalties you earn from Policy Press. While you point out that they tend to be the among the most generous payers and their values are commendable, it’s maddening to see how low it is, especially given the number of published books it relates to. As a proportion of what books sell for authors are paid scandalously little. Most academics don’t write or publish to make money and being paid is secondary to the opportunity and satisfaction of getting our work out there. And most already have an income. So I imagine publishers come under little pressure from authors to increase their percentages and so nothing changes. It’s different for self-employed writers like yourself who deserve more. Much more. But I guess the lesson is that we all need to be thinking and acting together collectively and agitating for more because without us there wouldn’t be anything to publish!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you Harry for your kind and thoughtful comment. I agree about collective action, which is why I am a member of the Society of Authors; essentially our trade union. But there is probably more we could do… maybe my post will help, though I’m not holding my breath!

    Like

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