Fancy giving it all up and becoming a writer. No more stress – so the dream goes – no more commuting. Just traipsing through the countryside having inspiration and a few glasses of something to get the creative juices flowing.

Well, as research by Queen Mary, University of London, has revealed it’ll be best to win the lottery, find a patron or be a member of the landed gentry before you begin.

In The Business of Being an Author: A Survey of Authors’ Earnings and Contracts for the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Soecity was based on a survey of the earnings of almost 2,500 working writers.

Among the findings:

  1. The earnings picture is very top heavy: the top 5% earned 42.3% of all the money earned by professional authors.
  2. The bottom 50% (those earning £10,432 or less) earned only 7% of all the money earned by all writers cumulatively.
  3. 17% of all writers did not earn any money from writing in 2013, despite 98% of these having had a work published or exploited in each year from 2010 to 2013.
  4. Since 2005, the typical author has become poorer against society as a whole and now (from self-employed writing) earns only 87% of the present minimum wage.
  5. 44% of authors stated that the size of the advances they had received from publishers had declined over the past five years.
  6. 46% of authors said they had signed a buy-out contract (where there is a single payment for use of their work without the further payment of royalties), with 30% stating that the prevalence of such contracts was on the increase.

Meanwhile, self-publishing, through platforms such as Amazon, is making progress as a viable means of distributing work – although it costs for those just starting out.

The report found:

  1. A quarter of authors have self-published a book.
  2. Among authors who have self-published, the top 10% of earners made a profit of £7,000 or more.
  3. The top 20% of earners among authors who have self-published made a profit of almost £3,000.
  4. The bottom 20% of authors who have self-published made losses of at least £400.

Richard Combes, of the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society, said: “The research highlights a familiar paradox: at a time when the creative industries are a thriving mainstay of the UK economy, the industry of individual creators is an increasingly undervalued national resource.”