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How Much Do Novelists Make? Part 3

Have you heard about the Justine Larbalestier Survey?

Justine Larbalestier, a novelist from Down Under, conducted his own informal survey and asked his 18 “fellow Aussies, folks from the UK, Canada and the US” how much they got for their first novel. Seven of those who responded are full-time writers.

Here are the results:

1962: $1,000

1965: $3,000

1970: $10,000

1976: $700

1982: $7,500

1984: $7,500

1985: $2,500, $8,000

1989: $3,000

1990: $15,000

1995: $4,000

1996: $4,000

1997: $7,500

1999: $2,500

2002: $6,500

2003: $13,500

2004: $350, $10,000

Average advance: $5,920

Note that a writer in 2004 earned the same amount of advance as he did back in 1970 ($10,000) !

Adjust that by inflation, and you’ll realize the dire odds most novelists are battling against. Despite a handful of stellar novelists who make big bucks, overall, novel writing is a sure way to the poor house.

Here is Larbalestier’s advice for those who are thinking to become novelists:

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“So my sage pieces of advice to someone contemplating a career as a novelist who begins by trying to find out what the average advance is? First I’d like to congratulate you—if you’re in this game for the money it’s a good idea to find out as quick as you can that there’s not a whole lot to be made writing novels. Find another way to make dosh. Personally I’d recommend plumbing.”

You can read the full details of his revealing and candid report by clicking here.

*** Discussion Thread

To read more about the financial “bread crumbs” with which an average novelist needs to make her peace, please read this discussion thread.


If you are an unknown fiction writer like me, your chances of both getting published through traditional publishers AND making money at the same time is not that good.

From the time you start shopping around for a traditional literary agent to when you see your book in the bookstores it will be an average of TWO years. Think about that…

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Keep writing your novel but try such non-traditional channels of marketing as self-publishing and print-on-demand solutions like or Amazon’s BookSurge.

There are quite a few literary agents and traditional editors trolling such sites to discover new talent that did not cost them a penny. So if you’re good, trust me, the world will be happy to beat a path to your door.

Write well and from the heart, frequently.

Get them printed whenever you can.

And let your readers and the market place separate the wheat from the chaff, not the top-heavy bloated publishing dinosaurs of yesteryear. Whether you’re going to sink or swim, let it be on your own terms and not on somebody else’s.



  1. With all due respect to my Down Under colleague, I must note that such doom and gloom reports based on an informal survey of 18 hardly warrants attempts like yours (and I presume hers) to discourage competent and dedicated writers from pursuing traditional publishing paths.

    In 1995, I sent a nonfiction manuscript to a virtually unknown specialty publisher, and got a phone call within 24 hours followed by a $10,000 advance.

    Another division of that publisher did the same thing a year later with a different nonfiction manuscript, but sent me a $15,000 advance.

    These are NOT isolated experiences if my measure of having interviewed ten author friends can be considered even half as accurate as Ms. Larbalestier’s survey.

    It sounds to me like someone (you, Gary?) is trying to drum up online and self-publishing business with good old-fashioned Madison Avenue style fear tactics.

    For heaven’s sake, man, there’s enough writer stress to deal with out there without having to drum up some flimsy survey findings and inflate them like 95% (concludes my informal survey of many thousands!) of the print and broadcast media.

  2. P.S. I overlooked noting that neither of the two books I referred to would be considered “technical” and are, in fact, quite chatty, much in the same context of a novel. My newest book, however, is a work of fiction, so the truth of your resources as it relates to novelists will be known shortly. I do plan to find a traditional publisher and I do plan to make a living at novels . . . or at blogging: for starters!

  3. Gary Karbon

    Hal, thanks for the thoughtful response. I’m so glad to hear that things have worked out fine for you and you’re satisfied with the money you’re earning as a novelist. Obviously you’re off to a good start. I hope you’ll keep up the tempo.

    As a footnote, I’d like to add for the record that I have no ulterior motives to steer anyone in any particular direction; nor do I have any financial interests vested in any of the alternatives mentioned. I’m just a writer sharing what I believe is true with my readers. Again, congratulations for your success! I really am happy to hear that because it also gives me hope for the future of my own writing career (despite the fact that I don’t write novels but screenplays).


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