There is no exact figure for best-selling novelist J.K. Rowling’s earnings, but reports have placed the author’s yearly salary at between £25,000 and £30,000. For comparison, the average UK university professor earns around £50,000 per year, with some earning more than £100,000. More recently, Rowling has launched a new literary agency and represents her own works as well as those of other authors. Her new agency, Pottermore, handles all aspects of her former employer, the Harry Potter franchise, and she reportedly earns 7% of annual sales revenue from her work – which amounts to a potential £1.7 million per year. In 2020, she became a Knight in the Order of Harry Potter, was made an Honorary Freeman of the City of London, and launched a new ‘Order of the Harry Potter Knight’ to represent and commemorate her 70 years of writing.
The Successful Author
Rowling’s example highlights the lucrative potential for successful authors, especially in an age where traditional publishing models are changing. The ‘self-publishing boom’ saw an explosion in the number of writers taking on authorship as a full-time profession or at least a side hustle, and several have gone on to become best-selling authors. John Grisham saw his legal thriller The Litigation become the best-selling book of 2020 with over 5.3 million copies sold worldwide, and the legal thriller genre earned him over £50 million in 2020. His debut book, A Litigation, was published in 1996 and became an instant international best-seller. Since then, Grisham has gone on to write over 20 legal thrillers featuring Tony Drake, his trademark ‘hard-boiled’ detective character, and was made an Honorary Freeman of the City of London in 2020. In December 2020, it was reported that the lawyer-cum-novelist’s 2020 sales were valued at £18.9 million – more than £5 million of which came from his backlist. His 2020 earnings also make him the best-paid writer in the UK, earning him the title ‘Super-Writer’.
The Changing Landscape Of Publishing
Self-publishing has opened up new professional opportunities for authors, allowing them to experiment with formats and engage with audiences in different ways. The democratising potential of the internet has also had a dramatic impact on the industry, with digital bookstores such as Amazon and Apple helping to break down geographical, cultural, and economic barriers to literature. The rise of online review sites – such as Goodreads – and the growing number of ‘native’ app stores (Apple, Google, etc.) give readers the power to discover books and authors they might not have heard of before, while also providing a lifeline to smaller and independent businesses through affiliate marketing and blog tours.
The Rise Of The Freelance Author
Famously, the most successful self-published writer is not employed by a major publishing house – they are, in fact, their own boss. Australian author Matt Abbott is valued at over £20 million and has had five of his books make it to the Top Five of The International Best Sellers list, with sales totaling over 23 million copies worldwide. Abbott also acts as an adviser to the UK Government on copyright issues and founded the Australian Digital Library – a non-profit, government-backed organisation devoted to preserving digital works.
Self-publishing is certainly not a get-rich-quick scheme, and it takes a lot of determination and entrepreneurial spirit to become a successful indie author. However, with the right guidance and support structure, it is possible to achieve great things – and, for many, writing is no longer a ‘side hustle’ but a full-time profession.
The Changing Nature Of The Literary Agency
In recent years, traditional agencies have begun to adopt different business models to stay afloat in a world where more authors are deciding to go independent. One of the more interesting recent trends is the rise of ‘super-agencies’, or those comprising of several smaller agencies under one roof. The benefits of having several agencies under one umbrella is that they can negotiate better deals with publishers, increase their exposure, and provide a broader marketing strategy.
Where Will This Lead?
Publishing is a notoriously risky business, and, as outlined above, many once-trditional agency heads are now becoming self-employed authors. Will this mean the end of the literary agency? Who knows? Perhaps, as more and more people see writing as a lucrative and fulfilling career path, it will lead to a future where traditional agencies become redundant. After all, the most successful self-publishing authors often publish through larger companies – the better to negotiate more favourable terms for the books they produce.
Regardless of whether or not traditional agencies disappear, the rise of the freelance author will no doubt lead to changes in how we as a society value literature, and perhaps even create new demands and opportunities for writers.