How Many Novelists are there in America?

January 14, 2014

While statistics and polls might provide a broad picture of shifting trends in U.S. writer demographics, getting accurate numbers to show how many novelists reside in America has proven problematic at best. Recent publishing stats tell us 67,254 books with an ISBN were published in 2012 and that there were 347,178 traditionally published books in 2011 versus 235,000 self-published. New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington, DC can be named the best markets for fiction sales. But these figures tell very little about the authors writing the books. How many of them are there exactly? And from those numbers, how many self publish, and how many actually make a living via writing rather than working on the book outside of a day job? The truth is, until more specific polls are conducted, any attempts to answer these questions would be an informed estimation at best.

Even the definition of novelist can be permeable. Taken in the broad sense, it would include self-published authors but those inclined to a more classic interpretation of the profession would say a novelist is one published via a traditional house and making a living writing. Given that seventy-six percent of all books released in 2008 were self-published and 291,000 titles released in 2012 were self-published, it seems impossible to leave the self-published author out of the equation. Either way, the numbers are growing. Between 1990 and 2005, there was a thirty nine percent increase in the number of writers and authors. But what percentage of those individuals wrote fiction? How many of them were self-published? Did a majority have a job and write outside business hours? Again, it becomes clear that these numbers give only an abstract idea of the novelists’ presence in America today.

However, specific numbers are out there to be found. NEA statistics show that survey respondents claiming writing as a main profession numbered 197,768 in 2009. The U.S. Bureau of Labor put that number at 145,900 in 2010. Sixty-eight percent of the 2010 group was self-employed. While these figures may seem to provide the answer to the author demographic question, they can be deceptive. For example, both agencies include, under the writer category, subcategories such as copywriters, crossword-puzzle creators, journalists, scriptwriters, and lyricists. Also, if the goal is to find the narrower margins for novelists earning a living through fiction, these figures do very little.

Until a more proficient system to efficiently calculate data regarding authors across America is set into motion, the notion of breaking down those numbers to present an accurate model further subcategorized to include novelists and more specifically self- versus traditionally published novelists remains illusive at best.


Source: The Millions

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