Does passion pay off? The socio-economic position of writers and illustrators

1. Profile


The writers and illustrators form the oldest group of artists surveyed. 61% are 45 or older and one in three is 55 or older.


The gender distribution in the group as a whole is almost 50/50. As in the other groups of artists the ratio is not the same for all age groups. While in the youngest age group (aged 35 or younger) women are overrepresented with 62% in the 65+ age group they are under-represented with 37% and the male-female distribution is therefore reversed.


89% of the writers and illustrators hold a higher education qualification and the most common qualification (38% of respondents) is a university master’s degree. The percentage of artistic qualifications among the writers and illustrators (37%) is the lowest compared with the other groups of artists. With this in mind it is important to know that a curriculum course only exists for illustrators.


A quarter of writers and illustrators consider themselves to be up-and-coming and 45% as a recognised artist.


The study focused on writers of fiction and non-fiction and on illustrators. The genre practised by the largest subgroup is children’s literature. (Just over half these respondents are illustrators.) 40% write prose and 32% poetry. Literary non-fiction and essays, youth literature and comic books are each written by approximately a quarter of the group. A fifth of the writers and illustrators are active in a single genre. 30% combines two genres and a quarter combines three genres.

2. Activities, remuneration and time allocation


The most common artistic activity among literary artists is writing or illustrating their own work: 80% of the respondents stated they did so in 2014. 62% of them were also remunerated for this activity. Approximately two thirds of the group gave readings, approximately 57% published a work and worked on commissions. Publications and commissions are generally remunerated. Common activities such as research and prospecting and promotion (performed by 42% of the respondents) are not generally remunerated. Three-quarters of the writers and illustrators stated they published at least one book in 2014.


As in the other disciplines, giving lessons and workshops (in their particular artistic discipline) represent an important activity from which they earned income – this applies to a good 40% of the respondents. This percentage is somewhat higher than in the other art disciplines. The main context in which the lessons or workshops are given is in the amateur arts circuit or cultural-educational associations. Business aspects and administration – as well as work related to literary activities – were cited by approximately a quarter of the respondents. This work is not usually remunerated.


A small 50% of the respondents also stated that they performed artistic activities in other disciplines. In 2014, one in ten performed a remunerated activity as a visual artist and one in ten performed a non-remunerated activity as a visual artist. 12% took part in a performance.


After the visual artists, writers and illustrators are most likely out of all the artists to perform a non-art-related job. This applied to 40% of respondents. These jobs are mainly found in (non-artistic) education and training (38%) and public administration.


On average writers and illustrators spend 59% of their time on artistic activities as an author or illustrator (type 1). Therefore they score high compared with other disciplines. 22% of their time is devoted to activities or work that is completely outside the arts sector.

3. Income profile


Writers and illustrators rarely conduct their artistic practices in paid employment or via employment agencies. The most common status under which they work is the main occupation self-employed status (37%) and the secondary occupation self-employed status (28%). The vast majority of these do so in a sole proprietorship (81%).


Literary artists that work under the main occupation self-employed status earned an average of €20,000 on an annual basis (for all their activities). Half of them earned €17,000 or less. The quarter with the highest income earned €27,000 or more. Only self-employed visual artists earned more (if we compare the medians). The income of writers and illustrators that worked under the secondary occupation self-employed status, combined with paid employment, earned a median income of €4,700 billed and €28,500 from paid employment. On average the writers and illustrators that operate entirely in paid employment, earned €21,700 and have a median income of €20,600. This group of artists earns the higher income of the artists in paid employment.


The average income of writers and illustrators (employees only) increases over time, from €16,000 among those aged 35 or younger to €27,700 for those aged 55-64 years. The gender gap in literature is the greatest of all the art disciplines. On average in the 35-44 and 55-64 age groups the men earned almost twice as much as the women.


Among writers and illustrators the percentage of income from literary core activities (type 1) is on average 33%, while they spend 59% of their time on this work. 49% originates from art-related activities (types 1, 2 and 3). In contrast they are the group of artists with the highest income originating from other paid work (36%) (type 4) and that are least likely to turn to unemployment benefits (just 5%).

12% of writers and illustrators earned all their income from literary activities (type 1) and 26% from activities within the arts (types 1, 2 and 3).


3% of respondents indicated that they could fall back on benefits built up from the artist status, 7% on a different unemployment benefit.


One in five of the writers received a subsidy in 2014, amounting to an average of €7,955, with a median of €7,500. The percentage of artists that stated they received a subsidy is greatest in the subsidised sectors (literature and film). The average income from copyrights amounted to €6,600. However, the median is €2,000, which indicates that a rather small group earned high sums from copyrights.


At €12,300, the average professional expenses are rather low compared with the other artistic disciplines. The main expenses for writers and illustrators are those related to their workplace, costs of materials, administration and other non-specified expenses.

4. Job satisfaction

Overall artists are extremely satisfied with the content-related aspects of their job. Literary artists are no exception in this respect. Over 90% stated they are (very) satisfied with the content-related challenges and artistic aspects of the job and approximately 80% with the possibilities for personal development and developing their practice.

Approximately one third of the writers and illustrators are satisfied with the remuneration they receive for their work and a slightly larger group indicated they are dissatisfied. 56% are dissatisfied with the level of their total income as an artist. 60% is negative regarding job security and one third also estimates their future prospects as an artist to be negative. These negative assessments related to the extrinsic aspects of the art are in line with the other disciplines.

When it comes to the recognition they receive from the public the writers and illustrators are clearly positive (80%), as are the other artists. As far as dealings related to feedback from critics, the media and journalists are concerned opinions are more divided. This too is consistent with the general picture.

Writers and illustrators – with a largely soloist profession practised from home – find, significantly more than artists from film, music or the performing arts, that their career is easy to combine with a family. They are also least likely, along with the visual artists, to consider giving up their career as a professional artist.

5. Support

The writers and illustrators are the most satisfied with the support they obtain from their professional organisation of all the groups of artists. 50% of the respondents are affiliated to the Flemish Authors’ Association (Vlaamse Auteursvereniging). 70% are members of a management company. As a group they display most dissatisfaction with the possibilities for further artistic education.

Writers and illustrators seek markedly less advice from colleagues compared with the other artists (just 55% do so – this is followed by the group of visual artists, with 70%). Writers and illustrators turn more to their accountant as a source of advice (60%). The Flemish Authors’ Association (VAV) representative constitutes a source of advice for 40% of the respondents. One in four seeks advice from the Flemish Literature Fund (VFL).


Delphine Hesters

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