Posted on October 01, 2019, 12:31 pm
9 mins

In 2017 The Writers’ Union of Iceland (RSÍ) did a survey among Union members to research authors earnings in Iceland. This was the first income survey the Union did among member’s and it will be repeated in 2020 to make a comparison. The survey included all types of writers:

Fiction, non-fiction and academic, script writers and playwrights, translators and professional writers, occasional and part-time writers.

422 Union members were invited to take part of which 94 finished the survey, or 22%. Women made up 42% of participants and men 58% which mainly represents the gender division within the Union.
58% of participants had writing as their main profession. 34% of the participants were full-time writers while 24% had a part-time job alongside writing and 42% had writing as a secondary occupation.
56 % had worked in the profession for 20 years or more.

66% hade made the standard publishing contract with their publisher, an agreement The Writers Union does with the Icelandic Publishing Association.
48% had received an advance on royalties for their last published book. We asked about the amount ranging from less than 700 EUR, 700-3.500 EUR or more than 3.500 EUR. Here we save a stark division between the amounts female and male authors receive in advance. 18% of women got less than 700 EUR in advance in contrast to 7% men, 64% women got between 700 and 3.500 EUR in advance and 50% men and 18% women and 43% men got more than 3.500 EUR of their royalties in advance.

Authors were asked about the sales numbers of their last published book. 50% reported that their last book had sold in less than 1000 copies, 39% in 1000-3000 copies and 11% had sold more than 3.000 copies. The sales were more evenly divided between men and women than the advances payed. 54% women and 47% men sold less than 1.000 copies, 35% women and 42% men sold between 1.000-and 3.000 copies and an even 11% of both sold more than 3.000 copies.

When asked about how much royalties authors estimated to receive in the next months for the book they had published last fall (the survey was conducted in April and in Iceland publishers settle royalties in June), women seemed to underestimate their forthcoming sales compared to the actual sales numbers of the book published before that. 84% women expected to get less than 7.000 EUR in royalties for their last published book, a more realistic number would be around 53% as the men reported. 17% of women thought they would receive in between 7.000 and 21.000 EUR while the number men reported, 36%, would have been a more realistic assessment. 0% of women thought they would receive more than 21.000 EUR and 11% men, which is by far closer to reality for women also.

In Iceland approx. 70-80 authors receive an annual government grant, the Icelandic Artists’ Salaries of €2.762 per month, for 3-12 months at a time. 29% of participants (26% women and 31% men) in the survey were recipients of this grant while 71% had not received a government funding while writing the last book they published.
27% reported to have an income from foreign royalties although this part was a very little part of writer’s overall incomes. Of those 42% counted their foreign royalties as less than 700 EUR per year, another 42% received an annual income of foreign royalties at between 700-7.000 EUR and only 16% received more than 7.000 EUR in foreign royalties. Nobody reported foreign royalties above 14.000 EUR.
77% supplemented their income with lecturing, seminars, readings, income from the PLR and audio library, prizes etc., or 84% of women and 71% of men. Although these other income areas did not make up a large proportion of the writer’s income. A staggering 92% reported earning less than 7.000 EUR annually from these income sources put together.

One of last year’s smash hits is currently sold at €27,41 (3,890 ISK). According to the publishing contract the writer gets 23% of the net price of every sold copy, so the author in this case would get ISK 629 (€4,43) for a copy. As a best seller in Iceland, 4 – 5.000 copies would be sold, and the writer would get approx. ISK 3.145.000 (€22.159) gross income. The average time to write a novel is 2,5 years, So it´s ISK 1.258.000 (€8.863) gross income pr. year for the writer. The minimal wages in Iceland 2019 are supposed to be ISK 3.804.000.- (€26.802). And less than 10 books every year become best-sellers, so the average sale of a new fiction is maybe 1000 copies.
And then how does a professional Icelandic author survive if he only works as a writer and doesn’t have a partner that makes most of the income for the family? What makes most difference is the 555 monthly salaries  (ISK 392.000 pr. month/€2.762) paid every year to authors from the government through the Icelandic Artists’ Salaries. This year 79 writers get the salary, 14 for a year, 17 for nine months, 30 for six months and 18 for three months.
The PLR in Iceland is loan based but not copyright based, that is; it´s a cultural support to those who write in Icelandic. In 2019 the amount paid pr. loan was ISK 60 (€0,42) and ISK 40 (€0,28) for translations into Icelandic. Those who benefit most from the PLR are translators of crime fiction and romantic novels and writers and translators of children books and books for young adults. The highest PLR sum paid in 2019 was ISK 3.222.614 (€22.705) and the lowest ISK 4.915 (€35,62). 780 writers got PLR this year.

Our research, the survey and a separate investigation into the earnings of 13 popular fiction and children’s book authors, shows that the average prominent writer is 53 years of age, has worked in the profession for over 25 years and has a median gross income of 320.038 ISK (€2.251) per month. The main source of income for most writers are the government grants, making for approx. 50-70% of gross income, with royalties making for only 20-30% of gross income.

Every year several writers receive awards for their work. The Icelandic Literary price is awarded in three categories; fiction, non-fiction and books for children and young adults. The winner in each category receives ISK 1.000.000 (€7.046), The Icelandic Translators Award goes to one translation every year, the translator gets ISK 500.000 (€3.523). Hagþenkir, the Association of Non-fiction and Educational Writers in Iceland conferred a special award for academic work of outstanding quality each year, the amount of the prize ISK 1.250.000.- (€8.807). Reykjavik City awards children books and books for young adults in three categories, original work, translation and illustrated work, the prize in each category is ISK 350.000 (€2.466). Two awards go specially to poets; Ljóðstafur Jóns úr Vör where one poem is awarded with a prize of ISK 300.000 (€2.114) and Maístjarnan, awarded by The Icelandic Writers Union and The National Library for the best poetry book of last year, ISK 350.000 (€2.466).
Two awards for a manuscript are awarded annually, The Tómas Guðmundsson prize for a poetry manuscript, ISK 800.000 (€5.637) and The Guðrún Helgadóttir prize ISK 1.000.000 (€7.046) for a manuscript for a children’s book or a book for young adults.