Pub Rants

Who Says You Can’t Get A Good Job With An English Degree?

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STATUS: I have one more big task I need to tackle before I can leave the office.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? HAPPIER by Jeff Leblanc

Over lunch I took a moment to catch up on my PW reading. Even though it’s a weekly magazine, it’s pretty easy for me to fall behind and have to tackle a couple issues all at once.

Over tea and biscotti (lunch of champions!), I was reading an article about a survey conducted by the National Endowment of the Arts on writer salaries. The article mentioned that the median wage/salary for an average worker in the US was around $39,500. The median wage/salary for a writer was around $44,000.

Now granted, this survey wasn’t limited to writers of book works but encompassed all professionals who make their living primarily by writing–be it for information industries, journalism, or for performing arts, etc.

I was a little bemused for I think the general assumption is that it’s a lot harder for a person to make a living via the writing arts. And yet, the salaries are above the median.

Guess that English degree is good for something after all!

Now imagine a lot of fiction authors are wondering when their median wage/salary will reach that level…. *grin*

25 Responses

  1. Anonymous said:

    This is a good example of how important it is to be able to write everything, not just fiction. Advertising needs copy. Medical journals need editors and freelance writers. And now with so much going on with the interwebs there are more opportunities than before.

  2. Suzanne Warr said:

    I like it! Nice to know the writers are pulling ahead. Course, I’m not sure that it applies directly to English degrees…the most common degree amongst my writing friends (including myself) is a history degree. Which I think is considered equally unemployable. 🙂

  3. Elena Gleason said:

    Yeah, this doesn’t directly relate to having an English degree, just what the average writing job pays. My guess is that data about the unemployment rate of English majors versus those with other majors would be much more depressing.

  4. Jason said:

    I think it also depends quite a bit on where you are, obviously. Places with lots of tech companies (hello, Seattle and SF) can be quite good to writers.

  5. Susan said:

    Jason is right, I work in the tech industry, and just about every job I have had I’ve gotten in part because I can put down “Creative Writing” as my college major on my resume. Employers in my industry are desperate for people who can write and also have tech skills. Now if you want a truly useless degree, major in business, a discipline that has basically no function except to satisfy the prejudices of parents who write tuition checks.

  6. Paul Anthony Shortt said:

    I love hearing things like this. 🙂 I have a lot of friends who chose “career” courses in college, sciences mostly, and none are actually working in the field they studied. Meanwhile, I have a BA and an MA in English, and I love my day job which allows me plenty of time to write. My wife didn’t even finish college and she has a solid position in a big company as well.

    I’ve always held that college is about so much more than the degree at the end. It’s about taking the time to figure out the person you want to be.

  7. Anonymous said:

    Yes, but how did they come up with this figure? Could it be that it happened by adding the millions a handful of authors make and the little money most writers earn and divining?

    Also, I don’t think it disputes the saying that very few people make a living by writing alone. There are actually many professions that are incredibly difficult to break into, but once you do, you make a comfortable living.

  8. Anonymous said:

    That’s interesting that it’s above the average. But, is that the average for people who have a college degree, or overall?
    I’d just like to throw out there that upon graduating in 2004 my starting salary as an electrical engineer was 60k. Probably a similar number of years in college. Just saying.

  9. MacEvoy DeMarest said:

    I see something like this and I’m encouraged.

    Then I remember that F. Scott Fitgerald sold 11 stories in 1919 at an average price of $361 (that’s like $4,500 a piece in today’s money).

    In 1931 he sold his story Babylon Revisited to the Saturday Evening Post for $4,000! That’s about $50,000 for those keeping score. For a single story!!

    Today most fiction writers would feel lucky if they get two free copies of the literary magazine that publishes their story.


  10. Neurotic Workaholic said:

    I have an English degree, and I’m studying to become a professor. I wish I could say that professors make that much money, but most of them don’t (at least not when they’re still starting out), not even the ones at the starting college.
    I’ve also been able to get jobs in retail. They’re not so good, though.

  11. Rachel said:

    As a recent graduate with an English degree, it is nice to finally feel vindicated after so many questions about the practicality of my major. The options for English degrees are not only diverse but tap into the broadly applicable skills the concentration provides. And for a writer, these statistics are like a second wind.

    Thanks for the heads up!

  12. Elissa M said:

    Too many people assume a college degree is the same as job training, and nothing can be further from the truth. Millions of people earn a living in jobs unrelated to their degrees, but that doesn’t mean their education was useless. A degree is an accomplishment, proof that you can persevere. But education is something to be pursued for life, not just for a few years before you join the job market.

    It doesn’t surprise me that writers, as a whole, earn more than the average worker. Obviously, most of those making the median or better are not primarily fiction writers. But it doesn’t really matter if these writers majored in English, Engineering, Music, or never got a degree.

    The letters on your degree do not define who you are or what you’re capable of doing. It’s how you apply yourself, not your degree, that will ultimately affect your life.

  13. Michelle Z said:

    I would love to find the job that involves writing and be happy. Great to know there are jobs that might actually pay you to live on something more then pasta. Of course like so many people I got a degree in something that would get me a “real” job. Maybe parents need to stop making choices for their kids because as several people have said most people don’t work in the field they have a degree in anyway.

  14. Deb said:

    I’m one of those fiction authors who’s wondering when I’ll make $44K from my writing, LOL.

    Truthfully, though — why don’t writers discuss this more than we do? Who said it was written in stone that the party who makes the least from a book deal is the person who wrote the book? We hear constantly about these minuscule percentages in book deals — why isn’t the author’s share higher, and who made it this way?

    Inquiring minds, yadda yadda…

  15. Kristin Laughtin said:

    I don’t even make that much in my day job right now. I’ll just hope I get there when I complete my MLIS.

    Or, you know, sell a bunch of novels.

    But I know that technical and copy writers can make decent money, and they’re probably responsible for much of that figure, in addition to the few authors who earn hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars.

  16. Anonymous said:

    My guess is that grant writing is also responsible for the above average salary figure… Experienced grant writers make 70+ (in the NE at least). It’s a skill that transfers, and it will be more and more in demand as typical college grads are graduating without very basic writing/communication skills.

  17. said:

    Thats uplifting to hear, because I read some info when applying to grad school last month that jobs for English majors with advanced degrees were few and far between.

    Nice blog too. New GFC follower. Found you through your post about book party launch ideas.

  18. deidraalexander said:

    My questions is on building a platform. When building an online platform, what kind of numbers would be needed to define a platform? My twitter account has 12,000 followers, my blog 2,000 hits per week, but it’s difficult to know when you’ve actually built a platform without knowing the thresholds.


  19. June said:

    Kirsten, first off I have to say I love your blog! Just stumbled across it this morning and have been reading entries back to 2007.

    Quick question: Do you or does your agency ever represent writers who have not yet finished their manuscript, and have only written say a portion of their potential novel?

  20. Laura Maylene said:

    Yes, but sadly, being a technical writer of software is a far cry from writing something that actually interests you. 🙂

    I’m a full-time writer/editor for a business publication, but of course I consider that writing an entirely different animal from my fiction work. I have no complaints about my job, and it’s nice to put my English lit degree to use, but let’s all talk when the average novelist makes $44,000 a year. (Insert crazed, hiccuping laughter here.)

    One thing I have learned over the years in the work force, however, is that solid writing skills are valued (and often desperately needed) in most professions and roles. I’ve had jobs that might not be defined as writing-related, but I ended up taking on lots of various writing duties because the companies needed those skills.

  21. kdoyle said:

    As Elissa M said, the degree is irrelevant, at least when it comes to getting a corporate job. The numbers probably reflect a significant proportion of technical and medical writers. I spent my fair share of time doing both, but it can be difficult to break into those fields.

  22. Cameron Storms said:

    I stumbled upon this, and I thought you might be able to help. I am currently working on an English Degree, and I love it. My dream career – excluding being published – is to become a literary agent, or even an editor for a publishing company. With that said, I have a few questions I hope you’ll be able to answer.
    – With the given information, what minor would you recommend for me?
    -Do you have any advice that might be helpful? It could be anything for while I’m in college, or something that would help in two years when it comes time for me to search for a job.

    Thanks a lot!

  23. Anonymous said:

    I realize I’m a bit late coming into this blog post but thanks for posting it. I’m in school now majoring in English and have literally had professors basically tell me it was stupid to major in English. I’d love to show this to them 😉