Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Writer Career: The Rich Life of the Poet (or How Much Money Does a Poet Make?)

This morning I took a test on the website (there was a link from the MSN homepage, I wasn't thinking of switching jobs or anything).

The quiz was on who makes more money. I apparently have no idea of who makes what as I got a score of 50%. I even thought a prison guard earned more than a teacher, but no, the teacher earns about $20K more. Who knew?

After I took this this, I typed in "writer" into the career search engine and learned the national average salary of a writer is $53,800. Wow, I must really be dragging the average down.

So I decide to see if they had the career of "Poet" and lucky day, they did. Here's what they wrote:

Poet Job Description

Writes narrative, dramatic, or lyric poetry for magazines, books, and other publications: chooses subject matter and suitable form to express personal feeling and individual experience, or to narrate story or event. May write doggerel or other type verse. (Source: eDOT Job Description)

Yes, yes, and yes, that's me! I wonder how much my US National Average Salary is? Answer: $62,035!? What?!

Yes, dear Readers, you heard me right, our average salary for a poet is $62,035 a year (with a low being $43K and a high being $97,482.)

I had thought they had calculated the salary based on Maya Angelou and then the rest of us, but no, it seems this is their average.

Will the poets who are making the national average please contact me and tell me how you are doing it? And will the poet making $97K please let us in on your secret.

Could one of those poets be Wyn Cooper and his poem "Fun," which was later turned into the Sheryl Crow song? Could another poet be Billy Collins for speaking gigs? But the others? I'm scratching my head.

According to Career Builder, here are people poets are making more than:

prison guards
building inspectors
interior designers
bank tellers

I think someone needs to tell my bank account that I am running not only under the National Average of poets, but even below the lowest salary.

I also looked up "Clown" as a career: $30,500.

And "Mime." Yes, that is an actual mime. See their Job Description.

Mime Job Description
Presents serious, humorous, or burlesqued interpretations of emotions, dramatic actions, and various situations through body movements, facial expressions, and gestures. (Source: eDOT Job Description)

Salary? Just a little less than a writer at $53,278.

You know if my job as a poet didn't pay so well, I'd have a couple really good careers to fall back on.

BTW, if you do visit the website, do not be surprised if you get the "Internet Explorer cannot open this page..." error. I received it quite a lot. My thought is that it's been put together by mimes and clowns, as apparently these salaries have been.

Who knew we were all so rich?

* * *


  1. I grew up believing that my destiny was to be a writer and/or flight attendant. I envisioned a very glamorous existence that would have me looking beautiful at all times and decked out in the most expensive designer clothes and shoes with perfectly manicured nails.

    Up until last January I was both a writer and a flight attendant. I can tell you that as tickled as I was to be living both my dreams, it was far from glamorous thanks to long hours, cranky passengers, quick turnarounds, tight deadlines and sitting in a cramped galley wearing my polyester uniform, drugstore brand make up and eating my crew meal next to a stinky garbage bag.
    And for the record, I have yet to own any real designer clothing or footwear because writers and flight attendants just don't make that kinda' loot!
    A rude awakening that will give me writing material for years to come :P

  2. Adrienne,

    I think it's very cool you ended up living both dreams.

    Also, we will have to talk so you can explain to me why I don't have to worry when I get on a plane-- I am afraid to fly and I told myself when my new book comes out I will attend AWP in Washington DC, which means I will be getting on a plane.

    I haven't been a plane since 1999.

    Anyway, I completely admire anyone who had to get into a plane for their job because honestly, it is my biggest greatest fear.

    Thx for your note. Oh and I get my designer clothing and footwear at consignment shops. ;-)

  3. $62K a year? Really? I wonder how they came up with that number. U.S. Poet Laureate makes $35K annually.

  4. Kelli, you have to remember that "writer" doesn't mean "poet" (though it may include poets). I'm sure they're referring to people who write for a living—something I do. In my case the demands of Caesar are addressed by marketing writing (brochures, print ads, Powerpoints, Web sites, etc.). I make more in a week of marketing writing (though I seldom have a straight week of paid writing projects) than I've made in the last 10 years from writing poetry. I still have to supplement my income with adjunct teaching (face to face and online), and I've learned to do basic Web and print design over the years to fill in the many cracks.

    My point is this: the only way to answer your question—How much money does a poet make?—would be to survey poets and in the survey break out the various sources of income. I'm sure the results would be that most poets are paid for being teachers, with money from poetry itself accounting for a tiny portion of their income.

    This is something Poets & Writers ought to take up instead of publishing statistically meaningless surveys of MFA programs.

  5. The only way the figures might make sense is if they include income from sources other than writing, like teaching and so on. Even then it seems doubtful. Maybe they're also including the salary of the CEO and Board of Directors of PoetCorp Incorporated. (Don't go Googling for that one, I might be making it up.)

    And a mime makes more than a clown? What the #*!?%*#!?

  6. That is crazy! They must be calculating based on teaching and other avenues of income. I went on these sites before I left my full-time job which showed the average pay at about 10K more than I made (based on years of experience) and same thing for my husband's job so I do wonder about those postings at the basest level.

    Although, being called a poet and making just over the poverty level would be fine by me :)

  7. They must have been drunk when compiling those figures. What a load of crap. Without a steady day job and side work (besides the poetry and fiction) I'd be living in a van down by the river.


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