How Much Money Do Historians Make From Their Writing? (2023)

By Erin Bartram |


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This is our third mailbag column! Folks ask us questions about the wherefores and what-have-yous of history, we try to answer them. This time, it’s a question that undergraduate students often ask (because they’re the only ones brave enough), but it’s an important one that’s central to our mission here at Contingent.

How much money do historians make from all the writing they do?

Unless you’re talking about David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin, or Michael Beschloss, most of the time the answer is “zilch.”

That’s a bit of a simplification, but not too much. There are kinds of historical writing that can and do earn money for the authors, and kinds that don’t. The professional writing that most historians do falls in the latter category.

When it comes to what kind of writing pays, the biggest factor is form. Historians write in a number of different forms, and communicate in even more (think podcasts, documentaries, interviews), but I’m going to focus on the two big ones: books and articles.

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Historians write books. That may seem like an obvious point, but it’s an important one. Historians are, perhaps more than any other academic field, a “book-based discipline.” Books are often considered the best (and most prestigious) way for a historian to communicate. The history books you are most likely to encounter in a library or bookstore are what we call “trade books.” These are published for a general audience by a commercial publisher. The historian generally receives both an advance against royalties and future royalty payments for this kind of book, but most historians publishing these books are not selling as many copies and earning as much money as the best-selling historians listed at the beginning, and it’s very difficult to make a living doing this. Historian Megan Kate Nelson has written a bit about the financial realities of this writing, and her Twitter thread is worth reading.

Most of the books written by historians, especially those working in colleges and universities, are published by academic presses, not commercial presses. They’re usually affiliated with universities (Yale University Press, for example, or the University of North Carolina Press) and the books they publish are written for other historians and specialists in related fields. Historians do earn royalties for these books, but at a much lower rate than they would with a trade book. Advances are not unheard of, but they’re rare, and much smaller than the advance you’d get from a commercial press. Since the primary markets for these books are individual scholars and university libraries, the number of copies printed is much smaller than with a trade book—in the hundreds to low thousands—and they usually cost much more.

One historian told me the most money he’d ever made off of a book was $1500 in royalties; none of his other books had come close. Another told me she’d received a $2000 advance, but had never received any royalties. Academic publishers are always on the look for so-called “crossover” books that could sell well with the general public, and some even have trade divisions. But for the most part, academic books sell to a small audience, and given the time and cost of doing the research required to publish one of these books, they don’t make any money for their authors. They don’t make a lot of money for their presses either, though the people who work for a university press are paid.

Articles are another form, but there’s an even greater difference here between the versions for specialists and for the general public. Articles like the ones we publish here at Contingent, or the ones you see in mainstream newspapers and magazines, are meant for a general audience. These can be things like short articles, features, editorials, and book reviews. These kinds of articles pay, but they don’t pay that much, and even some really big outlets don’t pay anything for some of the history articles they publish. Much like writing books for the general public, writing history articles and reviews for the public is not a way most historians could make a living.

Academic journal articles are published in (big surprise) academic journals. Other than a few journals that will publish in any area, these journals are usually focused on a time, a place, or a theme, e.g. the Journal of Economic History, Nineteenth-Century Studies, Western Historical Quarterly. Depending on the journal, academic articles can be between 3,000 and 15,000 words, with most falling between 6,000 and 11,000 unless they are book reviews, which are much shorter. For reference, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Atlantic article “The Case for Reparations,” a monumentally long feature, is around 16,000 words. Historians are not paid for academic journal articles at all.1

You may be wondering why historians don’t just publish in the forms that pay. Why bother with academic publishers and journal articles? It really comes down to one major difference between commercial and academic publishing, a difference that is central to why historians write what they write and publish where they publish. It’s something called peer review.

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Peer review is a system in which other scholars in your field read and evaluate your work before a journal or press accepts it for publication. Often it’s what we call “double blind” review, meaning that the reviewers don’t know who the author is, and the author doesn’t know who reviewed their work. These reviewers aren’t just fact-checking, and they’re not assessing whether the piece will sell; they’re determining whether your grasp of the existing research in the field is complete, whether your own research is good, whether your argument is valid, whether your writing is clear, and whether your book or article contributes something new to the field.

This isn’t to say that commercial presses and magazines don’t have people review manuscripts, but the truth is it’s not like what happens in academic writing. There are lots of best-selling works of history that are great, but there are lots that wouldn’t pass peer review. There are even plenty that an academic editor wouldn’t have bothered to send out for peer review.

One way you can see the difference between history written for a general audience and history that’s been through peer review is in the citations. All history books published by academic presses and all history articles published by academic journals will have full citations, usually endnotes at the back of the book. Some commercial history books, especially crossovers, will have citations, but it’s not common, and they’re often simplified or in a different format. History articles published in magazines and newspapers never have citations.2

Just as you don’t get paid for writing articles, the peers who review articles don’t get paid either. Even the journal editors don’t usually get paid; in most cases, they’re a tenured or tenure-track faculty member at a university where the journal “lives,” and the journal effectively buys out some of the faculty member’s courses each semester to give them time to do the work.

If you’ve ever wanted to read an academic journal article, though, you may have noticed that it costs money to download it—anywhere between $5 and $90. The article’s author isn’t getting that money. The journal itself isn’t getting that money. Instead, it goes to the company that has the rights to store that article, along with thousands of others, and charge for access. Universities can buy access to every journal a company sells, but only the richest universities can afford access to all of these companies, and people who don’t have access through a university are excluded unless they want to pay directly.

So why do historians do all of this academic writing? Because publishing is part of their job. It’s one of the things tenure-track professors have to do to keep their jobs (get tenure) and earn any raises or promotions after tenure, and only peer-reviewed books and articles count. Tenure-track faculty do have periodic semester- or year-long sabbaticals to help them spend focused time on research and writing, but it’s not easy. For a historian, the time from initial research to publication is measured in years, not months, but productivity expectations continue to rise.

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Grad students and contingent faculty are often writing academic books and articles in the hopes this will help them get tenure-track jobs, but it should be noted that research and publishing are explicitly not part of the job description for most contingent faculty, even if they’re full-time. Historians working for museums, archives, and historic sites also publish academic books and articles, but their employment doesn’t usually depend on it. Historians who aren’t affiliated with a college or university can publish in academic journals and with academic presses, since the peer-review system evaluates the work itself, regardless of the scholar’s background, but it’s impossible to make a living this way.

This matters because it’s not just that most academic writing doesn’t earn you anything—most of the time, it costs you. Doing historical research and writing is time-consuming and expensive. It requires traveling to archives, which means paying for transportation and living expenses. These expenses are much greater if you’re traveling overseas, but they’re significant even if you’re traveling one state over. Contingent faculty, even those who are full-time, aren’t usually given access to institutional research funding to defray the costs of their research; but if they’re still on the academic job market, they have to keep researching and writing if they hope to get a tenure-track job. Even if you’re explicitly not on the tenure-track market, hiring committees still ask about your current and future research, so it’s implied that you should still be doing this even if you’re not receiving any institutional support.

But beyond the need to publish these kinds of things because they’re what your boss is looking for, there are reasons scholars want to publish. Even though I think it’s important to communicate historical research to the general public, I think there is still a place for this other kind of historical writing. For instance, I have an article coming out soon in the journal Religion & American Culture. I’m really proud of it and I think it’s good, but it’s really written for a specialist audience. This doesn’t mean I think it’s “above” a general audience, just that it’s contributing to a conversation among a very specific community of practitioners.

Still, if there are ways that historians can write for the public, why do we need Contingent? To answer that, I’d simply ask you to look at the history writing you see in most magazines, and glance at the best-sellers in history on Amazon, many of which don’t really seem like history books anyway. When you’re an editor or a commercial press deciding whether to publish a work of history, you may be concerned that it’s well-researched and important, but you also want to make sure that it sells.

There are ideas in the book trade about what kind of history sells because there are ideas about what kind of people are into history. This means that a lot of topics aren’t considered marketable, and therefore aren’t worth the risk of the time, money, and column or booklist space they’d consume. Hot-takes (“10 ways Trump is like James Buchanan”) and new books on familiar topics (the Founders, wars, presidents, colonialism exploration) are safer. Some of those books do present really new and interesting interpretations of the past, and that is really important, but the overall effect of this trend is to reinforce the perception that history is about great (white) men, their politics, their money, and their wars. It doesn’t mean that other kinds of history can’t find their way through to a general audience in this form, but it just doesn’t happen much.

For historians working as contingent faculty, or working outside of higher ed altogether, this means the only option left for publishing their work is through academic presses and journals, but doing it without access to university research funding, or even a steady income, only to be pay-walled out of accessing your work when it’s published.

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This is why we are committed to paying contributors to Contingent. We think they’ve got great stories to tell, but we don’t think they should have to write for free just to share their work with a broad audience. It’s why we depend on reader contributions to keep going.

Contingent pays all of its writers. Like what you read? Donateto keep the magazine going. Learn moreabout our mission.

  1. I’m not getting into open-access here both because it’s another kettle of fish altogether and because it’s not very common for journals in this field.
  2. This is one of the ways Contingent is different.

How Much Money Do Historians Make From Their Writing? (1)

Erin Bartram

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Erin Bartram is the School Programs Coordinator at The Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, CT. She earned a PhD in 2015 from the University of Connecticut, where she studied 19th century United States history with a focus on women, religion, and ideas. With Joe Fruscione, she co-edits the series Rethinking Careers, Rethinking Academia for the University Press of Kansas. You can read more of her writing on history, pedagogy, and higher ed at her website,

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How much money can you make from writing? ›

Self-published authors can earn 40% to 60% royalties for the selling price of a book, while traditionally published authors typically earn 10% to 12% royalties. First-time authors willing to publish traditionally will receive a prepayment. This is usually $10,000 (not so much for first-time authors).

What do historians do to make money? ›

Most historians make money by writing books and teaching. You also could become a consultant to movies/tv/games set in your period, especially if you become an expert in period clothing or furnishings. You also could get a job with museums or do contract work for them.

How much do authors get paid for their first book? ›

How much can authors expect to earn from their books? A first-time author with a traditional publishing deal might expect an advance of $1,000-$10,000 and 5-18% royalties once they “earn out” their advance. Self-published authors do not receive advances, but their royalties can reach up to 70% for ebook editions.

What historians do all day? ›

Historians typically do the following: Gather historical data from various sources, including archives, books, and artifacts. Analyze and interpret historical information to determine its authenticity and significance. Trace historical developments in a particular field.

Who is the highest paid writer? ›

Dan Brown

Brown is the highest-paid author in the world, and his bestselling books “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels and Demons” is considered to be two of the popular movies in the world.

Who is the richest writer in the world? ›

  1. J.K. Rowling. Net worth: $1 billion. ...
  2. James Patterson. Net worth: $750 million. ...
  3. Candy Spelling. Net worth: $600 million. ...
  4. Paulo Coelho. Net worth: $500 million. ...
  5. Stephen King. Net worth: $400 million. ...
  6. Danielle Steel. Net worth: $385 million. ...
  7. Nora Roberts. Net worth: $370 million. ...
  8. Pleasant Rowland. Net worth: $310 million.

Can you make money writing history? ›

There are kinds of historical writing that can and do earn money for the authors, and kinds that don't. The professional writing that most historians do falls in the latter category.

Are historians paid well? ›

A significant number of historians have obtained graduate education. A Historian gets an average compensation that can range from $29,540 and $116,340 depending on tenure and industry expertise. get an average compensation of sixty-eight thousand four hundred dollars per year.

Is being a historian stressful? ›

High. Historians tend not to find their jobs stressful, which likely contributes positively to career satisfaction.

What skills do historians need? ›

Historical Research Skills

You should be able to formulate historical questions, obtain historical data, evaluate the data, contextualize the data, and present your history in a meaningful form.

Is historian a good career? ›

This isn't a fast-growing career, but it is growing at a steady rate. If you enjoy history and you want to go into a career in history, becoming a historian makes sense. This is a great career for those that love to learn about the past.

How long does it take to become a historian? ›

A historian needs to first graduate from high school and go on to earn a history degree at a 4-year institution. Upon receiving one's bachelor's degree, the prospective historian needs to attend a graduate program in their chosen area of specialization.

How many books does a first time author sell? ›

The average traditionally published non-fiction book sells about 250-300 copies in the first year, but when we manage a book launch, our target is to sell 1,000 copies in the first 3 months. Why 1,000? Because at that number of sales, a book has the momentum it needs to keep spreading by word of mouth.

How much does a first book sell for? ›

Then I'd say if you're getting an advance on your first novel, it's most likely going to run somewhere between $5000 and $15,000, depending on the publisher and the story you're telling.

Can you make a living as an author? ›

Writers can work full or part time, and earn a supplemental income to help cover the bills or generate a lucrative primary income. If you have the skills and the motivation, you get to define your own career.

Can writing a book make you rich? ›

#7 Nobody Gets Rich as an Author

The average royalty through a traditional publisher is 10%. So even if you sell 10,000 copies of $10 book, you're only walking away with $10 grand. If it's not profitable, why do so many people write books?

Is writing a book worth it? ›

Writing a novel is definitely worth it. You'll have the satisfaction of knowing you've created something entirely new, not just rewritten what other people have done. You'll be able to share your story with readers all across the world (if you're at all famous) and earn from it.

How do authors get rich? ›

How Do Authors Make Money? Authors typically make money either through a traditional book publishing company, or through a self-publishing marketplace. In either instance, the author earns money based on how many copies of the book are sold.

Who is the richest female author? ›

Barbara Taylor Bradford

This British-American novelist is worth $300 million. Barbara Taylor-Bradford was born in Leeds, England, on May 10, 1933. Her debut novel was 'A Woman of Substance' which was published in 1979 and remains one of her best-known books.

Who is the world richest kid? ›

Princess Charlotte of Cambridge

Princess Charlotte of Cambridge is the richest kid in the world with an estimated net worth of $5 billion. Her brother Prince George might one day get the throne, however, the title of the richest kid in the world as of today is with Princess Charlotte of Cambridge.

Where do historians make the most money? ›

Our research found that Alaska is the best state for historians, while Alaska and Massachusetts are ranked highest in terms of median salary.
1. Alaska.
Total Historian Jobs:2
Highest 10 Percent Earn:$161,000
3 more rows
6 Apr 2021

Where can I write stories and get paid? ›

Where To Submit Short Stories For Money: 19 Best Websites That Pay You To Write
  • Duotrope.
  • Poets & Writers.
  • The Grinder.
  • Readers Digest.
  • One Story.
  • Vestal Review.
  • The BBC.
  • Flash Fiction Online.
19 May 2022

Where can I submit my writing for money? ›

Get Paid to Write: 14 Websites That Pay Writers $100+
  • FreelanceMom. ...
  • Vibrant Life. ...
  • Transitions Abroad. ...
  • Christian Science Monitor. ...
  • A List Apart. ...
  • Barefoot Writer. ...
  • Zift. ...
  • Income Diary.
1 Dec 2021

Is becoming a historian hard? ›

Becoming a historian is hard – and can be weird. While the profession has made huge strides in creating space for more voices and different perspectives, the community of historical research can seem mysterious and even off-putting.

Are historians happy? ›

A solid majority of historians enjoy their work environment, probably contributing to overall higher satisfaction with working as a historian.

What is the highest paying career? ›

Highest Paying Occupations
General internal medicine physiciansThis wage is equal to or greater than $208,000 per year
Family medicine physiciansThis wage is equal to or greater than $208,000 per year
Emergency medicine physiciansThis wage is equal to or greater than $208,000 per year
17 more rows
8 Sept 2022

Do historians travel a lot? ›

What They Do: Historians research, analyze, interpret, and write about the past by studying historical documents and sources. Work Environment: Historians must travel to carry out research. Most work full time.

Is there a demand for historians? ›

There is in fact much demand for historians. In a credentialing society, graduate work in history has a bright future.

How do I get a job as a historian? ›

You can become a historian with a minimum education level of a bachelor's degree, however, because the profession of a historian resides in the intellectual field, it is recommended that you obtain further education with a master's degree or Ph. D. in a specialized area.

Can you get rich by writing a book? ›

I'm not saying you can't make money from writing books. The likes of John Grisham, Stephen King, and JK Rowling prove you can. Even if your royalty were only $1 per book, if you sold 1 million books, then you'd become a millionaire. But few of us can sell as many books as James Patterson or Danielle Steele.

How much money can I make writing essays? ›

If you are a talented writer working as a freelancer, you can write college level papers for $20 to $40 a page. There are some writers out there that can make $500 to $1,000 a week. If you are a complete writer and have no math skills whatsoever, that means you can make $2,000 to $4,000 a month.

How much do paper writers make? ›

While ZipRecruiter is seeing annual salaries as high as $102,500 and as low as $20,000, the majority of Essay Writer salaries currently range between $48,000 (25th percentile) to $80,000 (75th percentile) with top earners (90th percentile) making $93,000 annually across the United States.

Where can I sell my writing? ›

Get Paid to Write Using Freelance Websites
  • CopyPress. CopyPress is a content-marketing agency that provides its own content management system that freelancers can use to connect with projects from CopyPress' clients. ...
  • Fiverr. ...
  • iWriter. ...
  • nDash. ...
  • Textbroker. ...
  • Upwork.
19 May 2022

Can a writer become a millionaire? ›

Be prepared to work long and hard

Consider the example of Stephen King, who is certainly a millionaire writer. He is also one of the most hardworking writers, and has published scores of best-selling books. It will usually take several books for a good writer to hit the first million.

How can I make a lot of money in writing? ›

  1. Start a blog. Blogging is a tried-and-true method for writers to make money online. ...
  2. Create blog posts (for others) ...
  3. Establish a niche website. ...
  4. Self-Publish a book. ...
  5. Create affiliate content. ...
  6. Write scripts for video creators. ...
  7. Write show notes for podcasts. ...
  8. Create written content for social media.

What type of writing makes the most money? ›


A copywriter is one of the most sought-after writers by businesses. Their goal is to help business owners make more money by writing laser-focused copy meant to convert their target audience into clients.

Where can I write a story and get paid? ›

Where To Submit Short Stories For Money: 19 Best Websites That Pay You To Write
  • Duotrope.
  • Poets & Writers.
  • The Grinder.
  • Readers Digest.
  • One Story.
  • Vestal Review.
  • The BBC.
  • Flash Fiction Online.
19 May 2022

How many hours a day does JK Rowling write? ›

We can only work for so long. Pretty much, Rowling writes for six hours a day.

How do I sell my essay? ›

So here's a simple, three-step plan for selling your personal essay to magazines and other publications:
  1. Step 1: Identify your target markets. ...
  2. Step 2: Pitch your completed personal narrative. ...
  3. Step 3: Don't take rejection personally.
30 Jul 2019

Do peoples essays for money? ›

Join To Write Essays And Earn Money

We give you a unique opportunity to earn money by writing essays. has clients from all over the world who post hundreds of orders every day. In this case, our clients seek online essay writers writers to work on their projects and earn money online.

How much should I charge for a 1000 word essay? ›

For a 1,000-word article, a typical rate would be $200-$700, but it could range much lower or higher based on the factors mentioned above. Now that you know your value, before pitching a potential client, consider the value of content writing to them. What goals will the content help them reach?

How much should I charge for a 3 page essay? ›

The average amount to pay someone to write your essay is between $12 and $35 per page depending on the urgency of the paper and the technicality of the assignment.

How long is a one page essay? ›

There are roughly 300 words per every double-spaced page of Times New Roman 12 point font print. That means a 1 page essay will get you about 300 words. A 2 page essay will get you about 600 words. A 3 page essay will get you about 900 words.


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