The stereotype of the writer starving for his or her art holds true, a survey suggests.
A study by the New Zealand Society of Authors found the mean annual income of a New Zealand writer, excluding outside full-time work, averaged $15,383, compared with the minimum wage of $23,400.
The society's president, Paul Smith, said the study, taking in about a quarter of the group's 1200 members, found 34 per cent couldn't write without financial help from friends and family.
Only 17 per cent of the 355 mid-career authors, or those with three to six published books, surveyed made enough to live from their writing.
"Authors write because that is who they are. They write because they have to," Mr Smith said. "But they are also the most poorly paid members of the artistic community."
However, New Zealand writers played a key role in shaping national identity and some, like Man Booker Prize nominee Lloyd Jones, were playing to an international audience.
"We have exceptionally high reading rates. A Reader's Digest poll found the second most respected New Zealander, behind Sir Edmund Hillary, was Margaret Mahy." This year's Auckland Readers and Writers week drew 12,000 people, breaking previous records in New Zealand, he said.
In the past four years, only 30 per cent of mid-level writers had received a grant. Nine per cent of the surveyed group's income came from the Author's Fund, set up in 1973 by Norman Kirk to help authors live while writing.