2012 Writing Income
Ever since 2007, I’ve been doing my best to talk openly about my income as an author. It’s occasionally awkward, but I also believe it’s helpful to new and aspiring writers. If nothing else, it lets me play Mythbuster with the fairy tale that writers are all fabulously wealthy with their own built-in laser tag arena and fleet of customized DeLoreans…
My income posts from previous years are here: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011.
2012 was an odd year. In many ways, it’s the best year I’ve ever had as an author. My eighth book with DAW came out in hardcover, and went through four printings in the first few months. I won a Hugo award. I saw some of my books come out in audio format for the first time ever. The goblin books were re-released as a trade paperback omnibus, and also sold to the Science Fiction Book Club.
So it was a little weird at first to realize that I made significantly less money in 2012 than I did in the prior year. The grand total for 2012 was $33,598.19 before expenses and taxes and all the rest. Compare that to almost $43,000 from 2011.
I figured the reason for the drop was pretty straightforward: I didn’t sell any new books to my U.S. publisher last year. The deal for Libriomancer and Codex Born was made in 2011, and while I have ideas for book three in the series, I haven’t pitched it yet. So while 2012 saw some money for delivering the final manuscript for Libriomancer and the on-publication payment, it wasn’t as much as the on-signing advance for those two books last year.
At least, that’s what I had assumed … and then I started looking at the numbers more closely. Thanks to royalties and subrights sales (audio and SFBC), my U.S. novels actually made more than they did last year. Turns out it was the foreign sales that saw the real drop, and I’m not sure why.
The income from my self-published titles jumped a bit, probably in part because I put another collection out midway through the year. I didn’t write or sell much short fiction last year, which is part of why the miscellaneous income (from speaking fees, a few nonfiction pieces, and reprint sales) is the smallest category.
- Novels (U.S.): $25,800
- Novels (Foreign): $5,020
- Self-Published: $1,950
- Miscellaneous: $820
I’m still sorting out expenses for the year, but it looks like that’s going to come in around $2000 or so, mostly for conventions. That’s been fairly steady for several years now. I actually made it to a few more conventions, and did a little more traveling last year, but several of those were Guest of Honor gigs, which helped balance things out.
The other interesting thing (to me) is how erratic the checks were. I made a total of $115 in the month of January, but February was an awesome month, with more than $6000 showing up in the mail. March and April went the same way. The fact that I have a full time day job means I’ve got a steady income I can count on for most of our day-to-day needs, but if I’m ever able to go full time as a writer, I’m going to have to be a lot more careful about budgeting for the long term.
That was my 2012. Please remember I’m just one author, and you can’t make sweeping generalizations from a sample size of one. But I hope the information is useful, and as always, I’m happy to answer any questions.
January 17, 2013 @ 9:51 am
Thank you for the insight. +John Scalzi has published some numbers in his blog too (he emphasized on differences between ebooks, audiobooks and printed books).
One question concerning foreign sales: are this novels sold outside the U.S. in english only or also translated versions? I am surprised that the rest of the world is not coughing up more…. I guess that i will count as U.S. buyer since i’m purchasing ebooks at amazon.com even though i haven’t been in the U.S. for more than a decade now. So i guess that Amazon is obscuring statistics. From Johns blog i had the impression, that he was complaining a bit about that between the lines.
I can only assure you, that with any additional Libriomancer novel, i will contribute to those numbers (no matter in which country) with enthusiasm ;-).
January 17, 2013 @ 9:54 am
P.S. I think the ebook may account for the drop of foreign sales. Everyone i know purchases his ebooks in the U.S. and not in Germany. In the digital age, the German book market is still pretty much Terra Incognita, even though this is changing at the moment. But it is much simpler to buy in the U.S: than hassle with all those silly restrictions in the German market.
Jim C. Hines
January 17, 2013 @ 9:57 am
That’s an interesting point, and it wouldn’t surprise me if you were right. There’s a lot that publishing as a whole still needs to work out about territorial boundaries in a world of electronic books and sales.
January 17, 2013 @ 10:02 am
Honestly, the boundary thing has to become a thing of the past for the digital content market. I have a nearly complete U.S. identity (shipping address, IP address, etc) to avoid those silly restrictions. If you mention problems getting ebooks (like i had with Redshirts), a dozen people jump on you in the forum on how to work around them.
January 17, 2013 @ 11:16 am
I, too, am one of those awkward people who don’t mind talking about money. And I think it is great that you post these numbers. It is a good reality check, and reminds me I need to buy Libriomancer! 🙂
January 17, 2013 @ 12:27 pm
Thanks for sharing. I find these numbers a bit discouraging. You’re such a good writer and deserve more financial success. If you wrote and published just a little bit more and did some of these as self-pubbed books at a lower price range to go along with your trad pub deals, I’ll bet you could make a lot more. I know plenty of writers far less talented than you and with a smaller platform who are making significantly more.
January 17, 2013 @ 12:54 pm
I had to purchase your novel from the US iTunes, and I’m British. I also had to spend a good chunk of time attempting to purchase John Scalzi’s latest episodic ebook, despite the fact that it was supposedly internationally available (it isn’t on the British versions of the iBookstore, or Google Play, or the Nook store, despite being on the US version of each). I think US publishers have a long way to go before they can present books for sale to people outside the US & Canada; I strongly suspect that this is hurting authors.
Jim C. Hines
January 17, 2013 @ 6:40 pm
Thank you 🙂
January 17, 2013 @ 7:15 pm
Thank you for sharing your numbers, Jim.
January 17, 2013 @ 7:32 pm
Much appreciated that you shared your research and analyses on these numbers. I know I was wondering since one of my favorite authors recently took a job selling Lexuses (high end, but still takes her away from writing full-time, which tells me that she’s not making enough off of her books). Given a rough estimate of hotel costs and travel costs by air, are you making more than 2 conferences at year within that $2000? What do you consider the better conferences (for ROI) for a writer at your level? Have you ever heard of Donald Maas’ Writing the Break-out Novel and whether there is any way for you to break through from your income level into the big numbers? Feel free to ignore if I’m being too inquisitive.
January 17, 2013 @ 10:39 pm
Glad to have contributed a little tiny amount of that in the US ebook market.
Jim C. Hines
January 18, 2013 @ 7:42 am
Thank you! 🙂
January 18, 2013 @ 11:15 am
I always love seeing your breakdown for the year. I started doing the same, but never actually posted it because the numbers are quite depressing. But, thank you.
January 18, 2013 @ 4:49 pm
Thanks for sharing those numbers!
You may not wish to answer this, but I’ve been wondering:
Do you see a correlation between blog traffic and book sales? There seems to be a lot of dissension “out there” on the question of whether or not blogging will help your sales at all.
And with the response your cover pose blogs brought you’re probably in a position to tell.
(FWIW, I did discover your books because of those cover pose blog posts.
I bought The Stepsister Scheme back in December, and have since bought & read all the Princess & Goblin books, plus your two short story collections. Now I’m waiting impatiently for Libriomancer to come out in paperback.
And all that because I thougth your blog posts were insightful and funny, and wanted to see whether your books were the same. I found they are.
So I seem to be proof that blogging does get you new readers, at least occasionally.) 🙂
January 20, 2013 @ 3:51 am
Interesting. Though it seems that to equate to the value of your books to your readers you should make more money. I’m happy to have contributed in both paperback and ebook format this year. I think I have all of the Stepsister books (have to read the last one yet) in ebook over the last few years, bought the goblin omnibus in paperback this year, and bought Libriomancer on ebook the day it came out. I have a Nook – please don’t ever go solely Kindle format.
Jim C. Hines
January 20, 2013 @ 6:40 pm
Thank you! And for what it’s worth, my preference would be to make my books available in as many formats as possible.
Jim C. Hines
January 20, 2013 @ 8:14 pm
I think, for me, that blogging has helped my sales in the long run. However, I’m not blogging to sell books, and I think that’s an important factor. What works to get me interested in an authors books and work isn’t a blog where they talk about and try to sell their work. It’s where they write interesting stuff and do so in an engaging and/or entertaining way. And it’s where they’re blogging because they *want* to blog (at least, as far as I can tell.)
In terms of the time and work it takes to blog vs. the payoff in terms of books sold, it’s probably not going to be worth it in most cases. If you’re only doing it to sell books, there are better ways. But if you’re blogging because you want to, because you enjoy the conversations and have things you feel are important to say, then yes, that can bring in new readers.
But it’s a long-term thing. 350,000+ people saw the BBC article, and thousands of them came to my blog. Looking at Amazon, my guess is that this might have sold a handful of extra books this week.
Jim C. Hines
January 20, 2013 @ 9:50 pm
I probably make it to about a half-dozen conventions a year. WorldCon was the big one last year, but it was very much worth it. I mostly tend to go to the ones within driving range, unless it’s a Guest of Honor gig where they’ll pay for transportation and hotel.
I’ve never sold enough books at a con to make up even a fraction of the cost, but they’re generally worth it for me because you do make some long-term fans, not to mention just getting to meet and hang out with some awesome and amazing people. ConFusion here in Michigan is probably one of my favorites. The World Fantasy or World SF cons can be very useful for networking and such, but they can also be overwhelming.
As for breaking out into the big numbers…I don’t know. I own and have read the Maass book, and I think some of what he describes applies to my latest book, but whether this series will push me to riches and glory? I couldn’t even begin to guess. It would be nice, though 🙂
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January 21, 2013 @ 4:19 pm
Useful and yet also sobering and a bit hopeful.
Useful because I think it’s proper to tell unpublished writers that being paid doesn’t make everything rainbows and unicorns all of a sudden. But too many people take that ‘realistic’ approach and automatically turn it into doom and gloom. I appreciate the transparency by numbers.
Sobering because building submarines is a more profitable pass time.
But most importantly, hopeful because you get to write successfully while still having a day job. Gives me hope that I can get words out there while still providing for my family.
January 22, 2013 @ 4:37 pm
Thank you for that detailed reply!
It’s about what I figured, though it’s a shame that BBC report didn’t get you more than a handful new readers. People don’t know what they’re missing out on. 🙂
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January 23, 2013 @ 12:00 pm
[…] C. Hines publishes the income he makes as an author every year. It’s interesting to see how his income varies, and where it comes from. John […]
January 23, 2013 @ 6:19 pm
I really want to read Libriomancer, and haven’t. No bookstores in Australia stock it (due to publishing restrictions) I’ll get around to trying to order it off Amazon, and then if they won’t sell it to me I’ll use the US identity we have set up to get around problems like this…So yes, I am not suprised your foreign income is down. I would have given you money (indirectly) if I could have, but publising agreements are making it difficult for me.
Similarly, I haven’t yet read MRK’s :”Shades of milk and honey” or any of Scalzi’s recent stuff (though that now available in the Commonwealth, so that last one is now laziness)
Best wishes for the next year, and I hope the market makes it easier for people like me to buy you. Because in the end, no matter how much I want to read it, if its just too hard, then someone else gets purchased instead…
Jim C. Hines
January 23, 2013 @ 6:23 pm
Thanks, Mazarin. We’ve got a UK edition coming out soon (June, I believe), and I’m hoping that with the way the territorial boundaries work, this one will be available in Australia.
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January 27, 2013 @ 3:36 pm
I just finished your goblin series. Loved your work.
Also as an aspiring author its great to see transparency and know what I’m getting into to.
One question I don’t know if you’ve covered before is do you know how long it generally takes you to go from idea to manuscript ready to be published?
Would it be safe to assume that the amount of time it takes to finish a novel has gotten shorter as you’ve gotten more experienced and skilled?
Jim C. Hines
January 27, 2013 @ 9:17 pm
These days, roughly a year or so. And actually, it feels like it takes me longer these days. Partly I think it’s because I get more ambitious with each book and series, and of course, the more I learn, the more aware I become of just how many mistakes there are to make. It’s a bit nerve-wracking sometimes 🙂
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January 31, 2013 @ 11:29 am
Thanks very much for posting your numbers, Jim. It’s a big help to see this information from an author NOT bringing down millions a year (yet, of course!)
I do think your sales figures will come up. You’ve been getting plugged by Mary Kowal and others, and that Hugo thing might matter :). Hopefully a lot of that will cross over to your self-pub stuff too.
Considering the profit margin on your self-pub work, it looks like those books are selling in much smaller numbers than your other. Why do you think that is? Do you have fewer works in that category, or maybe your very best stuff has been traditionally published? Just curious, as I would expect it to make up a bigger piece of the pie.
Jim C. Hines
January 31, 2013 @ 11:31 am
Part of it is that the self-published titles are small collections of short fiction, which don’t tend to sell as well as novels, as a rule. I do have one self-pubbed novel, but it’s a mainstream book with a narrower audience, so I wouldn’t expect it to sell as well as the fantasy books.
Eventually, when the fantasy books go out of print, I plan to put them out myself as ebooks. I hope and expect that those numbers would be better, but that’s probably not going to happen for at least another few years.
January 31, 2013 @ 3:14 pm
Umm, I want a lazer tag arena? Are you allowed to talk about how you got that?
Jim C. Hines
January 31, 2013 @ 3:33 pm
That was a joke, a reference to the TV show Castle.
Though if I ever do get successful enough to buy my own in-home laser tag arena, I’ll definitely share the details 🙂
January 31, 2013 @ 4:20 pm
I know and why aren’t we signing cleavage? His life is so idealized, he runs around all day doing the cops jobs, playing poker with legends, and somehow pulls bestsellers out of his butt. I think you sell yourself short, I’ve seen the pics of you posing and you’re a swell looker. I figured you been making money under the table as a high class man whore. I also understand that you can publicly discuss it do to tax issues.
January 31, 2013 @ 6:10 pm
Hi Mazarin – I live in Sydney and bought a copy of Libriomancer through The Book Depository (the UK branch of it). No shipping charges. It’s definitely the place to get books these days.
February 1, 2013 @ 2:33 am
Could I trouble you for the name of your UK publisher? I work in a bookstore in London and would like to push to stock as many of your books as possible.
Jim C. Hines
February 1, 2013 @ 7:22 am
Sure! Del Rey UK will be publishing Libriomancer and Codex Born.
February 1, 2013 @ 11:10 am
I think this is interesting because I’ve long (since 1991) kept a pretty careful spreadsheet of our family income and budgeting. I’ve been charting the writing income numbers with an eye to making the transition to full-time writer at some point. My numbers come out similarly, with wild fluctuations from month to month, which is how I’ve always budgeted with a monthly day job paycheck. I’m thinking that if I were to shift entirely to writing income, it might be better to budget on a quarterly basis. Any thoughts on that?
Jim C. Hines
February 1, 2013 @ 11:14 am
I honestly don’t know. I think a lot would depend on your individual situation. But this would probably be a better question for someone who’s actually made the transition to writing full time.
February 1, 2013 @ 11:16 am
Yeah – I’ve asked a few and I’m amazed how many people say they don’t budget! ~clutches spreadsheets~ Maybe others will weigh in here?
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