2014 Writing Income
About seven years ago, I started doing a yearly blog post on my annual writing income. Yeah, it’s a weird and sometimes uncomfortable thing to talk about, but I also think it’s important to get some facts out there. It’s hard to get any real data on what authors earn, where the income comes from, and so on. Of course, I’m only one data point, so don’t go drawing any broad conclusions. But one is better than none, eh? And I’ll link to any other authors I see posting similar info. My background: I’m a U.S. author and have been writing science fiction and fantasy since 1995. My first novel with a major publisher came out in 2006. Since then, I’ve been averaging about one book/year. I have a few short collections and one odd novel project that I’ve self-published, but I’m primarily published through a traditional/commercial/whatever-you-want-to-call-it publisher. I’ve also got about fifty published short stories. I’ve hit the Locus bestseller lists, but I’ve never made the New York Times or USA Today lists. I still work a full-time day job, and I’ve got two kids at home, which means I probably devote about 20 hours/week to the writing career. My income posts from previous years are here: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013. 2014 was a good year. Not my best, but I didn’t expect it to be — I had sold three books in 2013, and spent the next year actually writing two of them. This means I got a chunk of all three advances in 2013, but the rest of the money will be spread out through 2014 and 2015. All total, I earned $50,900 as a writer last year. This is after my agent takes his commission, but before expenses and taxes. Here’s how it roughly breaks down:
- Novels (U.S.) – $39,840
- Novels (Foreign) – $4130
- Self-published Work – $1400
- Short Fiction & Nonfiction – $2300
- Other – $3200
The “Other” category includes the advance for The Goblin Master’s Grimoire, my short story collection from ISFiC Press, as well as things like honorarium payments for speaking engagements, a T-shirt royalty payment, and other miscellanea. Expenses for the year were probably between $3000 and $4000. (I haven’t calculated everything yet.) Mileage and convention costs, primarily hotel rooms, were the largest chunk, followed by hiring an artist to do the cover for Rise of the Spider Goddess (which I haven’t yet seen any income for, since that book only came out last month). I also paid another artist to do the banner art for my website. I’m very happy with both of these decisions. In the “Novels (U.S.)” category, I’ve got nine books in print with DAW. (Number ten comes out on Tuesday, but that’s another blog post.) Looking back, all nine of those books have earned out their advances and are now paying royalties. Those royalties account for a little under half of the novels income in the U.S. I should also note that because DAW purchased English language rights, the accounting for the UK edition of the Magic ex Libris series flows through them, and gets counted as part of the U.S. deal’s income. Novel advances are generally broken down into multiple payments. For my most recent books, they’re split into an on-signing payment, delivery & acceptance, and publication. For Unbound and Revisionary, the on-publication payment is further split into hardcover and mass market. What this means is that in 2015, I can expect to see the hardcover on-publication payment for Unbound, the D&A on Revisionary, and the D&A and publication payments for the Secret Novel Project of Doom. Though the on-publication payment for that last might not show up until 2016, depending on when exactly the book comes out. I’m also hoping to pitch and sell some new books this year, which would hopefully bring in some on-signing money and make sure I’ve got authorial job security for another year or two. I hope this was useful, and I’m happy to answer questions. Here’s to a successful 2015 for all of us. ETA Related Posts:
- What I Get Paid For My Novels, or Why I’m Not Quitting my Day Job, by Kameron Hurley
- 2014 Writing Income, by D. Moonfire
January 5, 2015 @ 9:46 am
First: Congratulation on the good year 2014. I sincerely hope that 2015 will exceed even that.
Second: Thank you for sharing this. It is not something that we should take for granted.
Third: I would be very interested to find out how much of “Novels (U.S.)” actually comes from foreign readers. I am pretty sure that all my purchases (except “Rise of the Spider Goddess”) ended up in that sum. But without Amazon cooperating (and they don’t; tried it) there is no chance to find out.
Jim C. Hines
January 5, 2015 @ 9:49 am
I’m not aware of any way to get that information, but it would be fascinating to find out.
January 5, 2015 @ 10:07 am
I contacted Amazon for my article on the German SF&F market. I did not even ask for specific or absolute numbers…
To call their answer just “discouraging” would require more optimism than I have.
One reason (I suspect) is that the number is so high, it would generate another hurly-burly in the publishing industry if it became public knowledge. And Amazon is not short on stock of that particular item already…
January 5, 2015 @ 10:24 am
I appreciate you sharing this information, Jim. I wish you a successful 2015, as well.
January 5, 2015 @ 10:27 am
Dear Mr Hines,
As a hoping-to-be-published-someday writer, I appreciate this. It shows the financial reality of being an author in real life, not just some abstract concepts. A firm insight into the publishing world and fiscal understanding.
Hope you might do a post at Magical Words.
With highest regards,
Kaal Alexander Rosser
January 5, 2015 @ 10:28 am
The more of this type of information gets out there, the greater the chance of dispelling the — good & bad — earnings myths about being a writer.
Congrats on keeping the earnings levels up, here’s hoping for full-time in your near future. 🙂
John G. Hartness
January 5, 2015 @ 10:32 am
I always find these posts interesting, getting a look inside what others have done. I should probably do one myself, but it might be more depressing than energizing, looking at the decline in my income over the past couple of years. But I’m interested that you don’t make more self-pubbing. Do you just not have very many titles out? And yeah, more success for everyone in 2015! Rising tide lifts all boats, and all that. 🙂
January 5, 2015 @ 10:37 am
I always appreciate seeing your annual report, Jim, and I often mention it to folks who wonder what the writing business might be like. Thanks for sharing!
Jim C. Hines
January 5, 2015 @ 10:39 am
John – I have several $2.99 e-chapbooks I self-published, along with Rise of the Spider Goddess, which is a quirky little novel. That’s compared to nine (ten as of tomorrow) commercially published novels. So part of what you’re seeing is because the bulk of my work is on the commercial side.
I’d like to experiment a bit more with self-pubbing, and I’ll definitely be re-releasing my backlist as books go out of print, but this is where I’m at right now.
Jim C. Hines
January 5, 2015 @ 10:40 am
I’ve done a few Magical Words guest posts, but do you mean specifically about writing income/finances?
January 5, 2015 @ 10:49 am
Thanks, Jim, these blog posts are always appreciated. Have you done a post on how you prioritize and compartmentalize your writing time, with regards to your job and your family time? I know you do a lot of writing on your lunch break. How else does that 20 hours per week break down? What do your writing goals per session look like? As someone who struggles with this, I’d love to hear your insight.
January 5, 2015 @ 10:53 am
Yup. Understanding the financial issues is difficult as most are reluctant (understandably) to disclose hard numbers.
Again, I thank you for your candor.
January 5, 2015 @ 11:28 am
Jim, thanks for sharing! This is really helpful detail as it helps set realistic expectations for “new” authors. Glad to see your continued success, and here’s wishing you a great year in 2015!
Amanda C. Davis
January 5, 2015 @ 11:39 am
These are always so interesting; thanks for sharing. Some year it would be interesting to line up your pie charts to see how things change throughout your career, especially as you turn your backlist to self-pub.
(Your posts inspired me to make a similar income-source pie chart this year; link is under my name.)
Eric James Spannerman
January 5, 2015 @ 12:37 pm
First, thanks for doing this. As a trying-to-get-started writer (one small-press book out) it’s incredibly helpful to see this sort of information about the realities of writing.
Second, when you say you invest “about 20 hours a week” in writing, is that strictly writing/revision, or does that include time spent on promotion, speaking, readings, cons and con preparation, and so on?
January 5, 2015 @ 12:44 pm
Thanks very much for continuing this series, Jim. I’m happy to see you had such a good year.
January 5, 2015 @ 1:08 pm
Thank you so much for the insight!
It’s hard to find figures for author income when only the quarter-million advances are talked about, or only extremely well-known authors are discussed. We aren’t all Stephen Kings. If I can manage to make even 1/5 of your income from 2014, I’d be a happy writer.
Jim C. Hines
January 5, 2015 @ 2:02 pm
Good question, and it varies from week to week. I’d say the actual writing is the bulk of the time, but that also includes some hours on promotion/conventions/etc. One of these days I should track that more closely just to see how I’m actually spending my time…
January 5, 2015 @ 2:07 pm
I was wondering if you get higher royalties from ebooks, or from physical books? Sometimes there isn’t a whole lot of difference in the cost and if authors get higher royalties from one form over the other, then there is the impetus to purchase that format.
Jim C. Hines
January 5, 2015 @ 2:09 pm
I’ve talked about it some, though I don’t have a convenient link. Searching my archives pulled up this old post: http://www.jimchines.com/2010/04/answers-part-1/ (See the third bullet point.)
My goals vary, but I get twitchy if I’m not hitting 1000 words a day. And it’s an ongoing struggle trying to balance writing and day-job and family time and all of the chores that need to get done at home.
Jim C. Hines
January 5, 2015 @ 2:14 pm
Ebooks pay a higher royalty percentage rate. On the other hand, a lower royalty rate on a hardcover with a higher cover price can end up matching the ebook royalties, where it’s a higher percentage of a lower cover price.
As for purchase impetus, my only concern is that readers buy whatever format works best for them.
January 5, 2015 @ 4:02 pm
Midnight Eastern is 9PM Pacific, so along about 8:59 I’ll be hitting sync on my Nook repeatedly. Bedtime reading!!
January 5, 2015 @ 7:55 pm
Thanks for sharing your numbers, Jim!
January 5, 2015 @ 8:20 pm
Approaching your Pratchett Point?
Jim C. Hines
January 5, 2015 @ 8:30 pm
January 5, 2015 @ 10:58 pm
Congrats on a good year. Thought I’d help get 2015 off to a good start by ordering Unbound from my local indie bookseller – she says it should be in Wed. or Thursday – can’t wait! More Smudge! Wheee!
January 6, 2015 @ 8:27 am
Thanks for the info, Jim. I appreciate it. It’s inspirational.
RE: the comment above from Edmond about a “Pratchett Point”; it means that point in which your writing income is sufficient to quit your day job. It refers, of course, to the point in which Terry Pratchett felt comfortable to take that step.
Jim C. Hines
January 6, 2015 @ 8:42 am
Ah – got it, thank you. Financially, I think I’m there. It’s more a matter of benefits at this point, particularly health insurance.
January 6, 2015 @ 9:45 am
Congratulations on a fruitful 2014 and thanks for posting all this, it’s really helpful for aspiring writers.
January 6, 2015 @ 10:27 am
Thank you for putting this together every year. It’s really interesting and helps put some reality to mid list authorship. 🙂
January 6, 2015 @ 11:00 am
I’m impressed/slightly envious of how well you juggle everything. I work 20+ hours extra just during tax season, and by the end I’ve turned into Gollum (“Deductions, my precious!”) and driven off all my loved ones.
Jennifer Lohmann – The Money Report 2014
January 6, 2015 @ 4:47 pm
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January 6, 2015 @ 7:02 pm
[…] Hines also posted about how much he earned from his books in 2014, with some helpful context from previous […]
January 7, 2015 @ 5:08 pm
Out of curiosity, what is your day job?
Jim C. Hines
January 7, 2015 @ 6:36 pm
State employee here in Michigan.
January 8, 2015 @ 10:20 am
Jim, thank you for posting this! This kind of information is so helpful to have, and so hard to find. To me, two of the more salient points are that you started writing in 1995 and sold your first novel in 2006, and that your income distribution is shifting to include income from royalties as you put out more books and they are out longer. To me, that says: If you want to make a living as a professional author, start working on that *now* and be patient, and also, be prolific. 😉
I was interested than in a response to another comment, you mentioned a goal of 1000 words/day. (I assume that’s weekdays, or, not seven days a week.) My 2015 goal is 1000 words a day, four days a week. That may shift, as I’ll also need to do editing, researching publishers, and submitting, but I’m hoping those will be “in addition to” rather than “instead of”. I want to get into the habit of writing consistently.
Congrats to you on a very successful year, and best wishes for a successful 2015 for everyone!
Jim C. Hines
January 8, 2015 @ 1:53 pm
Thanks, Sherry! It’s definitely a long-term career, with ups and downs along the way.
Right now, I’m trying to hit at least 1000 words a day, seven days a week. There are times when I’ll let myself slide on weekends, but my upcoming deadlines are a bit tight. I’m actually going to need to push a bit harder than 1000/day pretty soon, depending on how things go. Whee…
January 8, 2015 @ 11:09 pm
Has the Affordable Care Act made any significant changes in that regard, or are you still at roughly the same tradeoffs as before?
Jim C. Hines
January 9, 2015 @ 8:00 am
It opens up some options that didn’t exist before. Though I’m also nervous about what’s going to happen to the ACA over the next two years, and whether the parts of the act that give me those options will be whittled away.
Let’s just say it’s something I’ve talked about with my wife, and I’m feeling a bit more hopeful about the long term plans.
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