2016 Novelist Income Survey Final Results and Data

I’ve compiled the 2016 Novelist Income Survey results into a single pdf report. I added a few things and corrected a couple of errors and omissions. You can download that report at the following URL:

http://www.jimchines.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/2016-Novelist-Income-Results.pdf

You can also check out the anonymized data at:

http://www.jimchines.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Results.xlsx

This has been a lot of work, but I think the results were worth it. Thanks one final time to everyone who contributed in any way, from sharing your data to spreading the word to offering suggestions and critique on my analyses.

If you see any mistakes, please let me know. Otherwise, I’m gonna go take a breather…

A $500 Cover Pose

I consider myself mostly retired from the cover pose game these days. But when Regina Yao of The Pixel Project asked me to help out with one of their fundraising drives, how could I say no?

A very generous donor contributed $500 to The Pixel Project for their work to end violence against women. For that donation, they got to choose a cover for me to try to duplicate. They decided to go with The Selection, by Kiera Cass.

Click to enlarge the image…if you dare.

Cover Pose for The Selection

Thanks as always to my wife Amy, who took the photo and helped me get the pose right. Which included positioning a large exercise ball between my legs to get the poofy-skirt effect…

 

 

2016 Novelist Income Results, Part 5: Miscellaneous Data

Introduction

This is the fifth and final chunk of data and analysis from the 2016 Novelist Income Survey.

This is where I look at all the other random and miscellaneous data points that either didn’t fit elsewhere, or else I couldn’t figure out quite what to do with them. After this, I’ll be pulling everything together into a single downloadable report for folks.

Who Lost Money in 2016?

One thing I found interesting — of the 371 people who provided gross income and expenses data, 63 ended up with a net loss in 2016. In other words, roughly one out of six published novelists lost money last year.

17 of these identified as full-time writers, with the other 46 being part-time. Looking at the overall number of full- and part-time respondents, the part-time authors were disproportionately more likely to end up in the red.

How did those 63 authors break down in terms of indie/small press/large press?

  • Indie: 36
  • Small: 19
  • Large: 8

Comparing those numbers to the overall breakdown of indie/small/large press gives us the following graph:

Breakdown of Net Losses

We can also look at the percentage of novelists who lost money in each category, which is perhaps a little more illuminating.

  • Indie: 17%
  • Small: 37%
  • Large: 7%

As always, be careful about drawing too many conclusions from this.

Genre Breakdown

I messed up on this part. I asked people what genre(s) they published in during 2016, and let people check as many boxes as they liked, with an additional field for “Other.” This meant I got pretty accurate data, but a lot of folks selected multiple genres, which made it harder for me to do much with the data. In the future, I think I need to ask people to choose their primary genre instead.

Looking at which genres were chosen, we can see that the data are slanted toward SF/F and Romance.

Genres

As a SF/F person myself, it makes sense that my outreach on the survey would bring in a lot of my fellow SF/F authors. Basically, what this means is that the results and conclusions may not apply as strongly to, say, religious fiction as they do to fantasy or romance.

When Did You Publish Your First Book?

What happens when you plot net income against the year the author published their first book?

I removed one outlier — an author who made close to five million, and whose first book came out near the middle of the range. The results were not what I expected.

Income vs. Year of First Book

That trendline is pretty much horizontal, suggesting little to no relation between how long you’ve been publishing and how much money you make. Running the correlation function in Excel gave a correlation of 0.01.

I can see several ways of thinking about this. One is that you can spend 30 years writing books, and it doesn’t mean you’re more likely to be financially successful. Which is depressing as hell. But maybe it just means financial success can come at any time. Or maybe writers who broke in a long time ago aren’t as prolific these days, which is why their income was comparable to newer authors who might be more active?

I honestly don’t know, and I suspect you’d need a lot more analysis — and probably a lot more data — to draw any firm conclusions here.

Almost Finished

That’s pretty much everything I can do with the data. All that’s left now is for me to pull it all together into a single report. I’ll be incorporating some of the feedback and suggestions from the comments as well, thank you. I’ll also be anonymizing the data and sharing that for folks to play with.

I hope this has been helpful and illuminating for folks!

2016 Novelist Income Results, Part 4: Impact of Marketing and Promotion

Introduction

This is the fourth chunk of data and analysis from the 2016 Novelist Income Survey.

For this part, I wanted to look at whether the hours spent on marketing, promotion, and outreach correlated at all with how much money our authors made last year.

Overview

I used net income again, which means I removed data points where the authors hadn’t reported their expenses. I also eliminated two data points where respondents said they spent over 1000 hours/week on promotion and marketing. (If I’m wrong and those two authors have been using a TARDIS, I’d ask them to email me. And also to let me borrow their TARDIS.)

This left us with data from a total of 371 authors.

I then did a bit of Excel self-teaching to figure out how to use the correlation function. (In the previous section, I simply graphed out number of books and net income, and inserted a trendline. Calculating the actual correlation is more accurate, and I’ll be doing that for the previous part as well when I do the final write-up.) Yay, learning!

A correlation of 1.0 would be a perfect positive correlation. Likewise, -1.0 would be a perfect negative correlation.

Finally, in addition to analyzing the overall data, I also broke it down by authors who were primarily indie, small press, and large press, because I had a feeling there’d be a difference there.

Overall Results

Looking at all 371 authors together gives us the following graph. The trend line suggests a slight correlation.

Marketing and Net IncomeExcel gives a correlation of 0.16. That’s a very small positive correlation. Is it a significant correlation? I’m not enough of a statistician to say for certain, but it’s on the low side.

Subgroup Results

So let’s look at the correlation scores for different groups of authors.

  • Large Press: 0.06
  • Small Press: 0.13
  • Indie: 0.36

In other words, the strongest correlation between promotion/outreach/marketing and net income is for the indie authors. Which shouldn’t really surprise anyone.

On the other end, the amount of time spent on marketing and promo had pretty much no relation to overall income for the large press authors.

Removing the millionaires increased the correlation for large press slightly, and decreased slightly for the indies. But the correlation remained noticeably stronger for indie authors than for large/small press authors.

Conclusions

Does this mean the time and money I spent last year as a large-press author traveling to signings and conventions and doing online promotion was completely wasted? Not necessarily. We’re looking at overall trends, and any individual data point might buck a given trend. (Also, correlation =/= causation. I think I’ve said that on every post so far.)

There’s also the question about how you’re spending that time. 20 hours spent standing on a street corner wearing a BUY LIBRIOMANCER! sign probably wasn’t as effective as 20 hours spent researching reviewers and sending out targeted review copies of my book.

That said, I think the data supports the general wisdom that if you’re self-published, it’s a lot more important to spend time on marketing and promotion. Whereas if you’re with a large press, there’s a good chance your marketing efforts won’t have much of an impact on your bottom line.

2016 Novelist Income Results, Part 3: Number of Books Published in 2016

Introduction

This is the third chunk of data and analysis from the 2016 Novelist Income Survey.

A number of people have asked how the number of books published in 2016 correlates with income, particularly with indie writers. We saw in part two that authors who primarily self-publish can do quite well. Is volume one of the secrets to success, and is it a greater factor for indie writers than traditionally the published?

Overview

I used the same method as before for separating out authors who were primarily indie, primarily large press, and primarily small press.

Three survey questions asked how many books respondents had published in 2016 through a large press, a small press, and through self-publishing. This brings me to my first data quandary. When I’m looking at the indie authors, do I count just the number of books they self-published, or the total number of books? Because a lot of our authors are hybrid, those numbers won’t be the same. So I graphed the data both ways, and found that the results — particularly the trend line — looked pretty much identical.

Indie Author Total Books Published Indie Author Self-Pub Totals

I decided to go with the total number of books published in any category, and to see how that number affected income for authors who were primarily indie, small press, or large press.

I removed the highest outlier from each graph below, both because it appeared to be disproportionately influencing the results, and because it threw off the scale and made it harder to see the rest of the data points. Because this was using net income, I also removed the handful of authors who didn’t report any expenses, since I had no way of calculating those net incomes.

The Charts

Indie Authors:

Indie Authors Income - Outlier Removed

Small Press Authors:

Small Press Authors Income - Outlier Removed

Large Press Authors:

Large Press Authors Income - Outlier Removed

Everyone’s clear on the correlation =/= causation thing by now, right? That said, the trend lines on the three graphs are pretty striking. For authors who are primarily indie, the graph suggests a correlation between number of books published and overall income. The correlation for small press is significantly smaller.

But most fascinating to me is that for large press authors, the line is essentially flat. The authors with 8 or 10 large press novels in 2016 made roughly the same as the average author with 1 or 2 large press books. Excellent news for the one book/year folks with big publishers.

Median and Average Books/Year

As I was wrapping up, it occurred to me that I should compare how prolific the different types of author were. This turned out to be interesting as well, though not too surprising.

Books Published in 2016: Median (Average)

  • Large Press 1 (1.2)
  • Small Press 1 (1.3)
  • Indie Press 2 (3.1)

While the median large and small press author published one book last year, the median indie published two. The difference in the average numbers is even stronger.

There are exceptions to everything, of course. I know some ridiculously prolific and successful big-press authors. But overall, I think this supports to the idea that success in self-publishing depends more strongly on how many books you can put out. It also shows that indie authors are following that approach and getting more books out there.

Net Losses

One last note. (Or maybe just one last excuse to post a pie chart.) 63 authors reported a net loss in 2016. 36 of those were indie authors. 19 were small press. 8 were large press.

Authors Reporting Net Losses

Intuitively, this makes a kind of sense. Self-publishing requires the author to invest in the up-front production costs, as well as marketing. But I’d want to collect a lot more data than I have before coming to any firm conclusions.

In Our Next Episode

I’m very curious to look at the hours/week spent on promotion and marketing, and to see how much that correlates with income. In other words, does all that work we do trying to get our names out there really have an impact? (I’m guessing the answer may be very different depending on whether or not you’re large press, small press, or indie.)

2016 Novelist Income Results, Part 2: The Large/Small/Indie Breakdown

Introduction

This is the second chunk of data and analysis from the 2016 Novelist Income Survey. (Part one is here.)

I wanted to focus next on large press vs. small press vs. indie/self-publishing. The goal is not to settle the neverending argument about which route is better, because that’s a silly argument, and I’m not going to waste time on it.

Analyzing income data this way was tricky for several reasons. What qualifies as a large press vs. a small press? What about hybrid authors who choose multiple paths? And how does the self-selected nature of this study’s participants skew results?

The survey asked how many books you published with a large publisher, a small publisher, and through self-publishing in your lifetime, and how many books you published with a large publisher, a small publisher, and through self-publishing in 2016. Respondents used their own judgement to decide what large/small/self-published meant with respect to their work.

The majority of authors qualified as hybrid, with books in more than one category. So for this analysis, I looked at how each author had published the majority of their books during their lifetime. For example, with 12 books through large publishers, 1 small-press, and 1 self-published novel, my personal data went into the Large Publisher bucket. Someone with 4 large press, 5 small press, and 2 self-pubbed would be in the Small Publisher bucket.

(I also ran the same analysis looking only at 2016 publications, and the results were nearly identical. We lost some data there though, since a number of people had zero books out in 2016.)

As for the self-selection part? I cast my net as wide as I could, but that net went out mostly through writing boards and email lists and social media. Someone who self-published a single book as a hobby or for the fun of it would be less likely to hear about the survey. Likewise, authors who published a lot in the past but aren’t actively writing/publishing today wouldn’t necessarily be “in the loop” for this stuff. I can’t say exactly how this affected the data; only that, as I mentioned yesterday, it isn’t a truly random or representative sample. But with 381 authors weighing in, I still think it’s a pretty good one.

Overview

Here’s where our 381 authors fell on the large/small/indie scale:

  • Primarily Large Press: 114
  • Primarily Small Press: 55
  • Primarily Indie: 212

Pie Chart: Large/Small/Indie

Again, keep in mind that the information here is correlation, not causation. Deciding whether to try to publish with a large publisher, a small press, or to self-publish is so much more than just looking at the data from a single survey. Each path requires a lot of work, and I strongly recommend everyone do their research before deciding what’s going to work best for them.

Let’s Talk Money!

I started by looking at the gross income (before expenses) for each category. Well, that’s not entirely true. I really started by doing a poll on Twitter to ask people which group they thought would have the highest net income. I figured that could let us tap into common beliefs and compare them to the data. Here’s what the informal Twitter results had 74% of people expecting Large Press authors to be the biggest money-makers. Self-published came in second place, with 17%. Small Press was at 9%.

Twitter Poll Results

Before we look at the net, let’s start with gross income numbers. As before, I think the median is the most useful figure here, since the very successful outliers tend to skew the averages. Median gross income for each category was:

  • Large Press: $28,000
  • Small Press: $2,400
  • Indie: $29,000

Average income followed a similar pattern.

Median and Average IncomesI don’t think those numbers should come as a shock to most people. But they’re not the whole picture, either. We need to look at the expenses for each category as well. Self-published authors cover the costs of things like cover art, copy-editing, and so on, things a commercial press takes care of for its authors. Then there’s marketing and publicity and conventions and all the rest…

A handful of people left this question blank. They’ve been omitted from this part. If someone reported a 0 for this question, they were included.

The median expenses for each category were:

  • Large Press: $2,900
  • Small Press: $1,000
  • Indie: $4,000

Median and Average ExpensesHow does this affect the net income? Indie authors still have the largest median income, which was predicted by only 19% of the folks in our informal Twitter Poll. The large press authors once again take the highest average. (I think this is mostly because of one large press author whose income was significantly higher than any others.)

Here are those numbers, with median first and average in parentheses.

  • Large Press: $19,000 ($125,021)
  • Small Press: $975 ($19,166)
  • Indie: $23,050 ($108,210)

Net Income: Median and AverageChange From 2015

One of the questions I asked was whether people’s writing income had increased, decreased, or stayed roughly the same from 2015 to 2016. I think it’s encouraging that 53% of all respondents saw an increase, with another 20% reporting that their income remained roughly the same. Writing novels tends not to be the most financially stable profession, but only 27% reported seeing their income decrease.

Income Change Pie ChartI wanted to see what happens when we separate it out. Maybe indie authors are seeing more growth than large press? Maybe small press is surging forward?

This got interesting. 60.4% of indie authors saw an increase in earnings, compared to 50.9% of small press and only 39.5% of large press authors. Only 17% of indie authors saw their earnings decrease, compared to 27.3% of small press and 23.7% of large press.

Income Change by Author TypeLike I said, I’d be careful about drawing broad-sweeping conclusions from any of this, but it’s certainly an encouraging sign for my indie author friends. Realistically, though? Given the economy, the fact that all three groups saw more increases than decreases is a very good thing.

Coming Soon

I’ve got a lot more data to play with. I want to look at factors like genre, hours/week spent writing, hours/week spent on promotion, total number of books published, how long ago the author started publishing, and more.

Short version: I have plenty to keep me busy in the coming days!

2016 Novelist Income Survey Results, Part 1

Introduction

There’s a lot of misinformation out there about the fabulous lifestyle of the working novelist. Everyone knows once you write a book, the money starts rolling in, right? There’s champagne and movie deals and hanging out with J. K. Rowling and Stephen King and Rick Castle.

Or maybe you’ve heard the opposite extreme, how all novelists are living on water and Ramen, making more money from scrounging couch cushions than we do from the books we’ve poured our blood and souls into.

For nine years, I’ve been doing an annual blog post about my writing income. I know a few other authors who’ve done the same. The main idea is to put the data out there to help build a more realistic picture of life as a working writer.

Those few data points are better than none, but this year, I wanted to go bigger. For roughly six weeks, I collected data from novelists who had at least one book published prior to 12/31/2016. Thank you to everyone who participated, and everyone who spread the word.

Are you read to start going through the results?

Overview

There were a total of 386 responses. Five of these were duplicates and were removed, leaving data from 381 individual novelists.

The survey asked questions about the number of novels published, how they were published (large publisher/small press/self-pub), income and expenses, genre, whether or not they used an agent, which country the novelist was in, and more.

As we go through the numbers, please keep in mind:

  1. This is not a truly random or representative sample. I have no way of reaching all the working novelists in the world, and not everyone who heard about the survey chose to participate. That said, I think 381 is pretty darn good.
  2. Correlation is not causation. The numbers might show that novelists with an agent make more/less money than novelists without. This doesn’t necessarily mean that having or not having an agent causes you to make more/less money.
  3. I am not a professional statistician. I’ll do my best, but if you see mistakes, please say something so I can correct them.

I know, I know. Enough with the disclaimers. Let’s get on with the yummy, yummy data!

Gross Income

Let’s start by looking at how much our authors made in 2016 before taxes or expenses. The total ranged from a few dollars to almost five million. Eight novelists made more than a million dollars (before taxes) in 2016.

  • I admit, I was a little surprised by this, and wondered if maybe people were exaggerating or hit an extra zero. Fortunately, the survey also asked for an identifier (name or other) and an email address for anyone who wanted to be informed of the survey results. Looking at who was reporting these numbers, I believe they’re accurate.

Average Income: $114,124

Median Income: $17,000

(I think the median is more useful than the average, here. The average is pulled up significantly by those very successful outliers.)

Distribution: As you might have predicted, the distribution is weighted heavily toward the left side of the graph. I removed one far-right outlier for this graph.

Income DistributionPercentile: Here’s a percentile breakdown showing the same data in another way.

2016 Novelist Income Percentile - GraphIn other words, ten percent of all respondents earned $200 or less last year. Before taxes and expenses.

Twenty percent made $825 or less. Thirty percent were $3393 or below, and so on.

If you earned at least $296,000, you were in the 90th percentile. And if your writing brought in $1,418,000 or more, you are officially the 1% among novelists.

Gross Income for Different Categories

Let’s play with those numbers a bit more. What happens if we separate agented and unagented authors, full-time vs. part-time, and so on?

Agent vs. Unagented: Of our 381 respondents, 151 were represented by an agent, and 230 were unagented. There’s a significant difference in these two groups, but be careful about drawing too many conclusions here. Does having an agent mean you make more money? Or does making more money mean you’re more likely to want an agent? Or maybe it’s both or neither.

Median income for authors with an agent was $42,000. For authors without an agent, the median was $7000.

Looking at the eight authors who made a million or more, five were represented by agents and three were unagented.

2016 Income: Agented vs. Unagented

Full Time vs. Part Time: We see a similar pattern here. Disclaimer: the question on the survey asked if writing was “your primary, full-time job” during 2016. I probably could have worded that one a little better, as it’s possible we had writers working 40 hours/week on books and also working full-time elsewhere. But in general, I think the data here are pretty accurate and reliable.

Median income was $3050 for part time writers, and $66,000 for full-timers. Also, all eight of our $1,000,000+ novelists were full-timers.

Does this mean quitting the day job will magically increase your writing income by 22x? NO! Bad reader! Back to logic and statistics class for you!

2016 Income: Full-Time vs. Part-Time

Anecdotally, I started trying to write full-time at the end of 2015. 2016 saw an increase of about 10-15% in my overall income. But much of that came from a deal I signed before going full time. What does that mean? Heck if I know…

Conclusions So Far…

  1. It is possible to make a really good living as a novelist…but most of us don’t.
  2. It is possible to make a million or more as a novelist, with or without an agent…but again, most of us don’t.
  3. About 80% of novelists make less than $100,000 a year. Half of us make $17,000 or less.

And remember, these numbers are all before taxes or expenses!

In Our Next Episode:

I’ve got a lot more I want to do with the data, but it’s going to take a fair amount of time. (I’m also overdue on a novel deadline, so that has to be my priority.) I’ll continue to post results in sections, which should hopefully make it easier to digest. I’m planning to put the whole thing together and publish it as a big old report when I’m done as well.

I’ll also be sharing the anonymized raw data so other folks can play with it.

I hope this is helpful. If there’s anything in particular you’d like me to look into, let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best!

ETA: Here are the links to the next parts.

 

Jim C. Hines