My 2013 writing income post brought up a number of good questions in the comments. And one odd question about my bedroom habits and whether or not I was a first-rate lover … but that might have been spam. Either way, I’m not going to address that one here. But I did want to talk about the rest.
First off, some relevant links:
And now, on to the questions.
“I’d be curious to see how the income breaks down over time across income types too: advance, d&a, residual…”
A lot depends on the contracts. Advances are often broken into multiple payments. For books three and four of the Magic ex Libris series, I get part of the advance on signing (once DAW has received and processed the signed contracts), part upon the delivery and acceptance (D&A) of the final, revised manuscript, and part on publication. I’ve gotten the on-signing money for books three and four, but that’s all so far. I’ve turned in the manuscript for Unbound, and once my editor gets back to me, I’ll do another revision. When that’s accepted, I’ll get the second portion of the advance (D&A) for that book.
How everything breaks down depends on the size of the advance, too. Say Author X is getting 90% of their money as royalties and only 10% as advance money. This could mean they have a very small advance. It could mean a big advance but the book sold a lot more copies than expected. It could mean a large backlist of titles that have earned out and are generating royalties. If someone never earns out and gets any royalties, does that mean their books don’t sell, or does it mean they got huge advances?
With that said…
Here’s how the $55,000 or so of U.S. novel income (before taxes) breaks down for 2013.
“Is any of the variation due to publishers paying irregularly?”
DAW operates on six-month royalty periods, 1/1 – 6/30 and 7/1 – 12/31. Since most of my books have earned out their advances, this means I get royalty checks on a fairly regular and predictable twice/year schedule (usually around April and October). The payment process isn’t quick, by any means, but I haven’t had trouble getting paid by the major publishers. I’ve occasionally had smaller checks get delayed or forgotten, but in general, a nudge from either my agent or myself has been enough to shake those loose.
You listed your self-published income. How many titles have you self-published vs. your traditionally published work?
I’m primarily a traditionally published author. My nine fantasy novels are all in print from DAW Books.
Given that the majority of my work is published by DAW and other major publishers, it should come as no surprise that most of my income is from those same sources. When those books go out of print with DAW, I certainly plan on self-publishing them myself in order to keep my backlist available.
Personally, I think the whole Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing argument is rather silly, but that hasn’t stopped people from using my initial blog post to show why one side or the other is the Right way to publish. All I’ll say is that this way is working pretty well for me right now.
“How much of that upfront payment do you give away to taxes? If you were to make, say, $60K, would you lose 1/3? 1/2?”
The numbers I posted were pre-tax, which means a chunk of it will be going right back out.
Last year, I paid estimated quarterly taxes that totaled around $5000 (based on my 2012 income) against what I expected to make in 2013. I also have a pretty high deduction on my income from the day job, so some of that spills over to pay for taxes on the writing.
I honestly won’t know how much I’m paying in taxes until I get the rest of our W-2s. A bit of hunting around online for self-employment tax calculators suggests that for self-employment income of $60,000, I could expect to pay a total of about $8500 in federal taxes, and an unknown-but-smaller amount in state taxes. But so much depends on other factors, which means I honestly don’t know.
What about your agent’s cut?
The numbers I posted are after my agent takes his commission.
Why are your expenses so low? Are you forgetting to take some tax deductions?
I messed up a bit on this part, and I apologize for that. The expenses I listed were only those that I had dollar amounts for in my annual writing budget spreadsheet: hotel costs, postage, etc. They omitted things I don’t calculate until I start doing my taxes, like mileage or meal allowances. And I was indeed missing a few deductions — thank you to folks who pointed those out. I’ve always been a bit conservative about taking deductions, though I’m moving away from that.
Having started working on taxes, here’s a better accounting of my writing expenses for 2013, which come to a total of $6,861. Yeah, I really messed up the initial estimate there.
What exactly do you mean by foreign sales? Does your UK deal for Magic ex Libris count?
Good question. I was not counting the UK deal, in part because of how my contracts work. My agent negotiated a deal with DAW wherein DAW gets the rights to publish the books in English in the U.S. and Canada. DAW also gets certain other rights that they can sublicense, including things like putting them out in audio, selling them to a book club (in English), or licensing the UK edition to a UK publisher. I get paid when any of these things happen. As I understand it, these payments are usually applied against the advance, but since Libriomancer earned out pretty quickly, money for the book club, audio books, and UK deal just got bundled in to the royalties payment from DAW.
DAW did not get non-English rights, which means when we sold the Magic ex Libris books to Germany, for example, that deal was directly with me and my agent. When I get paid for those, the money comes from the German publisher to my agent and then to me, instead of going through DAW.
“Do you think your writing income would rise meaningfully if it were your sole job?”
Yes. I don’t know how much, but my hope is that I’d be able to consistently produce at least two books a year, as opposed to the one/year schedule I’ve been on for so long. If I could do that — especially if I could branch out a bit with some of those books — I think it would lead to a significant increase in the writing income.
Or maybe I’d just spend more time blogging and posting on Twitter.
Hopefully someday I’ll be able to put that to the test.
I’ve been blogging about my writing income since 2007. It’s an odd thing, and feels tacky at times, but I also think it’s important. There’s very little data out there about how much money writers make, and a lot of folks — both new writers and muggles — have unrealistic ideas about the authorial lifestyle. I blame Castle.
From a financial perspective, 2013 has been the best year I’ve ever had as a writer. I sold three novels — books three and four in the Magic ex Libris series to DAW, and another project I can’t talk about yet. All total, before taxes and expenses, I earned about $60,800 — enough that I was able to pay off my wife’s student loans and put a little bigger dent in our mortgage.
While the year-to-year income is much more erratic than what I’ve made at my day job, the overall trend makes me happy. I expect I’ll probably make less in 2014 than I did last year, in part because I’ll be busy writing those novels I sold last year, and I highly doubt I’ll sell three more before the end of this one. On the other hand, there will be the D&A (delivery & acceptance) for at least two of those books, along with the on-publication payment … I have no idea what 2014 will look like, but it shouldn’t be too bad.
The writing expenses for the year actually dropped to a little over $1000, thanks to a number of Guest of Honor and Toastmaster invites, which reduced my convention costs. (Thank you!!!) My income tax payments are going to take a much bigger chunk out of things, but that’s to be expected.
The income breakdown is a bit different this year.
This is by far the least I’ve ever made from foreign language sales. (I’m not including the U.K. deals for Magic ex Libris here, because while U.K. English is indeed a foreign and confusing tongue, that deal was done as a sublicensing thing through my U.S. publisher, and I’ve only ever included non-English income in that category in prior years.) I honestly have no idea what happened here. It’s the second year in a row I’ve seen a significant dropoff in foreign income, and it’s something I’ll be following up with my agent about.
The income for my self-published stuff remained pretty constant. I don’t make a lot of money there, but considering I do zero work, I’m not going to complain!
Looking at the last few years, if it was just me, I’d be giving serious thought to quitting my day job, signing up for insurance through the ACA, and writing full time. But with a family of four to support, all of whom have health issues of one form or another, I’m not ready to make that jump quite yet.
For a little more background, I’m a U.S.-based author, and I started trying to write back in 1995, so realistically, it’s taken me 18 years to get to this point. I have nine fantasy novels in print with DAW. The first came out from DAW in 2006. The last two were published in hardcover. Most of my books have made the Locus bestseller lists, though I don’t hit the NYT or USA Today lists. (Yet.) I’m primarily — almost exclusively — a “traditionally” published author.
As always, please keep in mind that I’m a sample size of one. Trying to draw any broad, sweeping conclusions from such a sample would be … illogical.
With that said, I hope this is helpful, and as always, I’m happy to answer any questions folks might have.
The other day, I wrote that my candidacy appeared to have annoyed the folks over at The Write Agenda. They’ve written to explain that no, not only have I not annoyed them, they’re actually pleased with my candidacy, wishing me the best of luck and describing me as “a potential Moses.”
First of all, I was shocked to discover that, despite having three different names, those comments appeared to have come from the same person! What a shocking twist. And the IP address puts this individual on a computer at Matawan Aberdeen Library–
HOLY CRAP, IT’S ANOTHER TWIST!!! By an incredible coincidence, Matawan also happens to be the home of “literary agent” Barbara Bauer:
Barbara Bauer Literary Agency, Inc.
Now, according to a great deal of research by Writer Beware, The Write Agenda appears to be associated with Robert Fletcher and Strategic Book Publishing, a.k.a. Strategic Book Publishing and Rights Agency, along with a number of sockpuppets.
While the Write Agenda seems to have a fairly cozy relationship with Ms. Bauer, it’s also true that The Write Agenda have their own sockpuppets, like “Nick Caruso” and “Lizzy Greenberg” and “Michael Sigvagni.”
Ms. Bauer–or whoever from Mattawan, NJ happened to be posting those comments–seems to have adopted a different approach, using the names of authors and others she feels have wronged her for her sockpuppetry.
I’ve watched enough Criminal Minds to realize what this meant. The signatures didn’t match, and I was accusing the wrong unsub!
Man, do I have egg on my face or what? I MIXED UP THE SOCKPUPPETS! Mea culpa, and I apologize to Robert and everyone else at The Write Agenda for getting their sockpuppets confused with those of Ms. Ba–I mean, the “anonymous” commenter from New Jersey.
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…
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.
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.
For the writer folks, are you reading Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blog? She has a great deal of experience in the industry, and her posts are worth reading and thinking about, even if I occasionally disagree. Case in point: last week she wrote about auditing your agent, and shared her personal experience with Unnamed Agent who … well, let’s just say they weren’t terribly diligent about getting her all the money she deserved.
She makes a lot of good points. And while I haven’t seen anything to suggest similar problems with my own agent, it’s good to keep these things in mind, and preferably to be aware of them before rushing into a relationship that will affect your career.
A friend pinged me to let me know my name had come up in the comments, where someone was suggesting I should read the post, because it could help me. Another person referenced something I wrote last year about why I was keeping my agent, thanks.
From there, discussion moved to me working for “slave wages,” and how I was being “screwed out of hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.” Another person said it was sad that I was “so against changing anything about his work relationships.”
Let me start by saying I genuinely appreciate people’s concern for my career and financial well-being.
With that said, there seems to be an assumption in some of the comments that I’m blindly sticking with a system that’s screwing me over, that I haven’t seriously considered or researched other publishing options, and so on. I would like to reassure people that this is not the case. I read my contracts, both U.S. and foreign. I review my royalty checks and statements, and I ask my agent about anything that looks odd. (Often he beats me too it, sending me royalty spreadsheets with a note that he thinks some numbers look off, and he’s following up with the publisher.)
I’ve spoken to a lot of self-published authors, both those who went indie from day one and those who started with commercial publishing and switched over to self-publishing. I’ve self-published three collections and one novel, partly for the additional income, and partly for the experience. As my books revert back to me, I fully intend to self-publish those as well to keep them available.
After looking at the different options and talking to people who have gone down those different paths, I’ve chosen to keep my agent and publisher. I choose to stay with DAW and JABberwocky because I’ve determined that this is what’s best for me and my career at this time. That doesn’t necessarily mean it would be best for you. Everyone’s career is different, and there’s no one right way to do this.
The person who mentioned the hundreds of thousands of dollars I should be making also said they saw my books in kids’ hands as often as Twilight and Hunger Games. Which is awesome anecdotal data, but I’ve seen my sales numbers on Bookscan. I’ve been pretty successful so far, but I’m nowhere near Meyer/Collins levels of success.
At least not yet
My situation is my own. I choose to write part time, and to keep a full time day job. I have several chronic health conditions, a partially disabled wife, and a special needs child. And I live in a country that doesn’t have universal health coverage. I could find an insurance plan on my own, but it would be pricy. Health Care Reform will hopefully create more options, and I’ll revisit my situation as things change. But for now, I do choose to be a bit conservative when it comes to the health and care of myself and my family.
So thank you again for the concern, but I’m doing okay. My latest book hit the Locus Bestseller List, is in its fourth printing, and looks like it will have earned out a five-figure advance in three months. It’s been picked up in Germany and the UK so far, as well as by the Science Fiction Book Club (deals arranged by my agent and my publisher, respectively). My earlier work is still in print, and is being re-released in omnibus (Goblins) and audio (Goblins and Princesses) editions, as well as ongoing foreign deals (Stepsister Scheme just came out in Turkey).
I agree with Rusch that it’s important to go into a business relationship with your eyes open. I know I didn’t always do that when I was starting out, and in some ways, I got very, very lucky. I also agree that not everyone needs an agent, and that there are a lot of scams and pitfalls out there.
But I have done research, and I continue to pay attention to different options and opportunities. I talk to different authors, some more successful, some less. Some commercially published, some self-pubbed. Some with representation, some without. This is my career. I watch what’s happening in the industry, and I take it very seriously.
And I am indeed quite happy with where I’m at right now. Thanks!
Quick Thanks: My Fantasy Poses post has now been viewed well over 100,000 times, which is awesome. But I’ve noticed that as this continues to spread, I’m seeing a larger number of comments that … well, let’s just say I sometimes take for granted the mostly thoughtful, respectful, and fun comments and discussions from people here on the blog. Glancing at these other sites has been a reminder to 1) STOP READING COMMENTS ON UNMODERATED SITES! and 2) thank everyone here for being generally excellent people.
It always feels weird to talk about money. Partly this is because we’re taught not to do so. It also feels uncomfortably like boasting. I know a lot of people are struggling right now, and the last thing I want to do is rub their noses in the fact that I had a good year.
At the same time, there are so many misconceptions about writers and how much they make… I continue to run into people who assume I’m rich because I’ve got some books out, people who expect me to live in a mansion with solid gold robokittens and nuclear powered toothbrushes and so on. And I think it’s important to bust some of the myths about writing and writers.
I’ll put this behind a cut tag. If you’re interested, then read on…
There’s been a fair amount of discussion in writing circles about agents taking on the role of publisher, stepping in to help clients self-publish their work. When I published Goblin Tales [Amazon | B&N | Lulu], I did the majority of the work on my own, but my agent posted it for sale at Kobo and iBooks (taking their usual 15% commission on sales through those outlets).
Joshua and Eddie at JABberwocky have a post about the issue here, wherein Eddie says, “I think the decision to help an author self-publish a book, after failing to place it with a real publisher, is rooted in hubris.”
Keep in mind that JABberwocky has e-published several books already. The difference being that JABberwocky is publishing out-of-print backlist titles as opposed to releasing original work. Is that a significant difference? I think so. Does it eliminate any ethical conflicts or problems? That’s a better question.
Joshua asks about the agent’s role in the ever-evolving world of publishing. Personally, I want my agent to do several things for me:
That first point is huge, especially when agents go into self-publishing. If an agent e-publishes a client’s original work, is that really the best possible deal? Personally, if I have a book that doesn’t sell, I’d be tempted to wait a few years and come back to it. For the most part, I’m skeptical that self-publishing an original book through your agent is the best possible deal for the author.
Some of the questions I’m asking as I try to sort out the ethics and potential conflicts of interest for myself…
People have asked, “Why give your agent a cut for something you could do yourself?” But that holds true for agents in general. If you’re savvy enough, you can represent yourself, negotiate your own deals, sell your own work overseas … all it takes is time and expertise.
Some of us don’t have the time. Others lack the expertise. While I enjoyed putting together Goblin Tales and Kitemaster, I want to spend most of my time writing, not publishing. That means hiring someone else to do the work.
There are services out there that will do it for you. Is it better to keep those services entirely separate from agents? Maybe … here are a few things to consider in any case.
I think it’s an important conversation, and as always, I’d love to hear thoughts and discussion from other folks.
Disclaimer: My books are published by DAW, which has a distribution agreement through Penguin.
“…will allow writers to post their own work … and receive critiques from other users, who can comment on points like character development, pacing and dialogue.”
So far, so good, right? It sounds like the site was launched with the best of intentions, to help writers improve their craft and learn about the business. But keep reading, and you get to this quote. “Penguin hopes the site will attract agents, editors and publishers scouting for new talent…”
Good luck with that. Writer Beware wrote about manuscript display sites back in 2006.
“They were touted as writers’ Great New Hope: a brand-new cyberspace opportunity to bypass publishers’ closed-door policies and agents’ huge slush piles. Agents and editors, the sites declared, would be eager to visit a venue where manuscripts were pre-sorted into easily-searchable categories and genres, where submissions were pre-screened for quality…”
Repeat after me: there are no shortcuts. Of all the authors I’ve featured on First Book Friday, not one sold their first book via a manuscript display site. It almost makes you think agents and editors already have more submissions and queries than they can handle, and don’t need to spend their free time surfing display sites and hunting the Next Big Thing.
Even Penguin admits their staff won’t be searching the site for new authors. From the FAQ, Book Country “is not a channel for the submission of unsolicited manuscripts to Penguin editors.” Yet discoverability is pushed as a selling point to bring new writers in. “Our members include published authors and industry professionals. You never know who might discover your work.”
You never know who’ll discover your work if you leave your manuscript in a public restroom either. That doesn’t make it a smart strategy.
Book Country does offer critiques from other writers, articles and advice from professionals, and discussion forums, all backed by a major publisher. It costs nothing to join. These are all good things. Former agent Colleen Lindsay has been helping to get Book Country off the ground, which I think adds to their credibility. ETA: Colleen pointed to this link for background on the three full-time employees working on Book Country.
But then you get to the self-publishing angle. From the About Us page, “Later this year, Book Country will offer a convenient and affordable way to self-publish eBooks and print books.”
I’m going to quote a different Writer Beware article from back when Harlequin, another major publisher, started up a self-publishing service.
“I don’t for one teeny tiny second believe that discovering new writers, or giving them a chance to ‘begin their legacies’ or ‘reach the stars,’ plays a major part here. That’s just a marketing pitch. This is about money. Now more than ever, commercial publishers need to shore up their bottom lines–and adding self-publishing divisions is an easy and profitable way to do so.”
Book Country is targeted squarely at writers. Not editors, not agents, and not readers. By itself, this isn’t a bad thing … but publishing is a business, and it’s pretty clear where Penguin hopes to make back their investment.
There’s a lot of good stuff here. I see articles from Supereditor Ellen Datlow, Lou Anders of Pyr, Colleen Lindsay, and more. Online critique groups can be helpful too. If you go in expecting some helpful articles and feedback from other amateur writers, you probably won’t be disappointed.
But don’t go in looking for shortcuts or that big break.
Has anyone here been involved in Book Country? Submitted or critiqued any work, or interacted with folks on the site? Discussion, debate, and more info are welcome, as always.
Yeah, I know. Jim never posts twice in one day. But I had a lot to babble about, and I’m going to be gone this weekend for Constellation, so figured I’d get the latest e-book data up now.
Overall, that’s close to $400 in sixteen days. Nice, eh? Especially for short fiction. So the short term results are looking nice indeed.
The long term? That’s harder to say. April sales for the first week show 20 copies sold at Amazon, 12 at B&N, and 5 at Lulu (4 print, 1 download). Not bad, but a definite dropoff. I’m not going to make any confident predictions here, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see the same sales curve I get with my print books, where there’s an initial spike in sales followed by a dropoff to a lower long-term rate.
Moving on to overall e-book sales, I received my royalty statement from DAW, which had some interesting data. I graphed e-book sales of the goblin trilogy and the first two princess books below. (Red Hood hasn’t been out long enough to generate multiple data points.)
E-book sales jumped in July – December of 2010 for all five books. Even for Goblin Quest, which is a four-year-old book. Not as dramatic an increase for the goblins, but a noticeable one. A number of people have commented on a spike in e-book sales around the end of last year and the start of this one. I’m guessing some of that is due to the holidays, and all of the people who received e-readers and gift cards to spend.
I have no idea if this trend will continue. It would be rather silly to base predictions on a single-period jump. But it’s interesting.
All total, e-book sales make up about 4.3% of total goblin sales and 6.8% of princess sales, but those percentages appear to be increasing over time. For Red Hood’s Revenge [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], which came out in July of 2010, e-books represented 6.7% of total sales.
So there you go. I’m happy to say I’m continuing to earn royalties on all of the goblin books and the first two princess books, and Red Hood should start paying out as well once the reserve against returns goes away.
Several people have e-mailed me about Robin Sullivan’s Midlist Author Comparison, wherein she compares my writing income to that of e-published author David Dalglish.
Tangential disclaimer: back in January, I pointed out some errors in Sullivan’s guest post at J. A. Konrath’s place. She recently responded that the errors were part of Konrath’s introduction, and were his mistakes, not hers. Konrath’s post was edited within 24 hours of my post, but looking at it now, it does appear that the mistakes I pointed out are Konrath’s, not Sullivan’s. My apologies to Sullivan for that.
Sullivan’s new post has its own erroneous details, like “Thomas Buckell’s” survey on advances, or my book “Step Sister Scheme” being book #2 of the Faery Taile Project. But the numbers she gives regarding my writing income look correct. I assume the numbers she cites for Dalglish accurately reflect his self-reported sales as well.
I initially planned to ignore the post. I’m getting more and more bored by the “Indies vs. Traditional” thing. I’ve got a friend whose updates have turned into nothing but advertisements of his own books, retweets of other self-pubbed authors, and slams on commercial publishing. It’s tiresome.
My guess is that people who want to believe Sullivan’s conclusions will do so. But here are some of my thoughts as I read her post…
Some of her comments about commercial publishing also jumped out at me:
Draw your own conclusions.