2019 Writing Income

Welcome to 2020, and may it be better than 2019 for all of us!

I’ve been doing an annual write-up of my author income each year since 2007, as a kind of reality-check against the myth that we’re all super-wealthy and earning Stephen King-level royalty checks.

As many of you already know, 2019 was the worst year of my life. We spent most of the year helping my wife Amy fight cancer, and the last few months trying to cope with her loss. As a result, I got pretty much zero writing done.

Unexpected crises, health-related and others, are a part of life. And my guess is most authors — most freelancers and self-employed folks in general — will sooner or later hit a year where life razes their plans and salts the earth where those plans once grew.

Here’s what that looked like for me, financially speaking.

Previous Years: Here are the annual write-ups going back to 2007: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018.

In 2016, I did a survey of almost 400 novelists about their income.

My Background: I’m a primarily “traditionally published,” U.S.-based SF/F author with 14 books in print from major New York publishers. The first of those books came out from DAW in 2006. I’ve also sold about 50 short stories. I’ve never hit the NYT or USA Today bestseller lists, but my last five books have been lead titles for my publisher. In late 2015, I mostly-quit my full-time day job, switching to 10-15 hours/week for the State of Michigan, and spending the rest of my time writing and as stay-at-home Dad.

In 2019, most of that time and energy went to caretaking for my wife.

2019 Summary: The original plan for 2019 was to finish Terminal Peace and hopefully sell some new books to DAW. My agent was also shopping around two finished middle grade projects.

Neither of those middle grade projects sold. As for Terminal Peace, I stopped writing at all for a while in 2019, and have only gotten back to it in the past couple of months. I’m about halfway through the first draft, making progress, but at a slower pace than before.

As a result, I had no 2019 income from anything new. It was all royalties and payments on already-sold projects.

Before taxes and expenses, but after any agent commissions, I made $13,811.78 from my writing in 2019.

Here’s the annual income graph going back to 2002.

Annual Income, 2002-2019

2019 Breakdown: Most of the novel money was from the portion of the advance that came with the hardcover publication of Terminal Uprising. The rest was royalties from the books that have earned out their advances (Goblins, Princesses, and I believe the first two Magic ex Libris books).

I didn’t have any new self-published work in 2019, so it’s nice to see that all those little monthly checks added up to four figures.

  • Novels (U.S. editions): $9551.54
  • Novels (Non-U.S. editions): $1215.45
  • Self-Published: $1285.56
  • Short fiction: $237.08
  • Audio: $900.84
  • Other: $621.31

2019 Income Breakdown

Other Notes: If all goes well, 2020 should see things turn around a bit. I’m hoping to get Terminal Peace done and turned in, and to finally sell something new to DAW. That should be a nice boost, and get me back toward my “normal” writing path.

But honestly, it’s nice to realize I’ve produced and published enough that even when I have such an awful and unproductive year, my work still generates enough income to help support my family. That feels like a real payoff and reward from a quarter-century of working to be a writer.

As always, I hope this is helpful. Feel free to share the post and to ask any questions. I can’t promise to answer everything, but I’ll do my best.

2018 Writing Income

It’s a new year, and that means it’s time for another look back at last year’s writing income. I’ve been doing this since 2007, because I think it’s important to have open conversations about trying to make a living as a writer — as well as dispelling the myth that we’re all making Rowling- and King-sized paychecks.

Previous Years: Here are the annual write-ups going back to 2007: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017. In 2016, I did a survey of almost 400 novelists about their income.

My Background: I’m a primarily “traditionally published,” U.S.-based SF/F author with 13 books in print from major New York publishers. The first of those 13 books came out from DAW in 2006. I’ve also sold about 50 short stories. I’ve never hit the NYT or USA Today bestseller lists, but my last five books have been lead titles for my publisher. In late 2015, I mostly-quit my full-time day job. Since November of 2015, I’ve worked 10 hours a week for the State of Michigan, and spent the rest of my time as a writer and stay-at-home Dad.

2018 Summary: 2016 was my best year as a writer, thanks in large part to a three-book deal I signed with DAW. I spent the next two years working on those books. My agent has also been shopping around a middle grade project, and will begin shopping a second in the coming weeks, but those won’t boost the income levels until if and when we sign a contract.

In total, before taxes (but after any agent commissions), I made $38,812.29 from my writing last year, down about $4000 from 2017.

Here’s the annual income graph going back to 2002.

The biggest check of the year was for the delivery and acceptance payment on Terminal Uprising. The smallest, if you’re interested, was a $0.89 royalty payment from Smashwords in September.

2018 Breakdown: I added a category for Audio book advances and royalties this year, since that’s becoming a more important source of income for a lot of the writers I’ve talked to. The bulk of the self-published income came from the release of Imprinted early last year. Interestingly, I didn’t have any new short fiction sales in 2018; all of that is royalties, primarily from one anthology that’s done surprisingly well.

  • Novels (U.S. editions) – $26029.29
  • Novels (non-U.S. editions) – $4406.39
  • Self-published Work – $3569.10
  • Short Fiction – $810.62
  • Audio – $3396.89
  • Other – $600

Other Notes: With my wife’s health issues, I’ve written pretty much nothing for the past two months. I’m hoping that will change as she continues to get stronger, but this is going to continue to impact everything. I’m hopeful that 2019 will see the sale of at least one of those two middle grade projects, but like so much else, that’s out of my control.

Anyway, I hope this is helpful to folks.

2017 Writing Income

I’ve been blogging about my income as a writer for a decade now (taking last year off to explore writing income data from a different angle). We don’t talk much about money, and writing tends to be romanticized more than a lot of other jobs. My goal is to provide a reality-check about writing as a career. You can’t draw broad conclusions from a single data point, but it’s better than nothing, right?

Previous Years: Here are the annual write-ups going back to 2007: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015. In 2016, I did a survey of almost 400 novelists about their income.

My Background: I’m a primarily “traditionally published” U.S.-based SF/F author with 13 books in print from major New York publishers. The first of those 13 books came out from DAW in 2006. I’ve also sold about 50 short stories. I’ve never hit the NYT or USA Today bestseller lists, but my last five books have been lead titles for my publisher. In late 2015, I mostly-quit my full-time day job. Since November of 2015, I’ve worked 10 hours a week for the State of Michigan, and spent the rest of my time as a writer and stay-at-home Dad.

2017 Summary: Writing doesn’t always provide the most stable income from month to month or from year to year. 2016 was my best year as a writer, thanks in large part to a three-book deal I signed with DAW. I spent 2017 working on those books, and didn’t sign any new deals. As a result, my gross income (after my agent’s commission but before any of my expenses) for 2017 dropped to $42,652.70, down from $76,777.32 the year before.

Here’s the graph of my writing income since 2002, which is as far back as I have records for.

Annual Income Graph

The three largest checks for 2017 came from the mass market publication of Revisionary, the delivery payment for Terminal Alliance, and the hardcover publication of Terminal Alliance.

I do have another novel on submission, which I’d been hoping to sell last year, but publishing can be a slow creature. Hopefully that will turn into a nice boost for 2018.

2017 Breakdown:

  • Novels (U.S. editions) – $32,512.01
  • Novels (non-U.S. editions) – $6430.08
  • Self-published Work – $1819.48
  • Short Fiction & Nonfiction – $1641.13
  • Other – $250

Breakdown of 2017 income

I didn’t actually sell any nonfiction last year; that $1641 is all from short fiction. I only sold a few stories, but they were to good markets. One anthology (Shadowed Souls) even earned out and paid royalties, which I believe is a first for me with anthologies that pay professional per-word rates.

Expenses: A lot of that income went right back out the door for quarterly estimated tax payments. The joys of self-employment, eh? As always, there will also be at least a few thousand dollars in other expenses, from convention travel costs to postage to other business expenses like website hosting, cellphone business use, and so on.

2018 Goals: I’m going to finish Terminal Uprising, though it’s likely that book won’t see publication until early 2019. I also have that novel manuscript my agent has been shopping around, and I just sent them a pitch for another project that could be a lot of fun.

Next week’s release of “Imprinted” will tell me how much of a market there is for novellette/novella-length stories in my existing worlds. I’m hoping to do more of that in the future.

Ultimately, I don’t have anywhere near as much control over the financial side as I’d like. But I want to refocus a bit, and push myself to try new things as a writer. I also want to remember to have fun with it all.

ETA – Related Links:

2015 Writing Income

For eight years now, I’ve been posting about my annual writing income. There’s a lot of misinformation about what it’s like to be an author, and not as much actual data. You can’t draw any broad conclusions from one data point, but I figure one data point is still better than none, right?

Previous Years: Here are the annual write-ups going back to 2007: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014.

My Background: I’m a U.S.-based fantasy author with eleven books in print from a major New York publisher. My first novel came out in 2006. I’ve also sold about 50 short stories over the past 15+ years. I’ve never hit the NYT or USA Today bestseller lists, but my last three books have been lead titles for my publisher. For most of 2015, I had a full-time job as a state employee, meaning I was not working full-time as a writer. I’ve self-published a few things, but I’m primarily “traditionally published.”

2015 Summary: I’m happy to say that 2015 was my best year yet, edging out 2013 by about $900 or so. Before taxes and expenses (but after my agent’s commission), writing brought in $61,756.93.

Annual Income Trend Graph

I didn’t sign any new book deals last year, but I did have two new books come out — the hardcover edition of Unbound (mass market edition comes out tomorrow!), and the tie-in novel Fable: Blood of Heroes. Other significant income included the Delivery & Acceptance payment on Revisionary, and royalties on Libriomancer, which was a $1.99 Kindle Daily Deal twice during the year.

2015 Breakdown:

  • Novels (U.S. editions) – $50,171
  • Novels (non-U.S. editions) – $7194
  • Self-published Work – $3368
  • Short Fiction & Nonfiction – $890
  • Other – $125

Pie Chart: 2015 Income Breakdown

I only sold one short story last year, since I was putting the bulk of my time and energy into novel-length work. That trend will probably continue in 2016.

One interesting note — interesting to me, at least — is that the self-publishing slice of the pie is more than double what it was last year. This is primarily thanks to Rise of the Spider Goddess, which I self-pubbed at the end of 2014.


As always, a significant chunk of that money will go right back into taxes. There will also be at least a few thousand dollars in other expenses, from convention travel costs to postage to other business expenses like website hosting, bookmark printing, etc. But I won’t have final numbers on all that until I’ve done my 2015 taxes.

Looking Ahead to 2016:

There’s a very good chance that 2016 will be an even better year. I’m hoping to sign a new multi-book contract with my publisher. I also have my NaNoWriMo project that we should be able to shop around this year. And if I can make time, I want to delve more into the self-publishing side of things. The short story I put out a few weeks ago confirmed that there’s a market for tie-in work to my various series, and I’d love to go back and write a bit more in those different worlds.

Of course, 2016 will also be the first year where I don’t have the income of my full-time job, which is intimidating. But right now, I’m feeling pretty good about it all.

Any Questions?

I hope this is helpful. Please feel free to ask questions. And here’s to a wonderful and productive 2016 to us all!

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 Income - Cumulative 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

2014 Income Breakdown 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:

Writing Income in More Detail

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…

  • All of my books have earned out their advances, with the exception of Codex Born. (And since Codex Born came out in August 2013, I haven’t seen a royalties statement yet, so it’s possible that one has also earned out. But I doubt it.)
  • I signed contracts for three new books in 2013, which means there’s a higher-than-normal proportion of on-signing advance money.

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.

I’ve self-published three short collections, which you can see at the bottom of my Bookstore page. I also self-published my non-genre novel Goldfish Dreams.

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.

  • Mileage: 4,290, which comes to a mileage deduction of $2,424.
  • Meal Allowance: $2,517, of which I get to deduct half.
  • Parking, tolls, taxi, etc: $684
  • Website-related costs: $146
  • Postage: $241
  • Internet/wireless: $766
  • Other: $83

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.

2013 Writing Income

ETA: I did a follow-up post addressing some of the questions people asked about how the income breaks down, expenses, etc.


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.

My income posts from previous years are here: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012.

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.

  • Novels (U.S.): $55,350
  • Novels (Foreign Editions): $1,000
  • Self-Published: $1,650
  • Short fiction and Nonfiction: $1,500
  • Miscellaneous: $1,300

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.

An Apology to The Write Agenda

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.”

Okay, I admit this was not what I was expecting, and even threw me off-balance a bit. So I went back and checked the comments that referenced my “bad reputation” at TWA.

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.
[Street Address Removed]
Matawan, NJ 07747-2944

Some of you might recall Ms. Bauer from such blog posts as Making Light’s Dumbest of the Twenty Worst, the discussion at Absolute Write, alerts from Writer Beware, and more.

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.

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.

In Which Others Worry About the State of my Career

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!

Jim C. Hines