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


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?


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


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.


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


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?


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’s the link to the next part.


Is This Thing On?

I’m back!

Domain registration and website hosting have all been successfully (I think) transferred. I’m sure there will be a few broken links and missing images here and there that I need to fix, but for the most part, everything on the site appears to be working. (Please let me know if you see anything that isn’t!)

Here’s a week’s worth of updates crammed into one blog post:

  • Revisionary is out in paperback. Ebook pricing has dropped as well. Woo hoo!
  • Mary Anne Mohanraj and I are about to start reviewing and editing submissions for Invisible 3. Yay, progress!
  • I have seen Dan Dos Santos’ final artwork for Terminal Alliance, and it makes me happy. Will share as soon as the finished cover is ready for public release.
  • A Friday link: 10 Illustrations Every Dog Owner Will Understand.

So, what did I miss while I was away?

Paperback Revisionary Comes Out Next Week

Wait, how is it February? I don’t understand!

Revisionary - Cover Art by Gene MollicaBut since it is February, that means it’s only five days until Revisionary comes out in paperback. The release of the mass market edition means the price of the ebook should drop as well, which I know some people have been waiting for.

I’ll be giving out one autographed copy to a random newsletter subscriber next week. Or if you’d prefer, you can pre-order the paperback right now:

Amazon | B&N | BAM | Mysterious Galaxy | Schuler Books | Indiebound

And with that bit of shameless self-promotion out of the way, I have to get back to work on Terminal Alliance now. Happy almost-weekend, all! Remember to breathe!

Highlights from Trump’s January 25 Interview

The full transcript of Donald Trump’s interview with ABC News is available online. There’s also video of Trump talking about how he “can be the most presidential person ever,” with the possible exception of Lincoln.

In other words, this isn’t satire or fake news. These are the words of the President of the United States of America. People keep telling me I have to give him a chance to see what he does as President before I judge. That’s what I’m judging him on! On his words and his actions. On interviews like this, which continue to demonstrate his shocking ignorance and fragility.

If you have the stomach for it, go ahead and read the whole thing. Here are some excerpts. My interjections are in blue.

Comments are turned off. I have a deadline to meet, and too little time and energy to deal with trolls this week.


Jim C. Hines