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.
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.
- Novels (U.S. editions) – $50,171
- Novels (non-U.S. editions) – $7194
- Self-published Work – $3368
- Short Fiction & Nonfiction – $890
- Other – $125
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.
I hope this is helpful. Please feel free to ask questions. And here’s to a wonderful and productive 2016 to us all!
Luther M. Siler
January 4, 2016 @ 9:35 am
I made just a hair over $1500 as an indie author in 2015, and I’m going to be honest– I feel pretty good about it. Somehow the notion that Jim Hines’ self-published stuff (I bought SPIDER GODDESS, by the way) only made about twice what I made last year scans as good news. 🙂
January 4, 2016 @ 10:03 am
Thanks a lot, Jim, these posts are such good reads – I really appreciate you sharing something as personal as income. Better discussions around income and pay will help writers in the long run – would love to see others follow your example!
January 4, 2016 @ 10:21 am
I was with small presses for my traditionally published books. I hold the rights or, in 2 cases, e-rights to them now, and have published all as indie titles. I haven’t run the precise stats, but my numbers would be 100% income from indie titles, and 95% of that from the digital versions. It’s good to have choices. I never moved into the black when publishers were my only source of income
January 4, 2016 @ 10:25 am
Hi Jim, thanks for sharing.
As a new/unknown author I read these posts with great interest. While you share your publishing incomes, you don’t break it down further into advances and royalties, and I’m assuming most of your books have earned out at this point. I’m curious if this just a personal thing, or if your publishers prefer you don’t share such info.
Either way, thanks again!
January 4, 2016 @ 10:31 am
Thanks for the numbers, Jim. As you wrote: there is too little data available and your data provides a valuable insight.
Remark (as in the previous years): the “Novels (U.S.)” income portion is probably misleading as a large parts of the international readerships gets sorted in there. When (and every single reader of yours I know personally in Germany does so) a reader buys the English language version on Amazon, he provides money under the “Novels (U.S.)” label. Unluckily it is impossible to get any hard numbers from Amazon :-(.
Jim C. Hines
January 4, 2016 @ 11:09 am
Yeah, I updated the text part this year to clarify that I’m talking about the U.S. editions of the books vs. editions published in other countries/languages, but I didn’t do the same on the chart. Need to fix that…
January 4, 2016 @ 11:20 am
It is frustrating that Amazon sits on the data of it’s authors like Smaug did with the Arkenstone ;-). There would be so much to learn for everyone…
Perhaps some Bard will help us someday….
January 4, 2016 @ 12:11 pm
Most of my colleagues and contacts who self publish are in romance genre. How is self-publishing for fantasy writers? A challenge to sell to that market?
January 4, 2016 @ 12:24 pm
This is fascinating, Jim. Your upward trend is quite inspirational. And the breakdown between US and international novel sales and then your self-published income is quite encouraging as well. You’ve motivated me to start a similar practice. And while I know that everyone’s career/mileage is different, I appreciate that you’re sharing yours. I look forward to seeing even better results for you in 2016! 🙂
Thank you so much for sharing.
Jim C. Hines
January 4, 2016 @ 12:39 pm
I’m not an expert in that area, but I know people like Annie Bellet and MCA Hogarth and Harry Connolly have had a lot of success self-publishing and selling their fantasy work.
2015 Writing Income - Sharon Joss WritesSharon Joss Writes
January 4, 2016 @ 2:26 pm
[…] going to take a cue from author Jim C. Hines and post my 2015 earnings income from my writing here. In part, because I really like the way he […]
January 4, 2016 @ 2:49 pm
One thing I am curious about is how many hours you worked to get this. Writing, rewriting, promoting, talking to editors, formatting files, etc. In other words, what is your hourly rate?
Thank you for sharing.
Jim C. Hines
January 4, 2016 @ 2:52 pm
It probably averaged about 20 hours/week, though that goes up with the quitting of the full-time day job.
January 4, 2016 @ 6:56 pm
Thank you for doing this. It helps to see it plainly.
January 4, 2016 @ 7:42 pm
That’s a decent income for 20 hours per week, but I know it didn’t show up overnight or without hard work. I’m grateful you’re will to share. Gives those of us who aren’t making squat yet faith and something to shoot for. Thanks so much for sharing.
Jim C. Hines
January 4, 2016 @ 8:18 pm
Huh. I hadn’t thought about it too hard – I think I’ve fallen into the “this is how I’ve done it in previous years” trap, and just kept doing the same.
Most of the books have earned out. I think the only exceptions are Unbound, Revisionary (which isn’t out yet), and the Fable tie-in book. In part, that’s because the advances were larger on those.
Let me think about advances and what I’d be able to share, and what I’m comfortable sharing publicly. Thanks!
January 4, 2016 @ 10:34 pm
This looks great, Jim, I love the upward trend. Congrats. Also, much respect for providing the data.
January 4, 2016 @ 11:55 pm
Speaking as a self-published urban fantasy writer (somewhat different genre) I know that market has done well for me this year. Like Jim, I went full time this year with a similar income, based largely on one series. What I’ve noticed as a self-publisher is that my books do quite well the first month or two that they’re out, then they do a slow but steady business. Also, I’m exclusive to Amazon, so a lot of my revenue comes from Kindle Unlimited borrows/pages read. Which means, like Jim, I’m never going to hit the NYT Best Seller list. But, I make a decent living, and I’m not going to complain. 🙂
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Paul StJohn Mackintosh
January 5, 2016 @ 5:27 am
Jim, do you have any idea what portion of your income came from ebook editions versus printed books?
January 5, 2016 @ 5:28 am
Like pretty much any genre, Fantasy can be awesome for self-publishing. It can also be terrible. Depends on you, your books, and your ability to write, publish, and market.
I’ve done incredibly well with urban and epic fantasy (I’ve had months that were almost as good as Jim’s entire year, for example, not as a brag but as a data point in what’s possible with a lot of work, a little luck, and a ton of knowledge) but I also write a lot of books (well, when I’m not totally sick, sigh) and work a lot of hours. Self-publishing can be a serious treadmill and, much like trad publishing, intensely frustrating while you try to climb the learning curve and find an audience. There’s no stability and there’s no “made it!” in publishing, period, from what I can tell. So…
All I can say about self-publishing fantasy is that it will be a little easier to maybe gain traction if you do things like:
1) Write really good books ********in a series**********
2) Release often. Like no further apart than every 3 months. Every 30 days is better, honestly, but a tough schedule to keep.
3) Nail your tropes (make sure you are fulfilling reader expectations), your cover branding (genre, tone, etc), your book descriptions etc
4) Experiment with pricing, have loss-leaders, run ads, and do your best to stay on the pulse of where your target readership is and how to reach them.
5) Write REALLY good books in a series (okay, I already said that, but seriously, this is often the #1 problem I see when someone writes and asks me why their books aren’t selling…)
Anyway… Ahem. Thanks, Jim, for sharing your numbers. 🙂
Jim C. Hines
January 5, 2016 @ 1:28 pm
I’m afraid not. It might be possible for me to dig up some ideas on that, but it would involve a rather ridiculous amount of digging through old paperwork and other data…
Jim C. Hines
January 5, 2016 @ 1:29 pm
One of the notes I need to remember to add next year is that while the trend graph goes back to 2002, I actually started writing and submitting stuff in 1995…
Jim C. Hines
January 5, 2016 @ 1:29 pm
Thanks for jumping in, Annie! I was kind of hoping you would 🙂
Jim C. Hines
January 5, 2016 @ 1:30 pm
There’s no one right way to do this, and I figure if you’re making a decent living, that’s pretty darn awesome! Go you!
January 8, 2016 @ 6:34 pm
I’m not as prolific as Annie B, but I have had a couple of decent years self-publishing fantasy and epic fantasy. In 2015, I did about as well as Jim did, but I released four books (well, one was Dec ’14, but you know.) This year I’ll have nothing to release, and the pennies, they are being pinched.
My plan is to return to the traditional side with my next book, in the hopes that the backlist bump will be significant once a large publisher’s marketing division begins to work. Hybrid, that’s me.
In the meantime, for self-publishing, Good cover, good title, good books, preferably in a series.
January 8, 2016 @ 10:55 pm
I think the summary chart would be a lot more interesting if, under the years, there was a tally of what was available (print or digital), at least for novels, and an indication of years where novels were published. This would add some context, and maybe reveal anomaly years where no novel was published but income rose (and vice versa). (Just a thought, anyways…)
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Cheryl S Mackey
January 10, 2016 @ 5:54 pm
I’m a fantasy self published author and marketing/promoting is going to be the death of me. I have 3 books out but I cannot afford high end marketing/promo schemes. Is there anything you (or anyone here) can recommend for the starving artist type to get the word out and be seen? Thank you so much!
Jim C. Hines
January 10, 2016 @ 6:53 pm
I wish someone had a surefire answer for that.
I’d suggest getting involved with some of the self-publishing groups and discussion boards online. You should be able to get some suggestions and options that way.
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Michael J. Sullivan
January 28, 2016 @ 9:27 am
As a hybrid author – I highly recommend the practice. The problem, of course, is not everyone has the option. You have to do two very difficult things (a) self-publish well and (b) get a traditional publisher to fork up a contract for your work. Either by itself is monumental – those that can do both are an even smaller subset. Still, those who can go hybrid I think will benefit tremendously, both from diversity and agility. Good luck with it.
Michael J. Sullivan
January 28, 2016 @ 9:29 am
First off, congratulations for going full-time in 2016 – good on you. Second, as always, thanks for sharing this information – it’s a great thing you do, pulling back the veil. I’ve mentioned in the past that these posts did a great deal to set my own expectations before I started publishing. I keep wanting to do something similar for myself, and hope to one day.
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