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.
January 19, 2019 @ 4:26 pm
How do audio royalties work? Like through Audible for instance? I’m curious because I’m someone who uses the credits and buys the rest when I can
Jim C. Hines
January 19, 2019 @ 4:38 pm
Ken – pretty much the same as print royalties. When we sell one of my books to Audible or Graphic Audio, they pay an advance up front. Once sales earn out that advance, I start getting royalties for each sale.
I *think* authors earn the same royalties regardless of whether you pay with cash or Audible credits…
I’m told with credits, Audible pools the credit money for the month and divides it among sales made with said credits.
Katharine B Kerr
January 19, 2019 @ 4:46 pm
Mine last year was about 30K, thanks to a 4 book audio deal — the best year in years.
Katharine B Kerr
January 19, 2019 @ 4:47 pm
I should probably add that my husband’s medical bills for the year were about 80K.
January 19, 2019 @ 6:02 pm
So, you’re saying don’t sell my tools lol?
I’m both shocked, and not. I figured it’d be at least 20k higher considering your body of work, but I’m not very surprised because of your genre and target market. I feel Rowlings is a rare enigma, teen, and fantasy books don’t make people rich unless they go viral.
I am curious how much of the 30 bux I give to Graphic Audio goes to you?
January 19, 2019 @ 6:33 pm
Ah, this has made me reconsider the use of audibles credits vs paying with a card
January 19, 2019 @ 6:53 pm
Wow, is it already that time again? I feel like the last one wasn’t that long ago, but it’s been a whole year, my goodness. Time, what a strange thing.
January 19, 2019 @ 9:10 pm
Next year I hope you’ll be able to tell us you’re Rowling in it.
January 20, 2019 @ 9:46 am
Thank you, Jim, for the insight. I keep my fingers crossed for all of you.
January 26, 2019 @ 8:07 am
thanks once again for doing this, gives the rest of us hope that its possible to make a reasonable living as a writer, rather than working full time and scribbling words in the evenings, still surprised you don’t sell more books outside the US and would be interested to know the break down of ebooks – paperbacks. Your good health sir and I hope your wife makes a full recovery 🙂
News & Notes – 1/26/2018 – The Bookwyrm’s Hoard
January 26, 2019 @ 1:25 pm
[…] Jim C. Hines shares his annual “writing income” post. If you’ve ever wondered what an author actually makes, check out this post. Hines, an established SFF author with a backlist of at least 10 novels, offers a breakdown of his income for 2018. (His was not the family’s sole income for 2018; his wife earned a full-time salary plus health insurance. That—particularly the insurance—while not included in this breakdown, made it possible for him to leave his day job a few years ago.) […]
Loose-leaf Links #73 | Earl Grey Editing
February 10, 2019 @ 4:02 pm
[…] Jim C. Hines talks about his 2018 writing income. […]
Jean Hiebert Larson
March 12, 2019 @ 1:40 pm
Thank you so much for writing on this topic! I’m a data analyst by day and an amateur author by night and have found it challenging to find good data on the financial side of pursuing writing. Your survey results in 2016 were particularly helpful. Write on!
April 6, 2019 @ 1:47 am
You give how much money you earned, but how many book sales do those numbers represent? Do you think you could earn more moving into self-publishing?
Michael Sullivan made a post on /r/Fantasy a few months back where he said he’s now thinking new authors might well do better self-publishing simply because audio rights have so much income potential if you don’t sign them away as part of a traditional publishing deal.