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.