2021 Writing Income

Welcome to my 14th annual blog post about writing income. I’ve been doing this partly to dispel the myth that writers are swimming in cash like Scrooge McDuck in his money bin, and partly as a data point to help newer writers get a slightly more realistic (I hope) idea what they might be in for.

Keep in mind that I’m just one data point, and no writer’s career is exactly the same as any other’s. But one datum is better than none, right? And if other authors do similar posts about their 2021 income, let me know and I’ll link those here:

Prior Years: Here are the annual write-ups going back to 2007: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020.

In 2016, instead of a personal income write-up, 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, and I’ve averaged more or less a book a year since then. (The past few years are an exception. I’ll talk about that later.) I have an agent, and have been with them since about 2004.

I’ve self-published a middle grade fantasy and a few short collections. I’ve also sold about 50 short stories to different magazines and anthologies.

I’ve never hit the NYT or USA Today bestseller lists, but my last five books have been lead titles for my publisher.

I’m currently a solo parent of a teenager (at home) and a 21-year-old (away at college). I work a half-time day job, partly for the paycheck, but mostly for the benefits. I would love to say I write every single day, but sometimes life has other plans.

2021 in Summary: I’m going to focus on the writing here, because otherwise I’ll spend the next 5000 words griping. I mean, come on — we didn’t even get Betty White celebrating her 100th birthday? F***ing 2021.

Okay, writing stuff. Right…

This was another slow year in terms of publication. Terminal Peace had been delayed already because of my family’s medical crisis throughout 2019. I got the book turned in back in September of 2020, but thanks to COVID and some business issues my publisher was dealing with, it won’t be published until August 2022. I think the only publication I had last year was a reprint of “Gift of the Kites” in Arcana.

I did, however, write a new middle grade novel my agent is shopping around, and I got about 90% of another book rewritten. That will hopefully be ready to go on submission within another month or two.

We also sold Russian rights to Tamora Carter: Goblin Queen, which was a lovely surprise.

So while I produced almost two books, 2021 was a year with no original Jim C. Hines publications, which is a bit frustrating and discouraging. It also makes the income numbers more interesting, at least to me.

2021 Income: The biggest check came from the Delivery/Acceptance payment for Terminal Peace. While I delivered that manuscript in September 2020, the payment didn’t make its way through the system and get to me until 2021. I’m kind of glad, because otherwise this year’s numbers would be a lot more depressing.

Royalties from my audio publishers and my U.S. publisher made up the next most significant chunk.

In total, before taxes, I brought in $24,243.50 in writing income. That’s down more than $7000 from last year, which isn’t terribly surprising. It’s still better than I did in 2019, aka The Year From Hell.

Here’s the trend graph going back to 2002. (2006 is when Goblin Quest came out from DAW. That was my first book from a major publisher, and I consider it a turning point in my career. You can see the numbers start to jump after that year.)

Writing Income Trend through 2021

Expenses were between $500 and $1000, which is a lot less than last year. I was also paying quarterly estimated taxes, which came out to a couple thousand dollars.

2021 Income Breakdown:

Patreon continues to be a small but helpful source of income. My thanks to everyone for that!

The “Other” category is things like the honorarium I received for doing Grand Rapids Comic Con, payment for a session I did at a different convention, and so on.

Interestingly, the short fiction total is almost exactly the same as last year. Almost all of that comes from ongoing royalties for a story I did for Shadowed Souls a few years back.

  • Novels (U.S. editions): $15,400.64
  • Novels (Non-U.S. editions): $2167.16
  • Self-Published: $1707.45
  • Short fiction: $232.49
  • Audio: $2090.69
  • Patreon: $1620.07
  • Other: $1025

2021 Income Breakdown Pie Chart

Looking Ahead: I’m keeping my fingers crossed that everything goes smoothly with Terminal Peace and the book comes out on schedule.

As for my own goals, I’d love it if the middle grade book my agent is shopping around actually found a home, but we’ll see. If not, I may look into another Kickstarter like I did with Goblin Queen in 2020. I’m pretty confident we’ll be able to sell the standalone fantasy I’m finishing up. I also have an idea for another new middle grade fantasy I’d like to try.

But really, I just want to get through 2022 with my health and sanity, you know?

I hope this has been helpful. As always, feel free to share the post and ask any questions. And if you know of anyone else doing an income roundup, let me know in the comments and I’ll add those links to the post.