On Robin Sullivan’s Author Comparison

Several people have e-mailed me about Robin Sullivan’s Midlist Author Comparison, wherein she compares my writing income to that of e-published author David Dalglish.

Tangential disclaimer: back in January, I pointed out some errors in Sullivan’s guest post at J. A. Konrath’s place. She recently responded that the errors were part of Konrath’s introduction, and were his mistakes, not hers. Konrath’s post was edited within 24 hours of my post, but looking at it now, it does appear that the mistakes I pointed out are Konrath’s, not Sullivan’s. My apologies to Sullivan for that.

Sullivan’s new post has its own erroneous details, like “Thomas Buckell’s” survey on advances, or my book “Step Sister Scheme” being book #2 of the Faery Taile Project. But the numbers she gives regarding my writing income look correct. I assume the numbers she cites for Dalglish accurately reflect his self-reported sales as well.

Her conclusions:

  • “Jim’s six books has taken him 4 ½ years and he still is not earning a living wage. His income is impacted substantially by his foreign sales … and without that his income would be dismal …”
  • “David’s six books took 1 year to get to market and while his income initially appeared to be modest within 10 months he has grown to a substantial six-figure income that certainly would classify as a ‘living wage’ … if the current trends for both of these authors continue there will be a significant gap with David outperforming Jim by a substantial margin.”
  • From her post at Absolute Write, “It took Jim 4 years to release six-books and he can’t make a living wage on his writing. David Dalglish has been at it less than a year and gone from making a few thosand a month to making a six-figure income.”

I initially planned to ignore the post. I’m getting more and more bored by the “Indies vs. Traditional” thing. I’ve got a friend whose updates have turned into nothing but advertisements of his own books, retweets of other self-pubbed authors, and slams on commercial publishing. It’s tiresome.

My guess is that people who want to believe Sullivan’s conclusions will do so. But here are some of my thoughts as I read her post… 

  • If Dalglish’s numbers are correct, then he and his books are doing quite well, and I’m happy for him and his success.
  • A comparison of two individuals doesn’t do much from a statistical standpoint (though I recognize the difficulty in gathering larger samples of this sort of thing).
  • Sullivan’s conclusions are based in part on the assumption that both Dalglish and myself are representative of the “midlist.”
  • Her analysis of Dalglish’s data appears to omit a few months.
  • Her projection of Dalglish’s future income assumes his February/March sales rate will continue.

Some of her comments about commercial publishing also jumped out at me:

  • “Typically when published through a traditional publisher a book can take 15 – 18 months to be released and they generally stagger offering from an author at 12 month intervals. For those who write a great deal this can be problematic.” Counterexamples: see Seanan McGuire, Jay Lake, Elizabeth Bear, and many others.
  • “[I]ndustry standards are that only 20% of authors earn out their advances so in many cases the advance is the ONLY money they will see.” More statistics without citations. If she’s correct, doesn’t that imply that 80% of traditionally published authors end up with more money than if they were getting a strict per-book rate?
  • “The traditionally published author will get an advance but it is woefully small … I’ve done a ton of research on this and it really hasn’t changed much over the years but generally ranges from $5,000 – $10,000.” She only cites Buckell’s survey … but that survey appears to contradict her numbers if you read past the section on first novel advances.

Draw your own conclusions.