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The Money Post

One of the students at the high school I visited yesterday asked me how much I make as a writer. I told him I was so happy someone had the guts to ask. Talking about money is still such a taboo, but that's what leads to mythconceptions that all authors are as rich as Rowling.

Of course, the most popular blog post I've seen on writing finances lately comes from John Scalzi. On Monday, John wrote an in-depth post about his writing income, including a lot of good financial advice for writers and non-writers alike.

I'm going to do the same thing, for three reasons. 1. The Internet has a proud tradition of people like me riffing off of more popular bloggers like John. 2. I'm all about the mythbusting. 3. John Scalzi made $164,000 from his writing last year.

Don't get me wrong. I'm happy for Scalzi. Okay, slightly envious, but still mostly happy. And he does say quite clearly that he's an outlier. But when the only public data point is an outlier, that's what people are going to remember.

I made just under $16,000 from my writing last year. $2500 of that went right back into expenses, leaving me a nice little sum of $13,500 ... before I pay those nasty taxes. Still, it's enough to cover a slightly used minivan, make a few mortgage payments, and treat me and the wife to dinner from time to time, but definitely not in the job-quitting league. Though it was enough that I could rationalize the fancy leather jacket without feeling too guilty about it...

Anyway, there are two huge differences between me and Scalzi. (Probably more than two, but only two are relevant to this particular discussion.) The first is that he's writing fiction and non-fiction both, whereas I'm only doing fiction. The second is that he's a more popular writer than I am, with more books in print and more readers buying said books.

Me, I've got two books in print, the second of which came out in 2007. So in a lot of ways, I'm still young as a novelist. The annual income has risen every year for a while now, and I'm hoping to see that continue.

To break down that $16,000 a bit further, here's where the money came from:

Novels (U.S. sales): $6600
Novels (Foreign sales): $7000
Short fiction sales: $1000
Editorial work: $900
Speaking fees: $300

The money doesn't quite add up, because I'm rounding off. Close enough, though. My biggest single expense last year was a $700 lifetime membership to SFWA. After that, convention expenses and other promotional costs (bookmarks, tattoos, etc.) are roughly tied for second place.

What's the point of all this? Mostly because I think it's better to know stuff than to guess. The more folks know about what different writers make, the more realistic the expectations will be, and the better you'll be able to plan your own future. In my case, it's going to be an awfully long time before I can quit the day job, if ever.

Two other things worth noting: foreign sales are wonderful things, and I love my agent for his overseas connections. Also, even at the relatively low rates I'm getting as a new novelist, the novels still pay a lot better than the short fiction.

Now go read ellameena's post on freelancing. I'll meet you over there, and we can all grumble about how much more those blasted non-fiction writers make than us hard-working fiction folks.



Feb. 13th, 2008 02:59 pm (UTC)
That's it, my Hooters book must be non-fiction!


AK!~ Fiction is WAY harder and makes less. Go figure.
Feb. 13th, 2008 03:02 pm (UTC)
I can't say which is harder, since I've never really been interested in doing non-fiction. But yeah, we definitely get screwed on the money side.

A Hooters memoir/expose should put my own advances to shame, especially if there's a sexy cover!
Feb. 13th, 2008 07:08 pm (UTC)
Don't make up your mind so fast.

Jim's talking about money in a genre called "science fiction."

The Hooters book would be marketed in a genre called "commerical fiction."

There's likelier to be a bigger upside in the latter, just as there currently is in YA fiction. Although a YA book about Hooters probably wouldn't work.
Feb. 13th, 2008 07:09 pm (UTC)
Bite your tongue, sir. I write fantasy, not that SF stuff :-P

Very good point, though. I have no idea what the average advance would look like once you step outside of the SF/F ghetto.
Feb. 13th, 2008 07:17 pm (UTC)
Bite your tongue, sir. I write fantasy, not that SF stuff :-P

To me, this just shows how out-of-touch most writers are with the marketing of books. If you go into Barnes & Noble or Borders, the section signs still say "Science fiction/fantasy" with the science fiction first, a legacy of the fact that these marketing categories were created decades ago when the balance of fiction was different. And if you ask the bookstore staff, they'll direct you to the "science fiction" section. And if you talk to readers who buy the books, but are oblivious to cons, the web, etc. -- i.e., the vast majority of readers who are not part of the fandom, with which we mostly interact -- they call it "sci-fi." Which pisses most of us off, but just goes to show that "science fiction" is the mental slot where readers really lump all of our books together.

At least that's been my experience for the better part of the last decade. I suspect it will change as fantasy continues to squeeze out science fiction as a percentage of market, but I haven't seen evidence of it changing in popular perception yet.
Feb. 13th, 2008 07:20 pm (UTC)
Um ... I hope you realize that was a completely tongue-in-cheek remark on my part?

Me, I'm waiting for the day when they relabel that section of the store "Star Wars, Star Trek, and Other Media Tie-ins ... and also a handful of original F/SF books we use to fill in the extra space".
Feb. 13th, 2008 07:32 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I did get the tongue-in-cheek part, but I still thought it was a point worth making. Most readers come to science-fiction through the media first these days -- they're watching dvds and television with sci-fi themes before they ever pick up books. I came at it the opposite direction, but I don't think that's generally true any more (except maybe for a few kids like mine that had to suffer through me reading The Hobbit to them during bottle feedings at four months old).
Feb. 13th, 2008 09:28 pm (UTC)
Although a YA book about Hooters probably wouldn't work.

Yea, I figured not ;-)

Too bad cuz I totally would have written a query that went something like this:

Knockers is the story of a 15-year-old boy and boobs.

Imagine the $$$$ I'd make off of that?


Feb. 14th, 2008 06:55 pm (UTC)
I dunno, Charlie. "I Was A Teenage Hooters Girl" has a nice ring to it.

Feb. 14th, 2008 07:04 pm (UTC)
I stand erected.

i mean "corrected"


Jim C. Hines

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