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2013 Writing Income

Snoopy

ETA: I did a follow-up post addressing some of the questions people asked about how the income breaks down, expenses, etc.

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I’ve been blogging about my writing income since 2007. It’s an odd thing, and feels tacky at times, but I also think it’s important. There’s very little data out there about how much money writers make, and a lot of folks — both new writers and muggles — have unrealistic ideas about the authorial lifestyle. I blame Castle.

My income posts from previous years are here: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012.

From a financial perspective, 2013 has been the best year I’ve ever had as a writer. I sold three novels — books three and four in the Magic ex Libris series to DAW, and another project I can’t talk about yet. All total, before taxes and expenses, I earned about $60,800 — enough that I was able to pay off my wife’s student loans and put a little bigger dent in our mortgage.

While the year-to-year income is much more erratic than what I’ve made at my day job, the overall trend makes me happy. I expect I’ll probably make less in 2014 than I did last year, in part because I’ll be busy writing those novels I sold last year, and I highly doubt I’ll sell three more before the end of this one. On the other hand, there will be the D&A (delivery & acceptance) for at least two of those books, along with the on-publication payment … I have no idea what 2014 will look like, but it shouldn’t be too bad.

The writing expenses for the year actually dropped to a little over $1000, thanks to a number of Guest of Honor and Toastmaster invites, which reduced my convention costs. (Thank you!!!) My income tax payments are going to take a much bigger chunk out of things, but that’s to be expected.

The income breakdown is a bit different this year.

  • Novels (U.S.): $55,350
  • Novels (Foreign Editions): $1,000
  • Self-Published: $1,650
  • Short fiction and Nonfiction: $1,500
  • Miscellaneous: $1,300

This is by far the least I’ve ever made from foreign language sales. (I’m not including the U.K. deals for Magic ex Libris here, because while U.K. English is indeed a foreign and confusing tongue, that deal was done as a sublicensing thing through my U.S. publisher, and I’ve only ever included non-English income in that category in prior years.) I honestly have no idea what happened here. It’s the second year in a row I’ve seen a significant dropoff in foreign income, and it’s something I’ll be following up with my agent about.

The income for my self-published stuff remained pretty constant. I don’t make a lot of money there, but considering I do zero work, I’m not going to complain!

Looking at the last few years, if it was just me, I’d be giving serious thought to quitting my day job, signing up for insurance through the ACA, and writing full time. But with a family of four to support, all of whom have health issues of one form or another, I’m not ready to make that jump quite yet.

For a little more background, I’m a U.S.-based author, and I started trying to write back in 1995, so realistically, it’s taken me 18 years to get to this point. I have nine fantasy novels in print with DAW. The first came out from DAW in 2006. The last two were published in hardcover. Most of my books have made the Locus bestseller lists, though I don’t hit the NYT or USA Today lists. (Yet.) I’m primarily — almost exclusively — a “traditionally” published author.

As always, please keep in mind that I’m a sample size of one. Trying to draw any broad, sweeping conclusions from such a sample would be … illogical.

With that said, I hope this is helpful, and as always, I’m happy to answer any questions folks might have.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

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Comments

( 53 comments — Leave a comment )
mtlawson
Jan. 8th, 2014 03:23 pm (UTC)
Jim, this analysis is always appreciated. And you're a brave soul for putting this out there for anyone to see.

FWIW, people have been thinking that authors are rich and/or live a life of ease since long before Castle. Even the rather "plain" lifestyle of Jessica Fletcher in "Murder, She Wrote" didn't dissuade people from thinking authors live the high life.
jimhines
Jan. 8th, 2014 03:25 pm (UTC)
Oh, I know. But Castle's the one I actually watch, so he's the first one that comes to mind for me.
(no subject) - mtlawson - Jan. 8th, 2014 04:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
cathschaffstump
Jan. 8th, 2014 04:00 pm (UTC)
While I don't want to encourage anyone to post tax details on line, one of the things I've always been curious about is how much of that upfront payment do you give away to taxes? If you were to make, say, $60K, would you lose 1/3? 1/2?

One assumes you kiss tax refunds good bye forever. On the other hand, you have an extra $40K.

At any rate, I wonder how that works.

jimhines
Jan. 8th, 2014 04:07 pm (UTC)
I pay quarterly taxes based on my previous year's income. I'll need to look more closely, but I'm guessing probably 1/3 of that goes to taxes.

I compensate somewhat by having my day job do a higher deduction on my paycheck, but it doesn't cover everything.
(no subject) - etcet - Jan. 9th, 2014 08:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jan. 9th, 2014 08:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
suricattus
Jan. 8th, 2014 04:07 pm (UTC)
To add a datapoint, if I may (without the breakdowns and charts, since I'm doing this on the fly):

I've been in the book-writing biz for twelve years, the last decade as a full-time freelancer. For those ten those years, supplementing the writing income with freelance editing, my averaged income is about $45,000, before taxes and deductions. That's writing 2 books a year (Some books earn more, some earn less. I tend to write all over the board, genre-wise, so I may not be a good example of career growth in terms of advances)

2013 was a low year ($35,000 range), because I was busy delivering projects that had been signed 1-3 years prior. Seeing a dip like that can scare the bejazus out of you, even when you KNOW it's going to happen. Had a foreign rights payment arrived in a timely manner, I would have been closer to 40,000. Can't predict foreign payments, even less so than domestic ones. Wheeeee.

As a single person, that's a respectable income. As a single person who has to pay her all of own health care costs, fund her own retirement plan, pay higher taxes, and isn't eligible for unemployment if things go bad, though....

(the fact that I live in NYC is a mixed blessing. Better support system for freelancers, higher overall cost of living)
jimhines
Jan. 8th, 2014 04:14 pm (UTC)
Thanks!

I doubt there's any one good, representative example of career growth. From what I've seen, writers tend to be all over the map.
(no subject) - suricattus - Jan. 8th, 2014 04:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
desperance
Jan. 8th, 2014 05:35 pm (UTC)
The writing expenses for the year actually dropped to a little over $1000

Hmm. That seems ... low, even taking GoH spots into account. More things than conventions are deductible. Have you spoken to a professional about this, to make sure you're claiming everything that's legit? (Seriously: when I signed up with my UK accountant lo these thirty years ago, he said, "Chaz, you're a writer: just remember, everything is deductible. If you want to spend a week at Royal Ascot, it's research; write a story about horseracing and deduct the lot." And lo, for thirty years I pretty much deducted my life. It's different in the US, sure - but the principle abides.)
jimhines
Jan. 8th, 2014 08:45 pm (UTC)
I spoke to an accountant years ago when I started. Might not be a bad idea to revisit that.

There are other deductions for things like charitable donations that aren't writing-specific, and Deborah pointed out that I should probably be deducting at least part of things like my internet expenses each month. yeah, probably worth talking to someone again. Thanks!
(no subject) - desperance - Jan. 8th, 2014 09:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - suricattus - Jan. 9th, 2014 03:34 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - celli - Jan. 9th, 2014 03:49 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - celli - Jan. 9th, 2014 03:50 am (UTC) - Expand
margaret_y
Jan. 8th, 2014 05:37 pm (UTC)
This is very helpful, Jim. Thank you for posting this. Since all my books are self-published, it was interesting to compare my income with someone whose books are (mostly) traditionally published.

Apples and oranges, I know, but it's helpful to see which apple and which orange.
deborahblakehps
Jan. 8th, 2014 06:04 pm (UTC)
Thanks for sharing this, Jim. When I was starting out in writing (you know, last week), I never had any idea of what writers made. I have friends who are all over the map, too--anywhere from my yearly income as an author, which until this year was about $8,000-$10,000--to people making $60K. I love being able to look at real figures.

I think you must be missing deductions too. Do you have a home office? If so, that opens up all sorts of things up to be taken as deductions. For instance, since my home office takes up about 10% of my house, I can deduct 10% of the utilities, and such. I take a much larger chunk of my internet costs, since I use it much more for author-related things than for personal.

When I finally signed my 2-book fiction contract this year with Berkley (at a relatively small debut author amount, which is typical), my accountant warned me to take 25% of all my writing income and put it in an account for taxes later. (I only pay yearly, at the moment.) Last year was the first year where my writing income was large enough that, coupled with my jewelry income (and my part time day job), I paid out in taxes instead of getting a refund.

I expect that will be the trend from now on, if all goes well. Castle I'm not :-)
jimhines
Jan. 8th, 2014 06:23 pm (UTC)
Nope, no home office. I'll be looking more closely at the deductions when I file my taxes, and I suspect there are things I'm missing. Internet costs is a good one to consider there...
(no subject) - akiko - Jan. 8th, 2014 07:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - deborahblakehps - Jan. 9th, 2014 01:16 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ethelmay - Jan. 9th, 2014 01:33 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - akiko - Jan. 9th, 2014 06:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - etherial - Jan. 9th, 2014 06:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - akiko - Jan. 9th, 2014 06:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ethelmay - Jan. 9th, 2014 09:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
icecreamempress
Jan. 8th, 2014 06:06 pm (UTC)
Jim, I appreciate your transparency in sharing these details. And congrats on a well-deserved boom year!
jimhines
Jan. 8th, 2014 06:23 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
dracothelizard
Jan. 8th, 2014 06:33 pm (UTC)
Thanks for sharing, even one datapoint's useful and it's interesting to see your own take/analysis/explanation of it.

Also, does "This is by far the least I’ve ever made from foreign language sales. (I’m not including the U.K. deals for Magic ex Libris here, because while U.K. English is indeed a foreign and confusing tongue, that deal was done as a sublicensing thing through my U.S. publisher, and I’ve only ever included non-English income in that category in prior years.)" mean that English language books in other countries don't count as foreign sales in your data? Because I can imagine that in some non-US countries where English isn't an official language there are sales of the English language books (I know I bought my copies of the Goblin and Princess series in English)

Edited at 2014-01-08 06:36 pm (UTC)
jimhines
Jan. 8th, 2014 06:59 pm (UTC)
It's a little complicated because of the limits on the data I get, and my wording was probably imprecise. I don't get any usable information on where the books sell; what I get is information on what editions sold. So if a copy of the DAW edition sold in Spain, that would still show up in the royalties from my U.S. publisher, and would get counted there.

So you're absolutely right that there are some non-U.S. sales that aren't getting tracked that way. It's the sales of foreign *editions* of the book that have been declining. That's all I actually know from the data.
(no subject) - dracothelizard - Jan. 8th, 2014 07:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
blythe025
Jan. 8th, 2014 08:55 pm (UTC)
It's always fascinating to see how the year has played out for you. Thank you for sharing.
dgauger
Jan. 8th, 2014 09:49 pm (UTC)
Thank you for sharing. It helps a lot to see ANY data on this sort of thing.
realmjit
Jan. 8th, 2014 10:48 pm (UTC)
I notice that Castle is working on his second or third series, and has made reference that he sold his first novel while in his freshman year (possibly Freshman Year Take 2) at college. He's had around 20+ years to build his career, and apparently not as much need for a steady income -- one of his ex-wives is still his editor. They haven't built him up to Steven King or J.K.Rowling status, but they do slide him into big-name company.

Most people don't realize that TV is notorious for inflating the buying power of a low-paying job. A New York City waitress can NOT buy a plane ticket to Honolulu for a funeral without an angel benefactor or a very Spartan lifestyle, neither of which gets portrayed on TV.

Also, I recall Piers Anthony admitted in a '90s interview that as a full-time writer he only made as much as the average accountant, and it took him 6 months to write a novel.

Edited at 2014-01-08 10:50 pm (UTC)
socchan
Jan. 8th, 2014 11:45 pm (UTC)
For our final day of Advanced Cake Decorating, our teacher told us to decorate a cake with the theme of what we'd be doing (or would like to be doing) if we weren't going into baking. A classmate of mine chose "art". I chose "writing". The teacher took the time to point out that it was very difficult to make a living off of art - apparently she'd tried to do so before going into teaching/baking - and then followed up by saying that she was sure everyone would buy a copy of my (no doubt very successful) book when it came out! I did my best to try to point out that writing wasn't likely to be a much more stable career than art, which is why I was going to be a baker, but I have serious doubts about how well I got the message across.
jimhines
Jan. 8th, 2014 11:47 pm (UTC)
::Facepalm::
shanrina
Jan. 8th, 2014 11:51 pm (UTC)
Thank you for sharing. I know we can't draw any larger conclusions just from your data, but it's still extremely helpful.
sylvia_rachel
Jan. 9th, 2014 01:20 am (UTC)
These posts are super helpful -- thank you for doing them!

The advance cheque I got a couple of months ago is my first real US income (I used to have a small investment thingy, childhood gift from a grandmother, that earned maybe $100 a year; this is ... a larger amount), and I am kind of freaking out about the tax implications. (I'm a dual citizen, so although I have spent only 2.5% of my life in the US, I still have to file a US tax return. And this year I had better do it on time. Crap.)

Part of me says I should just dump the whole lot into my RRSP so that it won't count as income; another part points out that we do in fact need some of it to pay for things. (The third part is too busy freaking out about the fact that I have ALREADY BEEN PAID MONEY for a book that STILL NEEDS MORE REVISIONS and WHAT IF THE REVISIONS AREN'T GOOD ENOUGH OMG WHAT WILL I DO to freak out about how much I'm going to end up owing Revenue Canada and the IRS.) I hadn't thought about asking my employer to take more money off my paycheques, but that's a great idea and I'm going to ask HR about it tomorrow.
jillsmyth
Jan. 9th, 2014 04:24 am (UTC)
I hadn't thought about asking my employer to take more money off my paycheques, but that's a great idea and I'm going to ask HR about it tomorrow.

Psst - You'll want the TD-1 form from CRA - http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/formspubs/frms/td1-eng.html - which your HR should know about and have copies of but just in case...

(no subject) - sylvia_rachel - Jan. 9th, 2014 11:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - finnyb - Jan. 9th, 2014 06:36 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sylvia_rachel - Jan. 9th, 2014 11:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jan. 9th, 2014 12:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sylvia_rachel - Jan. 9th, 2014 11:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jan. 10th, 2014 12:08 am (UTC) - Expand
thedragonweaver
Jan. 9th, 2014 04:26 am (UTC)
I once had somebody in a comment thread make a comment about "rich authors" as a large group of people who influenced the world. I expressed disbelief and he pointed me at a list of how much the 100 richest authors had made. I countered with the fact that those numbers were a) worldwide and b) over a decade, and broke it down to show that the lowest author on the list averaged a little more than $100K on a yearly basis. Which means every other author in the world made less than that average over a ten-year span, and some of the authors on the list were DEAD! (He conceded the point, stating that he'd never actually broken it down.)

Getting rich as an author is harder than winning the lottery; thankfully, making a reasonable living doing so is more attainable. Good luck on inching that up to where you're comfortable with the money you make.
jillsmyth
Jan. 9th, 2014 04:26 am (UTC)
I find this post interesting. I'm always curious to know how much people make. Not in a creepy way but in a how does what tv and movies tell me compare to real life sort of way.
jimhines
Jan. 9th, 2014 12:46 pm (UTC)
It's something I've always been curious about too, which is another reason I try to share my info.
jadesfire55
Jan. 9th, 2014 09:18 pm (UTC)
Congrats on paying off your wife's student loans. That's a fantastic accomplishment!
jimhines
Jan. 9th, 2014 09:23 pm (UTC)
Thanks!

Next up, the mortgage! (I, um, think I'm gonna have to write a lot more books...)
anglerfish07
Jan. 10th, 2014 09:41 am (UTC)
Congratulations on having paid off your wife's student loans and some of your mortgage! :D

This information is definitely interesting. Thanks very much for posting this.

Here's to hoping that 2014 will be a good year for you!

rowyn
Jan. 13th, 2014 05:39 pm (UTC)
Do you think your writing income would rise meaningfully if it were your sole job, or do you figure you're unlikely to write faster/sell more for reasons unrelated to how much time you spend or don't spend at the day job?
jimhines
Jan. 13th, 2014 06:19 pm (UTC)
I think it would, yes. I suspect I'd be able to go from a one-book-a-year schedule to two books a year, give or take, and I'd like to think that would do significantly good things to the big picture.

I'm hoping to find out for certain one of these days.
( 53 comments — Leave a comment )

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