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2009 Writing Income

This is the third year I’ve posted about the income I make as a fantasy author.  (See the Money Posts from Year 1 and Year 2.)  Money tends to be a taboo topic, but given all of the myths and illusions about writing, I think it’s important to get some actual data out there.  Because knowing is half the battle!

The background: I’ve been writing and submitting my work since 1995.  Goblin Quest was my first book with a major publisher, and came out in the end of 2006.  2009 saw the publication of my 4th and 5th novels with DAW.  So while I have five books in print, I’m still an early-career author.

I am not a full-time writer, for reasons which will soon become apparent.  I also write only fiction, unlike a number of authors I know who write both fiction and non-fiction (in part because the latter usually pays better).

Thanks to a last-minute D&A (delivery and acceptance) check from DAW, my writing income for 2009 came to $28,940.

Breaking that total down, I earned:

Novels (U.S. Sales): $7700
Novels (Foreign Sales): $20,200
Short Fiction: $520
Speaking Fees: $500

I’m rounding, so the totals don’t match exactly.  The most important thing I take from these numbers is how much I love my agent, who is responsible for those foreign sales.  Most of that money comes from Germany, where the goblin books continue to earn nice royalties.  Any time I hear a writer saying s/he doesn’t need an agent, I think back to those foreign sales.  My agent almost quadrupled my writing income this year.  He’s more than earned his commission.

Expenses from 2009 were between $1500 and $2000.  The biggest costs were from convention attendance and postage.

I also decided to put together a graph showing my income over the past eight years (as far back as I have spreadsheets for):

Things didn’t really start to build until 2006 when the first book came out.  But what’s most fascinating to me is that bump in 2008.  2008 was the first year my writing income exceeded the income from my day job. This was mostly the result of some very nice deals in Germany, including the release of the goblin books, my short fiction collection, audio books … basically, Germany + Goblins = Love.

This wasn’t something I expected to repeat in 2009 (not that I would have complained, mind you). Fiction income isn’t the most steady or stable in the world.  2008 was great.  2009 wasn’t bad, don’t get me wrong.  However, there’s no getting around the fact that I saw a $25K drop in income.

These things happen.  My French publisher dropped me, and Germany hasn’t been as excited about the princess books.  This is why I keep the day job.  (If it was just me, with no family and no medical conditions that require insurance, I might think about going full-time.  But that’s another post.)

I hope this is helpful. Questions, observations, and random comments are all welcome.  And if previous years are any example, we should see a handful of other writers posting similar info and giving a few more data points.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.



( 71 comments — Leave a comment )
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(Deleted comment)
Jan. 4th, 2010 02:47 pm (UTC)
Hey, I've been doing this for three years now. You can't take the credit for *all* of my posts! :-)

Some agents are better than others at the foreign sales. JABberwocky is known for kicking ass with overseas sales, which is one of the reasons I was happy to sign with them. It's another of those 101 things to research when you're doing the agent hunt.
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - jimhines - Jan. 4th, 2010 03:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dean_italiano - Jan. 4th, 2010 03:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jan. 4th, 2010 03:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dean_italiano - Jan. 4th, 2010 06:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jan. 4th, 2010 06:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dean_italiano - Jan. 4th, 2010 06:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 4th, 2010 02:46 pm (UTC)
I really appreciate you posting this. I know there is a certain sense of decorum that dictates that we don't discuss things as vulgar as money…and I've never understood that. As someone who would enjoy one day selling his writing, it is interesting to see how it shakes out financially.
Jan. 4th, 2010 02:50 pm (UTC)
Thanks. It still helps me a lot to talk money with other writers, in part to distinguish the outliers from what's normal. I figure the more we know as writers, the better off we all are.
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 4th, 2010 03:00 pm (UTC)
Congrats on SFWA, and I'm glad this was helpful!
Jan. 4th, 2010 02:52 pm (UTC)
Great post. Happy to see more authors are posting information like this so the de-mystifing of novel monies becomes clear.
Jan. 4th, 2010 03:02 pm (UTC)
Thanks! On that note, did you catch Lynn Viehl's post about the reality of a New York Times Bestseller? That one was incredibly eye-opening for me. http://www.genreality.net/the-reality-of-a-times-bestseller
(no subject) - rkbwrites - Jan. 4th, 2010 03:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - deborahblakehps - Jan. 4th, 2010 05:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jan. 4th, 2010 06:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - deborahblakehps - Jan. 4th, 2010 07:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 4th, 2010 03:05 pm (UTC)

Thank you for posting this. I'm mostly a poet (which pays even less), but I do write the occasional short story, and even have one or two novel length pieces sitting around. As someone who'd like to use the next year to shop those novel-length stories around, this breakdown is a great help in what to possibly expect.

Thank you again, and happy new year!
Jan. 4th, 2010 03:10 pm (UTC)
You're very welcome! For first-novel shopping, I'd also highly recommend Tobias Buckell's First Novel Author Advance Survey.

Happy New Year to you as well, and best of luck finding a home for the books!
Jan. 4th, 2010 03:06 pm (UTC)
I love that you post these things, Jim, for exactly the reasons you state: people need data.

I also love the discussion of the foreign rights. People tend not to think about those, but I've seen several writers who note that their foreign sales exceed their domestic. Just like the movies!
Jan. 4th, 2010 03:11 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I've spoken to authors who are doing far better than I am here in the U.S., but my overall income matches theirs thanks to JABberwocky kicking ass on the foreign sales. Most of those sales are for smaller amounts, but they add up nicely :-)
(no subject) - barbarienne - Jan. 4th, 2010 03:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 4th, 2010 03:07 pm (UTC)
Joining in with the chorus to also say thanks for posting. Detail like this is incredibly valuable to people who are trying to figure out how it all works.

(Also, hi. I'm Aspen. Briefly, I'm a former silent reader/lurker now turning commenter. I found your LJ by way of some insightful commentary you offered during events over the course of last year, and then found I enjoyed reading your day-to-day writings, as well!)
Jan. 4th, 2010 03:14 pm (UTC)
You're very welcome. And also, welcome! Please feel free to lurk or comment as the mood strikes :-)
Jan. 4th, 2010 03:13 pm (UTC)
Thanks for posting this info, Jim. I'm bookmarking and taking notes.
Jan. 4th, 2010 03:17 pm (UTC)
Glad it's helpful!

It's the long-term graph that fascinated me this year. With the exception of 2008, you can almost draw a straight, steadily increasing line from when I sold that first book. I'm incredibly curious to see if that remains steady over the long term!
Jan. 4th, 2010 03:13 pm (UTC)
Adding to the datspoints, and to show how it varies, I made a smidge more than you in 2009 - again, down from 2008 - but it was entirely (ok, 90%) from english-language sales. I'm hoping to change that in 2010 (fingers crossed).

I also do a bit of editorial work on the side, but that also fell off in 2009, mainly because I was so busy.

Forgive typos - posting this via phone while the super replaces a jammed lock so I can get into my apartment...
Jan. 4th, 2010 03:16 pm (UTC)
That makes sense. I'd expect you to be doing better in the U.S. Actually, as far as I can tell, I'm a bit on the low side in terms of U.S/English sales, but JABberwocky makes up for it by kicking ass overseas. (I'd love to boost those U.S. numbers a bit in coming years, though...)

And ugh. Hope you're not stuck outside for too much longer.
(no subject) - suricattus - Jan. 4th, 2010 03:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 4th, 2010 04:18 pm (UTC)
Another thanks for the data. The spike in 2008 is particularly helpful; I think if it'd happened to them, a lot of newbies would've seen that and done the "Woohoo! Quittin' the day job!" dance.

[I don't remember whether I've commented here before, although I think I've read some of your earlier posts which were linked in various places. I finally got around to friending you recently. Hi! :) ]

Jan. 4th, 2010 06:24 pm (UTC)
Even with that spike, the money is only a part of it. The day job also provides the benefits, which writing doesn't cover. Not to mention the lovely tax issues you run into...

Also, welcome! :-)
(no subject) - angelabenedetti - Jan. 4th, 2010 06:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 4th, 2010 04:49 pm (UTC)
As others have said, thanks for sharing, Jim.

Any thoughts on tax matters? Since taxes aren't withheld by publishers, I know a number of newer authors are caught off-guard when it comes time to pay taxes on their writing income. I've heard recommendations to set anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 the funds aside; alternately, I know other writers who pay their taxes as soon as the check arrives.

Me, I'm checking with my accountant, since I won't have to worry about it until next year (guess there is some benefit for the publisher taking a while to cut the check after all :).
Jan. 4th, 2010 06:26 pm (UTC)
Taxes. Hoo boy...

Up until that spike in 2008, I hadn't worried about them. My day job does tax withholding as if I'm single with no kids, and that has covered the self-employment income up until '08. But then when I did my taxes in early 2009, not only did I owe money for 2008, I also got to start paying estimated quarterly taxes. So I basically got hit twice in 2009.

I knew it was coming, and managed to budget so that I was able to cover it all, but it can hurt. All total, I probably wrote more than $10,000 worth of checks to the government in 2009.

On the bright side, since the 2009 income came in significantly lower, a chunk of that should be coming back to me this year :-)
Jan. 4th, 2010 04:49 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the post, Jim. Just this weekend I discussing with my brother the reality that some writers go for the safe bet in keeping the day job because it's hard to predict from year to year what the revenue stream(s) will look like. And I hear ya on the insurance and family parts, bub.
Jan. 4th, 2010 06:33 pm (UTC)
Even writers who have built much more successful careers hit bad times. How often do we see fundraisers for one fairly well-known author or another who runs into health issues or financial trouble? It's definitely not the most secure job in the world...
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 4th, 2010 06:26 pm (UTC)
Thanks. I'm definitely not complaining :-)
Jan. 4th, 2010 05:25 pm (UTC)
My thanks,too. I am switching from NF (Witchcraft books from Llewellyn, which sadly make even LESS money than most fiction) to fiction. Interesting to see the stats.

Anything to add about single book sales vs. multi-book deals? I'm always curious as to which works better money-wise for an author.
Jan. 4th, 2010 06:28 pm (UTC)
Moneywise, it's probably a gamble. If you contact for just one book, you might be able to get a bigger advance on the sequel if that book does well ... or you might get nothing at all if the book doesn't do well.

As a general rule, I'd prefer to have a contract for three books over a contract for one, just for the security of knowing I'll be employed for the next few years :-) And if the books do better than expected, I'll get the money eventually anyway once the advance earns out and the royalties start coming in.
Jan. 4th, 2010 05:35 pm (UTC)
French Publisher dropped you?
Must be because Goblin doesn't sound cool in French. Gotta work on that.
I'm sure a Goblin Saboteur would help things out. :)

Jan. 4th, 2010 06:29 pm (UTC)
::Shrug:: Germany loves the goblins. France, not so much. Don't ask me...

I was disappointed, but hopefully we'll be able to find another publisher in France to pick up the princess books.
(no subject) - barbarienne - Jan. 4th, 2010 06:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Jim C. Hines


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