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2010 Writing Income

There are an awful lot of myths and misconceptions about writing, and one of the biggest is that writers are all rich, hanging out in their mansions and sipping champagne and role-playing with dice made from etched diamond.  So for the past few years, I’ve been posting my writing income and expenses to provide what I hope is a more useful data point.

Posts from previous years are here: 2007, 2008, 2009.

I ended 2010 with a last-minute check from my agent for the French on-signing advance for Red Hood’s Revenge.  With that added to the total, I made $25,718 in writing income in 2010, down about $3000 from the previous year.

Here’s the graph going back as far as I have data for:

2008 was a fluke.  A nice fluke, but a fluke nonetheless, with a big spike due to the success of the goblin books in Germany.  The princess books haven’t been as popular, and I think the ongoing decline of that particular income stream is part of the reason for the drop from 2009 to 2010.  But let’s break down the 2010 numbers a little further:

Novels (U.S. Sales): $9297
Novels (Foreign Sales): $15876
Short Fiction: $200
Nonfiction: $120
Speaking Fees: $225

I still make the majority of my income through foreign sales (Thank you, Joshua!), but the balance shifted a bit this year.  Foreign sales were a smaller percentage of the overall income, with the money from DAW here in the U.S. climbing a bit higher.  I have no idea what this means for the long term, but it’s interesting.

That foreign income includes novel sales to France, Germany, and the Czech Republic, along with royalties from Germany and Poland.  In general, individual foreign sales tends to be less than their equivalent U.S. deals … but those foreign sales add up.

Expenses were about $2000, with more than half of that going into conventions.

Of course, this is all before taxes.  I have a higher deduction at the day job, which balances out a lot of the self-employment taxes I owe for the writing, but even so the numbers here don’t exactly represent the amount I put in my pocket at the end of the day.

So that’s 2010.  A pretty good year, and I’m expecting 2011 to be even better, at least with the U.S. income stream.  No clue what to expect with the overseas sales.  And to answer a commonly asked question, no I am not planning to quit the day job any time soon.

Questions and comments are very much welcome, as always.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

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( 54 comments — Leave a comment )
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cathschaffstump
Jan. 5th, 2011 02:51 pm (UTC)
Do you find that most of the time, you can balance the self-employment tax with a higher withdrawal from your day job? Have you ever had to pay taxes, like during your highest income year?

Should I ever have to face this issue, there will be an appointment with my accountant. I would be very happy if I could withhold at a higher rate from my day job and keep from having to cut Uncle Sam a check. I know there are authors who have had their savings eaten by a successful first book.

Catherine
barbarienne
Jan. 5th, 2011 02:55 pm (UTC)
When I first started freelancing (as a book designer, not a writer), I put every penny of my checks into savings for the first year. I had plenty available then to pay the taxes, and it gave me some idea of how much I could realistically spend out of those checks.

It was rather perverse, watching that account build and yet not using any of it, but it felt rather good. (I wiped it out on a vacation the next year!)
(no subject) - cathschaffstump - Jan. 5th, 2011 03:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - barbarienne - Jan. 5th, 2011 03:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - alanajoli - Jan. 5th, 2011 05:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jan. 5th, 2011 03:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
barbarienne
Jan. 5th, 2011 02:51 pm (UTC)
I'm fascinated by how many places an American writer can sell overseas. I don't think we import as many translations as we export, though I have no hard data for that impression. (My impression is based on having worked 14 years at a large trade publisher and in that time only seen 1 or 2 new SF/F books done in translation. But other publishers may specialize more.)

I guess my main reaction is, Don't other countries have writers? (OTOH, we have nearly 4 times the population of Germany or France, so perhaps that explains it.)
nathreee
Jan. 5th, 2011 03:09 pm (UTC)
I don't know exactly how it goes in France or Germany, but I know that in the Netherlands, where I live, Fantasy and SF are not taken very seriously. As a fantasy writer, there is hardly anywhere to go and the readers get their books in English, because the industry thinks it's not worth the trouble to translate them. I guess, as a Dutch fantasy writer, it's nearly impossible to start exporting to the US. Who would want to read my books if you guys already have thousands of great writers over there?
(no subject) - barbarienne - Jan. 5th, 2011 03:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jan. 5th, 2011 03:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sartorias - Jan. 5th, 2011 03:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - barbarienne - Jan. 5th, 2011 03:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - jimhines - Jan. 5th, 2011 03:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - barbarienne - Jan. 5th, 2011 04:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - barbarienne - Jan. 5th, 2011 04:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - coaldustcanary - Jan. 5th, 2011 11:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - barbarienne - Jan. 7th, 2011 11:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Jan. 5th, 2011 05:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
ex_paulskem
Jan. 5th, 2011 03:27 pm (UTC)
Thanks for sharing, Jim. I value these data points.
jonhansen
Jan. 5th, 2011 03:42 pm (UTC)
(starts googling for places to buy diamond-etched dice)
jimhines
Jan. 5th, 2011 03:54 pm (UTC)
Sadly, I'm still at the stage of my career where I'm forced to make do with cubic zirconium dice.
(no subject) - barbarienne - Jan. 5th, 2011 04:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dqg_neal - Jan. 5th, 2011 09:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
kosarin
Jan. 5th, 2011 03:49 pm (UTC)
I heard you mention good German sales before, but I hadn't really thought about it - is this just considered some fluke, or is there a theory about an element of the book being popular in the country (say goblins are to Germany as vampires are to the US, except I completely made that up and have no idea)? And if there does exist such a theory, is that why your publisher chose which languages to translate it into? Or is it that the publisher you chose always translates into those languages or something? I'm guessing it's pretty impossible to predict the popularity of a book anywhere, it would just be pretty awesome if you could.
jimhines
Jan. 5th, 2011 03:56 pm (UTC)
Actually, my U.S. publisher has no involvement here. I retain world rights, and my agent submits the books to his various contacts in different countries. As with anything else, sometimes they get rejected...

In Germany, there was a trend where they were doing a lot of monster-centric books. Looking around, I was seeing books about orcs, elves, kobolds ... that was the sort of thing that was hot, and I just happened to have written a trilogy that hit the sweet spot and just the right time. Total coincidence, and not something we could have controlled or predicted, but it's awfully nice when it happens!
lilifae
Jan. 5th, 2011 03:57 pm (UTC)
Hi Jim - thanks for this. It's incredibly interesting to see, especially from an aspiring writer's point of view.

I think it is sobering but also encouraging and can't thank published authors like you enough for lifting the veil on the great mystery of income, expenses etc.
jimhines
Jan. 5th, 2011 04:07 pm (UTC)
You're very welcome, and I'm glad it's helpful.
georgmi
Jan. 5th, 2011 04:45 pm (UTC)
Hey, I hear l'caviar orange down at the sporting goods store is a lot cheaper than that stuff from Russia that's already turned black by the time you buy it.

I know when I was starting to think seriously about photography as a career, I was surprised to find out that the average established professional photographer earns about $29,000 a year. A real lesson in famous=/=wealthy.

On the other hand, a lot more professional photographers of my acquaintance are happy and fulfilled per capita than the IT folks I know. (So I do IT for the money, and photography for the happy. Works pretty good, so far. :) )
jimhines
Jan. 5th, 2011 06:25 pm (UTC)
I know a lot of people who do IT related work to support a more artistic career. Heck, up until three years ago, I was a computer tech here at the state. (I switched departments when our IT department decided to completely lose its mind.)
la_marquise_de_
Jan. 5th, 2011 04:59 pm (UTC)
Thank you. I know my income, but seeing that of a rather more successful (and advanced) writer is helpful and interesting.
The diamond dice, though... Much too hard to read the numbers. Jade is far better.
jimhines
Jan. 5th, 2011 05:05 pm (UTC)
You're probably right. barbarienne is talking about trying to grow ruby dice in the comments up above.
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Jan. 5th, 2011 05:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - barbarienne - Jan. 5th, 2011 11:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dqg_neal - Jan. 5th, 2011 09:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Jan. 5th, 2011 10:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
jimhines
Jan. 5th, 2011 05:19 pm (UTC)
As a general rule, from everything I've seen, if you really want to make money as a writer, forget the fiction and concentrate on nonfiction writing.

But for most of us, money isn't the sole or primary goal.
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Jan. 5th, 2011 10:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
deborahblakehps
Jan. 5th, 2011 05:04 pm (UTC)
To me, one of the most important point of these numbers are the foreign sales, which you clearly credit your agent. For those people who say, "WHy do I need an agent?" I would like to mark this Exhibit A.
jimhines
Jan. 5th, 2011 05:06 pm (UTC)
I'm fairly certain I could get pretty good deals with DAW on my own at this point, though possibly not as good as the ones Joshua negotiates. I'm even more certain I'd be utterly lost when it came to making my own foreign sales.
saetter
Jan. 5th, 2011 05:23 pm (UTC)
Thanks for sharing this, Jim. As an aspiring writer, this type of information is very valuable.
alanajoli
Jan. 5th, 2011 05:26 pm (UTC)
Advance breakdown
Jim, if you don't mind, could you point out where the advances show up? I'm curious how things like three book contracts work in regards to advances: do they come in one at a time (and thus we don't see a blip for "hey, Jim got a new contract!")? Or are they just not that significant?
jimhines
Jan. 5th, 2011 06:24 pm (UTC)
Re: Advance breakdown
Advances are weird. Generally, an advance is broken down into two or three payments. In earlier deals, I got half on signing of the contract and half on delivery of the final manuscript. With the most recent (bigger) book deal with DAW, the advance got split into three payments. 1/3 on signing, 1/2 upon delivery, and 1/6 upon publication.

And of course, even though the contracts were signed a month or two back, it takes a while for the paperwork to get through accounting, so I haven't seen the on-signing check yet (which would be for 1/3 of both books' advances.)

So while I definitely think they're significant, the money also gets spread out over time. A fair number of the foreign deals work the same way, and when you add those in, you get a pretty decent "diffusion" effect.

Does that make sense?
Re: Advance breakdown - alanajoli - Jan. 5th, 2011 08:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
cathshaffer
Jan. 5th, 2011 05:37 pm (UTC)
Question: are the numbers on the right axis are in units of thousands right? ;-)
jimhines
Jan. 5th, 2011 06:22 pm (UTC)
If only...
(Deleted comment)
jimhines
Jan. 5th, 2011 08:19 pm (UTC)
My coworkers ask me the same thing every time I sell a book, or every time another one comes out... I blame Castle :-)
(no subject) - dqg_neal - Jan. 5th, 2011 09:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
julieandrews
Jan. 5th, 2011 11:28 pm (UTC)
Thanks for posting this.
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