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2012 Writing Income

Ever since 2007, I've been doing my best to talk openly about my income as an author. It's occasionally awkward, but I also believe it's helpful to new and aspiring writers. If nothing else, it lets me play Mythbuster with the fairy tale that writers are all fabulously wealthy with their own built-in laser tag arena and fleet of customized DeLoreans...

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

2012 was an odd year. In many ways, it's the best year I've ever had as an author. My eighth book with DAW came out in hardcover, and went through four printings in the first few months. I won a Hugo award. I saw some of my books come out in audio format for the first time ever. The goblin books were re-released as a trade paperback omnibus, and also sold to the Science Fiction Book Club.

So it was a little weird at first to realize that I made significantly less money in 2012 than I did in the prior year. The grand total for 2012 was $33,598.19 before expenses and taxes and all the rest. Compare that to almost $43,000 from 2011.

I figured the reason for the drop was pretty straightforward: I didn't sell any new books to my U.S. publisher last year. The deal for Libriomancer and Codex Born was made in 2011, and while I have ideas for book three in the series, I haven't pitched it yet. So while 2012 saw some money for delivering the final manuscript for Libriomancer and the on-publication payment, it wasn't as much as the on-signing advance for those two books last year.

At least, that's what I had assumed ... and then I started looking at the numbers more closely. Thanks to royalties and subrights sales (audio and SFBC), my U.S. novels actually made more than they did last year. Turns out it was the foreign sales that saw the real drop, and I'm not sure why.

The income from my self-published titles jumped a bit, probably in part because I put another collection out midway through the year. I didn't write or sell much short fiction last year, which is part of why the miscellaneous income (from speaking fees, a few nonfiction pieces, and reprint sales) is the smallest category.

  • Novels (U.S.): $25,800
  • Novels (Foreign): $5,020
  • Self-Published: $1,950
  • Miscellaneous: $820

I'm still sorting out expenses for the year, but it looks like that's going to come in around $2000 or so, mostly for conventions. That's been fairly steady for several years now. I actually made it to a few more conventions, and did a little more traveling last year, but several of those were Guest of Honor gigs, which helped balance things out.

The other interesting thing (to me) is how erratic the checks were. I made a total of $115 in the month of January, but February was an awesome month, with more than $6000 showing up in the mail. March and April went the same way. The fact that I have a full time day job means I've got a steady income I can count on for most of our day-to-day needs, but if I'm ever able to go full time as a writer, I'm going to have to be a lot more careful about budgeting for the long term.

That was my 2012. Please remember I'm just one author, and you can't make sweeping generalizations from a sample size of one. But I hope the information is useful, and as always, I'm happy to answer any questions.



( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 17th, 2013 02:57 pm (UTC)
Is it strange that I look forward to your annual income reports?

I find these to be very helpful in looking at a writers income over time. I look back to 2003 and see that you are down there, and then, about 10 years later, well, look at that! Almost a third income!

What this shows me, I think, is a realistic picture of an active, publishing, working writer. I know, I know, mileage varies, but this actually serves to give someone who is still playing the long game that this is possible.

So...this year, how many projects do you intend to pitch?


Edited at 2013-01-17 02:58 pm (UTC)
Jan. 17th, 2013 03:00 pm (UTC)
I wish I knew! At the moment, I've got two nonfiction projects (one short and one a little longer) to do, and I want to write up and sell the third Magic ex Libris book (which I'm tentatively calling UNBOUND).

It might be smart to try to sell the fourth book in the series at the same time. And, much as I try to fight it, there's also a middle grade novel idea that's been crying out for attention.

I'd say UNBOUND at an absolute minimum. Beyond that, it will depend on what I'm up for and how masochistic I'm feeling :-)
Jan. 17th, 2013 03:43 pm (UTC)
The economic turbulence in Europe may be a part of lower foreign rights sales? I was talking to my agent about how, um, lacking my subrights sales were, and that was one of her guesses.
Jan. 17th, 2013 03:45 pm (UTC)
Very possibly, yes. I've been told that this was a wider trend, not just me.
Jan. 17th, 2013 05:19 pm (UTC)
As another data point, we're having a similar hard time with our books (my employer, I mean). A considerable portion of our subrights would be predicated on the publisher getting a grant from a governmental body that supports the translation of books to the local lingo; this has completely dried up in countries undergoing austerity measures (e.g. Spain), and has been severely curtailed in other Eurozone countries.

Similarly, we would often get books from Europe that we want to translate, but can't afford unless the originating country pays for the translator. (Yes, English hegemony means everyone else pays for translations, both directions.) Those have disappeared, too.
Jan. 22nd, 2013 12:09 am (UTC)
As a French to English translator (legal, not literary), I saw a definite slowdown in the last quarter.
Jan. 17th, 2013 03:43 pm (UTC)
Thank you - I do find this kind of thing helpful as a reality check. Although from my perspective, even your current not-so-good year sounds decent - it's (very slightly) more than I've been making annually as a self-employed web designer.

Mind you, I say that not in the sense of "Aha! You published writers really are living a life of luxury!!", but rather "I should really get my ass in gear and finish my novel, because trying to prioritize my writing at least somewhere near my current pay-the-bills work is not necessarily a completely insane thing to do."
Jan. 17th, 2013 11:39 pm (UTC)
Oh, it's definitely decent, and I'm certainly grateful for that :-)
Jan. 17th, 2013 05:06 pm (UTC)
I could do a similar set of numbers but from the point of view of a writer whose writing income is almost solely from short fiction sales (and the collections of stories). I've had a couple of years where I think I was among the top-ten selling short story writers in the country in terms of sales made, but that is a surprisingly small bucket of money.

Edited at 2013-01-17 05:56 pm (UTC)
Jan. 17th, 2013 07:45 pm (UTC)
I'd be very interested in seeing that, if it's ever something you felt comfortable sharing.
Jan. 17th, 2013 06:09 pm (UTC)
Thanks - I love seeing authors share this.

It really does help us set some goals for ourselves based in actual experiences. Wish more would share so we could see what's working where and why instead of guessing so much.
Jan. 17th, 2013 06:25 pm (UTC)
Thanks for sharing! It's very helpful to see how things can go up and down like that, and what might be the reason.
Jan. 17th, 2013 06:34 pm (UTC)
Thank you for sharing this. I've always found it to be very eye opening.
Jan. 17th, 2013 07:41 pm (UTC)
This is really interesting.

Out of curiosity, since I just started following you recently, what was the big spike in 2008?
Jan. 17th, 2013 07:44 pm (UTC)
Germany *really* liked the goblin books :-)
Jan. 17th, 2013 08:39 pm (UTC)
I find this fascinating. As the author of a number of nonfiction books for a mid-sized publishing company (on a specialized subject, written for an audience that loves books but often doesn't have much money), I always laugh when people say, "Gee, there must be pretty good money in writing, right?"

Of course there is, for some people, in some circumstances. But as you mentioned, it is erratic at best, and you have to be continually selling, and then it is still a crap shoot.

Still, it is nice to see that you are doing so well! May this year be even better.
Jan. 17th, 2013 09:23 pm (UTC)
Thanks for sharing, interesting as always.
And you could always bust the myth about ALL authors, even if you yourself got a built-in laser tag arena. Just something to think about.
Jan. 17th, 2013 10:48 pm (UTC)
Thank you for sharing this information publicly, I'm sure it's a huge boon for a lot of people, even to see one person's "real reality" when it comes to writing for a living.
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 17th, 2013 11:36 pm (UTC)
Hi Alex,

I apologize for not getting back to your message. To answer your question, I'd say it's possible, yes. But I also think it would be difficult.

On the other hand, making a living as a writer is difficult, period. So if it's something you want to do, go for it. If it works out, sweet! If it doesn't, are you any worse off than if you hadn't tried?

Jan. 19th, 2013 05:57 pm (UTC)
Speaking of budgeting, I really like this book called The Money Book for Freelancers. I quit my day job five years ago and it's been really helpful in figuring out how to budget.
Jan. 20th, 2013 02:36 am (UTC)
Jim, I'm a small press writer. You inspired me to do an earning graph.

There are some explantions beneath it, a list of what was published when.
Feb. 7th, 2013 09:17 pm (UTC)
For the self-published stuff, IMO, you did fairly well with it. Of course, we all love you, that's why. ;)
Feb. 7th, 2013 11:18 pm (UTC)
Aw...thank you.

And I'm certainly not complaining about the numbers :-)
Feb. 7th, 2013 11:41 pm (UTC)
I didn't say you were. ;)
( 24 comments — Leave a comment )


Jim C. Hines


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