The Slow and Steady Climb of a Genre Author – Part II

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Last year I put up the first of a planned series of yearly posts where I shared some of my sales number. I was inspired by Jim Hines, who’s been doing them yearly as well for quite a few years. You can find his latest here.

Why am I doing this? Well, first, I really wish I had this sort of data as I was coming up. As a new writer, it helps to understand the lay of the land. It helps you to set the right expectations. It also helps to dispel the myth (for both writers and non-writers) that getting a book contract is akin to winning the lottery. It isn’t. At all.

Like last year, I’ll post two charts: first my yearly writing income from 2004 to 2015, then my 2015 income, broken down by category, along with some thoughts on each.

Year over Year Income

In total last year, writing brought in $38,598.69. Note that this figure is before taxes and expenses but after agent commissions. Expenses are obviously going to bring that down quite a bit, but for now, let’s just take a look at it year by year:

Writing Income by Year 2015

Interesting graph, isn’t it?

Like a lot of good graphs, it tells a story, especially toward the right end of the graph. I mentioned last year that I was pretty sure 2014 was going to be an anomaly because I’d sold the first three books in the SHATTERED SANDS series to DAW Books, Gollancz, and Brilliance all in 2013. And the book wasn’t out in 2014, so there wasn’t really a lot of income supporting my writing that year. Again, it goes to show you how volatile a writer’s income can be.

Last year was a completely different story. The first book, TWELVE KINGS IN SHARAKHAI, was turned in for final copy edits early in the year, which meant that the “on acceptance” part of my advances came after that. Then in September the book came out, which meant that I got the “on publication” portions. We also sold German and French rights, which meant even more advance and on-delivery payments coming in. Those factors alone made up most of the difference between 2014 and 2015. There were some other nice additions in income as well.

Let’s take a closer look at the details.

 

2015 Writing Income by Source

2015 Writing Income

Above is the breakdown of income by source. Book advances were clearly a major part of this pie chart. That includes both domestic and foreign, plus deferred advance money like the “on acceptance” and “on publication” payments. But the rest of the pie chart, around 25% of the total, comes almost exclusively from sales of THE LAYS OF ANUSKAYA and my short story collections, LEST OUR PASSAGE BE FORGOTTEN and IN THE STARS I’LL FIND YOU.

We can take a closer look at that by re-drawing the chart and excluding advances and royalties.

2015 Writing Income wo Book Royalties

Everything on this chart except for speaking engagements and short story sales & royalties are due to my backlog of books to sell on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and elsewhere. You can see that Amazon sales dwarf Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Google iPlay, and Smashwords, all of which sold the same 4 titles over the course of 2015: THE WINDS OF KHALAKOVO, THE STRAITS OF GALAHESH, THE FLAMES OF SHADAM KHOREH, and LEST OUR PASSAGE BE FORGOTTEN. There were some short story sales in there as well, but those sold very few copies over the course of the year.

Dominating the lower-right of this chart is bundle sales, which includes two StoryBundle campaigns plus special promo sales like on VODO.net. It’s really nice to have the flexibility of having those books so that I can do things like that. You can see how much of a difference it can make. It’s dwarfed by the advances and royalties, but still, it was nice income to have.

Another big chunk of money came from Kickstarter sales via the Six by Six Kickstarter I ran last year. That includes only my income from that Kickstarter (i.e. it already excluded the payments to the other authors), but because this considers only income and not expenses, pure profit is lost. We don’t see things like the art cost (which was significant) and other smaller things like Julie Dillon’s awesome artwork for the cover and the audio track we licensed for the video.

Finally, I’ll note that PayPal and Direct sales is bringing in a hefty amount. That’s almost exclusively from my online store here on the site, where I sell ebooks, trade paperbacks, and the remains of the numbered, limited edition hardcovers of my books. It’s nice to get those direct sales as I don’t have to pay commission that way.

Short story sales and royalties were nothing to sneeze at, either. I have a number of stories actually paying royalties, which is great, plus the sale of “Irindai” to Ragnarok for their Blackguards anthology.

Speaking engagements continued to bring in a bit of money as well. I’ll be doing a bit more of that this year, as I’ll be at GenCon again, and I’ve also been invited to speak at the UW Madison Writers’ Institute in April as well as give a talk at the McMillan Memorial Library in Wisconsin Rapids in May. It’ll likely never be anything more than a bit of supplemental income, but it’s something I enjoy, and it’s nice to get paid for it.

Looking Ahead to 2016

What are things going to look like next year? Well, it certainly won’t be a repeat of 2014. I’ll turn in book 2, WITH BLOOD UPON THE SAND, in a few months. That’ll trigger a bunch of “on acceptance” payments, not just from DAW, Gollancz, and Brilliance, but all five of the publishers of those books (Droemer Knaur in Germany and Bragelonne in France included). I also sold OF SAND AND MALICE MADE, which will bring in some income. And I’m hoping we can get some more foreign sales, but that’s just a hope at this point, and out of my control.

Also, this year will be the first year I could potentially get royalties for TWELVE KINGS. The statements will come in the June timeframe. I’m hoping I earned out my advance and that I’ll see some royalty income, but I don’t have sales numbers yet so I’ll just have to wait and see. I’ll also continue to get income (hopefully good income) from THE LAYS OF ANUSKAYA series as it gets crossover interest from fans of the new series.

In total, my self-published work brought in $8,145.99 in 2015. That’s almost certain to go down in 2016. I had two separate bundle deals in 2015 plus the VODO.net deal, and I doubt I’ll have even one this year. On the other hand, there has been a marked increase in sales of THE LAYS OF ANUSKAYA following the release of TWELVE KINGS. I expect that trend to continue in 2016 as the mmpb of TWELVE KINGS is released in August and OF SAND AND MALICE MADE is released in September. THE BURNING LIGHT, the novella I co-wrote with Rob Ziegler, is also coming out in September from the Tor.com imprint, which will produce a bit of buzz. And lastly, I’ll be gearing up for the release of WITH BLOOD UPON THE SAND in (roughly) February of next year.

That’s all I have this year, friends. Feel free to pass this along to others that might find it useful. And if you have any questions, fire away in the comments section below.

7 Comments

  1. Jay Swanson

    January 26, 2016 at 5:34 pm

    Thanks for sharing this Brad – it’s really helpful to see. Sales statistics get really cloak-and-daggery and stuff like this helps to set realistic expectations. I still want to win the writer’s lottery at some point though 😉

    • Brad

      January 26, 2016 at 9:30 pm

      Yeah, it definitely feels like winning the lottery, that’s for sure. At least at first. And then the sheer amount of work ahead and the nervousness about the release set in.

  2. Quickben

    January 27, 2016 at 2:22 am

    Do the royalties from audiobooks work out same as that of ebooks?

    • Brad

      January 27, 2016 at 10:03 am

      Do you mean are they at the same percentage of sales? In this case, they’re similar-ish. It all depends on the contract, but typically for physical, royalties are around 8-10% of cover price for print books and around 25% of net for ebooks. In my experience, audio has been about the same.

      Or do you mean they came out to the same dollar amounts? I haven’t received any royalties from my the SHATTERED SANDS series yet, so I don’t have good data. Next year I should know a lot more (unless I don’t earn out, in which case I’ll be in the same boat I am now).

  3. Samuel M_B

    January 28, 2016 at 9:31 am

    Are your sales through Kobo so low that they aren’t worth reporting (which would be sad, as that’s the ebook partnership for independent bookstores) or are they a portion of the Smashwords slice of the pie?

    • Brad

      January 28, 2016 at 9:59 am

      My Kobo sales are through Smashwords. They comprise almost all my sales through that channel, so you can get some idea of how well I’m selling there. It’s really small. Barely a blip on the radar.

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