Writing income, the 2016 version

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For the last two years, I’ve published posts that detail my writing income. I’m here to do so again. I meant to post this around tax time, but, well, I was busy, so here it is a bit late.

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.

If you’re interested, you can find the previous posts here:

Preamble over, let’s dig in. I’ll start with year over year income, and then move on to a breakdown of the details.

Year Over Year Income


2016 Writing Income by Year

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Before I dig into details, it’s important to know what this is and what it isn’t. This is income only. I’m not pulling out any expenses in these figures, so this is gross income, not net. I do, of course, run my writing as a business, and so there are various expenses, like convention travel, book printing, marketing expenses, artwork, professional editing services, and so on. And of course this income includes more than just book sales. I also do paid engagements. I teach writing here and there. All of that brings in a bit of extra income.

The net, of course, is obviously going to be a lot lower than the gross. How much lower? Well, that all depends. It’s different for every writer, so I don’t find it all that illustrative to talk about. I’d rather focus on sources of income and some of the details surrounding that.

Writing in 2016 brought in $36,751.09. You’ll note that’s down from the previous year slightly. And down a fair bit from my high in 2013. And oof, just look at 2014… This goes to show once again how challenging it can be as an author these days. This lack of predictability is quite common. Whether you’re in the upper 10%, the lower 10%, or somewhere in between, unpredictability is the name of the game in writing, which is why it’s so important to plan for the lean years even if you have a bump in income one year.

Suffice it to say that after expenses are factored in, this is not a great income source. Not yet, anyway. As some of you know, I went full time with writing last year. There are other places where we’re getting income to support us (my wife re-entering the workforce, for example), so it’s not all on writing. Even so, it’s been scary. Supporting a family on this sort of income is tough.

But there are silver linings. More on that in a minute. Let’s dig into the income sources first.


2016 Writing Income by Source

2016 Writing Income

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The first thing you’ll note is the MASSIVE amount that book advances adds to this picture. This wasn’t from a single advance, but instead was comprised of many small advances. You see, when you get a book contract, the advance is generally split into three parts (sometimes four). The first chunk is paid up front, on contract signature. The second is paid on acceptance of the turned-in manuscript. (Note: this is not delivery of the ms, but acceptance, which is up to the publisher, not the author. This could easily be the subject of a whole other post, so I won’t dig into it here.) The third part is paid on publication of the first edition of the book (be it hardcover, trade paperback, or what have you). The optional fourth edition is for when the second format of the book (often mass market paperback after an initial trade paperback, or trade paperback after an initial hardcover).

And this is complicated by the fact that you might have sold two or more books in one contract. You’ll generally get the initial, one-third advances for all the books in a single contract up front, and then you’ll have to work to produce the books and get the other advances as the mss are accepted and the books are published.

What I received in 2016, then, were various second and third installments for the publication of the later editions of books, for having my mss accepted, and in one case (Bragelonne in France) for the publication of the translated version of Twelve Kings in Sharakhai.

I mentioned unpredictability earlier, but this actually speaks a bit to the control we have over our income. We may not always be able to predict when a book will sell, or when a publisher will deem something “accepted”, but we sure as hell have control over our writing schedules. That’s why it’s so important to keep pumping out books as a full-time author. The more you can get done (while keeping the quality as high as you can make it, of course) the more steady income you’ll see.

You’ll note, by the way, that there are no book royalties in this chart. That’s because I didn’t earn any in 2016. I have in 2017, though. More on that below…

Okay, let’s dig into some details of the rest of the income. It’s difficult to look in detail with that massive “advances” wedge in the pie chart, so let’s just remove that and re-draw it, shall we?

2016 Writing Income Less Book Advances

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This chart represents the $11,690.88 that the rest of the income is made up of. (I feel, as a writer, I should have made a better go at that sentence, but right now, I’m tired and refuse to).

The Kickstarter income is a big chunk here. That was the In the Stars I’ll Find You Kickstarter I ran last year to get out a physical version of my second story collection (largely my science fictional work), including trade paperback and limited edition hardcovers, both of which you can find (keep your marketing hat on, kids) in my online store. And that was after the Six by Six Kickstarter from the previous year, where I teamed up with five other awesome authors to put out six different short story collections, including the electronic version of In the Stars I’ll Find You.

Amazon is the next largest wedge in the pie. People knock Amazon, but just look at the income and then compare it to the wedges of the other players (B&N, Google iPlay, and Apple iBooks). It’s hard to argue with their success. Audible’s in the mix as well, though wow, it’s a small chunk of my income right now. Producing audio versions of your books is expensive. Suffice it to say that I won’t see profit from that endeavor for a long, long (,long) while.

What else is interesting? Lightning Source is who I use for print versions of my short story collections. Just look at that pitiful little wedge. The sales of those have been … small. To the point where I’m debating on pulling them (Lightning Source charges a yearly catalog fee) and putting them up on Amazon Paperbacks instead.

Short story sales were also good last year. Those were from the two Shattered Sands shorts I sold, one to the excellent Unfettered II anthology from Grim Oak Press and the other to the splendiferous Evil is a Matter of Perspective anthology from Grimdark Magazine.

PayPal and other Direct Sales was a sizable chunk. That basically represents any sales I made through my online store and through convention appearances like GenCon or others, where I had a chance to sell my own books.


Looking Ahead to 2017

So, what’s been happening so far in 2017? Quite a bit actually. Last year I sold a new series to DAW called The Days of Dust and Ash. Yay! The advance, however, didn’t actually come in until this year, so that’s going to add a big chunk to this year’s coffers. This again speaks to the unpredictable nature of writing income. Though I sold that series last year and have realized some of the income this year, I won’t actually start writing that series until the Shattered Sands series is complete. After talking with my agent and my publisher, we all thought that was best.

Speaking of the Shattered Sands, I also sold the last three books in the series! Yay! You can read more about that in the announcement post. Another big chunk will come from that.

Another major bit of news from earlier this year is that Twelve Kings has earned out. Yay! What’s earning out? Well, remember the advances we talked about earlier? Those are advances against royalties, meaning that those advances must be paid back by selling books. Each royalty I’m owed is paid to the advance first, and only when the advance has been paid back in full do I start seeing any additional income from it. This is known as “earning out” and it can happen for a single book or with a series of books, depending on whether basket accounting is used. I won’t go into basket accounting now other than to say that it merely indicates how the publisher is going to account for royalties: book by book, or for the series as a whole.

So, Twelve Kings earned out last year. What does that mean? It means I saw some income in my spring royalty report (for sales from the last half of last year) and will see them going forward from now on. Unless, that is, everyone stops buying my books. (Please don’t stop buying my books!) The income on the spring royalty report was good. Higher than expected. And the one from fall (for sales from the first half of this year) were much better than expected. Thank you to everyone who bought my books!

Other things are happening. More and more books are being published in more countries. The Germany, Holland, the Czech Republic will all have books out from the Shattered Sands series this year. Bragelonne in France will publish the second book, With Blood Upon the Sand, next month. In fact, I’ll be in Paris on November 10th for a signing after attending GollanczFest in London!

I’ll certainly have more income in 2017 than I did in 2016. And with (one hopes) more books beginning to earn out, I hope to see even more in following years. This is the hope, that you can find at least one series, and hopefully more, that earn out and become an engine for you. Each subsequent book in the series adds to the hype for earlier books, so that by the time you near the end, you have something that might support you, at least until you get more series going.

Fingers crossed…

That’s all for now, folks. Feel free to ask questions. I’ll answer them as I can.

And if you enjoyed this, please share. I think it’s important that more new authors understand the reality of this business.

See you all next year.