*I’ll note two things in addition to Amanda’s post below — first I heard elsewhere that Hines had made 40,000, which for the record might be. You see, when you report earnings in a year, are you reporting money PAID in? or money signed for — Or it’s possible the person reporting got confused. I don’t know and don’t care enough about JM’s fortune’s to check. BUT most traditional advances are paid in three installments. (Baen is different.) Next, something Amanda didn’t touch on, but I — who have worked in publishing for 14 years — will. If you’re going traditional (other than Baen, which is why I keep working with Baen) you need to factor into the “cost of doing business” the fact that the royalty reports are often blatantly crazy — like basing it on Nielsen’s which report AT MOST 2/3 of sales (their claim) but more likely 1/3 (from independent analysis); that the publisher, like one of mine, might claim a book that stayed on the shelves everywhere, including high end bookstores only sold 1k books because “A lot of them were spoiled.” — spoiled by what? Who knows? — and that you won’t get your copyrights back without a major fight. Predatory contracts and the fact you have no say in how your book is treated is another big deal. It was to save my nerves (Honestly guys, if you page back, you’ll find posts. My hair was coming out by the handfuls. I thought “vitamins” I thought “menopause” but no, it was stress.) that I stopped working for all publishers but Baen and Naked Reader Press (but that’s a special thing since it’s an endeavor of friends) and Goldport Press (ditto.)
For the rest, I agree with what Amanda says.*
Where’s the Money? — by Amanda Green
Over the last couple of weeks, there’s been a lot of discussion going on across the internet about how much money writers make – or don’t make. It started with the results of the 2014 Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Survey. Authors started talking on Facebook and other forms of social media about where they fell in the survey results. Some said the survey proved what they’d been saying all along – that only those who are traditionally published or are hybrids make any money writing. Others took a different view, questioning the results of the survey and any bias it might have had.
I decided to look at the survey after I’d seen a post by Jim Hines about how much money he’d made this past year as a writer. For some years now, Hines has posted his income from writing. I applaud him for it but will admit that he doesn’t give as much detail in his reports as I’d like to see. So, let’s start with what Hines had to say and then go from there.
According to Hines, his income for 2013 breaks down like this:
- Novels (U.S.): $55,350
- Novels (Foreign Editions): $1,000
- Self-Published: $1,650
- Short fiction and Nonfiction: $1,500
- Miscellaneous: $1,300
If my math is right, that’s a total of $60.800. That’s nothing to sneeze about and kudos to him for earning that much. However, here is where my questions begin.
Hines notes in his post that he sold three books to his publisher during 2013. So it is safe to assume that a good chunk of the novel sales figure comes from advances. Unfortunately, he doesn’t tell us what amount that might be, so we can’t weigh advances against royalty payments. The reason this concerns me is multi-fold. First, authors who sell to digital first publishers or who self-publish don’t get advances. Their income is royalty only. Second, it’s common knowledge that most traditionally published books don’t earn out their advances. The lack of numbers about these two concerns means it is more difficult to weigh his earnings against a self-published author.
We also don’t know the number of titles he has self-published and if any of them were new to 2013. He also admits that he has don’t nothing to promote his self-published titles.
Still, he made more than a lot of folks do at a “real” job. But is he the exception or the rule – both for traditionally published authors and those who take the digital first, hybrid or self-published route.
The 2014 Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Survey was set up so that respondents were split into one of four groups: aspiring writers, traditionally published writers, hybrid-published writers and self-published writers. Of those four groups, the aspiring writers counted for more than 65% of those responding.
Okay, right there I have a problem. If by “aspiring writers” the survey meant those who have never been published, why were they included in a survey on earnings? An aspiring writer has never sold anything before. That means they haven’t earned anything from their writing. To include them in a survey to determine what type of writer makes more money is to skew the results. To include them to the extent that they make up approximately 2/3rds of the respondents is to basically invalidate the results if for no other reason than it brings into question the validity of the rest of the survey.
But I digress. . . .
According to the survey, approximately 77% of the self-published authors who responded made $1,000 or less a year. “[A] startlingly high 53.9%” of traditionally published authors made the same amount. As for hybrid-published authors, 43.6% said they made $1,000 a year or less.
Needless to say, I have problems with these figures as well. To start, the bias of the survey is clear in the language used to describe the number of traditionally published authors in this category. No descriptive is used for self-published or hybrid-published authors. But it is a “startlingly high” number of low-earning traditionally published authors.
My next issue is that there is no breakdown on what these authors are publishing. For all we know, the self-published authors put out only short stories – which sell for substantially less than novels – while the traditionally published authors were putting out books in a well-established series. Without knowing if the survey was comparing literary apples with oranges, we can’t put too much weight behind these figures.
If that’s not enough to make you at least question the built in bias that might exist in the survey, follow the link in the article linked above. It will take you to a site where you can download the survey – for the mere price of $295. Note, too, the title of the download: What Advantages do Traditional Publishers Offer Authors. Sounds like there’s a slant in favor of legacy publishers to me. How about you?
The funny thing is that a lot of authors felt the same way. The numbers they saw reported in the survey didn’t make sense. Go to Facebook and you’d see them talking about what percentile they fell into. Author Beverley Kendall went one better. She put together her own survey that she pulled together in a 25 page plus document and then posted to her website. While I won’t and can’t say it is completely accurate, I will bet it is a much more accurate picture of the industry and of what authors are earning than the other was.
There were 822 respondents to the survey that were split into the following groups: self-published, traditionally published or digital-first published. 65% were self-published. 21% were traditionally published and 14% were digital-first published. None were “aspiring authors”.
The first breakdown made was the percentage of authors who made $10,000 or more in 2013.
- 56.90% of traditionally published authors fell into this group.
- 46.04% of self-published authors did as well.
- 44.95% of digital-first authors also made this amount.
It is at this point that Ms. Kendall points out that the monies earned by traditional authors include their advances while self-published and digital-first authors don’t have that luxury. To me, that makes the number of authors falling into those categories all the more impressive.
Ms. Kendall then goes on to give more information than we’ve gotten from the overviews of the other survey – and, sorry, but I’m not paying hundreds of dollars to buy the survey to see the actual questions and breakdowns. In her breakdown of information garnered through her survey, she looks at the impact of genre on earnings – and notes that romance readers buy a LOT of books. She notes that series also seem to improve sales. She also confirms something Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith have been saying for a long time: volume sells. The more titles you have out there, the more your sales will grow.
From the survey:
Those having 1 – 3 books for sale:
- 79.93% earned less than $10,000
- 13.14% earned $10k – $25k
- 3.65% earned $25,001 – $50k
You can see the trend.
Now, for those with 12 – 20 books for sale:
- 21.70% earned less than $10k
- 11.32% earned $10k – $25k
- !5.9% earned $25,001 – $50k
- And it continues up to 7.55% earning more than $500,000.
Ms. Kendall also points out that being professional with your work helps as well. Having your novel edited and having good covers helps promote sales. She also takes the time to compare her earnings from traditional publishing with what she has made self-publishing and I wasn’t surprised to find she prefers the latter for obvious reasons.
What does all this mean? First, that any survey can be manipulated to skew the results to favor the stance of the sponsor of the survey. Second, neither of these surveys were scientifically done. So there is no telling what the actual margin of error might be. But, if I had to choose one to help guide me in making a decision about whether to try to go the traditional publishing route or the self-publishing route, it would be Ms. Kendall’s. She opens her questions and the results up for all to see. She also didn’t have two-thirds of the respondents being “aspiring writers”.
From personal experience, I can also say that most of what Ms. Kendall says seems to be exactly what is happening with my own career. The more I publish, the greater my sales. Each title seems to help sales of the titles before it. My series – both under my name and under my pen name of Ellie Ferguson – sell better as individual titles than the one non-series book I have out now. Books where romance is a major theme sell better than those without it. Beyond that, each year my sales increase. I have made the equivalent to an advance on one book this past year and this next year looks to be even better.
The choice about whether to go indie or to go the traditional route is one each author has to make. However, don’t make that decision based on faulty information that is obviously slanted in the favor of legacy publishers. You have to make an informed decision and that means doing your homework. If you see a survey like the 2014 Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Survey, especially if it doesn’t let you see the data and how it was compiled without paying major money to do so, then question its validity and look for alternative information.
For me, I’ll continue working with a micro press and putting work out on my own. I know there is money in it. I might not get rich, but at least I know the majority of the money paid for my novels comes to me and not to supporting some ostrich-like publisher in New York that still denies that the industry is changing and that continues to treat its authors like so many interchangeable widgets.