Musings on Income

(Author note: if you are waiting on book 7 and couldn’t care less about nitty-gritty of the dark inner workings of being a pro writer, skip this post.  For you peeps- book 7 is over half done and still on track for release in next couple months. I apparently might have pneumonia, but I’ve wrestled that beastie and won before, so I hope it won’t slow me down too much.  Happy New Year, eh?! But no fear, Boss Fight: Samir (ie Magic to the Bone) is on its way).



For everyone else… have some random thoughts and some numbers:

Income, especially in American culture I guess, is a touchy thing. Among writers and other creatives, I think it can be even touchier. This business is so uneven and so subjective once you hit a basic threshold of quality. Which is why I always choose to define “good book” as “book multiple people want to read enough to pay money for” and leave it there, because every other measure runs into problems of taste and opinion.

Some writers do share their income. Many choose not to. I think both are making the decision that they are comfortable with, however, I super appreciate those who share. For the same reason I watch certain books and how they do with readers, I also watch various author careers. It’s all data that I might be able to apply to my own career, to my own books, to help me better deliver great books that people want to read and to find the best avenues to get those books into reader’s hands.

I’ve noticed though that there’s an odd gap in the numbers being shared, and chatting with a few others I am not the only one who has noticed. Authors starting out, both trad and indie, seem to share more often than long-time authors. Same with authors (long in the biz or not) who are making less than six figures. Then the gap appears as you see some authors who make very high six or into seven figures sharing. Where are the betweens? I know they exist in the professional fiction writing world, because I know quite a few of them personally. But they don’t share.

Many, I assume, don’t share because they aren’t comfortable talking numbers outside private groups. After all, in the end it is nobody’s business but the tax people and yourself what you make, and that’s cool. Many of us are raised to never discuss money, though from dealing with various unfair work situations and seeing relationships dissolve over financial disputes, not discussing money can sometimes be a poor choice. But when you work for yourself? It’s a decision you have to make for yourself.

I imagine others don’t because six figure income is this funny limbo place. You are making money, good money, but you aren’t making enough to feel untouchable (especially not when the tax bills come due, weeee). Publishing is a very volatile field. You can sell thousands of copies of one book, release the next, and watch the pennies trickle in. One change at a vendor or a mix-up in a computer system somewhere, and you can lose tens of thousands in the blink of an eye. There’s no “made it” or coasting available at almost any level of publishing that I can see until you hit the upper echelons where you have more money than JK Rowling (okay, probably nobody has more than she does in publishing, but you get my point).

This is stuff I’ve been thinking about as I read blog posts by awesome people like Jim C Hines and Kameron Hurley. Posts such as theirs, posts by others like JA Konrath, Amanda Hocking, and John Scalzi, and surveys like the one Tobias Buckell did back in 2005 helped me figure out what paths to take, what careers to look at, how to navigate things and what expectations to have. I’m a firm believer in more information is more better.

For that reason, I used to share numbers. I still do pretty openly at conventions and if people ask. But when I thought about writing a post after reading Jim Hines’ summation of his year, I balked. Why? Because this year was super successful for me and I fall into that limbo place now. I worried that writing this post would cause backlash, people saying “oh she doesn’t deserve that” or “she’s just bragging” or “her books aren’t that good” or “she’s just an outlier” or whatever else people say when green-eyed monsters come to live in their brains. Professional envy is a real danger in creative endeavors, I’ve witnessed it first hand multiple times and almost fell prey to it myself once in a general way (I quit writing short fiction for a while because I felt like I’d never compare to people who seemed to work less hard than I did, but thankfully I got the fuck over that hang-up).

But you know what? Data is data. I might be in the fragile limbo where income could be zero next year (if I don’t stop getting sick, that might be my reality, sigh), but I’m going to share numbers. These are a combination of a ton of work/study finally paying off and the support of the best readers anyone could ask for, with a dollop of luck thrown in (like the whole e-book revolution happening while I’m still alive to enjoy it, for example).

Titles published in 2015: 2 (plus one three book omnibus of previously published work)
Paid Titles total under this name: 17
Free titles: 7 (one of which was paid for half of 2015 at .99)
Short stories sold to anthologies in 2015: 4

Books sold in 2015 (including audio and print): 106,661 (approximate)
Income earned from ebooks/audio/print: $257,293
Income from multi-author bundles/Misc: $4,048
Income from anthology sales/royalties: $1,690
Total earnings 2015 (paid in 2015): $263,031

Want to see what a totally uneven career looks like? I quit my job in 2009 to start pursuing being a writer full time. I made one short story sale for a flash fiction piece that year, earning 18 dollars.  2010 income is a short story sale and the tiny beginnings of my foray into ebooks. Baby steps while I learned how to write (I wrote and submitted 39 short stories in 2010 alone, plus a novel).

Here’s the graph of my career so far:

chart of earnings by year
And here’s a pie chart of how my earnings for the year divide out between indie, trad, and multi-author stuff, because who doesn’t like pie?

2015 earnings by type
So… to sum up, I had a fantastic 2015 income-wise. Health-wise and stress-wise, it was awful and I’m ringing in 2016 with another bout of pneumonia, so who knows what my writing schedule will be like but I ain’t gonna quit. I will keep on writing, and working to make every book something I am proud of and that people want to read for as long as I’m alive to do so. That’s pretty much all any career writer can ask for, I think. Maybe I’ll have crazy numbers to post again this time next year, or maybe I won’t, but if I can get more good/healthy days and more books written than in 2015, I’ll consider 2016 a win.

And as anyone I’ve ever gamed with can tell you, I’m all about winning 😉

41 Responses to “Musings on Income”

  1. Kameron Hurley

    People *really* don’t like it when you hit that six-figure mark. The year I hit six figures – even though 75% of that money was from my day job! – I got some snark (not a ton, but enough to annoy) from folks who said THEY would be HAPPY to make $30k on their novels and how DARE I say it’s not a reasonable living for a career that’s taken me 30 years of diligent practice to achieve. There’s still this idea that writers should be poor and struggling in order to be “real” artists, which is, of course, BS. Making more money means worrying less about money, so I can create more work.

    Even Scalzi stopped sharing numbers after he posted six-figures for a few years. He’s said in a few posts that he’s been making mid-six figures for years now, but discontinued the full breakdown posts a few years back.

    • Annie

      Yeah, any notion that somehow suffering elevates things is clearly had by someone who hasn’t tried to write while suffering. With my chronic health issues they still haven’t solved (I’m like an episode of House, sigh) income means that I can see specialists and get meds which means I can keep writing at all. There’s a pretty direct connection between “making good money” and “writing more books” for me, and I imagine for a lot of writers it isn’t much different. Income means stability and freedom to do more work. 🙂

  2. Elliott Kay

    Your success is hard-earned and well-deserved. Luck plays a factor for literally everyone. Doesn’t mean you didn’t bust your ass or make a lot of very smart decisions. I’m very happy for you.

  3. Veronica Sicoe

    Thanks for sharing your numbers, here and on KB, Annie. Seeing the nitty gritty details of the evolution of others’ careers, especially because there are no 2 alike, is always very motivating and sobering.
    I wish you an even better 2016, and hopefully no more illness to fight. 🙂

  4. Kathy Barber Doyle

    Hey Annie
    I am just a reader and not sure if I’m allowed to post here, but I just want to say how much I love your books! I love your The Twenty Sided Sorceress Books and just finished your book #4 of the Gryphonpike Chronicles. Your a wonderful writer and thanks for working so hard to offer excellent story lines that keep me wanting more of your work. I am so happy that you are doing better financially which you should! I hope and pray 2016 will bring you better health and more time to make your fans happy while you continue to write fabulous stories for our pleasure.
    Kathy Barber Doyle 1/10/2016

  5. Jonathan Gabriele-Hay

    Hi Annie,

    As a reader, I am so grateful that you can price low and that you have been rewarded by getting such a fantastic payback as a reward. And yes, this is only the one great year for you – so far 🙂

    However, prices like yours mean that I think hard before buying ebooks from other authors who charge so much more. I only have a finite amount of reading time so when I can find quality work at a good price I admit to applying that filter before I look further.

    I probably miss some great authors as a result but I figure that I couldn’t read all of them anyway.

    Good luck continuing in this manner for 2016, and for my part I need to start putting reviews out there for you and like minded authors so that people looking for new books don’t think that low prices mean low quality. Although judging by your figures that isn’t a problem for you.

    Thanks again, and I hope you feel better soon.


  6. Meri

    Thank you for posting this article (and especially the pie; I can’t say enough good about pie! 😀 ). The last time I bothered to look into writer’s earnings was some years ago, and based on the average being less than $5k/year (and one Amazon Bestseller disclosing his year’s income from his 2012 hit book as being a tad over $11k) I decided not to pursue it. Having your updated figures and the pie (yumm!) chart showing the advantage of indie publishing over trad, I’m now seriously considering making the plunge.

    Since I have chronic health issues and my income from other sources has steadily dropped, expressed as a percentage of the poverty line, even an extra $2k/year would be a big help. If nothing else, it would make it possible for me to buy more of your books, which are kind of like pie for the mind! :9

    Best wishes for continuing prosperity (and pie!) in the new year! 😀


  7. JL

    Hi Annie,

    I can’t thank you enough for this article and your open accounting. Like Meri, I had turned my back on indie publishing. It wasn’t that I was looking for millions or even high six figures, I was just hoping for something worth the effort. Because of people like yourself, you have encouraged me to pursue my love of telling stories. I truly pray that you will have a great, healthy and happy 2016. Hopefully you’ll double, if not triple what you made this year, and your physical body will become perfect in every way.

    Thanks a Ga-billion for everything you have done for the indie publishing community. You’re awesome and Happy writing!


  8. Emerson

    Annie, sorry to hear you are still dealing with health issues. It can be so frustrating to not feel well but want to work. You have to let your body heal so that the mind will be clear.
    Regarding sharing of numbers, thank you! I think it is still goes to show people that this business can be profitable if you take the time to put out quality work.
    If I may ask, did you do any advertising this year to make those numbers? Specifically Facebook? Your chart doesn’t show any expenses so I assume it is gross income. Thank you for sharing and I hope you feel better soon!

    • Annie

      I spent about 4k on advertising (though that includes things like buying dice to give away, bookmarks, etc). About 1200 of that was on FB ads.

      Yes, the numbers are gross. They don’t include expenses or taxes. The number would be smaller if net, ha. I wish it was net. 🙂

      • Emerson

        Wow, that isn’t as much as I’d imagine. Do you think it was worth the advertising dollars? I’m debating on throwing a little money at FB after my next series to see if I can get a boost. But I don’t want to spend a fortune and it has to at least pay for itself. Either that or just keep putting out more stories. 🙂

        • Annie

          It depends on your genre and if you are good at targeting and what your budget is. I think FB ads work well for some genres (like romance and some kinds of fantasy) and less well for others. They also work better for books that already have proven appeal and for higher priced items like omnibus editions.

          The ad spending I feel is worth it is Bookbub. Everything else is questionable and depends on your genre, your inclinations, and your circumstances.

          As for just putting out more work, more work is always good. But have a plan. If you have three books out in a series and aren’t seeing very many sales, there’s probably an issue with the series (either branding or production issue or the books aren’t good or they lack appeal somehow etc) and that should be evaluated before just tossing more work up, since doing the same thing over and over and hoping for different results is pretty much a fail.

        • Meri

          Additionally, I saw a video showing click results for Facebook ads that demonstrated that even after the author declined to show ads to people in clickfarm countries, fb still charged them for clicks from those countries. So keep track of where your ads are actually showing and being clicked on and demand make-goods on fallacious clicks or you’ll be wasting your money.

  9. Perry White

    Just finished the most recent book of Jade and am reaching for my phone to celebrate with the brother that gifted me the set for Christmas. I can only think of one other title that I felt was as written for me by the way I resonated with your writing. I tend to gush, so clamping down on that, I’ll simply say I love your work, and believe that you stand apart in the field, Lady. Blessings on you and yours, and prayers for healing.

  10. Bill Peschel

    Visiting this post from Michael Anderle’s mention of your site on the Author Biz podcast …. thank you for sharing your figures, especially some of your expenses in the comments.

    I think showing not just your gross but your net can be an important corrective to the reader’s impression of your success. I try to follow other authors’ money trails, and sometimes what appears to be a great year has to be downgraded to an average year, once you realize how much they’re spending. Especially on health care (and I hope your health improves in ’16).

    Now that I’ve looked in your wallet, I promise to check out your books. I’m always curious about what people are reading.

    • Annie

      Thanks. I’ll have to check out that podcast!

      I didn’t list expenses because they are so variable. Also kind of personal. I mean, sure, income is personal, too, but honestly in this day and age if you tracked book rankings and stuff, it’s not that impossible to ballpark what at least a self-published author earns and I figured sharing some hard data to back up the stuff I say about publishing can’t hurt. What I spend the money on though is kind of my personal decision (and probably some of the stuff I do like some of the ads I run etc don’t really help, they are more experiments as I try things with the business, so listing ad spend might be misleading). If that makes sense? That’s why I just went with gross.

      • Bill Peschel

        I think I wasn’t clear what I meant by expenses. I was referring to how much was spent to promote the book only, not what you did with the money.

        For example, Anderle (in the podcast) discussed how he used Facebook ads to promote his series, and he was asked how much of a return on investment he got. He estimated that for every dollar he spend, he received three dollars in sales.

        My math is terrible, but it implied that if he was on track to earn $15K in a month, he might have spent $5K on ads. A hefty, but profitable investment.

        It’s sort of like the recent billion-plus lottery. Yeah, it sounds fabulous, but the lump sum payout cut that in half, and the state and feds would take their cut, and you’re left with only $350K. I’d love to have “only” that much, but it doesn’t sound nearly as thrilling as a billion, see?

        • Annie

          I should talk to him, ha. I think I make maybe 1.50 for every FB ad dollar I spend on average. It’s hard to say since I don’t run a lot of ads. I mostly keep one very low level one going as a visibility aid. I am nowhere near the level of a lot of the advertising of the higher earning indies. I wish I were in some ways, but I have to carefully manage my energy and I’ve decided that doing the ad stuff is something I have to skimp on.

  11. Bill Cawthon

    Looked at your 2015 income and thought, “Worth every penny.”

    Get well (again); I can’t give you any more money if you don’t write any more books.

  12. Michele

    I dont really understand the need for people to be jealous of your earnings. When i buy a book that costs between $2.99 and $13.99 do i fret about the expense and worry about the authors income? No. I buy it to be entertained and i sometimes worry that at $2.99 the author cant be makeing much, yet still i choose to be entertained. Congratulations on your success in 2015. I wish you many more years of success and look forward to many more years of entertainment. Dont worry about what people think of yoyr income, its really none of our business.

  13. Sabine

    I usually download the free bundles or special sales with multi author books from iTunes. Many times I’ve then gone on to purchase the series & then read other books from the author. Really enjoyed twenty sided sorceress series & can’t wait for newest one!

  14. ART

    omnibus collections are my preferred method to find new to me authors, often leading to wonderfully satisfying binge reads. bookbub, also mentioned on this thread, is where I found Annie’s 20 sided sorceress!

  15. Rob Cornell

    Like Bill, I came over from Michael Anderle’s mention of your site on the Author Biz podcast, too. 🙂 Just downloaded the first in your Twenty-Sided Sorceress series. Looking forward to that as I need me some more good urban fantasy. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your data. And take care of yourself. I had some growing success with my urban fantasy series, but health issues kept me from getting the fifth and final in the series out for over a year. I lost a lot of momentum, to the point that I’m almost starting from scratch now. But I’m planning on launching a new series this year, so hopefully 2016 will be a comeback year.


  16. Lyn

    I started reading your twenty-sided sorceress series after reading an article about you declining your Hugo nomination, and love the series. I haven’t seen any of your ads, and I wonder what a poll of your readers would show about the percentage that discovered you through ads. Congrats on the income jump in 2015 – it makes me happy to think that I accounted for 8 out of the 106,661 books you sold last year. 😀

  17. Lindsay B

    Congratulations on your success, Annie!

    Heh, I had a crazy 2015, too, and not even my parents know how much I made, but I bought a house with cash and paid enough to the IRS that they could have bought that same house with cash and then some. 😛

    But yeah, I stopped talking about my income on my blog a long time ago. You’re right — I think when you hit six figures, it starts to seem like bragging, and I’m also not sure I’m comfortable with my readers knowing how much I make. If I choose to do a Kickstarter or a Patreon someday, would people think, why on earth does she need money for a project? What’d she do? Spend everything on sex, drugs, and alcohol? And I certainly don’t feel untouchable. Who knows if the next series will stick on Amazon? Or who knows when Amazon might change the royalty rate, and everyone’s income will drop in half?

    Maybe when I’ve got my real estate empire established, and the book income doesn’t matter anymore (AKA reaching John Goodman’s F U position of wealth :D), I’ll share more openly. I still worry about drive by 1-star reviews at this point in my career!

    • Annie

      Haha. Yeah. I don’t worry about that too much, the reader thing I mean. I figure people are cool and as long as you keep providing cool stuff, they will keep being awesome and supporting it. Success is good, in many ways, I think, because it shows they can be confident in something. I’d rather back a Kickstarter of someone who has proven they can provide good content, personally.

      So I totally get the fear, but I don’t think most people are jerks like that at all. 🙂

      However, yeah, that whole “next series might bomb” thing… I live with that fear every day. Just knowing how every month without a new release means half the income of the month before is scary. There’s no “made it” in this business, alas. Gotta keep writing and keep going.

      For what it is worth, I’ve gotten nothing but good feedback on this post. No drive-by 1-stars, no hate mail. So far, people appreciate openness and sharing, and I’m super happy about that.

    • Bill Peschel

      I appreciate you responding. Look at it this way, if Amanda Palmer can still beg for money (and I mean that in the nicest way, as I love both her work and Neil Gaiman’s) and supply good stuff in return, you’ll have a model to emulate.

      Besides, I followed you back to your blog and as a result picked up the Legends multi-pack. I read a ton of fantasy back in the day and still do now and then, so I was happy to find this.

  18. Mary B

    I was just introduced to your 20 sided Sorceress books through OHFB and just finished buying the last of the series. I’ve discovered a number of good authors I never would have found without it. I also introduced my sister to Jade. I actually prefer self published books since you can write for yourself and not what some business person thinks will sell.

    I got out of the habit of going to brick and mortar stores when I lived in ND and the nearest one was an hour away. So I got in the habit of browsing Amazon and subscribing to BookBub and OHFB.

    Take care of yourself and keep on writing the wonderful adventures for is to read.

  19. Joe

    Hi Annie,
    I heard you on the Author Biz podcast yesterday.
    And I want to thank you for everything you shared. I’m currently learning how to write to market and your story just confirms that I’m on the right track. And, you’ve confirmed my suspicions that your former mentor was full of crap.

  20. Victoria

    Just finished your 20 sided Sorcerer series and if I had my way you would be chained to chair and made to write 12 hours a day to supply my desire for your books! I don’t care how much you make, I hope you just continue to produce the same quality of books you have been for a long, long time. (Just kidding about the chaining part, I know you need to have a life)
    I got turned on to you by Bookbub, I think it was a free or $ .99 book to start. Have purchase all your other books too. I was hook 2 pages in….

  21. Nata

    I am happy to know that you did well in 2015 and sincerely hope you do even better this year in both wealth and health. Thanks for sharing such personal information about your income. I hope this helps more people that are willing to start writing, it’s hard work but may pay off. Reading your post I think maybe you would like to know who are your readers, data is gold in my field. So, here is my data as reader to you, I am from Brazil, 31 years old, work at home as a programmer, mother of two. I Discovered your work at goodreads community and buy it from Amazon, some times I buy books at kobo too but in the most part all my books are digital from Amazon. I read compulsively and buy at least 4 books per month. I also read books from kindle unlimited too, I don’t use facebook (strange …. I know) if there is any information you would like to know feel free to ask.

  22. KevinMcL

    Bookbub had a freebie on the first instalment of 20-sided, and I bought the rest. Finished over several days. I like the storytelling, but I HATE being kicked out of the story every few pages by the basic grammatical jolt where you either can’t, or choose not to, tell the difference between I/we and me/us.
    Is it some kind of affectation, that I’m supposed to appreciate? I don’t. It disrupts what is otherwise good storytelling.
    But, I’m not a gamer, and maybe it’s a game-nerd thing. In that case, it’s my fault for liking the stories despite not being the target audience that affects to not recognize a difference between subject and object. My bad.

    I’ll still buy episode 7, but expect your ears to burn, and perhaps your eyebrows to singe every time I hit another “…in the truck with Alek and I.” You can’t NOT know that that is supposed to be “…in the truck with US” and NOT “…in the truck with we” … which is what gradeschool grammar tells us “…in the truck with Alek and I” would have to be.

    PS: Yes, I make my living writing English… But not fiction.
    Ok, not quite English, either – tech-docs.
    And yes, I rant at the screen whenever some over coiffed boob of a news anchor does the same butchery (usually messing up he/him or she/her).

    • Annie

      It’s the difference between casual speaking and technical correctness. When writing fiction, we often break the “rules” of grammar to make the voice of a character come through. People don’t speak/think in grammatically perfect sentences, and neither should characters.

      Sorry it bugs you. But it ain’t gonna change, not for these books. That’s just how I write this character and her voice. (See what I did there? Voice! 😉 )

    • BR Kingsolver

      BTW, correctly it would be “In the truck with Alek and me.” You would never say, “In the truck with I.” “In the truck with me,” would be correct.

      Sorry, but if you’re going to jump on someone for grammar, at least understand it yourself.

      • KevinMcL

        That was the example

        • Annie

          Okay, no fighting on my blog. KevinMcL, you said your piece, BR Kingsolver said her piece, everyone got their say. It’s fine. I don’t mind ya’ll having your say and sharing your opinions here, but this isn’t something that should be fought over. Let’s all just move along. If you hate my word choices, that’s okay. However my blog isn’t the place to argue about it. Thank you! 🙂

          • KevinMcL

            I can see that I’ll have to teach you a lesson by buying the next one and reading it and leaving good reviews and …. wait… um…

  23. BR Kingsolver

    A little late to the party, but as one who has been trying to gain traction as an author, this post is motivating, especially the bar graph. Thanks, Grumpy Cat. 🙂

  24. Bret Wallach

    1st, thanks for writing the Jade Crow series, I’ve read them all and I thoroughly enjoyed them.

    2nd, congrats on the good year!

    3rd, I think it’s pretty cool that you published this info. I’m not a writer, but if I was, seeing this sort of thing would be hugely helpful (and being a reader, I want there to be lots and lots of successful writers!).

    4th, Wow! Are you perseverent or what? That graph at the bottom shows many years of essentially no income, but you stuck with it through all that. Really admirable. But I guess that should be a lesson to aspiring authors as well. Not only do you have to be a good writer but you have to write a lot of books and stick with for who knows how long before you have a shot at financial success. Tough gig! But I’m really glad you’re still writing!

  25. Rebecca

    Thank you for posting this, Annie! As an author who was thrilled with my 1-book release and 5-digit income last year, I find it inspirational to see indies who are selling as well as you are. Plus, it keeps me motivated to write more, faster!

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