If you’ve ever considered becoming a writer, surely you’ve heard the old expression, “Don’t quit your day job.” But what can you really expect as far as income is concerned? Let’s first explore traditional publishing.  When it comes to trying to determine advances for debut fantasy and science fiction novels Tobias Buckell is the best source I’ve come across, and his data seems to stand the test of time. His first author survey contained data from 78 authors and his second one included 108.  He concluded that for debut authors you can expect:

  • For fantasy a median advance was $5,000 with an average of $6,494
  • For science fiction the median advance was $5,000 with an average of $7,000
  • 58% sold with an agent and 42% without. Agented advances had a median of $6,000 (average of $7,500) and unagented came in at $3,500 (average of $4,051)

Now considering that most books don’t earn out their advance (only 30% according to the New York Times and 20% according to agent Kristen Nelson who blogs on PubRants) this means the advance is the only money that an author will ever see.

. . . .

A typical schedule would like like this:

  • Jan 1, 2013 – Contract is signed, first book is submitted to editors  ($5,801 signing bonus)
  • Jun 1, 2013 – Edits to book #1 are accepted ($1,934 acceptance payment)
  • Dec 31, 2013 – Book #1 is published ($1,934 publishing payment)
  • Jan 1, 2014 – Book #2 is due for submission
  • Jun 1, 2014 – Edits for book #2 are accepted ($1,934 acceptance payment)
  • Dec 31, 2014 – Book #2 is published ($1,934 publishing payment)
  • Jan 1, 2015 – Book #3 is due for submission
  • Jun 1, 2015 – Edits for book #3 are accepted ($1,934 acceptance payment)
  • Dec 31, 2015 – Book #3 is published  ($1,934 publishing payment)

So this means that the author receives:

  • $9,669 in 2013
  • $3,868 in 2014
  • $3,868 in 2015

Considering that they probably spent at least six months, and probably more like a year, in 2012 writing the first book that means an average of $4,351 a year or $363 a month.  It is imperative that the author meets their deadline for the books that were signed. Most contracts have provisions that require the author to pay back the signing bonus if they don’t meet their schedule.

. . . .

Another possibility would be for the publisher to choose to do mass market paperbacks.  In this scenario they probably expect to sell twice as many copies but at a price of $7.99 for both the ebook and the print book.  So that would yield:

  • Print: 60,000 x 8.0% (royalty) x $7.99 list price = $38,352
  • Ebook: 15,000 x 25% (royalty) x $7.99 list price X 70% (net) = $20,974
  • Total income = $59,326 total income with $45,889 after agent fees and self-employment tax which is $11,472 spread over 4 years

Link to the rest at Amazing Stories and thanks to James for the tip.

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