More Money (Another Followup)
Some more follow-up bits on “The Money Entry 2007,” based on comments and e-mails:
* For those of you who have been speculating as to where my fiction writing fits in with my overall writing income, for 2006 I made about $123,000 total from writing and editing. That’s up a bit from last year. The share of my income from writing fiction has gone up this year, while the shares of some others have gone down (corporate writing, which I didn’t do a whole lot of) and other segments have remained largely steady. This is standard — my writing income sources increase and decrease from year to year, depending on my opportunities and interest. I suspect that over the next few years (at least) fiction writing will be a substantial percentage of my income; I also suspect that I will continue to generate writing income outside of fiction writing, because, well. Money moves slowly in the fiction world. Which brings us to the next point.
* For folks who are surprised that I made only $67K in fiction writing last year when I am an award-winning, best-selling author (and I smell nice, too), there are two things to note here. The first is that while I know it seems like I’ve been around science fiction forever (an illusion which this blog has no doubt helped to perpetuate), my first formally published novel in the field, Old Man’s War, debuted only two years ago, and despite being reasonably prolific I still have only four novels in the marketplace, one of which was a limited edition and is currently unavailable for sale. From a business point of view it’s still the early stages of my SF-writing career; I’m only now, in 2007, beginning to accrue some of the economic benefits of the notoriety and sales I’ve garnered over the last couple of years.
The second thing to note is a reinforcement of a point I made in the original article, which even if you are fortunate enough to receive royalties on your work, as I have, there’s a substantial lag time between when those royalties first begin to accrue, and when they actually arrive in your hands. At this point, for example, the royalties I’ve seen from Tor are only for the hardcover of Old Man’s War, with some early sales of the trade paperback. It was in trade where the sales of OMW really began to climb; those sales won’t likely be reflected until my next royalty statement, which I’m a couple of months from receiving. That royalty statement will also show the early sales of the hardcover of The Ghost Brigades, which came out a year ago… but the bulk of the royalties of that edition of the book will wait until the royalty statement after that.
All of which is to say that it’s very likely that I earned more than $67k in science fiction income in 2006; much of that income — the royalty part — won’t be disbursed to me until this year, and it’s entirely possible some of it won’t get to me until 2008. As I noted in the original article, I’m counting the checks I’ve received, not what I expect to have made. Doing that might have been good enough for Enron, but look where they are today.
* Let me offer another perspective on the royalty payment time lag: Tor made the offer on Old Man’s War in December of 2002; it took another two years for the book to be published — January 2005 — and then another year and a half before I received my first royalty check for the book. So: about 42 months from offer to royalties, during which time I wrote six other books (all since published but not all in science fiction) and got nominated for three major genre awards. I hope this sufficiently illustrates the time-delay principle. And remember that I am one of the relative few who earns royalties at all.
Bear in mind I don’t wish to imply Tor is screwing me over by making me wait so long for my royalties; the mechanics of book distribution and sales is sufficiently complex that I am willing to believe it takes some large percentage of that lag time to accurately track sales.
* Having said all that, let’s all have some perspective: for most humans, even in the US, $67k is a nice income. I think people may also have an unrealistic expectation of what even well-known authors bring home for their work, particularly in genre. As David Dyer-Bennet noted in a previous thread, and to which I agree, that figure almost certainly puts me in the top 1% of earners in science fiction; there are almost certainly bigger names than I who earned less for their SF writing in the same time frame. Is it fair that all these intelligent, interesting people telling fascinating and mind-expanding stories are trundling along making relatively paltry sums while Paris Hilton gets paid a million dollars just to show up at a party? Not really; Hell, it’s not even fair these folks are earning less than me. But as I’ve noted before, you’re in the wrong universe for “fair.”
Being a reasonably successful author in any genre is the doorway not to uncountable riches but to a fairly comfortable middle-class living, provided you’re not stupid with money and you’re reasonably healthy and you don’t snort or drink things that make you want more of them, now. But generally speaking there’s a reason that so many authors do something else, too, although what that job is does seem to vary from genre to genre; science fiction is laden with authors who are also scientists or IT folk, while literary fiction is teeming with authors who teach creative writing, and many non-fiction authors are journalists or commentators. It’s also why a spouse with a good job and (here in the US) good benefits is worth his or her weight in gold.
It’s not just with writers that people make the assumption that a certain amount of success and notoriety equates to lots of money, but in other fields it’s also true that until you’re right near the peak of the field, money is not mind-bogglingly great. A good example of this would be this article about the Dresden Dolls, a musical group who in many ways is at in their career where I’m at in mine: Relatively new, a bit niche-y, but with a good base of fans and a not insignificant amount of success (hey, I bought their last album). They’ve traveled the world, they’ve seen a million faces and rocked them all, and the two members of the band are clearing $1,500 a month when they tour. That would come out to $18k a year if touring was all they did. I assume the band members have other sources of income, of course, but I would be willing to bet that what they made last year, individually, is not too far off (either one direction or another) from what I made.
Which is to say there are more middle-income “famous” people than you might expect.