Also, Since People Have Been Asking

Of the $164,000 I made from writing last year, about $120,000 of it was from writing fiction. The rest is from other sources, including non-fiction book advances and royalties, blogging for AOL and various one-off projects.

Of the fiction money, the most significant chunk came from royalties from Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades (The Android’s Dream and The Last Colony are too new to have contributed in terms of royalties). After that was income from foreign sales (sales in 10 foreign markets, mostly of OMW and TGB, but also TLC, TAD and Agent to the Stars). After that were royalties from The Sagan Diary (!), an advance for the trade paperback version of Agent, a final advance installment of TLC and then short stories.

This was the first year my fiction was a clear majority of my income (in 2006, it was about half), which is why I’m planning to devote most of my time to it for the next couple of years at least — it makes sense to build out this particular income stream as completely as possible. I do intend to in non-fiction — I have two non-fiction books this year, after all — but fiction is the primary focus.

In any event, since people were curious what the breakdown of fiction/non-fiction was in ’07, there it is.

Also, since people ask why I write about money at all: Well, why not? The income taboo is silly, especially when silence about money hurts writers, who are typically in the dark about what other writers make, and about what is reasonable for them to expect for their work. We’ve gotten a good conversation about writers and money going, and others in the field are chipping and speaking about their own experiences. If talking about what I make helps to get that conversation going, I’m happy to talk about it.

21 Comments on “Also, Since People Have Been Asking”

  1. I think this finally explains the Nebula ballot — the rolling eligibility period is like getting the advance and royalty payments for a new work. It’s spread out over more than one year. (grin)

    Dr. Phil

  2. Very impressive numbers, sir, and very well done on the bulk of that being from royalties.

    Here’s another question for you: You mention you’re getting an advance for the trade release of Agent — I know in this case it’s with a different publisher, but I’m curious if you normally get advances when a previously released book goes to paperback.

    I ask because I was reading Steven King’s On Writing and he mentioned Carrie getting “sold to paperback” or something to that effect. Is this something that’s not done anymore, not done in the SF/F field, or done but I’ve just never noticed because frankly I’m not that observant?

  3. Well, not that anyone is asking…. but nearly 100% of my income is generated from my works of fiction.

    Unfortunately my boss does not expect my white papers, briefs and technical assessment to be fiction.

  4. Joe Rybicki:

    When Carrie was first published, some publishers specialized in hardcover, and some in paperback, and there were separate deals for each. These days, publishers make both types of books, so they’re usually covered in one deal. The Agent deal is fairly unusual, not in the least because the hardcover version was a signed, limited edition.

    jon spencer:

    Dunno. Haven’t done taxes yet, and for taxes, my wife and I file jointly, and her income has an impact on our overall tax bite

    (you’ll note I don’t talk about my wife’s income here, because that is no one else’s business.)

  5. I’ve never run across a writing guide who talks about the business of writing as directly as you do, John, and I think it’s a great service to people who want to write for a living.

  6. I second what Patrick says; thanks for sharing this information with all of us. It gives us all a good look into the business side, something that is not easy to find information on. Based on the links you’ve provided, you have opened the door for a lot of discussion.

  7. About how many hours a day do you spend writing, John? To pick up on the King thread, he says he spends about four hours a day writing every day, including Christmas and his birthday, and produces about 10 pages.

  8. John, thanks for all the info and advice. I’m a Number 3 on your list, and my fiance and I are glad to hear from someone who is a successful writer.

    Also, I’m glad you’re doing well, and not just because your success means I have more good books to read!

  9. jon spencer,

    Regarding the net – I think John mentioned freelancers should consider about 50% net after taking out taxes and health care insurance.

    IMHO that might be a wee bit high but it is best to be prudent. So much depends on one’s personal tax situation – deductions, credits and the like. Personally with a mortgage deduction and four sprog my total tax burden is around 35%. If I added in the 7.5% self employment tax and health care insurance I can see that approaching 50%.

  10. Looks like the net is just a bit above the mean U.S. salary . Like a lot of small business owners, the gross is not a real reflection of what you really earn.

  11. jon spencer:

    “Looks like the net is just a bit above the mean U.S. salary .”

    Well, no. I net substantially more than that. I know that much even before calculating taxes.

  12. As non-writer I would just like to mention that the financial advice is excellent for any-one, really. I’m not married but other than that, I have used many of the same ideas to finance quite an enjoyable life as a photographic researcher, Peace Corps Volunteer, tour-guide and now as librarian in a public library. So that sort of info is just plain good.

  13. I’m glad you talk about money. It’s important. I personally hate the “taboo” of talking about your money. I really liked it when I was in the military, you knew what EVERYONE was making… “Let’s see, he’s a Staff Sergeant… E-6, with 8 years of service… look on the chart, cross-reference E-6 with 8 years, voila, he makes $x,xxx per month.” I think that was a good thing. Nowadays, I’m a contractor, so everything is secret secret secret. I pretty much hate it.

  14. What they all said. Better not have anything happen to you, John, or we’ll be forced to dig you up and re-animate you so we can have Zombie John Scalzi (ZJC) give us writing advice.

  15. I have to agree with Patrick. Thank you for candidly discussing the money aspect of writing. As a potential writer, this is how I came on your site (the second time) and I’ve tried to stick around since.

  16. AOL only paid you $30K??

    Shoot… I worked for them one day…. and I got $500, a hotel, game tickets, and toys.

    You got effed, friend.

  17. I didn’t read every frakkin comment on your financial posts, and so perhaps this was mentioned, but the day job does not necessarily have to be separate from the writing–they can reinforce each other, especially if your day job is as an editor. I’m the managing editor of a magazine published by UC Berkeley (there’s the bennies) that touches on the things I write about, in both my fiction and nonfiction. I develop contacts and ideas in both worlds that feed into the other. At this point I feel like both careers are growing in tandem, and I’m pretty happy to be where I am.

    Of course, this job does necessitate that I live in the Bay Area…

  18. In the ‘things you might write about at length when the urge strikes’ category: ok, so having made this money, what are you doing with the (assumed, given saving throw to shiny) excess? I think I’m right that Roth IRAs are out at this income level, and I assume maxed 401ks or equivalent… any useful commentary to offer?

    [Sitting down to do my taxes right now :)]

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