Tuesday 15 January 2019

My writing earnings!

A bunch of articles and statistics have been floating around recently on the subject of author earnings. Are they going up, going down? What are the mean, mode, and median? What's the variance, the kurtosis? All good questions.

Statistics is a murky area of mathematics though, and still largely a mystery to me despite the fact that my Ph.D was all about one small corner of it.

A mean salary is pretty meaningless when there's no obvious way to draw a circle around the population of interest. Where do "authors" stop being authors. If we include everyone who has ever self-published an ebook then their average annual salary might be a dollar because we would include a vast number of folk who put out one book five years ago which sold ten copies.

If we include only those who make their living as writers then of course the mean will be a reasonably healthy living wage ... by definition ... because we have only included people who make a living at it.

And the same problem exists if we confine ourselves to traditional publishing. When do you stop being an author? Mr X published a book in 2012, it earned well that year. But is he now in our data pool with his sales of 50 copies in 2018?

So, yeah, the data will say what you want it to. And the fact is that it is very difficult to make a living at this game. Better to do it because you love it, keep the day job, and if it ever starts making money ... hooray! You've won the lottery (but probably not the jackpot, just one of those prizes that are still stupidly unlikely but pay far less).

Anyway. This is how my earnings have fluctuated over the years.

There's no absolute scale, because that's just going to enrage someone, either from the "he's rubbing our noses in it" end of the spectrum or the "oh my God, I thought someone who sold that well should be a millionaire" end.

And here is the data on my advances and royalty payments, which you can read more detail on here.

Each year since 2013 my income has been a mix of advance payments guaranteed when I sign contracts, and royalties on books that have "earned out". Before 2013 it was just the advance on my first trilogy being paid out in stages.

(black = advance, colour column = total earnings through royalties (when the colour column exceeds the black column I start getting money on top of my advance))

And that's all I've got!

I have four books out this year, which accounts for much of last year's record total. Next year it will likely be just the one, so things will settle down (boo, hiss!).

And when will I stop being an author? Maybe not until the day I die. But I am sure that my earnings will tail off at sooner or later, at which point I will need to survive on whatever has been squirrelled away in the good years and/or get a day job again.


  1. Thanks for sharing! Here is not so easy. Authors have to pay for everything even when working wit a publisher and after that, we sell books at a lost. The publisher keeps a percentage as well as the library, which in some cases can go up to 40%. Most prefer to self-publish but then they miss all the marketing and connections the publisher might have. It's truly a work of passion and love for the written word more than anything else.

  2. Appreciate your hard work, Mark. Your books are fantastic! Raising a beer to your continued success as a writer!