The Financial Reality of a Genre Novelist

By Jason Boog 

If you have dreams of selling your science fiction, fantasy or horror novel and getting filthy rich, you need to adjust your expectations. We’ve collected three testimonials from genre writers below to help aspiring writers to maintain realistic expectations.

Horror novelist Brian Keene gave a speech at Towson University’s Borderlands Boot Camp recently, laying out some frank statistics for aspiring genre novelists. Here is an excerpt:

The average advance these days, for a genre fiction novel, ranges between $2,500 and $10,000. That’s right. The novel you spent a year working on only earns you between $2,500 to $10,000 at first. When the book is published a year later, that advance will have long been spent. And you probably won’t see a royalty check until another year AFTER your book has been published (provided enough copies have sold to earn out your advance). So it will actually be two years from that advance check before you get paid again.

On the Fantasy subreddit, novelist Mark Lawrence wrote a frank post about his finances, urging readers not to pirate eBooks and reminding them: “I’m doing very well compared to most fantasy writers. We are not rich.”

His post laid out the changing economics of digital books, showing the razor-thin margins that most writers make in eBook marketplaces. Check it out:

So ran a promotion on Prince of Thorns before Christmas and I was very glad to get it. For a day they offered the ebook at $1.99 and put it on their daily deals.
Excitement! The book charged up the charts, became #1 best seller in fantasy, knocking Game of Thrones etc out of the way, and reaching #18 in fiction as a whole.
I get 25% on ebook sales. But it’s 25% of what the publisher get, and on books selling for less than $2.99 the publisher gets 35% of the sale price rather than 70%. So I got 25% of 35% of $1.99 … which is 17 cents. So, if the book sold a thousand copies that day (it probably didn’t do that well, but that would be awesome) I made $170. Once I’ve paid 15% to my agent and 20% tax I’ll pocket just under 12 cents a copy or make $120 on the thousand copies sold.

Finally, novelist Jim C. Hines wrote a post recently about his finances as a writer for the entire year. He also charted his 2012 earnings against the money he made over the course of his entire career.

Here is an excerpt:

The other interesting thing (to me) is how erratic the checks were. I made a total of $115 in the month of January, but February was an awesome month, with more than $6000 showing up in the mail. March and April went the same way. The fact that I have a full time day job means I’ve got a steady income I can count on for most of our day-to-day needs, but if I’m ever able to go full time as a writer, I’m going to have to be a lot more careful about budgeting for the long term.

(Image via 401(K) 2013)