Home » Fantasy/SciFi, Royalties, Self-Publishing » How Much Do Fantasy Authors Earn?

How Much Do Fantasy Authors Earn?

12 September 2013

From Galleycat:

On Reddit, traditionally published fantasy author Paul S. Kemp and self-published fantasy author Michael J. Sullivan pulled back the curtain on their yearly earnings. Kemp said that he does not “expect to quit my day job anytime soon.” He spoke frankly about his writing finances:

I’ve been doing this twelve years now. When I started, I earned $5-7K per year. As my backlist and audience grew, so too did my earnings. My best year has been roughly $70K and an average year these days runs between $35-45K. Setting aside outlying years, my income from writing has been on a reasonably steady upward trajectory (ebooks are helpful here, in that your backlist stays in print essentially forever). Next year will probably be another year in the 70-100K range (due to an upcoming release and the way the payment schedule shakes out), but after that I expect things to once more regress to the mean.

In contrast, Sullivan didn’t earn any money from his first book, published by a small press that offered no advance. When he switched to self-publishing, his career started to take off. Check it out:

When I started self-publishing in 2009 I made barely $50 a month. By the time my fourth book came out in 2010 I was making $2,000 – $3,000 a month. Not nearly enough to live on but it did erase an extensive debt we had accrued.

In October 2010 I released my 5th book and my sales really took off. I had 4 months of sales in excess of 10,000 units each and incomes on the order of $45,000 – $55,000 a month. By the end of the year I signed a six-figure contract to resell that series to Orbit.

Foreign sales were a huge boon…and I received approximately double my US advance by selling overseas. Revelations earned out a bit over it’s first year and I received my first royalty check in April. I anticipate another royalty check this October but expect it to be less than the first one.

Link to the rest at Galleycat

Fantasy/SciFi, Royalties, Self-Publishing

44 Comments to “How Much Do Fantasy Authors Earn?”

  1. The Reddit thread is rather enlightening. And, like most discussions on traditional publishing careers, it is pretty amazing how little money these authors were/are getting paid per book, and how often the books fail to even pay out their advances.

  2. http://www.reddit.com/r/Fantasy/comments/1m34zq/a_question_for_the_published_fantasy_authors_here/cc5i036

    Mass market paperback sales are generally 6% – 8% of list (which is generally $7.99 so $0.48 to $0.64. But if sold at a high discount they can be 6% to 8% of NET so cut those numbers in half.

    Trade paperback sales are the same % but since they sell for more $15 – $16 – you earn $0.90 – $1.28 if sold at “normal discounts” – see above for how that can be highly reduced.

    Hardcovers usually start at 10% and go up to 15% if you sell a certain number of copies. If a hardcover sells for $25.00 the author is getting $2.50 to $3.75 a book.

    ebooks are 25% of NET which is 70% of list price which nets out to 17.5%. A $7.99 ebook earns the author $1.40

    No wonder Michael went to self-publishing. What a difference in earnings. I make more on my $13.99 trade paperback than tradpublished authors do on hardcovers.

    • Yeah, my shorter trade paperbacks are priced at $8.99, and in the US at least, I make more via Createspace and Amazon than they’re making at a price point $6-7 higher…

    • I have a question Meryl, I see you have your trade paper back priced at $13.99.Are you selling it on Amazon only or did you pay the distribution fee and put it everywhere?
      I’m asking this as I was figuring out what I would charge for my trade paperback.
      To make anything I was going to have to charge $15-$16 for my book. At $13 I was basically in the hole. I’m from Canada and have to convert those US dollars. That does make a difference. So was just wondering. Thanks.

      • Vera, I joined expanded distribution but haven’t found a single benefit to it yet. Barnes and Noble won’t stock my book because if you go through CreateSpace, they won’t accept returns. However, if you sign up with Lightning Source instead, B&N WILL stock your book. But that’s about an extra U.S. $100.

        Don’t do it if you’re going to be in the hole. But if you think it’s worth the money, go with Lightning Source. But I wouldn’t make a decision on that until you’ve had the book out for a while and can estimate sales. So far, I’ve sold about a third print books to two-thirds ebooks. During my last bump in sales, that went down to 20% print v. 80% ebook.

        • Thanks so much Meryl. That is most helpful.

          • I should point out that you will likely have to fight for B&N to stock your book. The reason I know this is because my local B&N wants to have me at her author events, but can’t unless my book can be returned. CS said no. LS said that even though they are technically the company supplying B&N, they don’t accept returns through CS and I’d have to sign up with them. And we’re back to wondering if it’s worth the extra $100 to do so.

            Anyway, my B&N rep says that I probably have to contact LS and get them to offer returns before they will do so.

            • Thanks again! It seems you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
              I’m mostly an erotic romance writer so I think I will do ebook only there but I do write also YA, New Adult and Adult fantasies. I was looking at Amazon in these categories and were seeing who did print and who didn’t. It’s a mixed bag and seems to be up to the author I guess on what they want to do.
              DS & KR always say that the paper makes the ebook look good but I think that depends on the reader and what they are looking for.
              Lots to think about anyway.

              • I would try print for your YA for sure. I mean, it doesn’t cost anything to put it on CreateSpace. Once you start spending money on it, well, then you have to see if there’s a demand beyond what CreateSpace can give you.

        • Meryl,

          Createspace does now accept returns. I sell books through their expanded distribution and have seen some sales that way–nothing to match the Amazon sales so far but it is early days. Regardless, getting a store to actually stock your book is a tough sell.

    • i just wonder reading this and your good comments, who makes more money just in general by genre. We’re talking fantasy bks here, right. But, I wonder if there is more or less $ in let’s just say books of equal compelling story that are
      sci-fi vs.
      say, suspense/mystery or vs
      romance or
      vs fantasy

      I wonder which genres, given all have great stories in them, are bigger sellers in terms of readership.

      Is that a question that can be answered? I just wondered as I dont know, and I dont write in any of those genres.

      • But a caveat, don’t write something you don’t love. Yes, readers CAN tell.

        • I’m afraid I’d be awful writing outside of my own genre Suzan. Sort of old dog cannot learn new tricks. I like that you spell your name with a z. Artful.

          Anthea, I just clicked on your link, wow, how amazing. I never would have guessed how it all stacked up. I dont know why but I thought maybe mystery/ suspense would be leader, but I’d no way of knowing. Stunning. Thanks!

      • I’ve been working on some web tools that trawl the Zon’s database and pull out genre sales rankings, with estimated sales and even (uh oh…) estimated earnings.

        It’s all very ball park, but the results are very interesting. Print makes far less for authors than ebooks do, and once you allow for industry standard royalties, a lot of famous but not best-selling names are earning less from trad pub than you might think. And there are some very surprising winners.

        Like for like, you’ll earn at least five times more with self-pub than trad pub. In some situations the difference is more like ten times.

        Of course you don’t get an advance. But advances are tiny compared to potential self-pub income, even for a middle ranked title in a fairly popular genre.

        There is a huge pit of nothing at the bottom of the Zon rankings where no one is earning much. But there are plenty of trad pubbed books there too. So…

        • thanks Richard, that’s interesting. Esp ‘the huge pit of nothing’…. you could write a book called that!! Great title

      • Scifi would make the least.

  3. If I were making $70k a year from writing today, I’d quit tomorrow and spend all day writing more books. Then self-publish them.

    I hope Mr. Kemp takes some of Mr. Sullivan’s experience on board!

  4. These discussions are always a bit disconcerting to me, because the universal advice is “don’t quit your day job,” and I never really had one to start with. :p Graduating in the middle of a “jobless recovery” will do that to you (if there’s been an economic recovery at all, I’m only just beginning to see it).

    Maybe I need to move back to a country where $500 a month is good money. We really do live in a bubble here in the West–even a lower middle class income over here puts you squarely in the top 1% globally.

    • We really do live in a bubble here in the West

      My income in the UK put me in the top 10% of earners in the country, but I’d still need to pay every penny I earned for nearly ten years to buy the cheapest house near where I worked… on a street where your neighbours might set your car on fire if they got bored.

      Countries with much lower incomes also tend to have much lower living costs.

      • And people who are more self-sufficient. We would think it strange to see chickens and cows wandering around our front yard, but that’s pretty normal in central Asia / eastern Europe.

        • If you can’t afford to buy or build a house you can’t have a chicken-coop in the back-yard. ;-) Believe me I would have one if I could afford a house.

          Considering that I already had a neighbor complain when I was feeding birds during winter on ym balcony I don’t want to thing about what she has to say if I decide to keep chickens on my balcony. Not to mention the property management.

          • In eastern Europe (or at least in Georgia), the farmhouses have been in the family for generations, as well as the land. They grow grapes, persimmons, peppers, greens, apples, melons, corn, etc, and keep pigs, cows, chickens, turkeys, sheep, and other animals. It’s a very different lifestyle from the one we lead in the West.

            Even so, it’s possible to be reasonably self-sufficient out here. As a Mormon, I grew up in a home where we ground our own wheat and baked homemade bread. We also grew tomatoes, green beans, peppers, squash, zucchini, pumpkins, watermelon, apples, raspberries, and other stuff. We didn’t keep any animals, but we did keep a food storage and volunteered from time to time at the local storehouse. I don’t know if we ever grew more than a quarter of the food we ate, but we weren’t eating hot pockets and microwave dinners every night.

  5. Nice. MJS is extremely helpful over there on Reddit. Congrats on them both.

  6. I find the numbers that accompany “don’t quit your day job” comments a fascinating and unintentionally revealing look into someone’s life. Kemp’s “DQYDJ” average of 40k is more than i make at mine. So…sign me the frak up. Lol. But i am in a two-income house vs being the sole breadwinner for my family so clearly my perspective is different.

    • Yeah, that range might work for a singleton in a low cost of living state. I wouldn’t do it if I had kids, though. Or if I lived in a high-cost place like New York or California, where you pay half a million for a little postage stamp of a house. His perspective makes sense in that context.

    • Lily– I thought the same thing. They’re COMPLAINING about making $2-3K per month? And sniffing at $70K? Sheesh, that’s dream money. Even at $3K per month, I’d seriously consider quitting the day job– which does support the whole household (frugally).

    • Yeah, that’s nearly twice what I was making at my last management job and about 5 times what I’m making at my current. (Hours suck right now). $3k a month is more than my husband makes. If I could make that, I’d throw a freaking party. It’s not “buy a house” money but it’s “Not starving, homeless and starting to pay down student loans” money.

    • I live in the south. Great place to be a writer if you want a “living wage” apparently :). My dad made about 40k a year and bought a house as the sole earner. Not in suburbia, and we didnt have a lot of “stuff” but we had our needs met and took a summer vacation every year. Not sure what that woukd be with inflation since 80s/90s…60k? Stil doable if you want it to be.

    • There’s also the issue of certainty–good or bad, most jobs in that range have a certain amount of job security that freelancing doesn’t offer. He probably figures he’d want to see a whole multiple of the day job salary (and fringes) before jumping. Remember, employee salaries don’t constitute all the benefits of a day job; there is health insurance, pension contributions, unemployment insurance, often life insurance, paid medical leave, paid vacation time.
      There’s a lot of crappy jobs out there, but as most small business owners can attest, there’s more than the nominal salary to consider.

    • I think I can understand the reluctance, even though the numbers discussed would, yes, mean a significant multiple of my annual salary at my don’t-quit-it day job.

      Say you do $5k — hell, $10K — in one month. Will it happen again next month? Suppose you earned a year’s salary in one month? Then what?

      I’ve actually gamed this and wouldn’t feel comfortable until I was earning multiples (including 1x-plus) of annual salary in a given month for several months in a row. Anything less would require a LOT of wrenching soul searching.


      • And the current job market doesn’t offer much hope for a fallback position.
        “Your resume says you have been an independent author-publisher for the past three years. Full time? So, what happened?”

        Hats off to those with the courage.

    • Likely, Kemp’s (and his family’s) lifestyle needs a bit more to sustain him.


  7. From the informal surveys of SF/F authors I’ve seen, $35-40K a year is really good.

  8. Sullivan is a regular Redditor, with this kind of stuff being nearly a daily thing for him. He’s always been a reasonable, middle-of-the-road guy that drinks no Kool-Aid from anyone.

  9. This article is comparing someone who wrote for 12 years, with someone who has been writing for four.

    And the four year indie author is still making more money on average than the traditionally published one.

    Good for Galley cat for running this!

  10. Am I the only one who noticed the self-published author used “it’s” when it should be “its”?


    Yeah we all make typos…but…we all get judged so harshly…just…ugh.

  11. I was at Thrillerfest a few years ago when David Morrell warned the audience: Don’t quit your day job.

    I felt a moment of panic, until I realized my day job was writing.

    I don’t plan on quitting.

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