When I was growing up, in addition to avoiding the traditionally forbidden topics of sex, politics, and religion, my family added money to that list. I suspect my family was not alone in this.
The thing is, it’s nearly impossible to make solid, informed decisions about our careers when so much of the financial realities are clouded in uncertainty or hyperbole. There has been a lot written recently discussing the earning potential of self published authors, but what do the earnings of a slow build, mid-list, traditionally published author look like?
Before we get into the nitty gritty of that, it’s important to keep in mind that ebooks are still only a relatively small percentage of overall books sold—somewhere between 15-25%, depending on who you talk to and which numbers you go by, and Amazon sales as a percentage of total books sold is 27-30%. So while self publishing and e-only publishing numbers are by all accounts going up and up, there are still some places where traditional book sales are stronger. These percentages will depend a lot on your genre, as well as your publisher and their sales strengths. Interestingly, this is reflected in Bookscan numbers, with some titles’ Bookscan numbers only being 25-35% of their total sales, and other titles’ Bookscan numbers being fairly accurate for total books sold.
Real, solid numbers and info on advances and traditionally published earnings information can be hard to come by, in part because few people like to discuss their finances in so open a manner, but also because of the nature of publishing. Many contracts preclude the author discussing their advance, and even if it’s not forbidden, many are hesitant to do so, afraid they will dispel the romance and mystique of their actual place in the publishing pecking order.
Since my own experience is with middle grade and YA, that is what I am most familiar with. If there can be said to be any averages in publishing, then the average kid lit advances look something like this:
Middle grade (ages 8-12) advance $4,000-$10,000
YA advance $7,500-$25,000
Which brings us again to the question of what those numbers might translate into over time. Well, Dear Reader, they probably look something like this . . . (prepare to be underwhelmed)
I sold my first book in 2002, and my writing income over the years has been as follows:
2002 $ 5,187
2003 $ 8,353
2004 $27,500 (Yay! Sold a trilogy)
2005 $ 4,142
2006 $ 12,841
2008 $28,470 (I had to augment that writing income with 2nd job because we had two kids in college that year. Ouch.)
2009 $58,516 (This was a BIG school visit year and I sold a second series. I also quit that second job.)
2010 $ 47,590
2011 $ 64,579
Not exactly a nice, steady stream, is it? Lots and lots of dry years, definitely. (2005 was particularly grim.) One of the saving graces was that in our family budgeting, I was only responsible for bringing in a part time salary. Additionally, while I had lots of skills, none of them really screamed HIGH PAYING JOB in the workplace. So it wasn’t like I was giving up a six figure income someplace else in order to work for those early peanuts.