# How Much Does a Science Fiction or Fantasy Writer Make?

Several weeks ago I announced that I would be collecting data on genre advances to grab a snapshot of the field. I’d hoped we could get some better data for conversations. I posted a form online with a series of questions that I hoped would allow us to gather some *basic* data with which we could learn something together.

Size of Sample Group:

So far 74 writers responded, and since the responses have slowed down, I thought it was time to gather the data and present the results as best I could for what has been gathered so far, and address some of the initial concerns and criticisms I’ve received via email about this little project. 3 of the writers who responded were ‘of genre’ but had published outside of the SF/F/H I was looking at, so I have removed their contributions for now.

Statistical Validity:

I’m not a statistician, nor do I play one on TV. Thankfully we can do some basic statistical number crunching via a spreadsheet. There are about 1500 members in SFWA, and Locus has a distribution of somewhere over 4000, although some of that circulation has to be agents/editors and other associated members of our field, but to arrive at a somewhat stab-in-the-dark guess I’ll estimate and note that out of a population of 4000 writers sampling 71 writers leads to a margin of error of 11.5% in the resulting data. This was the most widely cited concern about my survey. In order to halve that margin we need ~200 responses to get a 6.5% margin of error, which would be in line with some of the bigger funded statistical sampling polls you see by the big guys.

Nonetheless, 11.5% still allows us to see some trends and make better educated guesses about the data given to us.

So lets look at what we found:

**First Novel Advances (general info):**

The range was from $0-$40,000 for an advance on a first novel.

The average was $6363.

The median advance is $5000. The median figure is a better indicator of what most people consider ‘average.’

Broken down by SF vs F:

The range in Fantasy first novel advances is from $0 to $40,000.

The average first novel advance is $6966 for Fantasy.

The median first novel advance is $5000 for Fantasy

The range in Science Fiction first novel advances is from $0 to $20,000.

The average first novel advance is $6555 for SF.

The median first novel advance is $5000 for SF.

There were some paranormal/gothic, horror, and some entries unlabeled that were all in the average area, which is why the broken out data averages slightly higher than the unaveraged.

While the median for SF and F are the same, Fantasy trends higher by about 10% in the averages. This could be explainable by the margin of error I set forth initially, however this data consistently holds true through the rest of the data set, so I’ll hazard the opinion that this trend indicates higher clusters of advances in Fantasy, right around the 7500-10,000 range, on first advances, more so than in SF.

Broken down by Agented vs. Unagented:

60% of our first time novelists had an agent, the other 40% sold the book without an agent, and a high number indicate they got agents right after or during the sale of the book.

The range in agented advances is from $1500 to $40,000

The average agented advance is $7379

The median agented advance is $5500

The range in unagented advances is from $0 to 13,500

The average unagented advance is $4611

The median unagented advance is $4000

These figures have noticeable differences across the board. Not having an agent looks to cost one well more than the agent’s percentage on average, and certainly most of the higher ranging figures come from people with agents.

First Novel Advances by Publisher:

I only looked at publishers that had 5 or more data points so that they would be somewhat meaningful, and that left us with:

Ace: average $5800 median $3500

Bantam: average $6600 median $6000

Pocket: average $6700 median $4000

Roc: average $5200 median $5000

Tor: average $$9484 median $6500

The margin of error in these figures would be fairly large as each one represents 5 data points in a large pool (margin could be as high as 42%), I debated whether including them was of any use. These are the lest reliable figures in here, so do make careful note of that. These are very, very suspect until we get more data.

Hardcover vs Trade Paperback or Mass Market for First Novels

Hardcover advances averaged $5333

Hardcover advances had a median of $5000

Paperback advances averaged $5735

Paperback advances had a median of $5000

No real statistical significance here, other than paperback first novels seem to average a bit higher.

First Novel Advances Chart:

Here is a chart of all the first novel advances by year and amount:

There does seem to be upward swing by time to account for inflation, particularly under the base amount every decade or so. First novel standard advance in the 80s seems to be $3500, and is now $5000 (the string of $5000 marching through the middle).

**Careers**

When I initially created the survey I added fields asking what the last novel the author in question got for an advance, as well as how many books they had sold, and how many years they’d been selling books. I was curious to see if the data would reveal any certain trends over time. 57 authors in this survey had sold more than one book. 53% of these authors made a living at writing. We have a margin of error of 12.89% on this data for you to keep in mind. Here is how that data breaks down:

The range was from $0-$600,000 for an advance on their latest novel.

The average was $32,996.

The median advance is $12,500.

Remember, the median figure is a better indicator of what most people consider ‘average,’ as far as a statistical likelihood is concerned.

Broken down by Fantasy and SF

The range in Fantasy novel advances is from $1000 to $600,000.

The average novel advance is $45,243 for Fantasy.

The median novel advance is $13,500 for Fantasy

*(note with thanks to John Scalzi, with the $600,000 advance taken out, the results skew down in average to $25,000)*

The range in Science Fiction novel advances is from $0 to $45,000.

The average novel advance is $14,059 for SF.

The median novel advance is $12,500 for SF.

While the median differs by an amount within margin of error, it is clear that Fantasy novels breakout into far higher sums, making the average for Fantasy novels -3- 2 times as much as SF.

Broken down by Agented vs. Unagented:

15% of our authors with multiple books sold over multiple years had no agent, out of our sample size their results will have a margin of error of 32%, nonetheless the data is striking:

The range in agented advances is from $1000 to $600,000

The average agented advance is $36,455

The median agented advance is $12,500

The range in unagented advances is from $0 to $21,500

The average unagented advance is $14,143

The median unagented advance is $7500

These figures have noticeable differences across the board. Not having an agent looks to cost one well more than the agent’s percentage on average, and certainly most of the higher ranging figures come from people with agents. The average advance via agent differs by as much as a factor of 3! Even with the 32% margin of error added in, the significance is fairly astounding.

Charts:

Advance by number of novels written:

Advance by years in publishing:

Somethings to note about these charts. 1), I cut them off at $50,000 as only 5 data points were above that, most of the data charts in the 0-$45,000 range. 2) they seem to be fairly randomized, meaning that there is no guarantee between years and numbers of books sold.

Advances by Publisher:

I only looked at publishers that had 5 or more data points so that they would be somewhat meaningful, and that left us with:

Ace: average $15300 median $12500

HarperCollins: average: $62,660 median: $12000

Roc: average $19167 median $7500

Tor: average $36000 median $12750

The margin of error in these figures would be fairly large as each one represents 5 data points in a large pool (margin could be as high as 42%), I debated whether including them was of any use. These are the lest reliable figures in here, so do make careful note of that. These are very, very suspect until we get more data.

Hardcover vs Trade Paperback or Mass Market for Multiple Novelist

Hardcover advances averaged $54,104

Hardcover advances had a median of $15,000

Paperback advances averaged $11,512

Paperback advances had a median of $10,000

Summary:

The typical advance for a first novel is $5000. The typical advance for later novels, after a typical number of 5-7 years and 5-7 books is $12,500. Having an agent at any point increases your advance. There is some slight correlation between number of books and number of years spent writing as represented in the 5-12.5 thousand dollar advance shift of an average of 5-7 years. Charting individual author’s progressions, which I will not release to keep anonymity, reveals a large number of upward lines at varying degrees of steepness for advances, some downward slides.

Some authors noted that they’d gotten large advances in the 90s but were being paid less now.

What now?

Well, I expect there will be some discussion about this. More importantly I would hope that we can get more people to provide anonymous survey data. So if this is your first time here, please, please fill out the survey. I will release updates every several months or so if we keep getting data.

Secondly, the biggest criticism of my methodology was in two places, how much the author made off of foreign rights, and how much they made off of royalties, and that criticism is valid.

I was, in fairness, trying to keep this form as simple as possible, but I would like to add a question along the lines of ‘did the first novel earn out, if so how much?’ I would also, at popular demand, like to add in a line for foreign rights sales to make the survey that much more pertinent.

I welcome all feedback and discussion, either here in the comments or at my email. Please be civil ya’ll.

-Tobias