Numbers and Stories

I’ve always been a numbers guy. Which is to say I’m really into expected values, ratios, statistics and all other manner of sexy mathematical data. But then again, who isn’t, right?

Actually, I’m terrible at math, but it’s not doing the numbers that I like, it’s reading them.

I feel like behind any set of numbers and data, there’s something going on. They’re trying to tell us something. Like there’s a story. No, not like. There is a story.

Every set of numbers has a set of factors – circumstances, people, situations, hopes, likes, dislikes, desires, etc that created the particular confluence of determinants that resulted in that one unique outcome. Just that one. One factor this way or one factor that way, and everything changes.

And like any good story, there are things to be learned, to be inspired by, to give us guidance. Or at least, I always hope there is.

So when I ran across another author who was willing to share her numbers, her personal stories, with me, well, believe me, I paid attention. And I think that’s a story worth sharing.

So if you’ve got a minute or two before you have to rush back to your daily grind, like the immortal Deckard Cain, I hope that you can stay awhile.


So, in February, Mark sends me this article, The Truth About Books, Money, Awards (And Not Quitting Your Day Job), which discusses how one author, Kameron Hurley, reveals exactly how much money she’s made from writing books since 2008.

It’s based off her original article here, What I Get Paid For My Novels: Or, Why I’m Not Quitting My Day Job, where she starts blowing minds and breaking taboos by sharing every dollar she’s made from writing.

Yet despite having published her first trilogy, receiving a $20k advance on the first book of her new series, and winning a Hugo award (so by most measures, being a Big Damn Success), her conclusion was… Spoiler alert! Don’t quit your day job.

Could this be right? Were our dreams of becoming professional and full-time writers exactly that: just dreams? If Kameron Hurley had achieved “success” and still wasn’t able to convert it to a full-time career, where did that leave us?

I had to know the truth. So I spent the next week pouring through her blog, combing through her numbers, and trying to find some answers. And the answers I found, well, they surprised me.


Kameron Hurley won her 2014 Hugo award for her blog post, “We have always fought,” and as soon as you hit her site, you can tell why. Boy, can she write. There’s a lot to love on her site and her blog posts, but I think what struck me the most was her candidness about her writing. About the craft, or, as I like to call it, the struggle.

Hurley is incredibly honest about her talents. It doesn’t come easy. It takes work. It takes a ton of time. It takes revisions and revisions and revisions.

And Mark would be the first in line to tell you he knows of this torturous and relentless (yet not entirely joyless!) method of writing. Oh yes, I have put this poor man through more hellish and soul crushing revisions than any person should bear. But that is a story for another day…

I was talking about numbers, right? So what did her numbers say? From several blog posts, I started to piece together the story of how she writes in my trusted excel spreadsheet. (cue: *Mark rolling his eyes*)

Some of these numbers she gives, the rest are extrapolations. But from her blog posts:

150,000 words/draft

10,000 words/week

150 hours/draft

2.5 drafts/finished novel

Is 375 hours/novel!

WTF 375 hours?! That’s insane.

Go deeper, Daniel-san. Wait, was that even a thing? Whatever, back to it!

But if you work 40 hours a week, then you’d work 375 hours in 9 weeks.

9 weeks to finish a full length novel? That actually sounds not too bad…

And her last novel commanded a $20,000 advance.

And $20,000 for 375 hours of labor is $53.33/hour

Or, $106,000/year if you worked 40 hours a week.

And that’s not counting royalties.

Woah! Wait, what? That’s starting to sound shockingly Very Good.

First off, let’s get this out of the way. I know am way oversimplifying things.

And second, these numbers are the result of Kameron Hurley working and hustling for the past 10 years. She’s published and built her backlist and marketed a ton to build her reader base to make these numbers possible.

So I’m not saying it’s at all easy.

But did I think it was possible to quit your day job and do what you love doing as a career? You’re gorram right I did!


If I could just make one change to Hurley’s original title, I guess I’d do this:

What I Get Paid For My Novels: Or, Why I’m Not Quitting My Day Job (TODAY)

Because everything else aside, if you just look at the trajectory of the earnings from her writing, I think that’s closer to the truth. One day, she’s going to announce that she can finally do it, quit her day job and go full-time as a writer, and all the rest of us will rejoice. Because that’s another of us who will have made it.

It’s not just about who we are today. It’s about who we can become tomorrow.

And I’m betting everything on we can make it.

I don’t have the numbers yet to prove it. But like those came before us, I will share our numbers with you along the way.

And, hopefully, somewhere in those numbers, you’ll find a story there you like. A story that can change your life, as it has already started to change ours.

I could stay here all day, but back to it, for me. There are stories to spin and tales to tell.

See you again next week.

Stay tuned. Stay frosty.



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