Authors seldom discuss how much money they actually make writing science fiction or fantasy. But on her blog, Kameron Hurley breaks it down, listing all her advances and how much she actually ended up with. And she explains how winning an award can change the game, and why she won't quit her day job.
In a nutshell, Hurley's advances went way down after the 2008 publishing crash, and then spiked again after she won a couple of Hugo Awards. (And just in case you hadn't realized, Hurley is writing a two-book space opera saga, beginning with The Stars Are Legion in 2016.)
But she also explains just why one good year of earnings won't make her quit her day job:
This is a tough business to stay in, especially if you don't have a solid day job or a partner with same. I hear folks say that the 4-5 book place is where a lot of folks start to make money, and it's true that this is the first year I could earn what I'd call a living wage if I quit or was laid off. But I know too much about publishing – and the changing tastes of the readership – to go all in making $30-40k a year when I've spent this long slogging to get to $100k through a combined workaholic income stream of novels, day job, and freelancing. You don't give all that up just because you had one positive year.
If I've learned anything about publishing it's that you should always hope that one great year is the start of an upward trend – but you should never count on it.