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Blog 08.12.2019

How much Money do Authors Make in Reality?

Maybe you’ve considered writing a book, or have a great idea you’re sure is going to be very successful. But before putting fingers to keyboard, make sure to really understand the world of bookselling and marketing. It is the less glamorous side of writing a book, but even if you are selected for publication with a major publisher, unless you are a celebrity, you’ll still end up promoting and marketing a large part of the book’s campaign on your own dime. That can be sobering enough to stall would-be authors in their tracks.

Pen on letter.


However, all is not lost as long as you are realistic in your expectations. Can you make a living being a writer? Yes, most definitely. But you must enter into the profession, even if it is a side-gig, with a dose of reality about how much financial return you can expect with a first book. The following can help you create a workable plan to get started. 

Publisher or Self-Publishing? Which makes more money?

There are pros and cons to both types of publishing endeavors. If you are willing to cover some of the costs yourself, and put in a considerable amount of time, then self-publishing can help you to realize money quicker. However, will you get the big interviews on national tv spots? Not likely. Will your book show up and be offered in every bookstore in America and Internationally? Nope. Working with a publisher, even a small or mid-sized press, does extend your reach with distribution, and the cost of printing the book is absorbed by the company. 

What to Expect from An Advance 

An advance is a term used in the publishing industry to denote the money the company offers the author in expectation of sales. The amount of money you could receive from an advance varies on a case by case basis. Some authors receive a $50,000 advance whereas some authors are given a revenue share (rev share) deal when negotiating with publishing companies. A rev share deal means an author does not receive a monetary advance, but he or she does receive a very high percentage of the proceeds earned from book sales. This has its advantages and disadvantages, as there is the potential to make less money if your book does not sell well. 

Conversely, an author who receives a large advance and does not earn out his or her advance runs the risk of developing a bad reputation and may not have subsequent books selected for publication. And, most advances, when not reconciles, must be paid back by the author. That can be very devastating both financially and emotionally.

Authors who earn out their advance not only make enough money to gain financial security, but they essentially make themselves more appealing to publishing companies in the future. An author who earns out a high advance is more likely to receive a six-figure advance or higher upon completing his or her second book. If you work with a small to mid-sized press then no advances may be offered at all. The act of publishing your book without any costs to you is considered the advance in this situation. This is very common, and you are not offered any revenue sharing until the cost of production has been paid off. After that you have several options for how you’ll receive your money from the sale of your book. Options typically include a royalty, which is a percentage of sales on the front end, or you can receive a royalty as a percentage of sales on the back end (after costs).  The average royalty is between 10-15% from each sale. 


What You’ll Make from Book Sales

It can be rather a shock to sell a large number of your books only to receive a very, almost not to be seen, royalty check. This is because so many others involved in the process take a bite out of the profits before it trickles down to you. Commonly, the money realized from the sale of a single book is broken down into percentages like this:

  • Bookstore: 45% discount off cover price.
  • Publisher: 40% toward cost of production.
  • Author: 15% if you are lucky and don’t have an agent. If you have a book agent or publicist, then you’ll split this % rate amongst them. 

Keep in mind you’ll have to pay taxes on anything you financially gain from the sale of your book. Authors are paid royalties based on how many copies of their book sells. And if the sales price of the book changes, then your royalty earnings will also change. 

Know Your Rights 

Authors have the potential to earn more money when retaining the sub-rights of their work when negotiating a deal with publishers. Sub-rights encompass films, television shows, audiobooks, and foreign translations of your book. By retaining as many of your sub-rights as possible, you present yourself with the opportunity to earn more money. If your book is adapted into a film and you have kept the sub-rights, you earn money on the ticket sales made of the film adaptation. If you pass off your sub-rights to the publisher, you’ll earn less, and maybe nothing depending on how your contract reads. 

By opting to keep the sub-rights for audio, you have the potential to earn money off the sales of an audio version of your book. Whether you choose to narrate the audiobook yourself or not does not directly impact your percentage of the sales if you have retained these sub-rights. Depending on the demands from the publishing house of your choosing, you may only retain certain sub-rights and not others. 


Writing More Earns You More 

 This goes without saying, but if you write more books, you earn more money. This is true for several key reasons. The more books you publish, the more sales you earn, which increases your profits. If you write numerous books, each of which is deemed successful, you earn higher advances from the publishing companies. The more money you make in your advance, the less you have to worry about how the bills are going to be paid when you are working on your next novel. Authors who forgo advances for a rev share deal similarly earn more money the more they write.

Jar with coins.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to pen a series of books. A series is more profitable because you are building off existing success and recognition. The second book in a series typically sells for more money than the first, and the third book sells for more than the second. If you have an exciting idea for a story that can be told in more than one book, it is in your best interest to break the story up into several books to increase your profits. 

Full Cycle Publications is dedicated to bringing exciting books to life. Read MORE about incredible people, riveting fiction, vibrant children’s books, teachers resources, and unique cookbooks. Questions about the writing life? Contact US! We’d be glad to help.

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