How Much Do Authors Make?

Have you ever wondered how much money authors really make? I’m sure that you have thought about it, which is perfectly fine. You are the kind of author that believes in improving your craft first, then earning a paycheck.

At some point though, you need to make money.

If you want to have a career as an author, here are the kind of earnings you can expect. Keep in mind, this is just an example.

Before I explain what traditionally published authors make, let me give some examples of vanity press authors and self-published authors.

For those of you trying self-publishing, make a list of every single person or place you can sell your book. That will include family, friends, co-workers, social network friends, clubs and/or church that you belong.

Now, add up all those possible sales. Realistically, you can sell to 5% of everyone you know. (Could be more, but this is the low end.)

Let’s say there are 1,364 people on your list. 1,364 x .05 = 68. If you earn $2.00 per book, then your income is $136.

Next, you invest $1,000 in marketing and release a new book. Let’s say you sell 1,713 of those books. 1,713 x $2.00 = $3,426 – $1,000 (marketing) = $2,426.

The following numbers are for traditional publishing. I made this as simplistic as possible, because there are many factors that come into play when you sign a contract. However, you should get the basic idea of how authors earn money.

For your next book, you are signed by a literary agent and sign with a traditional publisher. In the first quarter, the publisher sells 15,346 books and 4,910 are returned. (Very common for a new author.) Your royalty would be $6,365.95 – $954.89 (agent) – 20% (marketing/expenses) = $4,328.86. (This final number is before taxes. However, you can write off the marketing and author related expenses.)

Quick Note: Authors are paid twice a year; April and October.

The publisher decides to give you one more chance. You’ve written another book, (while the last one was selling) and submit it. There are 63,936 copies sold and 20,460 returned. Your royalty is $26,520 – $3,978.00 (agent) – $5,000 (marketing/expenses) = $17,542.00

Your next book sells 91,382 over the following year. (Did not make bestsellers list, because you only sold about 1,750 books a week. You would need to be up in the 5,000 a week range, unless the New York Times likes you:)

91,382 – 29,242 (returns) = $37,905.40 (royalty) – $5,685.75 (agent) – $6,500 (marketing/expenses) = $25,719.25.

Good news! Your agent got you signed with a bigger publisher! They offer you a $50,000 advance!

$50,000 – $7,500 (agent) – $15,000 (taxes) = $17,500. However, the publisher is holding back $25,000 just in case your book doesn’t. So really, you have not received anything just yet. As your book sells, the publisher will release more of the advance. (Look at it more as a signing bonus that is paid out over the next year.)

Your book sells well and you have others in reprint. Your sales between April and October after returns are 267,432. Your royalty is $163,133.52 – $24,470.00 (agent) – $25,000 (marketing/expenses) = $113,663.52.

All right. Now, let’s really have some fun. Let’s say you have an absolutely great year in sales. How about, 500,000 after returns.

$305,000 (royalty) – $45,750 (agent) – $50,000 (marketing/expenses) = $209,250. (Before taxes.)

I’m not sure if this is what you expected or you are pleasantly surprised. Either way, this is a pretty close example of what authors make, based on sales.

I’m sure e-books will come more into play with these numbers, so stay tuned.

And of course, there is that movie deal I did not talk about…

Ron Knight

Author of “2-10”

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  1. Debbie Peters says:

    When you are self-published and do Print On Demand, you can make as much as 30% royalties per book. The reader gets a good price on the book and you get a nice percentage on all that hard work you put into writing the book. I get royalties every 3 months on $3.54 a book that is sold during the quarter. I do not receive it for another month after they tell me how many I have sold for that quarter. With print on demand, I do not have any books coming back not sold. My second book in print sold 220 copies each quarter for six quarters straight-This is at the $3 a book-I believed that to be very good for a 1st time author that did not have very good marketing for her books.
    I have been told that I have a waiting list of 3,000 readers for my next book coming out in November. If all those readers buy just one of my books-that adds up to around $10,000 just for one quarter. But this is after 6 years of me having books published. My total books published to date is 15.