An author's salary

by unknown
(New York)

Question: I am still confused about an author's salary.

Could you go a little deeper about royalties and the difference in incomes between self publishers and traditional publishers?

Answer: In traditional publishing, an author is paid a royalty, which is a percentage of the price of each copy of a book that is sold.

When you sign a contract with a publisher, the publisher will give you an advance on your royalties. In the old days, this was intended to tie you over and give you something to live on while you wrote the next book and waited to see what the sales on the first book would be. The size of your advance depends on the publisher's expectations of sales.

Once sales pass a certain level such that your earned royalties exceed your advance you will start getting additional royalty payments. However, most books do not generate royalties in excess of your advance, so unless your book does exceptionally well, your advance is all the money you will ever see. (Okay, that's not necessarily true, but let's keep it simple.)

If you have an agent, the agent takes a percentage of all royalties as their fee for working on your behalf.

The important rule in traditional publishing is that YOU DO NOT PAY ANYTHING TO AGENTS OR PUBLISHERS. THE PUBLISHER PAYS YOU and pays all the costs of publishing the book.

In the old days, that meant that you couldn't lose money on the deal. Today, however, authors are expected to do a lot of their own promotion, and that can cost you something.

With self-publishing (as in, you become your own publisher), you pay all the costs of publishing the book yourself (as well as promotion). If you are very lucky, you will sell enough books to make back the costs. Most authors don't.

If you are using print-on-demand, you pay the publishing costs up front, as with self-publishing. In addition, when a book is sold, most of the money goes to the publisher in exchange for printing and distributing the book. You receive a percentage of sales as a royalty. This can be less expensive, because you are not paying for thousands of books to be printed that will just sit in your garage. On the other hand, it is more expensive to print one book at a time.

Some self-publishers or PODers today are choosing to publish ebooks only, since that reduces printing costs and the royalties are much higher. (For instance, you might get 50% rather than 15%.) However, ebooks usually sell for far less money. It's a toss up whether you will stand a better chance of making money with ebooks due to volume. Generally, regardless of format, an author may get somewhere between one and three dollars per book. If you sell a million copies, per title, you've got a great career. If you sell 200, not so much. (Most self-published books sell less than 200 copies.)

At any rate, depending on what country you live in, what genre you write it, and how famous you are, making a living as an author can be challenging unless you write best sellers. Many authors, particularly in niches where sales are low, supplement their incomes with public speaking, teaching, or (in the case of children's authors) school visits.

Click here to post comments

Join in and submit your own question/topic! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Questions About Novel Writing.

 Step-by-Step Novel Planning Workbook

NEW! Make Money Writing Nonfiction Articles

"I've read more than fifty books on writing, writing novels, etc., but your website has the most useful and practical guidance. Now that I understand how a novel is structured, I will rewrite mine, confident that it will be a more interesting novel." - Lloyd Edwards

"Thanks to your "Create a Plot Outline in 8 Easy Steps," I was able to take a story that I simply just fooled around with and went willy nilly all over, into a clearly defined, intriguing battle where two characters fight to keep their relationship intact, and try to find a balance in control of themselves and their lives. Thanks to you, I'm not ashamed of the poor organization of my writing." - Nommanic Ragus

"I am so glad I found your site. It has helped me in so many ways, and has given me more confidence about myself and my work. Thank you for making this valuable resource, for me and my fellow writers. Perhaps you'll hear about me someday...I'll owe it to you." - Ruth, Milton, U.S.A.

"I never knew what to do with all the characters in my head, but since discovering Dramatica I am writing again in my spare time. Thank you for making this available. Yes, it is a bit complex, and it does take time, but I love it because it works." - Colin Shoeman

"I came across your website by chance. It is a plethora of knowledge, written in a simplistic way to help aspiring writers. I truly appreciate all of the information you have provided to help me successfully (relative term) write my novel. Thank you very much!" - Leo T. Rollins

"I can honestly say that this is the first website that is really helpful. You manage to answer complex questions in relatively short articles and with really intelligent answers. Thank you for taking the time to write these articles and sharing them so generously." - Chrystelle Nash

"...had no idea that a simple click would give me such a wealth of valuable information. The site not only offered extremely clear and helpful instructions but was a very enjoyable read as well. The education from your wonderful site has made me a better writer and your words have inspired me to get back to work on my novel. I wish to give you a heartfelt thanks for How to Write a Book Now, sir." -- Mike Chiero