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.

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