How Rich Will I Be After I Write a Book?
Every fledgling writer wonders, at least at some point, “How much do authors make?” Yes, many of us write because of the burning passion and creativity in the scary place that is our thoughts. But who hasn’t dreamed of their book being in the hands of hundreds or thousands of fans?
I’m going to make you mad at me right away, though: there is no way to determine exactly how much money an author will make from their book. There are so many different factors that contribute to a book making money that it would be impossible to give you a solid answer.
That, and I don’t want people emailing me to say I lied to them about the exact dollar amount they’re going to make from a book. No thank you.
What I have done, however, is break down a lot of great info to give you an idea of what you could earn and how you can get there. So, in this blog, you will learn about:
- How authors get paid
- How income works for a book
- Self-publishing vs traditional publishing income
- What a brand new author can earn
- Ideas for diversifying your book income
Honestly, I just want to put some of your worries at ease and make life a little bit easier. Let’s demystify how much an author makes per book.
How Do Authors Get Paid?
There are four different ways a book can turn into a paycheck for you: advances, royalties, flat-rate payments, and commissions.
Advances are lump sum payments made by a publisher for an author’s book. These are usually divided up into three or more payments: when the contract is signed, when the manuscript is accepted, and upon publication. Advances must be paid back via royalties before you make money from royalties, known as earning out.
Royalties are a percentage that you earn off every book sale, minus the costs associated with producing that book (i.e., editing, cover, and printing costs). Payment schedules for royalties vary based on who is paying them. They could be paid monthly, quarterly, annually, etc. Again, traditionally published authors don’t get paid royalties until they have earned out their advance.
Flat-rate payments are less common in the industry. Getting a single payment (or multiple payments for one rate) is more common for ghostwriters and those writing smaller nonfiction.
Commissions are like royalties earned from those reselling your book. If you buy a whole bunch of author copies and then sell them at a book signing or a convention, you might earn a commission from the venue/retailer that’s hosting you.
How Much Do Authors Make Per Book?
Like I said at the beginning, a lot goes into how much authors make per book. You need to think about printing costs, marketing costs, production costs, advances, royalty rates, the format of the book you’re selling, and more.
What we can look at for certain is the larger industry. Though it’s a few years old now, a survey conducted by the Authors Guild in 2018 found that the median income for authors based solely on their books (i.e., no speaking gigs, teaching, etc.) was $3,100 USD.
I know, I know. That’s not very reassuring. There are plenty of authors on both sides of that spectrum, though. Some authors are making hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of dollars a year from their books. Some authors make $5.
Stay tuned to the end of this article for some tips on landing on the right side of that median income. Right now, I’m going to show you how traditionally published and self-published authors make money, including some concrete rates. Note that, for the sake of convenience, I’m using paperback books in these examples. I’ll fill you in on some details for the other formats further down.
Traditional Publishing Earnings:
Here are some things you can expect in terms of moolah if you worked hard (and got a little lucky) with your first book and it got picked up by a publisher.
Most first-time authors who get an advance can expect it to max out at $10,000. Yes, there are first-time authors who get more than that. There are also first-time authors who don’t get any advance at all. If you have millions of devoted fans before you publish your first book, we’ll talk then. For most authors, $10,000 is the limit.
You’ll also be looking at something like 10% royalties on books sold. I’m going to say this every time because, again, I don’t want angry responses: this rate varies. It can be 5%, it can be 12%. If you have a really good agent or have a few books under your belt, maybe it can be around 15%.If the cost to produce one of your books is $4.50 (an average that larger publishers can lower) and it sells for $14.99, then you’ll be making about $1.05 per book sold. That means you’re looking to sell just over 9,520 copies to earn out your advance and reap the royalties that come after.
That’s a lot of books, right? One of the advantages of being published by a traditional publisher is the marketing force that comes with it. Still, very few first-time authors earn out their advances. This doesn’t mean that you’ll have to pay the publisher back, but don’t expect to be a millionaire from one book.
The publishing industry is so competitive these days, a new name like yours will only have limited time in the sun before stores and publishers have to make way for something new.
Again, I know that sounds sad. But then you write your next book, which earns you a bigger advance and more sales. Rinse and repeat.
Self-publishing is a different beast. I always tell people that self-publishing is a form of entrepreneurship; you have to work hard, bootstrap it, and make your own success.
That means no advance. If you’re self-publishing, there’s no one to give you an advance!
Don't fret too much, though. Higher royalties than those offered to traditionally published authors can offset your lack of advance. In self-publishing, you can expect to earn 35-70% royalties, depending on the platform, format, distribution, etc. And you earn them from your very first book sale.
Being a self-published author means you’re responsible for absorbing all the production costs. This means printing costs for physical copies and delivery costs for digital copies. You should also factor in the cost of cover art, editing, and formatting when looking at the profitability of a book.
If we use the same numbers as before ($14.99 book, $4.50 printing cost) and a 60% royalty rate which is standard on Amazon, you would only need to sell 1,590 copies of your paperback to earn your first $10,000.
Now I know what you’re thinking: that is literally ⅙ the amount of books. Why wouldn’t you go the self-publishing route?
Realistically, you don’t have the connections and marketing muscle of a publisher behind you when you self-publish. That’s what leads us to these statistics…
Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing Income
Based on the same report (because it’s the most recent one, but I promise I’ll update this once a new one is created), full-time, traditionally published authors are the highest earners of all authors. Following these authors, you had authors who are traditionally published and self-published, then authors who write textbooks and academic/commercial work, then self-published only, followed by part-time traditionally published authors.
The income gap varies widely even amongst the same category of authors. On top of it all, about 25% of writers across the board earned $0 in book income over the year. So, if you made a sale in 2022 already, congrats on being in at least the top 75% of author income earners.
At the same time, we know the publishing industry is shifting. Even in 2017, traditional publishing saw a 21% decline in income. At the same time, self-published authors saw an average rise in income of 93%. That movement didn’t disappear over the last five years.
All of that is to say: there is opportunity in both industries. Yes, traditional publishing is getting more competitive and needs to adapt to the current environment, but the strength of publishers still allows authors to earn, on average, more money than self-published authors. At the same time, there is an incredible amount of potential for those willing to embrace and work hard in the self-publishing industry.
I'm a Brand New Author, How Much Can I Expect?
Honestly, big names like Stephen King, Nora Roberts, and James Patterson have skewed the perception of how much an author makes. These authors, among many others, are worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Sorry, but your first book won’t do that for you. The reality is that your first book will not make enough to turn you into a full-time writer. If you want to be an author, it’s something most people will work on around their day jobs. I know, it stinks to read that.
Being an author requires a lot of patience and time. Writing a book takes a lot of time. Learning how to market your book takes a lot of time. Seeing your book make enough money to recoup the costs of editing and your cover takes a lot of time.
There is no way to know for sure how much money an author will make from a book. But there are things you can do to improve the odds that you make money from that book. Here are three quick tips to help you get closer to making a full-time income as an author (honestly, I could write a whole blog about these three things):
Write multiple books. No one can live off the earnings of a single book. Your readers can provide you with repeated income if you have more than one book under your name. The more books you have, the easier it is for a new reader to find you, too.
Marketing know-how. Even if you want to pursue traditional publishing only, you need to know how to market your book. You need to be able to explain it in a few catchy lines, write a quality query letter, write sales copy, manage a community of fans, and build your sacred email list.
An active, engaged fan base. Every writer needs fans, and when you get your first fan, it will be the best feeling in the world. Your fans will champion your books amongst their friends and family. They’ll rave about you on social media. They’ll buy everything you publish. But you need to cultivate that fan base and keep them engaged.
Diversify Your Income Streams
I’m not sure if you caught it or not, but the report I’ve been referencing has referred to income from just books. These days, authors have so many more options to add to their income while still embracing their passion. If you want to make money as an author, here are some ways to diversify and enhance your income.
Multiple books. Yes, I know I just told you about this, but I need to repeat it for the folks in the back. To be a successful author, you need more than one published book. You need a lot of them. As soon as your manuscript is out to beta readers, editors, agents, etc., you should be working on your next book.
Publishing alternatives. Authors aren’t confined to only writing books, publishing them, then repeating. You can put your books on Kindle Unlimited, start a Patreon, publish serial stories on Vella, and much more. There are a ton of opportunities out there to fit your writing and marketing style.
Write to market. Maybe your book is about a long-lost underwater civilization who needs to go to space to save their princess. It could be one of the best books ever written. Tragically, there isn’t a huge market for that specific story. You can embrace your creativity to write more marketable stories that buff your income to let you write the stories you are super passionate about. I’m still trying to come up with a romance pen name for myself.
Write a series. This is a lot like writing multiple books, but they’re all related. This will hopefully drive most readers to buy the next book in your series because they need more of that story.
Events where you can sell books. Things like book signings and conventions won’t make you rich, but they are an additional avenue to sell your books. They also let you interact with fans or connect with new ones. Get creative with in-person or virtual events you can host that can increase your income.
Self-publish and traditionally publish. Get the best of both worlds! By going both publishing routes, you can get exposure and marketing power from traditional publishing to help drive more traffic to your self-published work that provides higher royalties. Just make sure that any contract you have with a publisher doesn’t exclude you from self-publishing.
Get speaking gigs. I know most people think that all authors are introverts, but that’s not the case for a lot of us. As authors, we have a skill that a lot of people want to hear about. This is especially true for non-fiction authors, but there is a market for fiction authors to earn money from speaking gigs.
Teach how to write. Similar to speaking gigs, people want to learn from you. You can teach in a traditional institution like a college or create online courses that you sell to those visiting your website.
Ghostwrite. Some people want to tell a story but they don’t have writing skills like yours, so they hire a ghostwriter to write it for them. Ghostwriting can be very profitable and some contracts even include ongoing royalties.
Start Your Writing Career
You aren’t going to lose your official writing license if you say you want to make money off the blood, sweat, and tears you put into your passion. And, since this blog is filled with hard truths, here’s another one: you won’t make any money if you don’t finish your book.
Now that we’ve reached the end of this article, I want you to make a commitment to write. Write every day if you can. Don’t just say, “Yeah, I’ll start writing more.” Open up your calendar and block some time off. That’s the only way you’re going to make a dime on your current project.
And if you’re struggling to make that commitment, let me tell you how Dabble makes it easier. With an awesome Goal Tracker that breaks your bigger goal into manageable pieces–plus fun confetti when you reach your daily goal–that makes holding yourself accountable a breeze.
Tack on a clean, clutter-free workspace, our famous Plot Grid, and places to house all your character, worldbuilding, and any other notes you might make (plus oodles more features), and you’ve got a platform built for authors who are serious about their writing.
The best part? We don’t even ask for your credit card to let you try Dabble Premium free for fourteen days. Honestly, you’ve got nothing to lose. Get started with your trial by clicking here and write your book in Dabble!
If you’re planning to become an indie author, one of the first things you might be wondering is: how do you price a self-published book?
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