Q & A: Do Authors Make Money?

Ellie asked: Will publishers actually publish your stories/ books/ novels to where they’ll sell and you can make money? Also, what percent of the book’s earnings do you get usually? I was guessing around 3% minimum and 6% maximum if you were really lucky.

This is a great questions, Ellie.

Most magazines will pay a flat rate for an article or short story. I’ve received as little as $15 for a few paragraphs up to $350 for a five-page article. It depends on the publisher. Most publishers print their pay rates with their submissions guidelines. You should be able to find those guidelines online. For help on how to understand submissions guidelines, click here.

A book contract is different. My rule of thumb is, you, the author, should not have to pay anything to get your book published. The publisher should pay you. You might sign a contract with no advance and high royalties, like 50%. That would be a fair deal.

Making money on your book is another story.

An author’s royalty depends on the contract she signs. A good royalty from a traditional publisher is usually 12-15%. An author is usually given an advance (anywhere from $1000 to $10,000) before the book releases. Usually she’d get 50% of the advance when she signs the contract and 50% when she turns in her manuscript.

With a traditional publisher, it takes about two years for a book to make it to bookstore shelves. Then the book needs to sell its advance in royalties before the author makes any more money. For example, let’s say the author had a $10,000 advance and her royalty was 10%. She would get a $1 royalty for each copy of her book that sold. But since she already received $10,000 in advance, she won’t get any more money until 10,001 copies sell. In essence, she has to pay back that $10,000 advance because that’s what an advance is, and advance against future royalties.

Once the book sells 10,001 copies, the royalties start to accumulate. An author receives a royalty statement two to four times a year that lists the sales and returns of her book. If the advance has been reached—or earned out—a check will accompany that royalty statement.

Authors usually don’t make enough money to live off of until they have several books in print, all selling well at the same time. The sad thing is, some author’s books don’t sell well, which means they might never earn out their advance—or sell enough copies to pay that advance back.

Publishers don’t ask an author to pay back an advance, but a publisher might not want to publish another book from an author whose book didn’t sell. So much of an author’s sales these days depends on how hard that author works to market and sell their own book. Authors can, and do, make money, but it’s hard work. Few books hit it big as blockbuster bestsellers.

See my posts on marketing for ideas on how to market and sell your books.

Have a question? Email me at info@jillwilliamson.com.

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