Who hasn’t dreamed of becoming a bestselling author? It’s a common flight of fancy, but the truth is, most of us never even put pen to paper and give it a try.
But there’s a pretty good reason for that. Making it as a successful author isn’t easy, and even if your work is published, there’s no guarantee that you’ll make enough money to quit your day job. Not everyone can be the next Stephen King, after all.
That being said, with the right skill set and plenty of drive and determination, anything is possible. So, if you’re considering writing a book and getting it published for the world to see, or you’re simply curious about what the process involves, then read on.
How Much Money Does an Author Earn, and What Does It Take to Become a Bestselling Author?
In this post, I’ll explore the subject of money in the book publishing world and look at what an author can expect to make for each book they write. I’ll also share tips from some of the world’s most renowned authors on what it takes to make it onto the bestseller’s charts.
So, let’s start off by asking that all-important question.
How Much Money Do Authors Make Per Book?
Many people have this notion that all authors are wealthy. They spend a few months tapping away on the typewriter in a picturesque lakeside cabin, and then they sit back and watch the cash roll in.
But unfortunately, that’s not the case for most authors, even many of those we consider ‘successful.’ In fact, most writers don’t even make enough money from their books to cover the bills, and they supplement their income with a ‘real job.’
Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all formula to calculate what authors can expect to make. The income books generate varies as much as the content within them, and even if a publisher approves your manuscript, it’s almost impossible to predict how lucrative it will be.
That being said, knowing some important industry standards will help give you an idea of how the money side of the book writing business works and what percentage of the sales will land in your bank account.
If you choose to go down the traditional route and find a publisher, they will manage the entire process of marketing, producing, and distributing your book. They’ll typically cover all the costs associated with these things, too.
But while all that might sound pretty appealing, ultimately, the author’s cut of the profits ends up being pretty small. The truth is, once you factor in the months or even years worth of work that goes into writing a book, most authors will barely break minimum wage.
Traditionally published authors can expect to make anywhere between 5% and 15% royalties (often called ‘retail royalties’ or ‘list royalties’) on every copy sold.
So, if your agreed royalties rate is 10%, and your book retails at $15, you’ll receive $1.50 per sale.
The royalty percentage will depend on the publisher, the agreed contract, and the type of book produced.
- The Advance
An advance is a sum paid by the publisher to the author before the book is produced and ready for sale.
This can be anywhere from $250 to mega millions, but expect the amount offered to be much closer to the former if it’s your first book.
The advance is a pre-empted sum of future royalties earnings based on the minimum number of copies a publisher expects to sell.
So, let’s imagine a publisher has offered you a $5,000 advance. Then, using the same example above, a book retailing at $15 with a royalty agreement of 10% needs to sell at least 3,333 copies (at your royalty rate of $1.50) to match the advance.
But thankfully, most reputable publishers guarantee your advance, so if you don’t meet the 3,333 copies target, you won’t have to pay back the remainder. And if you sell more, this is when you’ll start earning additional royalties.
- Agent Fees
The above should give you a rough idea of what to expect when it comes to earning money through the traditional publishing route. But don’t forget that if you hire an agent, they’ll need paying, too.
Typical agents fees are around 15% of your sales. More often than not, the publisher sends your advance and royalties checks to your agent, who will deduct their fees before passing the remainder on to you.
- Selling Your Own Copies
Depending on the publisher and your agreed contract, you may be able to buy copies of your book for a discounted price to sell on yourself. Standard contracts generally allow authors to sell their books on any platform where the publisher isn’t already trading, for example, through your own website. There are no additional fees to pay in this case, and any money you make from then onwards is yours to keep.
- EBooks and Audiobooks
It’s worth mentioning that publishers generally offer a higher royalty rate for e-books and audiobooks. That’s because digital format books don’t carry the same production costs as printed books, and the publisher’s outgoings are significantly smaller.
Self-publishing a book can be much more lucrative than going down the traditional publishing route. Since you won’t need to split your earnings with publishers and agents, you generally get to keep a much bigger percentage of revenue from your book sales.
According to self-publishingschool.com, self-published authors can earn up to three times as much as those who work with a traditional publisher.
But self-publishing comes with its own unique set of challenges too. The author is responsible for much more than just writing a great novel; you’ll need to think about everything from the graphic design of your front cover to proofreading and editing, and marketing your final creation.
Of course, you can outsource many of these tasks to other professionals, but this will eat into your earnings, and if your book isn’t as successful as you’d hoped, you could be left in debt.
That being said, there’s a reason why so many authors are choosing to abandon the traditional publishing route in favor of self-publishing. If you have the right ability, a whole lot of drive, and determination, self-publishing can lead to a higher income; and ultimately, much more control over your work.
If you’re interested in learning more about how self-publishing works, Hooked to Books has some in-depth, practical guides that can help get you started. Check out our posts about how self-published authors get paid for eBooks, and how to successfully publish a Kindle eBook.
What Makes a Bestselling Author?
Of course, anyone who goes through the process of writing a book dreams their work will become a bestseller.
But what does the term ‘bestseller’ actually mean?
The word can be used to describe books that make it to the top of any chart, not just the coveted New York Times list.
For example, if you choose to self-publish your book and sell it on an online bookstore like Amazon, you could find yourself in the top 10 charts by selling 200-300 books per day.
There are countless book charts out there, and you don’t necessarily need to be the next George R.R. Martin or Paulo Cohello to make it on the list.
That being said, it’s best to aim for the top, so here are a few tips from some of the world’s most celebrated authors from ‘those’ bestsellers charts to help you cultivate a mindset for success.
Will Self: Value your alone time“The writing life is essentially one of solitary confinement – if you can’t deal with this, you needn’t apply.”
Michael Moorcock: If you want to know how to write, read!“Read. Read everything you can lay hands on. I always advise people who want to write a fantasy or science fiction or romance to stop reading everything in those genres and start reading everything else from Bunyan to Byatt.”
Zadie Smith: Create a sacred space“Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.”
Barbara Kingsolver: Find your own authentic voice‘Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.’
Kazuo Ishiguro: Get outside your comfort zone‘Write what you know is the most stupid thing I’ve heard. It encourages people to write a dull autobiography. It’s the reverse of firing the imagination and potential of writers.’
Neil Gaiman: Take the right advice“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”
Lee Child: Open with a bang‘‘If you’re ever going to submit a book for publication, obviously some people start reading it. So, the first line, the first paragraph, the first page has got to be utterly compelling. If you can do that, then you’re home and dry because that’s what people want. They want a book where they pick it up, and they’re instantly hooked.’‘
You May Also Read: 11 Bestselling Ellen Hopkins Books of All-Time
Becoming an author is one of the most difficult career paths you can take, but it’s also one of the most rewarding.
And although many authors will never make enough money to sustain themselves from their books alone, those truly passionate about their work aren’t in it for the money. They write to share their stories with the world, and that in itself is worth a million dollars.