How Much Do Authors Make? Author Salaries Demystified

Looking at starting or ramping up your career as an author? Exciting news! 

Now you’re probably wondering how much authors make. The answer is a tricky one: it depends! 

Becoming an author is an artistic, creative, and professional pursuit and like anything in the creative arts world, your earnings depend on many things: 

  • What book are you writing? 
  • Which publishing path will you take? 
  • If you’re taking up a full-time role?

These are just some of the factors. In this post, we’ll cover a whole lot more! 

Let’s jump right in and help you shed some light on the, often confusing, earning potential of an author.

How Do Authors Get Paid?

In understanding how much an author makes, you firstly need to know how they are paid.

It is nothing like your common monthly income payslip. 

Authors typically make their money through a traditional book publishing company or through a self-publishing marketplace. In both cases, the author gets paid based on how many copies of the book they sell. 

If you take the traditional publishing route, the company you publish with will often give you an advance on your book. They then repay the advance from the royalties on the book. 

So then….what is an advance? 

Upon the signing of a contract, an author gets their advance. This is an up-front amount that is paid to the author by their publisher.

The author will not receive anything beyond the advance until the book sale royalties are equivalent to the advance amount. Once the advance amount is reached, the author can start to earn. 

So how much can you expect as a first-time author? 

For a first-time author, your advance usually ranges from $1,000 to $10,000 on average per book. 

So let’s say you receive a $10,000 advance for your first book. This means you would then need to earn $10,000 in royalties from the sale of the book before you receive any additional income. 

Where do the royalties come into play? 

Royalties are what publishers pay an author in exchange for the rights to publish their work. 

Royalties will look different from author to author, depending on a variety of factors that come into play. But ultimately it comes down to the publishing route you take, the format, and the genre of the book.

If you are using the traditional way of publishing, you will likely get an advance and book royalties. 

But if you are taking the self-publishing route, there are no advances as you essentially are the publisher.

Traditional royalty rates are usually lower than self-publishing rates. This means that if you are a self-publishing author, you typically earn more money per book sold. But unlike with a publisher, you are responsible for your book cover design, marketing, distribution, etc. 

Take a look at Amazon; they offer a 30% or 70% royalty rate for eBook authors. This means you can earn 70% on the total list price of your book when it is sold on the Amazon platform. 

So what are the average royalty rates?

Self-published authors can make between 40% – 60% royalties on the retail price of a single book while traditionally published authors usually make between 10%-12% royalties.

Which Publishing Route To Take 

One of the biggest questions we hear from authors today is: Should I traditionally publish or self-publish? 

The way you choose to publish your work makes a big difference from the get-go. This doesn’t only apply to what your earnings will look like, but also the autonomy, control, and timeline you keep as an author.

Like everything in the industry, there are various factors you need to consider when choosing your publishing route.

Here are some factors to consider:

Budget

Self-publishing authors must ensure they have a budget for promotions and marketing if they intend to sell any copies. A traditional publisher will usually have a marketing department that handles some of the marketing efforts 

Type of book

Traditional publishers can be picky about the types of books they will consider purchasing. This can greatly reduce an author’s chance of being picked by a publishing house. Self-published authors have more of an open field. They can publish within a wide variety of genres and be the only option for earning money as a writer.

Mczell put together a table of comparisons between the two routes: 

Traditional PublishingSelf-Published
10% -12% royalties per book40%-60% royalties per book
It may take 2-3 years for a book to be publishedYou can publish 2-3 high-quality books a year  
Prepaid (but no royalties until this prepaid) “Repay” to PublisherThere is no prepayment, but you can make money immediately even if you pay the production cost of the book
Source: mczellbookwriting.com

Still, deciding what publishing route to take? For an in-depth deep dive into the difference between traditional publishing and self-publishing, check out our latest blog.

How Much Does an Author Make Per Book?

Many factors influence how much an author earns per book, such as the printing costs, royalties, and the number of books sold.

Your revenue also depends heavily on the publishing route you take. 

Here’s an example of the earnings for traditional vs self-published. 

RevenueTraditional Authors EarningsSelf-published Authors Earnings
Book retail price$14.99$14.99
Initial Royalty Rate10%60%
Income per book$1.79$5.74
Books Sold60006000
Earnings in total$10,740$34,440
Source: mczellbookwriting.com

In the example above, self-published authors make over $24,000 more than traditional authors for the same number of books sold.

How much money do authors make on ebooks?

Before diving straight into how much money authors typically make on ebooks, we must clear up some misconceptions about self-publishing. 

While it is possible to write and publish an ebook with no additional costs, self-publishing authors should invest capital. This helps drive the sales of your books. 

Similar to traditional publishing, factors like cover art and writing quality will influence sales.

In online marketplaces, the ratings and reviews are highly influential. That is why creating a book that satisfies the reader is without a doubt worth investing in.  

Every ebook publishing platform has different revenue agreements with authors. Retailers like Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, and the like, all offer different royalty rates

Despite the differences, authors can expect to earn 40 – 70% of the cover price for every copy that’s sold.

Author’s Salary

An author’s salary is calculated by the total earnings from a given year. 

Most authors are self-employed and organize their work by book project, so their income varies from year to year. 

If an author writes two books in one year, they will likely earn a higher income than the year when they did not write at all. 

Author’s average salary

In May 2018, The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the average salary for a person classified as a writer/author was $62,170. 

The same year, Authors Guild conducted a massive survey on more than 5,000 authors from a broad spectrum of writers in the industry. They found the median for full-time writers to be at $20,300 and for part-time writers a median of $6,080. 

Publishing does end up looking like a “winner takes all market.” The few authors at the top take majority of the earnings. 

This fact should not make you shy away from becoming an author or continuing to publish your work. It is important to understand the challenges and competition and use them as motivation to excel in your writing. 

Source: Authors Guild, notations by us

Factors That Influence an Author’s Salary 

The more books you sell, the higher your earnings, right? Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. 

There is a multitude of factors that will affect your earnings: 

  • The revenue per sale
  • Prepaid advances (traditional publications only)
  • Marketing volume 
  • Audience reach 
  • Marketing volume 
  • Number of books published 
  • Consistency of book-selling

Authors Who Earned a Pretty Decent Amount From Their Book

Here are a few examples of high-paying authors and how much they earned per book: 

Best-Selling Genres

Obviously, some genres are more popular than others. 

Top-selling genres include

  • Romance and Erotica– a $1.5 billion industry, with many off-shoots (paranormal romance, historical romance, and more).
  • Mystery and Crime– a $730 million industry—many recent fiction bestsellers have been crime novels.
  • Fantasy and Science-Fiction-a $590 million industry.
  • Thriller and Horror– an $80 million industry, dominated by Stephen King and Dean Koontz.

How To Earn More As an Author

If you have your sights set on making writing your full-time profession, there are some steps you can take to increase your earning capabilities. 

  1. Find your niche. The most successful authors are typically those who find a niche subgenre and pour all their energy into it. 
  2. Write to market. Determine what is trending among today’s readers and target them with your writing. 
  3. Discipline. If you want to make a career of it, you have to treat your writing as a real job. Plan to write for a specified number of hours each day. 
  4. Write more books. You will need to publish more than one book before you begin to see significant earnings.

Beyond The Book

With most authors finding it hard to make minimum wage, it comes down to more than just making money off your actual work and the books you publish. The presence you hold as an author is significant and a huge determining factor. 

The true way to go beyond just relying on your books to earn as an author?

Building relationships with your work.

Use it as a space to network. Expand contact with readers and create a bigger platform than your work alone could ever do. In essence, it’s about optimizing everything to do with you as an author – not just selling your books. 

Many authors do this by adapting their books to film and TV, exchanging a free ebook for readers’ emails, and having people get interested in their other offers through complementary content.

In Closing: 

It may seem daunting at first to start a career in authorhood with so many factors and influences to consider… Our advice? Focus on producing the best, most reader-worthy book you can, and we bet over time your hard work will pay off. 

The Essentials: An Author Website

Your presence as an author is important in establishing and maintaining a relationship with your readers. 

Now more than ever, holding an online space as an author is essential to connect with fans and also bring your work to life. If you already have something in mind, why not get in contact today and let us make your dream author website a reality! 

If you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for just yet, we can help you with everything from start to finish in creating an incredible website to wow your readers.

Want help with your author marketing? Get our FREE ebook and cheat sheet: 6 Steps To Getting More Readers.

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