How Much Money Does an Author Make per Book? Riches or Ruin?

Everyone who dreams of writing a book has high hopes of finding a lucrative book deal, landing a six-figure advance, and living off royalties for the rest of their lives. It sounds wonderful, but the truth is that it’s very rare for an author to make that kind of money. So how much money does an author make per book?

Most new authors sell just a few thousand copies of a paperback and at the typical royalty payment of 8-10% of the cover price, this will typically earn you about $3600 over the lifetime of that book. If you get a deal also with a hardcover edition, you could make an additional $7500.

Woman Throws Money in the Air

Typical Income Figures

The income for a new author for their first book or a still relatively unknown author with only a few books is typically very low. The sad truth is that very few people at this level will even be able to make a living from their books.

Many authors are not full-time at this stage in their career as they simply cannot afford not to have another job to pay the bills. First books rarely allow you to go full time.

These authors usually also aren’t eligible for high advances from publishers and may not receive an advance at all. A new author will normally sell an average of 5000 copies, which means plenty of books sell far fewer copies than this.

Paperbacks cost between $6.99 and $14.99, depending on size and type, with hardbacks around the $25 mark. Using a typical sales price based on this, let’s look at some income figures for a newer author.

Income Table

TypePercentSalesPrice \ Book $Royalty \ Book $Total Earnings $
Self Published:

As you can see, the income for a book with a traditional publisher will be only about $3,600 for a paperback at $8.99, selling the average 5000 copies. This is already a low figure and if you remember that this is a lifetime number, it means your payments per year are even lower.

If you are lucky enough to get a deal with a hardback release also part of the deal, you could add another 3000 sales. The better news is that a slightly higher royalty of 10% and a much higher price per copy means you could add $7,500 to your lifetime income.

That is almost triple the income from your book but still only a tiny fraction of what you need to turn this into a full-time job.

Self-Publishing Will Multiply your Earnings

Looking at the table again, the most obvious thing that jumps out is the increase in income you can get from self-publishing. Instead of making 8% per paperback, self-publishing could get you into a much better figure in the 40-60% range.

This leads to a potential earning of $18,000 to $27,000 per book, far more impressive than the rather sad $3,600 for all your hard work! If this is still a 2nd income supplementing your full-time job, you are suddenly looking at being in a much better place financially. As a result, writing a book becomes a somewhat more attractive use of your time.

The downside, and there is always a catch, is that you need to do all the work yourself as part of becoming a self-publishing author.

You will need to do tasks such as:

  • design the cover,
  • do all the book layout and formatting,
  • prepare all the promotional book materials,
  • deal with all the book promotions,
  • send the book to bookstores and libraries yourself,
  • do all the book distribution and marketing,
  • and do all the follow up marketing yourself.

And that is just a fraction of the tasks you are taking on if you elect to self-publish.

Of course, all of these duties can be outsourced but may cost from a few hundred dollars per book to thousands, depending on the exact services you require. However, as long as you are confident in your ability to promote and sell your book, this investment is likely to be more than offset.

But maybe the time or monetary cost may be more than you are willing to invest, so you will have to decide whether or not it is worth the trouble.

The bottom line is that the 40-60% royalty range greatly increases your profit if you are prepared to do all the additional work.

So do these figures convince you to go for self-publishing or the traditional publishing route? I think going the self-publishing route is well worth the extra tasks as long as you are comfortable with all the non-writing work involved.

It does take away from your writing time but being fully in control has a lot in its favor to make it worth it.

Traditional publishing is still a big business and if you just want to write and not have to worry so much about all of the above, then the traditional route may be for you.

So, what do you think? Let us know in the comments which way you decide works for you.

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