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 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 $
Traditional:
Paperback:850008.990.723,600
Hardback:10300024.992.4997,497
Self-Published:
Paperback:4050008.993.6018,000
Paperback:6050008.995.4027,000

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.

What Affects Your Earnings Potential?

There are a number of factors which affect the amount of money you earn from your book, such as your chosen genre, quality of your writing, your publishing output, your promotion efforts and sales history for example.

The figures discussed are general numbers that can be greatly affected, positively or negatively, by any of these factors. The good news is that you have control over many of these factors and can therefore improve your income potential.

Let’s look at some of the major ones in more detail:

Genre Selected

This is one of the biggest factors to impact your earning potential.

If your selected genre is extremely popular at the moment, then your book is likely to sell more copies and earn you more money. If your genre is not extremely popular or there is a flood of new books published each month then your sales are likely to be lower.

It can be a tough choice. Writing in a high-volume area, such as romance, dramatically increases your potential but also attracts lots of writers so competition to gain visibility is high. Once you do get your name out there, your income can skyrocket.

Quality of Your Writing

If your writing is only average, then don’t expect to earn much money. You must produce a terrific book that people will want to read and be willing to pay for that. If you expect to make money with mediocre writing, then you need to be prepared to put in a lot of work to get your book noticed and sold. It can be done but marketing becomes much more important and far more work.

High quality writing is far more powerful, so spend time honing your craft.

Remember that the quality of your writing will affect how long readers stay with you before they move on to something else. Your aim is to retain them as repeat readers and therefore repeat buyers.

If you can maintain your readers longer then you are likely to earn more in lifetime earnings, first through their purchases but more importantly via word of mouth they are more likely to give about your book to others.

They are also likely to give great reviews that will encourage other readers to buy the book as well.

Publishing Output

If you publish a lot of books in one year, then your income will be higher as you will earn more from each individual sale. Quite simple and obvious.

Your aim is to keep up the quality of your work while writing more books per year. Once you have a fan base, they will be hungry for more so being able to write and publish several books per year will keep you high on their reading list.

You will find this can be difficult as a new writer but once you have written a few books, you will get into a workflow that works for you and quite likely be able to increase how many books you successfully bring to market each year.

Publishing History

Your publishing history will also affect your earning potential as publishers know if you have a successful track record and are highly likely to offer you a better deal for your next book than a new writer who hasn’t had much success in the past. If you are a new writer, you should focus on getting as many sales as possible of your first book.

If your first book sales are low, it’s going to be difficult to get good sales of your next book which can put some writers off marketing effort for future books.

Do not let this put you off!

Set your expectations that the early books will require a lot of work for relatively few sales, but it will build on itself and pay off in the future.

You need to build on each book published and increase sales via good marketing and promotion. Your older books will benefit as readers who find you later are likely to go back and buy your previous works if they enjoy the current book.

Self-Publishing Can Make More Money

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 to go the self-published route instead of traditional.

We would argue that the bottom line of making a 40-60% royalty range is worth the additional tasks, It greatly increases your profit if you are prepared to do all the additional work.

FAQs

How do advances work and how much can an author expect to receive?

An advance is a payment before publication to the author by a publishing company in exchange for the right to publish a book.

As a new author without a history of sales, it is unlikely you will be able to receive an advance of more than $5,000-$10,000 unless you are a well known name in the industry or have a special talent such as a famous movie star writing a cookbook.

The advance is based on the estimated sales a publisher thinks will be for a book.

How Are Royalties Calculated and How Often Are They Paid?

Royalties are paid based on a percentage per copy of your book sold. You will have additional royalties paid only if you sell enough books to cover your advance if you receive one.

So an advance of $5000 on a book that gives a royalty of $0.50 per copy would require you to sell 10,000 copies to cover the advance and then you would start to receive your $0.50 per sale going forward.

Payment schedules can vary but it is typical that authors are paid their royalties every 6 months.

How Do Audiobook Royalties and Sales Figures Impact an Author’s Income?

Audiobooks began generating significant revenue for authors in the mid-2000s as online booksellers such as Amazon developed infrastructure to deliver digital audiobooks to listeners through downloadable files.

With the advent of smart phones and mobile apps, audiobook use has become even easier, driving sales even higher.

The audiobook market has grown steadily with total audiobook sales reaching almost $1 billion in 2018 and rising to $1.6 billion in 2022.

With sales of audiobooks projected to continue increasing, additional revenue streams like this may soon become a far more significant source of income for many authors than in the past.

Data Source statista.com:
Audiobook sales revenue in the United States from 2018 to 2021

Is Self-Publishing a Viable Option for All Authors, or Is It Better Suited for Certain Genres or Types of Books?

Self-publishing is a viable option for all authors who can successfully market their books and are willing to do the work required. However, some types of books are easier to self-publish than others.

– Self-publishing can be a viable option for authors, but it may not be the best choice for everyone. Here are some factors to consider when deciding whether self-publishing is a good fit:

– Quality of the book: A self-published book may not receive the same level of editorial and production support as a traditionally published book, which may impact its sales and the author’s reputation.

– Marketing and promotion: A self-published author is responsible for marketing and promotion of their book, which can be a significant undertaking. Authors without the time or resources to effectively promote their book may fail to reach their intended audience.

– Time and effort: Traditional publishing may be an alternative for authors who cannot handle these tasks. In addition to formatting the book for various platforms, creating a cover, and uploading it to different retailers, self-publishing takes considerable time and effort.

– Genre and audience: Some genres, such as romance and science fiction, may be more suited to self-publishing due to the strong support and communities within those markets. However, other genres, such as literary fiction, may be better suited to traditional publishing due to the need for more editorial support and the potential for broader distribution.

Before making a decision about self-publishing, authors should carefully weigh the pros and cons but overall have realistic expectations about the process.

How Can an Author Increase Their Earning Potential and Make a Living as a Writer?

Authors who want to increase their earning potential should seriously consider writing a series of related books rather than writing a single standalone novel.

Writing a series gives the author the opportunity to build a readership over time, which increases the potential for long-term sales and a larger income. In addition, when readers fall in love with a series, they often buy other books by the same author as they enjoy the characters and setting.

The more books that an author sells, the larger the potential income for the author. In fact, many successful authors have several series on the go at once so they can generate a steady income.

Before deciding to write a series of books, however, authors should consider the following:

– Can they maintain the characters and setting over several books?
– Will readers find the first book enticing enough to buy the entire series?
– Can the author effectively create a story arc that will keep readers coming back for more?

Successful writers can build their income through a successful series.

How Do Literary Agents Fit into the Equation?

A literary agent acts as an intermediary between an author and potential publishers. An agent will submit manuscripts to publishers on behalf of their authors and negotiate contracts to ensure a fair deal for everyone involved.

Literary agents commonly earn a percentage of an author’s earnings on a book sold through the agency, but some have flat fees that cover all their services depending on the agent responsibilities.

Some agents only work with established authors and may not accept submissions from new writers unless they already have a track record of sales.

Finding a good agent to represent you is an important part of the publishing process, particularly if you are going the traditional route as they can increase your chances of a successful outcome.


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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