As with any other profession, the answer is: it depends.
Many people think that the authors are stinking rich. And while it is true that authors like Stephen King, JK Rowling, George R R Martin are rolling in cash, most authors are not wealthy at all. They have to work other jobs to support their dreams of writing.
The Authors Guild conducted a survey and found out that the median income of an author in 2017 in the US was $6080. Out of this $6080, only $3100 was earned as income from book sales.
The other income came from other supplemental author activities such as participating in book panels, teaching, book reviewing, and more.
How Does the Payment Model Work?
Traditionally published authors often find a literary agent who helps them secure a publishing deal with a publishing house. The publishing house offers them a contract with an advance, and the authors who manage to earn out their advances are then given royalties. A percentage of the author’s income goes to the literary agent for their services.
An advance is often paid in three installments: the first installment when the author signs the contract, the second installment when the author submits the manuscript, which is then accepted by the publisher, and the third installment when the book is finally published.
An author has to sell enough copies and earn royalties that surpass their advance amount. It may take weeks, months, or years for that to happen. It may never happen at all. If the author fails to earn out their advance, they don’t have to pay any money back to the publisher, but it is also very unlikely that their contract will be renewed.
If the author earns out their advance, they get paid more money according to how many copies are sold in the form of royalties. Many successful authors continue to earn money for years because of these royalties. Some authors earn money till the day they die without ever writing an extra word. Sadly, such authors are few.
How Much Are the Royalties?
A traditionally published author can earn 5–20% royalties on print books, usually 25% on ebooks (though can be less), and 10–25% on audiobooks.
The percentage will vary according to the publishing house and will be clearly mentioned in the contract. A good literary agent can negotiate a higher percentage for you and get you published with a bigger publishing house. This is why hiring a good literary agent is important.
If you self-publish your book on Amazon, you earn 70% on ebooks priced 2.99 to 9.99, 35% on ebooks priced outside of that, 60% less printing costs on paperbacks sold on their platform. You have to pay for your editing, marketing, and other expenses even before you ever get paid.
It is entirely possible for a self-published author to lose money rather than make a profit. Self-published authors who are good at marketing can make millions with their hard work.
A traditional publishing house is supposed to pay for all your editing and marketing. But lately, it has been witnessed that many publishing houses expect their authors to pay for their own marketing. Once again, this is something an author should discuss with their literary agent. The terms should be clear and understood by all parties.
Some of the Richest Authors of All Time
JK Rowling, Net worth: $1 billion
James Patterson, Net worth: $800 million
Paolo Coelho, Net worth: $500 million
Stephen King, Net worth: $500 million
Danielle Steel, Net worth: $400 million
John Grisham, Net worth: $400 million
Nora Roberts, Net worth: $390 million
While some authors make millions, some authors make barely enough to afford a cup of coffee. It’s difficult to quantify your hard work when it comes to writing. Some authors finish a book in barely a few weeks while some authors take years.
For an author, the work doesn’t end with writing a book. They are supposed to talk about it, promote it at book festivals and give interviews to book reviewers. Of course, they are not paid for any of these activities.
So, how much money can you make as an author? It will depend on a lot of factors. What genre are you writing? Are you going to traditionally publish it or self-publish it? Are you going to promote it yourself or are you going to hire a marketing agency? Who is your target audience?
We often hear authors getting crazy book deals and then movie deals based on their books. While we can dream about getting such offers ourselves, we have to understand that the journey there is long and difficult.
But definitely not impossible. As long as you have a good story to tell, you will find your readers. As long as you are passionately working towards something, you will find a way to earn money somehow.
Book Recommendation: How To Make A Living With Your Writing by Joanna Penn
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