As with any career choice, one of the first questions a person asks before diving headfirst into a career is: How much money can be made? It does not matter how passionate you are about the career. Whether or not you can make enough money from the career you wish to enter is crucial as it determines if you can survive or even thrive.
There is simply not a clear cut answer when it comes to writing. Many factors come into play when calculating potential income as an author. First, you need to decide if you want to join the ranks of traditionally published authors or be a self-published author. Self-published authors have started to profit with their careers, giving the traditional publishing industry a run for its money. Let us take a closer look at the question, How much do authors make per book?
Self-Publishing and Self-Published Authors
To understand how self-publishing went from almost taboo to trendy and profitable, you have to understand what happened in the world of traditional publishing and the publishing industry.
How Traditionally Published Authors Make Money
Traditional publishing used to be the only way to make any real money as an author. Traditional publishing would offer advance payments on a book they were interested in, and your income as an author would largely depend on book sales. How well your book sold, whether you had multiple books to market, and how quickly you could pay your advance back in royalties determined most of your income if you were traditionally published. Then things got ugly for new authors.
A Narrow Market
Around the 21st century, the traditional publishing industry turned on new authors. They started to shut them out, giving all their attention to best-selling authors like Stephen King, John Grisham, James Patterson, and the like.
If you were a traditionally published author such as Stephen King and could stir out as many books that topped the bestseller list as he could, then you made more money for the publisher. This meant that the publisher invested heavily in these heavy hitters’ work and refused to take a chance on almost everyone else. Book sales of these authors went through the roof reliably, and no attention or time could be given to new or small-time authors trying to get their foot in the door.
The Rise of Self Publishing and the Self Published Author
Since traditional publishing was a shut-out, giving deals only to heavy-hitting and best-selling traditionally published authors, self-publishing picked up more steam. Writers who desperately wanted to share their work with the world and earn a little money at the same time started to turn to self-publishing. Self-published authors began making a name for themselves, and once it became clear that a self-published author could make decent money and also end up a household name, the rise of self-published authors started.
Fifty Shades of Profitability
E.L. James was one of the first self-published authors to make a huge profit with her self-published books originally intended to be fan fiction for the Twilight series. Her self-published book Fifty Shades of Grey made more money than she could have ever imagined: over ten million dollars. She also sold rights to the movies, and she wrote two more novels that turned her books into a series. She and a handful of other indie authors started to change authors’ minds. It was evident now that a self-published author could profit and end up just as successful as a traditionally published writer.
How Much Do Authors Make per Book?
If you want to be a full-time author, you have to treat writing like a full-time job. Your writing life is your professional life, in other words. If you are dedicated to making a career out of writing books, you certainly can, but you probably still wonder what the pay-off is for all of that hard work. After all, it usually takes at least a year to write and publish a book.
A Lot of Factors Are Involved
There are many factors involved in making money from a book sale. Depending upon the initial royalty rate the publisher selling your book gives you, the number of books sold will determine your income. You also have to decide on your book price, genre, a known author, and many other factors.
Publishing Companies vs Self Publishing Income
Traditional publishing houses are the only way to get an advance on a book. However, you have to pay that back. You will not see any profit until the book has made enough money to recoup that advance. Then you start to collect revenue on book sales after that point.
Royalty rates are also wildly different. They are much higher if you are a traditionally published author. Therefore, you stand to make a much higher amount due to lesser royalties with a self-published book. There is no exact answer to how much you will make, but you can start making money immediately upon publishing with self-publishing. It takes time (sometimes years) to make the same amount or any profit as traditional publishers.
How Much Do Authors Make For a Best Seller?
We have covered the bases as far as the two different routes you can take with publishing, but what about writing a bestseller? How much can you expect to make if you make a bestseller list? First, to get on one of these lists and be considered a best-selling author, you need to know what the term means.
What Does It Mean to Be On a Bestseller List?
To make money or end up one of the highest-paid authors in the industry, you usually need to have a novel or book that has made it onto a bestseller list. This includes lists through the Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly, New York Times, or USA Today. This is done by having copies sold of your book, great book concepts that have caught the attention of and good reviews by professional book reviewers and other bestselling authors, and your marketing strategy. Most bestsellers are books that have at least 40,000 copies sold per year.
Traditional authors work with a marketing team, a publisher, an editor, and an agent to keep track of where the book sales are, the standing of the book, and the entire process of making it on a list and gaining more attention and prestige. It is a goal that every author would like to reach. There are often perks included in a publishing contract with a traditional publisher that guarantee you more money, a further book deal for the future, and more attention from the publisher if you make these lists.
If you sell 40,000 print books or ebooks in a year, you are selling books at a fast enough rate to get noticed by one or more of the publications that make these lists many writers strive to be on. If your book sells this many copies, you sell approximately 5,000 books a week for a year. This means that any advance you have been paid was recouped very quickly. With a 15% median royalty rate, you are looking at an annual profit of between $50,000 and $200,000 with a traditional publisher. Still, the profit does not end there.
Book Signings and Speeches
When you have a bestseller, you get more invitations to give speeches, give book readings, and participate in book signings that can make you a decent amount of money, especially since the people who go to these events buy the print books while there.
If you have seen A Time to Kill, Pet Sematary, The Shining, Harry Potter, A Painted House, Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey, The Hunger Games, etc., you know that you can make money by selling the film rights to your book. There are about 90 short films, television miniseries, and feature-length films based on King books alone. J.K. Rowling wrote seven books about a wizard boy, and there was a movie made for each one of them. Authors stand to make much money from selling the film rights to their books. One bestseller can bring additional royalties when turned into a film.
What Genres Bring the Most Profit?
Of course, trends change. Not too many years ago, vampire novels were all the rage, and vampire stories were everywhere. The wild popularity of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series had us all rooting for Team Edward or Team Jacob and engrossed in the love triangle of human, vampire, and werewolf. There will always be literary trends that come and go, but the most popular genres hold a steady, significant net profit. The following are the most profitable genres.
If there is one thing to be said for romance novel readers, they are voracious. The same person will easily read a dozen books a month of this genre and get antsy waiting for the next one to hit the bookstores. Printing costs for these books are not usually very high, and ebooks of this genre sell well, too. Fans of this genre are constantly demanding more books. If you are a good writer and can write quickly, writing romance novels may affect sales enough to allow you to write full time.
2. Thriller and Mystery
Many publishers seek out and give precedence to good authors who can write mysteries and suspense well. Heavy hitters such as Agatha Christie, James Patterson, John Grisham, Arthur Conan Doyle, and King have built this genre to include horror, romance, drama, and humor, making it a well-loved staple of readers of all ages.
3. Fantasy and Science Fiction
This includes Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Game of Thrones. While fantasy and science fiction have always been popular genres, it has certainly picked up steam and shows no signs of slowing down in recent decades. Science fiction authors make a significant profit from their books, graphic novels, and film rights. These additional royalties add up to a substantial salary.
4. Children’s Books
Adult readers and writers alike often overlook authors of children’s books, but they sell more books than some other genres combined. A starred review on a children’s book can catapult it into fame, and parents, teachers, counselors, and youth organizations will buy it up at its press release. Many children’s book series also become television shows, adding to the amount these authors make. Think Marc Brown, A.A. Milne, and Dr. Seuss.
How Much Do Children’s Book Authors Make?
Children’s book authors stand to make quite a bit of money off their books alone before you ever touch things like film rights, school appearances, or other paid appearances. The median annual earnings for a children’s book author in the United States is anywhere between $30k and $70k.
Some Things to Keep In Mind
While it is important to know what you can make from just one book, other things can affect how much profit you will see with your novel or story. You can also do something as an author, outside writing, that can help your book climb the ladder of sales and make you a bigger paycheck.
1. Sales Accumulate
When you decide that writing is the profession for you, keep in mind that you do not write a book, publish it, and then a year later, move on to the next book. Each book that you write, from the very first to the very last, makes money for the length of its existence on the market. Think of it this way: King writes a bestseller just about every year, but he is still making money off his first published novel, Carrie. J.K. Rowling is still making money every time a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is sold.
If you can write several books at a reasonably quick pace, you can start to see the money pile up as the profits accumulate not just from your latest book but all of your books.
2. Market Like It Is Your Job
Before you begin writing for a book or story, you should start the marketing process. Tell everyone you know that you are writing a book. Tell them the genre, tell them how great it will be, and ask them for your support.
Start an author website, create a blog post about your writing, and market your books like crazy. Make social media pages and manage them to regularly promote your writing, past work, current work for sale, and upcoming work. Attend social events and plug your book. Consider sending copies of your book to newspapers, friends, other writers, internet and social media influencers, literally anyone who might read it, and plug it for you. Talk about it on Twitter. Promote it on Facebook. Show off your book cover on Instagram. Talk about and promote your book so much that you get sick of your book, and then promote it some more.
3. Research Publishing Options
Not all publishers are created equally. Even among the Big Five publishers, there are significant differences in standard book contracts, the publisher’s expectations, the royalty rates, and other technical details. While it is not the most fun thing you will do in the writing process, you need to do your homework and see which publisher is interested in your work and is the right fit for you.
The same can be said of literary agents. Finding the one who works best with and for you is paramount to your success. Be sure to ask for specifics and make the best decisions to publish your book traditionally.
The same is true of self-publishing. There are many self-publishing services you can choose from, and they each have their differences. Whether you write urban fantasy or contemporary romance, look into the top-selling books and genres through each self-publishing service, and see if you fit in there. You do not want to be on your third book with a publisher and realize that they are not the right fit for you.
4. It Can Take Years to “Make It”
It is very easy to see The Shining or The Pelican Brief or And Then There Were None on a shelf and think to yourself that you could make money in the same ballpark as these outliers can have and do. That is simply not realistic, especially for a new author.
You sometimes have to work at it for years before you make any real money in the industry, and even then, you may find yourself in a position where you have to have at least another part-time income. Many authors who have mildly successful books out still have spouses or partners who work full time to help support them or provide them with things like health insurance.
5. Sometimes It Costs Money to Make Money
Many authors have to spend some of their own money to help promote and successfully launch a book. Sometimes, you end up spending more than you make, at least initially. However, if you believe in your book and have the income to do so, spending money on marketing and advertising can help you turn a more significant profit.
Many writers do not realize that most books start costing the author money initially, and when they write their novel, they are hit with this information out of nowhere. Be prepared to use your own money to get your book noticed and off the ground, especially self-publishing, as you will not have a marketing team behind you or a literary agent to set up events and promotions and interviews and appearances for you.