How much do authors make? This article is part of our free 15-Part Guide About How to Get a Literary Agent. It includes information about how much money authors make, and it includes everything authors need to know about finding and getting a book agent.
How Much Do Authors Make? – FAQ
- How Much Money Do Book Authors Make?
- How Much Do Book Authors Make per Book?
- How Much Do Book Authors Make for A Bestseller?
- How Much Do Average Book Authors Make?
- How Much Do Traditionally Published Book Authors Make?
- How Much Do New Book Authors Make?
- How Much Do Book Authors Make in Royalties?
- How Much Do Book Authors Make From Audiobooks?
- How Much Do Book Authors Make From Movies?
- How Much Do Fiction Book Authors Make?
- How Much Do Nonfiction Book Authors Make?
- How Much Do Kids’ Book Authors Make?
- How Much Do Christian Book Authors Make?
- How Much Do Self-Published Book Authors Make?
- How Much Do Amazon Book Authors Make?
How Much Money Do Authors Make?
How much money do book authors make? This article talks about the average annual author income, advance payments, and royalty payments. It also talks about how much writers make per book, for a bestseller, for audiobooks and movies, and more.
How much do authors make? Writers published by traditional or major publishers usually make much more money than writers who self-publish or pay a vanity press. Most authors published by major publishers get 85% of the amount their publisher pays. The other 15% is paid to the author’s literary agency. If you self-publish, you get 100%, but 85% working with a publisher is almost always more than 100% self-publishing.
Traditionally published writers also receive an “advance,” based on how many copies the publisher believes the book will sell during its first year in print. They calculate the advance by factoring in the price they plan to sell the book for, and the royalty rate or percentage of the book price the author will receive.
Most book authors also receive “royalties” or a percentage of all book-related income, once the advance has been recouped. In other words, if you get a $100,000 advance, the retail price of your book is $30, and your book contract says you get 10% of the retail price for hardcover book sales as well as 25% of eBook sales, your book would have to sell 33,334 copies in hardcover or 13,334 copies as an eBook for you to start making more money.
Most authors don’t get advances that are six figures or higher, but sometimes they do.
How Much Do Authors Make per Book?
How much do book authors make per book when traditionally published? Usually 5–20% royalties for print books, and 25-35% for eBooks. Self-published authors make more per book, usually 40-70%, but a higher percentage of less books sold means less money made.
How much do authors make per book? Traditionally published authors also tend to make more per book because they usually have book contracts that calculate the amount they receive on the gross or retail price. However, many smaller publishing houses have book contracts that calculate the amount authors receive on the net price.
The gross price of a book is the retail price that an online or brick-and-mortar bookseller charges the person buying the book. The net price of a book is the retail price minus the discount given to the store that sold the book.
Authors with net book publishing contracts are often surprised to realize they’re making approximately half of what they were expecting–half what other authors with traditional book publishing contracts typically receive.
How Much Do Authors Make for A Bestseller?
How much do authors make for a bestseller? A high-ranking New York Times bestselling book author can expect to make as much as $100,000 to many millions for the royalty accounting periods during the time their book is on the bestseller list.
There are three reasons the amount bestselling authors make can vary:
- The type of bestseller: Book authors who write in popular book genres such as fiction, self-help, or business are more likely to make a bestseller list than authors writing books for small audiences.
- The quality of the bestseller list: Books that appear on the most popular and prestigious bestseller lists such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and USA Today are going to sell more books.
- How long the book is on the bestseller list: Authors whose books appear briefly on a bestseller list will only sell a fraction of the books that stay on the list for many weeks, months, or years.
How Much Do Average Authors Make?
How much do average authors make? How much an author makes per year depends which source of author income data you trust. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the average author salary for those who say they’re writers or authors on their taxes is just over $62,000.
How much do authors make, on average? When considering the above average author salary, remember that some of those writers or authors write part time and/or they have other jobs and/or sources of income. That said, the amount authors make cited above is likely more accurate than the amount authors make listed below, reported by The Authors Guild.
The Authors Guild recent survey of authors shows an average author salary of just $6,080 for all writers, whereas full-time writers reported an average or median author salary of $20,300. There is a caveat to consider here as well. Many book authors who completed The Authors Guild survey aren’t making any money, which dramatically lowers their answer to the question, “How much do average authors make?”
The average author salary calculated by The Bureau of Labor Statistics, based on author and writer tax returns, is likely more reliable.
How Much Do Traditionally Published Authors Make?
How much do traditionally published authors make? Traditionally published authors almost always make more than self-published authors. They usually get “advance payments” ranging from tens of thousands of dollars to six figures and beyond, and semi-annual book royalty payments.
How much do authors make who’ve written books published by traditional publishers? One of the main reasons book authors seek publication with major publishers is that they almost always make more money. Some traditionally published book authors get book advances less than $10,000, but it’s more common to get higher advances.
Books less likely to sell a lot of copies or become bestsellers are those written for a small, niche audience. For example, a book written for owners of English Foxhounds, one of the least popular types of dog.
Highly controversial books can also result in the author getting a lower advance. Controversial books are riskier investments for book publishers, so they’ll pay less in advance to be safe. However, some books sell well and become bestsellers because they’re controversial.
How Much Do New Authors Make?
New authors can make just as much as established book authors–sometimes more. Traditional book publishers occasionally bid against each other and subsequently pay higher advances to new authors because they’re not how sure how the new author’s book will sell.
How much do authors make when they are new writers? Do they make less money than established authors?
Literary agents know traditional publishers sometimes overpay for books. Literary agents also know some books don’t sell as well as everyone would like: book author, book agent, and book publisher. As a result, publishing agents usually try to get the largest book advance possible for new or first-time authors.
If an author representative negotiates a large advance, and a book doesn’t sell well, the book author and book agent will still have made a lot of money. If a book author and book agent share a large advance for a manuscript, and it doesn’t sell well, the author won’t need to return the book advance, in part or in full–nor will the literary agency need to return its literary agent commission.
It can, ironically, sometimes be harder for a traditionally published book author to get a very large advance because the author already has a track record. In other words, it’s easier for the book publisher to determine the number of copies a new book by an established author will likely sell during its first year in print, and therefore calculate the appropriate advance.
How Much Do Authors Make in Royalties?
How much do authors make in royalties? Most traditionally published book authors receive: 10-15% for hardcover copies sold; 7-10% for trade paperback copies sold; 5-10% for mass market paperback copies sold; and 25-35% for eBook copies sold.
The amount authors make in royalties also varies because traditional publisher book contracts often include “escalators.” A common example is a book author contract that says the author will get 10% for the first 5,000 hardcover copies sold, 12-1/2% for the next 5,000 hardcover copies sold, and 15% for all hardcover copies sold thereafter.
How much authors make in royalties is also affected by the size of the author’s book “advance,” or the payment made prior to the book being published. As mentioned earlier in this article, the size of a book author’s advance is based on how many copies of the book the publisher believes the book will sell during its first year in print, factoring in the price they plan to sell the book for, and based on the “royalty” or percentage of the book price the author will receive.
How Much Do Authors Make From Audiobooks?
How much do authors make from audiobooks? Most traditionally published book authors receive: 10-25% for audiobooks. The reason for the range is there are typically different payment percentages for physical audio recordings vs digital downloads and streaming.
How much do authors make for audiobooks? Traditional book publishers typically pay a 10-12% royalty to authors for all physical audio recordings of the text of a manuscript: 10% for the first 10,000 audio recordings sold, and 12% for all audio recordings sold thereafter.
When it comes to electronically delivered audio recordings of a manuscript, however, traditional book publishers typically pay a 25% royalty for all copies sold. This is true whether the audio recordings are sold as digital downloads or licensed through streaming platforms such as Audible.
Unlike authors who publish their books with traditional publishers, authors who self-publish receive different audiobook percentages. Self-published book authors enjoy higher percentages, but traditionally published authors almost always make more money from audio books because they almost always sell more copies.
How Much Do Authors Make From Movies?
How much do authors make from movies? It depends on the amount of the movie option, the one-time fee paid to the author when the option is “exercised,” and the amount–if any–the author receives on the backend from movie profits.
How much do authors make when their books are turned into movies? An option agreement gives a production company the right to produce an author’s book as a movie. When a book author gets paid for a movie option, the author gets to keep the money whether or not the book is eventually turned into a movie.
Most of the time, book authors receive a modest payment for a movie option: hundreds or thousands of dollars. Though, similar to book advances, movie option payments can be high–or very high–if multiple parties are interested.
Book authors usually make much more money when a movie is made, typically 2-3% of the production budget, which can be more than one hundred million–or hundreds of millions–of dollars.
Writers can also make money from movies on the backend, getting compensation after the movie “breaks even” or begins to turn a profit. However, some movies are not profitable, so it’s best for book authors to not only agree to backend compensation.
They should also get paid up front.
How Much Do Fiction Authors Make?
How much do fiction authors make–or make per book? It depends on the type of novels they write. The five most profitable book genres each year are: 1. Romance/Erotica ($1.44 billion), 2. Crime/Mystery ($728.2 million), 3. Religious/Inspirational ($720 million), 4. Science Fiction/Fantasy ($590.2 million), and 5. Horror ($79.6 million).
The most popular fiction categories:
- Science Fiction
- Historical Fiction
The amount of money fiction authors make also depends whether they’re traditionally published or self-published, and how often they write and publish new books. As mentioned elsewhere in this article, traditionally published authors of all genres, including fiction, usually enjoy greater author income. Fiction authors get book advances that are tens of thousands of dollars, sometimes six figures, and sometimes more.
How much do fiction authors make per year?
Most self-published fiction authors make less than $1,000 per year, whereas traditionally published fiction authors usually make at least ten times that with their book advances alone. Then they receive semi-annual royalty payments once their advance payments have “earned out.”
Fiction authors make even more money when subsidiary rights for their novels are sold: audio rights; movie, TV, or stage rights; international rights; translation rights; etc.
How Much Do Nonfiction Authors Make?
How much do nonfiction authors make, or make per book? It depends on the author’s nonfiction genre, book topics, subsidiary rights sales, speaking fees, etc. Some of the most popular nonfiction book genres are: Memoir, Biography, Self-Help, Business/Money/Finance, Health/Fitness, and Parenting/Family.
Popular nonfiction book categories:
- Self-Help/Personal Development
- Politics/Social Sciences
- True Crime
Some nonfiction authors make more money because their books are traditionally published vs self-published. As mentioned previously in this article, authors of all genres published by major publishers, including nonfiction authors, usually enjoy greater author income. Nonfiction authors get book advances that are tens of thousands of dollars, sometimes six figures, and sometimes more.
How much do nonfiction authors make each year?
Traditionally published nonfiction authors typically make at least ten times that of their self-published counterparts, from their book advances alone. They also earn royalty payments, usually semi-annually, once their advance payments have “earned out.” Alternatively, most nonfiction authors who self-publish earn less than $1,000 per year.
Like fiction authors, nonfiction authors earn even more money when subsidiary rights for their nonfiction books are sold: audio rights; international rights; translation rights; and, at times, movie, TV, or stage rights.
How Much Do children’s Book Authors Make?
How much do children’s book authors make, or make per book? It depends if they’re writing board books, picture books, early readers, chapter books, middle grade, or young adult books. Traditionally published kids’ book authors can earn $7,500 to $35,000 or more for an advance. Self-published book authors typically make far less.
How much do authors make who write children’s books? It’s impossible to predict how much an author will receive for an advance for any particular book, but here are some parameters to give you an idea:
- Picture Book: $5,000 – $20,000 (split with the illustrator)
- Early Reader: $5,000 – $10,000
- Chapter Books: $5,000 – $15,000
- Middle Grade: $7,500 – $25,000
- Young Adult/YA: $15,000 – $35,000
Children’s book authors also make different amounts of money depending how frequently they produce and publish new books. Some writers make significantly more than what you see above, especially if more than one publisher is bidding on their book.
How much do children’s book authors make per year?
Children’s book authors who are further along in their publishing careers, who have published multiple books, make the most money. That’s because they get a book advance each time they get a book deal for a new children’s book, and because they also get semi-annual royalty payments after their advance payments have “earned out.”
Children’s book authors–like authors of other types of books–also make money when their literary agent or book publisher sells audio rights; animation, movie, TV, or stage rights; international rights; translation rights; or any other subsidiary rights.
How Much Do Christian Authors Make?
How much do Christian authors make, or make per book? It depends on the size of their book advance; the number of copies that sell, which determines the author’s semi-annual royalty payments; and any additional income from subsidiary rights.
How much do authors make who write Christian books? Christian book authors are sometimes tempted to write for a mainstream audience because they believe they can reach more readers, sell more books, and make more money that way. However, if your calling or mission is to write Christian books for Christian readers, and you’re a successful Christian author, you might have more success that way.
You’ll find bestselling Christian authors writing all types of books: Christian novels, devotionals, Christian children’s books, Christian self-help and spirituality titles, and more. Authors writing Christian books can also, in many cases, have an easier time promoting their books because the Christian community is organized in a way that makes it easier to find them vs some other communities or niches.
As with mainstream authors, Christian authors usually make more money when their books are traditionally published vs self-published. That’s because Christian book authors who are traditionally published enjoy the same benefits as authors of mainstream books. They earn book advances that are many thousands of dollars, more than a hundred-thousand dollars, or more.
Like mainstream authors, traditionally published Christian authors also have the benefit of receiving semi-annual book royalties once their advance payments have “earned out.” And, like mainstream authors, Christian writers get paid more when subsidiary rights for their books are sold or licensed: movie, TV, or stage rights; audio rights; international rights; translation rights; etc.
How Much Do Self-Published Authors Make?
How much do self-published authors make–or make per year? Self-published authors typically make 40-60% royalties on the retail price of their books. Some self-published authors make more than $10,000 per month. The average self-published author makes less than $1,000 per year and sells less than 250 books.
How much do authors make who self-publish books? Examples of authors who have self-published and become bestsellers and household names include: EL James (50 Shades of Grey), Andy Weir (The Martian), Christopher Paolini (Eragon), Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale), Wayne Dyer (Your Erroneous Zones), and Robert Kiyosaki (Rich Dad, Poor Dad).
Authors published by traditional book publishers, however, have a much higher average author income. They reach more readers with their books. And they are much more likely to have their books adapted for television and feature film, as well as have their books sold in other countries–in English and other languages.
That’s probably why all the authors listed above, despite their self-publishing success, eventually signed book deals with traditional book publishers!
How Much Do Amazon Authors Make?
How much do Amazon authors make? The money or income Amazon authors make selling their books ranges from 35-70%. It depends on the format of your book (eBook vs print), how many copies you sell, and how you set your book up for publication.
How much do authors make when they publish on Amazon? If Amazon authors want to make more money with a bigger royalty rate, they need to meet the KDP minimum price requirement of $2.99. If Amazon authors price their books lower than that, they only receive a 35% royalty rate.
To get the bigger royalty rate, writers must also ensure their book’s list price is at least 20% lower than the print version price. And the eBook cannot have limited availability–it must be available everywhere in the world that the author or publisher has rights.
Amazon print book royalty rates are different. KDP offers a 60% royalty rate through Amazon distribution channels. That royalty rate drops to 40% when the author enables expanded distribution.
This article about how much authors make was written by former publishing agent turned author coach Mark Malatesta, creator of The Directory of Literary Agents, host of Ask a Book Agent, and founder of Literary Agent Undercover and The Bestselling Author.
Mark has helped hundreds of writers get offers from book agents and/or traditional publishers. Authors of all Book Genres have used our Literary Agent Advice coaching/consulting to get the Best Literary Agents at the Top Literary Agencies on our List of Literary Agents.
How Much Do Authors Make? – Next Steps
Now that you know how much authors make, click here to:
- See the next part of this guide to getting a book agent that shares an insider look at How to Become a Literary Agent.
- Visit our Ask a Book Agent page, where you’ll find a complete list of questions and answers about getting a publishing agent.