Authors and Writers Blog

How Much Do Authors Make?

Can I make $100,000 or more a year as an author? Surely, I’m not the only writer with a manuscript wondering of the six-figure author life could be mine. The truth is many writers will not earn anything in a year. This is especially true if they aren’t producing any new material. The most successful writers are essentially full-time and have a catalog of more than 30 books.

A 2018 study of over 9,000 authors revealed that in 2017 the average author earned $6,080 per year. This included the spectrum between traditionally published and self-published authors.

Full time authors fared a bit better, but still only earned an average of $20,300 (it was $25,000 in 2009). To put this in perspective, the federal poverty level for a family of four in 2022 is $27,750.

What authors earned solely from sales of books in 2017 was $3,100. Amazingly just in four years that number dropped 21% from where it stood at $3,900 in 2013.

BUT, there are authors doing well.

Twitter provided some anecdotal evidence that there as recently as 2020 there are authors out there killing it! Yep, in the nonfiction market that didn’t include memoirs there were 41 women identifying authors who reported their earnings. There were four published through university presses with little to no advances. Those published with more traditional publishing houses, the remaining 37, had advances between $1,700 and $825,000.

Most were debut authors, but no one at the $135,000 mark or higher was a debut author, which I think is worth noting.

One Hot Market

If you’re a romance writer or romance suspense writer, you’ll likely fare better than other self-published authors by a factor of almost five. These saucy writers average over $10,000 per year compared to the next highest genres (mysteries and thrillers) coming in at under $2,000.

Authors who earn enough to cover their living expenses by writing amounts to a whopping 21% of us. Writing means their income is book-related and not from teaching and such.

Traditionally Published Versus Self-Published Author Earnings

To visualize the difference between traditional publishing and self-publishing I’ve shown two comparable authors, one with a traditional publisher and one who is publishing independently. For ease, we’ll look at sales and royalties for eBooks priced at $9.99. This is the highest you can charge on Amazon and still get 70% royalties. Now the traditional publisher and the indie author are both publishing on Amazon and earning that 70%. The author published traditionally has a royalty rate of 20% (which is pretty common for an eBook).

eBook Price$9.99$9.99
Number Books Sold10,00010,000
Author Royalty Rate20%70%
Author Royalties$2,000$7,000
Advance or Costs to Publish$5,000$2,000
Result-$3,000 against advance$5,000 profit
Traditionally published versus Self-Published author comparison chart

Before a traditionally published author with an advance can earn additional royalties, the initial advance must first be earned out. This advance is an advanced payment against future royalties to be earned. So, if the author earned a $5,000 advance, they would need to sell 25,000 copies before seeing another payment. If they earned a $10,000 advance they would have to sell 50,000 copies, and so on. A $5,000 advance is on the low end but becoming more common for emerging authors who don’t have an established audience or track record.

The indie author must calculate the expenses of publishing their book. An indie author might spend $2,000 to hire a regular editor who does copyediting and proofreading and a cover designer. These are two fairly common expenses for self-publishing.

In this case of similar matched authors both selling 10,000 eBooks for $9.99 the traditionally published author still must earn out $3,000 more dollars against their $5,000 advance. The self-published author has made a profit of $5,000. You may be saying, wait they both made $5,000! And you’d be correct. The traditionally published author received an advance of $5,000 that they don’t have to pay back so they earned $5,000. The self-published author made a profit of $5,000.

However, the traditionally published author has the pressure of closing the gap on those sales, another 15,000 copies. Otherwise, they may be considered a risk in the future. The indie author, by selling another 15,000 would have a profit of $12,000.

Advances at one time were often five digits for midlist authors. Today, they are usually five digits. This puts less pressure on the author, but it’s also less money in their pockets at the start. By comparison, the indie author gets no advance and must earn out every penny, but keeps all their rights.

What do you think of author earnings today?

Get my free book, Should I Self-Publish My Book?

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