How Much Money Does An Author Make?

675 450 Kaleb Nation

Let’s talk about MONEY! Or rather, how much money does an author make?

One of the most common questions I get as an author is about my income. People don’t want to be rude, but if they dream of being a writer one day, it’s a very important question for their future career!

When it comes to an author’s income… the truth is, every author’s pay is different.

There are actually two ways that an author gets paid. When I finish writing a book, my agent takes it to publishers, and then the publishers offer what is called an advance.

An ADVANCE is a bit of money that the publisher is willing to pay up front to buy a book. The more copies the publishers think they can sell, the more money they’ll offer. For example, Stephenie Meyer got about $750,000 for the first three Twilight books. That was a little unusual. Most advances are smaller.

Her publishers knew those books would sell, so they knew they could offer a lot. But publishers don’t always predict correctly, because JK Rowling only got about $4000 for the first Harry Potter book.

Book deals can go anywhere from nothing into the millions of dollars. But that’s only the first way an author makes money.

If JK Rowling only got $4000 for Harry Potter, she’d ACTUALLY be writing on napkins by now, or so unfathomably depressed she’d have given up writing altogether. Which would leave us in a strange, sans-Potter world.

Authors also get paid what are called ROYALTIES, which means that for every book sold, a writer gets a little bit of money. It’s usually about 10% of the price, so if a book sells for $20, the author gets $2.

When you have something like Harry Potter, which has now sold over 450 million copies, that math comes out to… a little more than $4000.

The catch is that before an author gets a royalty check, they have to earn back their advance check. So before JK Rowling got paid any more, she had to earn back $4000 worth of book royalties, which probably didn’t take very long. But before Stephenie Meyer got paid any more, she had to earn back $750,000 worth of book royalties… which probably didn’t take that long either.

So really, the way an author makes money is by what you do. If you buy a book you like, and tell your friends about it, and then they go buy it, pretty soon thousands of people are buying the book… and we can pay the rent!

Book deals announced through Publishers Marketplace will sometimes tell which category the sale was in. They’re reported this way:

“nice deal” $1 – $49,000

“very nice deal” $50,000 – $99,000

“good deal” $100,000 – $250,000

“significant deal” $251,000 – $499,000

“major deal” $500,000 and up

That way people know how much a publisher paid for the book, without saying exactly how much money was offered in the advance!

If you enjoyed this post, check out my novel HARKEN! While we’re talking about authors making money… maybe you should buy it 😉


Kaleb Nation

Kaleb Nation is an author, content creator, and producer of Ask Dr. Drew. With over a decade of experience in viral media production and content marketing – including over 1000 videos and 100,000,000 views – he is a nationally recognized expert on digital culture and social media issues. Kaleb has been featured on CNN, HLN, NPR, ABC, MTV, Mashable, Entertainment Weekly, Good Morning America, and more. Read Kaleb's Story

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