Traditionally published first-time authors can earn an advance in the $5,000 to $10,000 range, with 10-13% royalties. Self-published writers are different – 77% of them make $1,000 or less a year, while 0.7% make more than 100,000$ a year. Some of the most well-known best-selling authors can earn as much as $92 million a year.
How much money do authors make? It is a reasonable question which pops into every upcoming writer’s head.
You have a burning desire to find out and create some realistic expectations for yourself. However, you might have realised that it is hard to find an answer. You don’t have to look any further.
In today’s post, we are going to explain exactly how much authors make and what should you expect?
Let’s get into it.
What Determines an Author’s Salary?
As an author, you are aware that most writers do not make an annual salary. Their incomes vary greatly depending on a large number of factors.
#1 Genre of The Book
It’s no secret that the genre choice significantly impacts the potential number of sales. Here are the most popular literary genres in 2020, according to Masterclass:
- Fantasy & Sci-Fi
- Thrillers & Horror
- Young Adult
- Children’s Fiction
- Self-Help & Religious Books
- Biography, Autobiography & Memoirs
Keep in mind that the popularity of a genre does not automatically mean more income. It usually also means that there is a lot of competition, so it is harder to stand out.
How much money authors make per year is highly dependent on their experience as well. Generally speaking, the longer you have been writing and publishing, the better your chances of earning more money.
Most authors who earn over $100,000 a year have been in the writing business for over three years. Here is a graph showing how long did it take $100k-earning authors to reach that point (percentage-wise).
- Over $100k / Year
There were no authors who made more than $100,000 in their first year of writing! That shouldn’t be surprising.
#3 The Quality of Writing & Editing
The quality of writing is the most obvious factor in this list. There is also quite a significant correlation with the quality of editing and the income an author can pull in.
Higher paying authors are usually able to invest more money back into their future books. Investing in top-tier, professional editors is a big plus.
#4 Digital Marketing Skills & Online Presence
It’s nearly impossible to be a successful author in 2020 without a significant online presence. (Unless you have been an established author for decades.) Additionally, marketing skills are a must-have if you plan on generating a ton of sales.
#5 The Visual Appeal of Their Books
For most unknown authors out there, the case is simple. Their books sell (or don’t!) based on the first impression a potential reader has with them.
What is the key to a great first impression with books? High-quality, professionally designed book covers, of course. Good book cover design is worth investing in, and it doesn’t mean you have to break your bank. Check out our service if you are ready to make a change.
#6 How Much They Write
The amount of time spent writing, and the number of books published is also a high-ranking factor in terms of an author’s salary.
#7 The Form of Publishing
Whether an author is self-publishing or publishing traditionally can make all the difference in the world. Let’s cover both forms of publishing right away.
Quick Look at the Stats & Research
Unfortunately, there is not much precise, black-and-white data to answer the question – how much money do authors make? Back in 2014, Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest surveyed 9,210 authors about their income.
They were able to sort themselves in four groups:
- Aspiring Authors – an aspiring author is someone whose goal is to make money through writing but hasn’t done so yet.
- Self-Published Authors
- Traditionally-Published Authors
- Hybrid Authors – those who were both self-publishing and publishing traditionally
What about their incomes? How much money do authors make according to this survey?
A large number of authors makes less than $1,000 a year, more precisely:
- 77% of self-published writers;
- 53.9% of traditionally-published authors;
- 43.6% of hybrid authors.
Here is how much of them reported making more than $100,000 a year:
- 0.7% of self-published writers;
- 1.3% of traditionally-published;
- 5.7% of hybrid writers.
- Less Than $1000 / Year (%)
- More Than $100k / Year (%)
Authors who are in both traditional and self-publishing seem to be doing the best.
If those numbers don’t look promising, wait until you see the next research.
The Authors Guild’s conducted an Author Income Survey back in 2018. This survey was the largest one of writing-related earnings by American authors ever done.
What were the results – how much money do authors make?
They found annual incomes falling to historic lows to an average of $6,080 in 2017, down 42% from 2009.
Even those people who listed themselves as full-time authors, still only earned an average income of $20,300.
Not all is grim, though.
Self-publishing income is growing fast. It has increased by 85% over the past four years.
With that good news in mind, let’s put numbers aside for a minute.
What are the main differences between self-publishing and traditional publishing in terms of income?
- Self-publishing earns you more money per sale.
- You can self-publish 3+ books a year, while traditional publishing usually takes a lot of time. You would be looking at one book every 2-3 years.
- Self-publishing starts making you money right away (if you know what you are doing). Traditional publishing royalties take time to kick in.
- Traditional publishing brings you a helpful advance check in the start. Self-publishing usually means money out of your pocket.
- You need marketing skills to self-publish. You will have to build a website, a high-converting sales funnel, pay for proofreading and editing, get a well-designed book cover, etc. Most first-time authors spend around $1,500-$3,000 to publish their first book.
How Much Money Do Authors Make Through Traditional Publishing?
Even though fewer people opt-in for traditional publishing these days (or at least they prefer hybrid), it’s still a great way to get your book out there. But how much money can you earn if you go this way?
First, we need to understand how publishing houses pay authors.
Once you make a deal with a publishing house and sign a contract, you will get a certain amount of money called an advance.
An advance is the amount of money paid to the author before the actual publication of the book. They base the exact amount on estimated future royalties for the next 6-12 months. You will not receive any royalties until the advance is “paid off” through sales.
According to Chron, most first-time authors receive a $5,000-$10,000 advance.
What about royalties?
Royalty rates are percentages of book sales that you get from the publishing house. You can expect to earn 10-12% in royalties.
Do you want an example?
Let’s say you write a book, and you get a $7000 advance check from the publishing house. Your royalties are at 12% (good for you!).
The price of your book on the shelves is $14. How much can you earn if you make 30,000 sales?
The first 500 sales will pay off the advance, which is when you start earning royalties.
29,500 copies sold for $14 at a 12% royalty rate will make you $49,560!
While that sounds great, keep in mind that 30,000 sales are a very ambitious goal to have.
How Much Money Do Authors Make Through Self-Publishing?
What about self-publishing? Can you make more money this way?
Unfortunately, the answer is – it depends.
There are so many factors that come into play when it comes to estimating how much money can you earn from your self-published book.
The reality is hard to come to terms with here. Most self-published authors do not earn enough money to break even with their investments, let alone make a living out of writing.
Does that mean that there is no point in self-publishing?
Of course not!
It all starts with exceptional writing skills. Then you need to define your target audience and do thorough research on your competitors. Set aside as much money as possible to invest in design and editing. Create a profitable marketing strategy, and you are good to go! Self-publishing can make you millions.
These steps take time – a lot of it. If you are not serious about making it as an author, you are better off sticking to it as a hobby.
We are not trying to discourage you, far from it. Once you start being consistent and put in the effort, the results can be amazing.
Let’s illustrate the earnings with another example.
You have written the same book as before, and you plan on selling it as an e-book through self-publishing. That means that the price would have to be much lower – $4.
You invest $2,400 in editing, formatting, book cover design and website development. You have created a high-converting landing page and a checkout page so that people can buy your book without much effort.
Your marketing strategy has a goal of generating a combination of organic and paid traffic. It involves building an online presence on social media and paid advertisements.
We can estimate that you spend $2 on ads for every book sale. That leaves you at $2 profit per sale.
If you manage to sell those same 30,000 copies as before, that will make you a total of $60,000. Subtract the initial amount invested, and you have earned $58,600!
That sounds a bit better than the traditional publishing version. Self-publishing is the way to go then!
Not so fast.
The average self-publishing author sells just around 200 copies. Note the difference in comparison to those 30,000 copies.
However, since you are reading our blog, you are not an average self-publishing author. 🙂
You have to keep in mind that all the numbers we have talked about here are general estimates. They could vary greatly, and their only purpose is to illustrate how the process works when boiled down to basics.
Let’s answer the next burning question.
How Much Does a First Time Author Make?
Most first time authors can expect to earn anywhere between $1,000 and $10,000 advance for their first traditionally published book.
However, if you have an agent during the process of landing that deal, around 15% will go to the agent.
On top of that, you still have to think about the investment costs of promoting your book. It would not be in your best interest to just sit back and hope for the best. Some proactive thinking will be necessary.
When you put everything on paper, it might not seem like you have earned that much.
Nevertheless, it is your first book, and you should be proud! As long as you keep writing and publishing, those numbers can only go up.
How Much Do Authors Make for a Bestseller?
Best-selling authors earn a wide variety of incomes, ranging from thousands to millions of dollars. So, how do you know what would you be potentially making if you became a best-selling author?
The answer is – you don’t.
It’s impossible to know for sure. Even the term “best-selling author” is not that easy to define.
Each list is different. You can check out this article on how much a book needs to sell to be considered a bestseller for more information.
What Would You Be Making if You Wrote a Bestseller?
We can safely assume that your book has sold 60,000 copies in its first year. It is a bestseller after all.
Let’s say you got a $10,000 advance for your book and started at 10% royalties. After 10,000 sold copies, they went up to 12.5%.
Since we are talking about a large number of copies, we can ignore the advance and focus on the income generated by royalties only.
The price of your hardback book could be $24.
First 10,000 sales at 10% royalties would bring you $24,000.
The next 50,000 sales at 12.5% royalties would fill up your bank account with another $150,000.
That gets us to a total of $174,000.
However, let’s take into account that some of those sales are paperback edition, e-books or audiobooks, which cost less. We can cut down on the total value by 20%, leaving us at roughly $139,000.
If you are giving speeches and going on tours, you could be earning an additional $100,000 per year.
Where do we stand now? A total of $249,000 for your first year as a best-selling writer.
It wouldn’t exactly make you a millionaire, but it is still a decent income.
But you are a believer – a big one! You think you can make it to the very top. How much money do the world’s highest-paid authors make?
World’s Highest-Paid Authors
Let’s take a look at the five exceptional authors who made unreal amounts of money in 2019, according to Forbes. Keep in mind that they make money of much more than just book sales – there are movies, theme parks, speeches, and more.
- J. K. Rowling ($92 million)
- James Patterson ($70 million)
- Michelle Obama ($36 million)
- Jeff Kinney ($20 million)
- Stephen King ($17 million)
So, let’s answer the big question.
Do Authors Make a Lot of Money?
Most authors don’t make a lot of money. A majority of writers don’t even make enough for a living. That’s why they write for the love towards writing or as a secondary job that can bring in some extra income on the side.
Does that mean that it is impossible to be a successful full-time author?
Not at all. Dozens of authors are making millions per year from their literary masterpieces.
With a lot of effort, consistency and a relentless mindset, you will make it. Even if you are not making millions, you can still make enough to support quite a comfortable lifestyle and keep creating beautiful stories.
Now we would like to hear from you.
How did you do as a first-time author? What mistakes have you made along the way?
Let us know in the comments right now.