Writing a Book? Here’s How Authors Make Money

How much do authors make per book

Table of Contents

Have you been thinking about writing a book, but wondering if it’s worth the time and effort? Have you been wondering how exactly do authors make money? How much money does an author make per book? Whether you write books on how to make money or romance novels, this advice is actionable.

Maybe you’ve already written a book to build you brand. Now you’re wondering how to get the most out of your efforts.

how to self-publish a book for experts

In this article, you’ll learn about the best ways to make money from your book.

As a regular book reviewer for Small Business Trends, and someone who helps authors market their books, I’ve found one trend that has been steadily increasing. Now more than ever, authors are expected to market their own books, regardless of whether they were published by a traditional house or self-published.

That means that you’re not only expected to be an author, but a marketer as well.  Now that we have that out of the way — it’s time to talk about money!

How Much Do Authors Make?

According to data from a new survey from Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest, the median income range for self-published authors is under $5,000 and nearly 20% of self-published authors report deriving no income from their writing.

By comparison, authors published by traditional publishers had a median income range of $5,000 to $9,999 and “hybrid authors” (those who both self-publish and publish with established publishers) had a median income range of $15,000 to $19,999.

At the high end of the spectrum, 1.8% of self-published authors made over $100,000 from their writing last year, compared with 8.8% of traditionally published authors and 13.2% of hybrid authors. (Source: Forbes)

Can You Make a Living as an Author

Most people assume that there are two types of authors when it comes to money, best-selling authors (like J.K. Rowling or Dan Brown) who get millions of dollars in their publishing contract or the struggling author who only gets income when he bribes a family member to buy a copy.

The truth is, there isn’t a fixed number you can estimate because there are a lot of factors that go into an author’s potential income. There are a few authors who make millions, more that make thousands, and a lot more that can’t reach the $500 threshold. Some authors even lose money.

In order to understand whether you can make a living as an author, it’s helpful to examine different types of books and the people who write them.

  • Fiction writers. The most famous writers of fiction, like Tom Clancy, JK Rowling, or Stephen King, make millions of dollars from their books. They enjoy large advances from traditional publishing companies that allow them to support themselves exclusively by writing fiction. However, they are a tiny minority of the people who want to make a living writing fiction, and it can take decades of work and luck to achieve that kind of success in traditional publishing. On the other hand, many fiction writers earn a living writing full time by self-publishing e-books and marketing them directly to readers. They may never get famous, but they can earn a steady $5,000-$8,000 per month.
  • Non-fiction writers. When people think of “authors”, they often think of famous novelists. However, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People continues to sell over 250,000 copies a year, a hundred years after it was written. Non-fiction writing can be a great way to make money, particularly if you can offer useful, meaningful information to your readers. Subjects like health and wellness, money and finance, and dating and relationships can help authors earn up to six figures a year.
  • E-books as digital products. Today, there is a specialized form of non-fiction writing that is specifically focused on a product. For example, an instructor may sell online courses and create an e-book as part of the course material. An entrepreneur may create an e-book as a testimonial or marketing collateral for their products and services. A business may produce an e-book as a free gift to new or returning customers. In these cases, the book is a component of a larger business or marketing strategy, and can be a powerful way to meet those business objectives.

As an author, it is up to you to determine how to profit from your hard work. For some people, just publishing a book is enough. Most authors, however, wouldn’t mind earning some cash for their words.

How Do Authors Make Money?

Authors typically make money either through a traditional book publishing company, or through a self-publishing marketplace. In either instance, the author earns money based on how many copies of the book are sold. In traditional publishing, the company often gives a writer an advance on their book, so they can cover their cost of living while they write, and then they repay the advance from royalties on the finished book.

Some writers also choose to be ghostwriters, where they earn a flat fee for writing the book, then allow the person who hired them to claim authorship and earn revenue from the book sales. Let’s take a closer look at the two main methods authors use to make money.

Your first step is to learn how to get that cash. As an author, there are two basic ways you earn money, from book sales or stuff you sell based on your book’s content.

Method 1: : Direct Book Sales with Traditional Publishing

[tweet_dis]Authors earn money from their book sales in two ways, royalties and/or an advance[/tweet_dis].

What is a book advance?

An advance is money that is given to an author from a publishing company before the book comes out. Advances are usually given to authors who have a track record of publishing best-selling books or have a very high possibility of becoming a best-seller. Only authors with a publishing contract can earn advances.

For an average author with a first-time book deal, receiving an advance is very rare. It’s usually $5,000 to $20,000. It’s called an advance because you have to pay it back with your book sales.

The average author with a first-time book deal can expect to receive an advance of $5,000 to $15,000. Once your book is released, you won’t see another dime until you have earned back that advance–$1.25 at a time—until the advance is paid back in full.

What are royalties?

Both self-published and authors working with a publishing company can earn royalties. Royalties are money given to an author after a book is published and sold. As an authors, you receive a percentage of the sale, depending on how you published your book.

If you work with a publishing company, a part of your royalties must go the publisher, an agent, and then you. If you are a self-published author, you still have to pay the company that helped your book get published. In many cases, this is Amazon. By ditching a professional publisher, you get a higher percentage of your book sales.

Another strategy to make more money on direct book sales is to create your book in different formats. This includes  digital, paperback, hardback, and audio.  This will help you reach a larger audience, because each consumer chooses the format they’re more comfortable with.

How much do authors make per book?

On average, traditional publishing houses pay authors $1.25 per copy sold. Clearly, you’ll need to sell a ton of books to earn a nice paycheck for your work. Of course, with a large publishing house backing your book, you may have no problem selling tons of inventory. One other thing to consider–that $1.25 per book–is only yours after you’ve covered the cost of your advance.

Alternatively, most self published authors are paying $5 to a company like Amazon per copy of their books sold.

How do you know which is right for you? Let’s assume your book retails for $20. If you go through a publisher, you’re getting $1.25 per copy. If you self-publish you’re getting $15 per copy.

While the math makes self-publishing look like a better deal, keep in mind the benefits you may get with a major publisher–like their in-house PR team and editors.

Which genres make the most money for authors?

While there is a huge range of earning potential for different types of books, the genres that earn the most money are non-fiction health and wellness, money and finance, and dating and relationships. In fiction, the genres that earn the most money are:

  1. Romance and erotica. Romance and erotica novels earn nearly $1.5 billion every year
  2. Crime and mystery. Thrilling crime and mystery novels earn more than $725 million annually
  3. Religious and inspirational. Inspirational texts earn about $720 million a year
  4. Science fiction and fantasy. Sci-fi and fantasy novels earn about $590 million every year
  5. Horror. Horror novels earn just under $80 million a year

While there’s no doubt that some genres have larger existing markets than others, it’s also important to remember that the success of a book is also based on a variety of other factors, and that authors who use smart marketing techniques have a much better chance of financial success, no matter which genre they write in.

Method #2: Generate Sales Based on the Content of Your Self-Published Book

Savvy authors look for income opportunities beyond their book sales. The major reason is the limited sales capacity of a book. After you sell a book, the transaction is over until you write another book. If, however, you sell things based on the book’s content, you have an unlimited number of ways to earn money.

What do I mean by earning income from your book’s content? Seven examples include:

  • Product sales
  • Speaking gigs
  • Consulting
  • Teaching
  • Pre-sales
  • Crowdfunding
  • Special events and travel tours

There are several well-known authors who do all of these things. For example, look at Dave Ramsey. He’s famous for his books on how to make money, pay off debt, and create a legacy of wealth.

He parlayed the success of his first book, The Total Money Makeover, into multiple revenue streams. These include podcasts, live events, workshops, and digital courses. With a net worth estimated at $200 million, you can see he’s done great work marketing his books.

But, most of his income is based on his content, not the actual book copies. He makes his money from his online courses and advertising revenue for his radio show and podcasts.

How much money do authors make on ebooks?

Before considering how much money authors typically make on ebooks, it’s important to clear up some misconceptions about self-publishing. While it is possible to write and publish an ebook with no out-of-pocket costs, most successful self-publishing authors invest capital in their books in order to boost sales. Just like in traditional publishing, factors like cover art, writing quality, and page layout can influence sales.

In online marketplaces, ratings and reviews are incredibly influential, so creating a book that satisfies the reader is worth an up front investment. Successful ebook authors hire editing services, book cover designers, professional formatting, and typically invest in marketing and paid advertising, all of which cost money that impacts the total profits of the book.

Every ebook publishing platform has different revenue agreements with authors. Retailers like iBooks, Kobo, Barnes & Noble/NOOK, and the like, all offer different royalty rates. These platforms also reach different markets on different devices, which affects a writer’s target audience. Despite all these differences, authors can expect to earn 40 – 70% of the cover price for every copy sold, which often amounts to ~$1.25 – $2.00 per copy.

How much money do authors make per book on Amazon?

Amazon controls about 80% of the ebook market, which makes it almost impossible for authors to ignore. Amazon’s publishing agreement is multi-layered and should be read carefully. Broadly speaking, authors agree to give Amazon exclusive distribution rights to their book, in return for access to a preferred Kindle marketplace and participation in the Kindle Lending Library. A standard Amazon agreement usually offers authors royalties of 35 – 70% of the cover price per copy sold.

Kindle Unlimited and Lending programs pay authors by the number of pages read, rather than by the number of book copies sold.

People who want to create physical copies of their book can also use Amazon’s CreateSpace to create paperback copies of their book for distribution in physical bookstores and access to an expanded paperback marketplace through Amazon’s programs. The CreateSpace agreement usually charges authors a fixed fee, a per-page cost, and Amazon’s commission of 40-60% per copy sold.

More than 40% of the authors on Amazon are self-published ebook authors, and only about 1% of them earn more than $10,000 per year. On the other hand, there are many success stories of authors who are happily working as full time writers and supporting themselves through Amazon.

Is self-publishing or traditional publishing right for you?

If you dream of becoming a full-time author, you may wonder whether you should pursue traditional publishing or self-publishing. Here are some of the key factors to consider:

Traditional book publishing:

  • Harder to get into. The book publishing industry is most interested in books with broad appeal and high commercial potential.
  • Slower to achieve results. It can take years to create a book from initial treatment through to bookstore shelves. It can take even longer for a traditional book to start earning royalties that are paid to the author. New authors typically receive only small book advances, so expect to maintain a part-time job to cover your cost of living for quite a long time.
  • More prestigious. Traditionally produced books are more visible and more prestigious, and traditional book authors are more likely to go on book tours, earn award nominations, and have more media visibility.

Self-publishing:

  • Fewer barriers to entry. Instead of trying to secure an agent and get a publishing deal, authors can simply write their books and publish them.
  • Narrower audience. Self-published books can be a faster and more effective way to target specific audiences and interest groups.
  • Broader skill range. While traditional book publishers take care of the details of finishing a book, like editing, publishing, and marketing, self-published authors need to do that work themselves. Authors need to hire or design their own cover art, hire or do their own editing and proof reading, and manage their own marketing and advertising.

However, authors don’t always have to make either-or decisions. Famously, Fifty Shades of Grey and Eragon were originally self-published before they were picked up by traditional publishers. If you can’t decide which option is best for you, try discussing your book idea with a literary agent and exploring your options.

6 Creative Ways to Make Money from Your Book

  1. Sell T-shirts, coffee mugs,  or other promotional items  with characters or phrases from the book on your website. You can also sell on sites like CafePress or Zazzle. If you’re particularly crafty, try Etsy.
  2. Offer traveling tours where the author takes a group of readers through the places that inspired your book. Use a site like Vayable.
  3. Set up a crowdfunding campaign on sites like Indiegogo to raise money for expenses.
  4. Sell exclusive bonus material, such as additional or extra chapters, poems, or short stories through your website or Fiverr.
  5. Get advertising income. Sell ads based on your book on sites such as Wattpad Futures. Or try earning through affiliate programs like Amazon Associates
  6. Offer a fiction-writing workshop.
  7. If you’re a nonfiction author, create and sell an online course. Or use one as a lead generator for your consulting services. Use sites like Udemy or Skillshare.

Book Marketing Ideas That Work

Unless you’re already a celebrity or best-selling author, traditional publishers will expect you to do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to promoting your book.  No matter what you’re writing; fiction, non-fiction, ebooks or even blog posts, if you want to make money, you’ll have to become a marketer.

Many authors feel lost when it comes to marketing their book and so they will hire a PR person to pitch and promote their book to reviewers and media outlets.

Follow these tips before you go out and hire any type of marketing or PR professional.  You’ll find that there are quite a few book marketing ideas that you can do yourself . For the ones that you’re going to delegate, you’ll be saving yourself a lot of time and money by already doing the bulk of the research and strategic work.

Understand that you’re in the marketing business, not the writing business.

This is helpful even BEFORE you sit down to write your first word.  When you think of yourself as being a marketer first and an author or writer second, you’ll immediately focus on what matters; your audience. What problem are they facing? And how you can help them solve it?

This is true for fiction writers as well.  John Locke, who has sold millions of ebooks on amazon and made more than a million dollars by selling $.99 books did it exactly this way.

He saw that many successful authors were charging almost $10  for a book and decided that he would undercut them – selling his own efforts for $.99 cents. Even in 2019, most of his books retail for $2.99. That’s far below average price.

Locke had a business background. He thought very carefully about who his ideal audience was, how they spent their days, what frustrated them and what type of content they would be most likely to consume.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t an easy process. And he had his trial-and-error moments. But you can see that by simply writing from the context of your writing being a money-making venture rather than simply a creative exercise can be helpful.

Create a simple marketing plan for your content

You’re probably wondering why YOU should have to do this when you intend to hire a marketing expert to do this for you. You should do this yourself first SO THAT you can choose the right book marketing person or PR person who will help you make money from your book.

Here’s the template — Click on the image and then either download it for yourself or make a copy to your own Google Drive.

With this plan in hand, you’re ready to start playing around with some specific marketing ideas for making money from your writing.

Create a video trailer: A book is nothing more than a movie you play in your mind. Create a short video trailer to get people excited about your book.  You can use tools like Adobe Spark, Animoto or Magisto.

Do a virtual book tour: In addition to sending copies of your book to book reviewers and book review sites like Goodreads, create a list of podcasts, tweet chats, and Facebook live sessions..  Anywhere people are talking about your topic, you want to be there and you want to be there during a blast. This virtual tour should last 4-6 weeks.

Create a Facebook Group or Fan Page: Create a space where your audience, fans and potential readers can engage with you.

Build a website: You can create a simple book or author website on your own for less than $100.  Invest in great design, book image and head shots. Also provide some free content such as a table of contents, a chapter or two or even better — create a series of downloadable resources and tools for your audience.

These items are just the tip of the iceberg because authors who know how to leverage their content make more money with less work. As an author, you’re not limited to sitting around and waiting for your book to make you money. You can use your book’s content to create income opportunities. The only limits are your time and imagination.

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