How Do Authors Get Paid?

In the traditional publishing model authors can get paid in two ways, either a flat fee (a onetime lump sum) or on a percentage, or royalty, of each book sold. Then there is the increasing popularity of self-publishing. Here we’ll outline the differences.

When working with a publisher each contract will vary but there are common practices in the industry. Typically royalties for hardcover books are about 10% while 6%-8% can be expected for paperback. A new trend emerging is for publishers to pay authors based on net rather than the retail price of the book. A store will purchase books from publishers at a discount between 30% – 50% and whether an author will be paid on retail or net price of the book is determined by the publisher and not usually easily negotiable.

Authors usually receive a 50% advance against future royalties when signing the agreement and the other 50% upon receipt of the final manuscript. Publishers are looking for manuscripts that appeal to the masses as they are at risk of loosing money if they offer a contract to an author whose book sells less than anticipated. Publishers are looking to sell mass volume of books. This is good news if you are accepted by a publisher as you will receive additional royalty checks for books sold above and beyond the original contract.

Another method of payment are lump sums. When authors collaborate to write a book, or a series, lump sums are more common. Book packagers who do mass market series or television tie-in novels typically pay authors on a flat fee. In these situations there are numerous groups involved in the production including, but not limited to, copywriters, illustrators, proof reading, editors, marketing, and so on. All of which will be paid out of the proceeds. In most cases, under these circumstances, flat fees will leave more cash in your pocket.

Then there is self-publishing. Here you receive all proceeds from your sales. The only deductions are the ones you choose to incur. You may wish to hire an editor, illustrator, someone to market your work, or you may do this yourself. Either way you are in full control of which expenses you wish to pay. Self-publishing is becoming increasingly popular as there are more and more ways to distribute authors work. (Check out to see how thousands of authors are promoting their work). The whole publishing industry is under a major overhaul and there has never been a time where authors have more voice and are able to keep more profits for themselves.

Book sales are not the only way authors make money as many make an income by speaking and coaching, but here we’ve outlined the basics of how authors are paid based on book sales. Of course smaller publishers may be open to a more creative contract to keep more revenue in your pocket. Self-publishing certainly gives authors the most control over the entire process but comes with the challenges of navigating the industry on your own. Either way you’ll experience the satisfaction of having your message, work, or story out there for the world to enjoy.


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