More Dollars and Sense

There’s a lot of great inside-knowledge on the business of being a novelist from pros to be found on blogs lately, all of it pure gold for aspiring authors. Not so long ago, Alison Kent shared her latest royalty statement with the world. Now author Sara Donati explains  in simple terms how royalties and advances work.

I’m always surprised that many aspiring authors don’t understand how
the money works. A publisher offers you a contract, and an advance. The
amount of the advance doesn’t have to do with how good the novel is, or
how much they like it. A million dollars does not equal an A+. The
advance is their best guess on how many copies of the book they can
sell. No matter how much the acquiring editor loves your novel, the
publishing house does not want to overpay you. End of story.

Not exactly the end. She has a few more interesting observations to share in that post and in another one on the subject as well (UPDATE:  Sara made an error in her figures in her original post, which she has corrected and so have I:).

If you’re talking about a hardcover book, the author generally gets
10% on the first 1 to 25,000 copies sold, 12% on the next 25,000 and
15% on anything sold above 50,000 copies — after the advance is paid
out, of course. And these figures are negotiable. I would guess Stephen
King’s numbers are better.

For softcover, the range is much greater, usually someplace between
6% and 10% of the cover price, again with increases as the number of
sales climbs.

This probably is pretty sobering for those who are hoping to make a living writing fiction.

11 thoughts on “More Dollars and Sense”

  1. Man, this is one writer who REALLY needs a better agent. I can only hope it’s a typo–a more typical royalty division (for regularly discounted books sold in the US market) is along the lines of 10 percent for the author on the first 5000 books sold, 12 1/2 percent on the next 5000, and after that 15 percent. Or more if, as you say, your numbers mean you can dictate to your publisher what you want. Then 7 1/2 percent on trade paperback, 10 percent on mass market.

  2. Those aren’t my numbers, Laurie — I do have a great agent. I got them from reading a lot of different source materials on the business, but you know what? I’m really happy if I’m wrong.
    I’ll post your notes on this on my site too.

  3. A great discussion on royalties, but this is what caught my eye:
    “Since I’ve started publishing novels in 1999, my annual income has fluctuated between 400,000 and 170,000, with the average around 220,000. Something to remember: this will not last forever. Sooner or later, this well will dry up.”
    My wife, looking over my shoulder, just said, “I think we could live on that somehow.”

  4. But the vast majority of writers don’t make anywhere near that…and have a “day job” or a working spouse that provides the bulk of their income.

  5. During my half dozen best years, I earned $45,000 to $55,000, net of agency commissions, and most years I’ve earned $25,000 to $35,000 net. These figures are prior to expenses,which lower the income further. The key to steady income is series books. Alas, publishers now have to be persuaded to contract and produce the series books in a timely manner. Often there have been two or three-year gaps in my series so most of the effect, continuous demand created by a series character, is lost. I cannot fathom why publishers let successful series languish, but they do. Now, with western and historical western fiction in sharp decline, my numbers are plummeting. But I did have some good years writing in the weakest of the genres in terms of sales.

  6. Richard’s numbers sound more realistic to me, not that I know other than what I’ve read. That’s why her royalty numbers were an eye-stretcher. I wondered if she was giving us her income in lira.


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