How much moolah do authors make?

We all know that best selling authors receive regular shipments of large bags of money. But what about the gazillions of run-of-the-mill authors? I mean the people who write a book, it gets published, and enjoys moderate success. Maybe 2 printings. What’s the average here? If I give up my evenings and weekends for the next six months or a year and write a book, is it worth it? Assuming it even gets published… which is a whole different story.

This really doesn’t answer your question, but then again your question really doesn’t have a simple answer. It depends mainly on who is going to be publishing it.

For example, a small or university press will usually give you a small advance, and run off a print. You’ll get royalties as the books sell, until they’ve completely sold out. Most small presses will then run another and another and another print until they’ve got a print in stock that they simply can’t sell, at which time they don’t do another print. They’ll market it with their limited resources for as long as they think it will bring a return. If your work is moderately good, you’ll get a steady trickle of income from it for years to come.

A larger publisher doesn’t work that way. If you’ve got a work that looks moderately good, they’ll run off a huge print, give you a (relatively) huge advance, do some limited marketing, and sit back. Their storage space is more important to them than a smaller publisher’s is, so they’ll pulp whatever is left of the first run as soon as sales start to slack off. Therefore, you won’t see anymore money from it after that. If they think you’ve written a winner, they’ll make you change all the creative or original parts, promote it to death, give you a mega-advance, and usually end up running several prints before sales start to slack and they pulp whatever’s left of the Nth print.

As far as your royalties, that will depend almost entirely on how much the publisher wants you. If Penguin thinks you’ve got something that will sell, and that you’re ready to take it to Sterling, they’ll probably be willing to pay you that much more.

Something else that you may want to keep in mind, is that it’s almost always easier to propose an outline (with a few completed sample chapters) that a publisher can accept, reject, or suggest changes to. It’s easy enough to change things before you’ve started, but much harder to go back and try to make your work publishable after you thought you had finished it.


There’s no money in writing fiction unless you’re a “name,” – and it can take decades to get to that point and many thousands of pages and rewrites.

If you want to write and have fun, fiction is fine. If you want to write and make money, non-fiction is where the cash is. Pick up the 1999 copy of Writer’s Market and check out the pay for fiction versus non-fiction pieces. Also, the specific market you’re writing for has bearing on the amount you can make as well. If you have no shame, cheesy bodice rippers are big-sellers, just make sure you follow the porn star naming process for your pseudonym.

Unknown and unpublished authors have a hell of a time getting their first novel published until it’s outrageous in some way – new concept, controversial subject matter or characters, etc. Then begins the evil process of rewrites, when everyone and their grandmother at the publishing company gets to redpen your work. Marks in red, notes in green, huge black outs and “cut this, cut this, cut this” all over your baby. A sobering experience.

I’m very prolific when it comes to my fiction. My non-fiction is a trial, yet I’ve made close to 10 times more off the precious few non-ficion pieces I’ve done than I have on the numerous published fiction pieces.

My last fiction royalty check for a short story was 10 bucks.

Think about it.

Suze – what AM I doing? – anne

The Burning Begins Anew at

Your best bet is to write something you WANT to write, and then worry later about how much money you’ll make off of it. The work will be far superior to something you did just for the bucks, and it’s much more likely to be something that will actually make you some real money.
There are plenty of outlets for just making money by writing but it’s tough to make that your goal with books. Of course, I’m just speaking from my own experience – I worked like a dog on a book I thought was important, and now I’m pleasantly surprised to make some real money off of it.
– Greg, Atlanta

That’s much more than run-of-the-mill. Two printings is a wild success, and you could probably make enough to live on (as well as get paid for your next novel even before it’s written).

For a commercial genre (I’m talking about science fiction, which I’m most familiar with), first novel advances are $2000-6000 for a paperback and $10,000-$15,000 for a hardcover. In theory, you can get additional money over the advance, but that doesn’t usually happen. Your second book will get you more money. Don’t quit your day job until you have several in print, however.

A common myth. Unknown and unpublished writers have problems getting their first novels published for one major reason: they aren’t good enough to be published. Publishers are always on the lookout for new talent, but you have to be able to cut the mustard.

Well, with my novel, the suggestions were minor. Another author told me that an editor typically makes ten suggestions on any book he’s planning to publish. Three will be things you wished you thought of in the first place. Three will be things you absolutely hate. The other four won’t matter to you one way or another. And editorial suggestions are negotiable. My editor suggested something that just wasn’t right for the novel. When I talked for him, however, we did something entirely different from either suggestion.

Reality Chuck said:

A few years back, I was talking to John DeChancie on a science fiction discussion group (on FidoNet). I assumed that he was purely a writer at that time, having had a number of books published (he wrote the Castle Perilous series, as well as a few others). Nope. Even with all those books out already, he still needed to work a day job! Yeesh. (I believe he did quit his day job soon after, but I can’t recall for sure.)

What did you write? Or will I find that out by going to the web page you have in your sig?

“It’s a very dangerous thing to believe in nonsense.” – James Randi

Ok – I answered my own question (guess I could’a done that before I asked it, eh?).

Now my question is: Did you get to meet the model for that woman on the cover? :wink:

“It’s a very dangerous thing to believe in nonsense.” – James Randi

Chuck, you’re a gen-u-ine celebrity! I’ll see if I can’t find your book at my local library.

Carpe Diem!

Hardly a celebrity, just a strugging SF writer. If the library doesn’t have the book (and it isn’t likely), you’ll have to search the used book stores or

David: You really think they let authors have anything to do with the cover art? I merely described the main characters. I told them that the woman was not large-breasted. When the art came back, the editor’s first comment was, “they made one slight change from your description.”

She does look a bit like Jane Badler of V, who I once did meet. I was twelve and she was about ten at the time.

Shameless plug: I have short stories out in the current issues of MARION ZIMMER BRADLEY’S FANTASY MAGAZINE and ABSOLUTE MAGNITUDE, and should have something in an upcoming issue of ABORIGINAL SF.

Keep in mind that most of the bux in publishing (for an author) are not necessarily found in the advance or the royalties. I know an award-winning children’s author who cleard $40,000 about ten years or so ago (and she lived in Utah, where the COL is lower) from appearances, mostly. She was on the road constantly, visiting schools, libraries and writer’s groups. Honorariums are not to be sneezed at, although they are time-consuming and exhausting.

The assumption that writing a successful book allows an author to just sit back and wait for the truck to show up with buckets o’ moolah is what attracts people to writing, then rapidly dashes their hopes. Writing is a business, pure and simple, and producing a manuscript is a job, however creative the process. As in any job, there are those who excel at it, those who stay average but make a good living, and those who simply can’t cut it. The balance of creative freedom and marketable production is delicate, but those who do find it manage to make money and still retain their artistic integrity. It ain’t easy.

The Dave-Guy
“since my daughter’s only half-Jewish, can she go in up to her knees?” J.H. Marx

How much money do authors make? Well, keep in mind that some published authors keep their day jobs teaching in public schools because the money there is better.

quote: Unknown and unpublished authors have a hell of a time getting their first novel
published until it’s outrageous in some way – new concept, controversial subject matter or characters, etc. ]]]

A common myth. Unknown and unpublished writers have problems getting their first novels published for one major reason: they aren’t good enough to be published. Publishers are always on the lookout for new talent, but you have to be able to cut the mustard. ]]]

Unfortunately, this “myth” can be backed up by facts. As larger companies merge (Can we say Barnes and Noble, kids? Sure we can) the harder it is for smaller publishing houses to break even when they take in an unknown. Many literary agents refuse to even read an unpublished author’s work. I can go dig up a few hundred cites and find recent newspaper articles if you’re really that interested in fact.

A lot of it isn’t whether or not you are talented. Here’s a plan, Mr RealityChuck. Walk into your local bookstore and pick a book at random off the science fiction and fantasy shelves. If it’s not a “name” author that has three or four other titles beside it, you’ve got 50/50 odds that it stinks on ice. Amazingly, however, they’ve got all sorts of quotes from “names” plastered on their books. It’s not what you know, but who you know. A ::cough:: friend of mine has numerous book clips that she didn’t … um … earn through her skill in writing, if you follow.

One of these days, I’ll actually give in to the people pushing me to publish one of my fantasy novels. I’ve got several sitting here that, to me, just aren’t ready, though one is in the rewrite and final tweaking stage. The fantasy market does tend to be easier than my usual subject matter, and I could’t write short historical fiction if I had to.

I honestly fought the pushes to publish for years. In my mind, I saw it as a detraction from what I was doing. I wrote for myself, out of the sheer pleasure of it. Only a few pointedly aimed comments regarding the example I was setting for my children coaxed me into it. The number of rejection slips I own is pretty slim compared to the number of pieces I’ve had published, so I’d say I can cut it, at least in the skill department.

My morality, however, is taking a blow. Almost every time I face the keys, I’ve found myself thinking “okay, publishers for this genre only like certain word limits, so keep it short,” and I end up feeling that I’ve sold out.

Write for yourself, and your favorite reading audience. The rest is just icing and sprinkles.

Suze – what AM I doing? – anne

The Burning Begins Anew at

" ‘T.S. Eliot,’ ex-P.F.C. Wintergreen said in his mail-sorting cubicle at Twenty-seventh Air Force Headquarters, and slammed down the telephone without identifying himself."

“[He] beat his fist down upon the table and hurt his hand and became so
further enraged… that he beat his fist down upon the table even harder and
hurt his hand some more.” – Joseph Heller’s Catch-22

This just isn’t true. I can cite dozens of actual publishers and agents, if you like.

Publishers NEVER expect to do any more than break even on a first novel (and most are quite willing to take a loss on the right talent). They make money by developing an author until he or she does begin to make they money.

It’s the same thing with agents. They are always interested in new talent to replace authors who die or go to another agency. The only reason why agents may not take on new clients is because you can only represent so many authors at a time and still do a good job.

There are one or two big publishers that go only for bestsellers, but most are perfectly willing to publish a new author. Without new authors, they go out of business.

Book quote are always solicited AFTER the book is sold. The authors being quoted have nothing to do with the book being published; they are sent galleys to read before publication. The galleys are sent to established “name” authors because quotes from unknowns aren’t going to convince anyone.

Also, bookstores (and especially chain bookstores) only stock a small proportion of all the books published. I see first novels all the time; some are quite good, but they don’t get into Barnes and Noble. Still, they sell enough for the author to build on.

As far as 50% of the books stinking, well, are you familiar with Sturgeon’s Law? And I doubt any two readers would agree 100% on which, 50% was no good and what was. That’s merely differing taste.

I think you need a better understanding of the business side of writing. You are going to the sources of the myths, not the sources of the facts. Try subscribing to the SFWA Bulletin for information on the business side. <URL></URL>

I wonder how many people buy a book based on the quotes? Personally, I’ve only once read a book based on a quote. Most of the time I pick up a book, look at the blurb on the back, if there isn’t one look at the blurb inside the cover, if there isn’t one put it back and pick up the next book. If there is a blurb, and it sounds interesting, I read the first page or so to see if the writer can write, and then decide whether to read it.

I even do this with library books, which don’t cost me anything, so it’s not a matter of not wanting to waste money. It’s just that I’m more interested in whether the story pleases me than I am in whether it pleased someone else. The one time I read a book based on the quote it was because I really, really liked the author who was quoted and was kind of curious about what she liked. I don’t remember the book, though, so it clearly didn’t measure up.

The books I am least likely to read are the ones with pages and pages of glowing reviews and not one scrap of information on the story. I HATE that. I immediately think that the book must be so bad that they don’t dare tell me about it. The publisher is hoping that by stunning me with lots of names I will somehow be fooled into thinking there’s something good inside. Bullshit. If the story doesn’t stand on it’s own, don’t even bother to put it on the shelf.

(Shall I tell you how I really feel? :wink: )

Those are generally paperback editions of bestsellers where it’s assumed that people know of the book from the reviews.

BTW, getting back to first novels, current business practices make it slightly easier for an author to sell his first book than to sell additional books. Bookstores look at an author’s previous track record when ordering books. If the book didn’t sell well, they order fewer copies, which means it won’t sell as well the next time, which means they’ll order fewer copies . . . nasty.

However, since a new author has no track record, this type of accounting does not apply. I know of at least two cases where established authors created a pen name so that their book could be a “first novel.” One (“Robin Hobb”) turned out to be a success that way while books under her real name wouldn’t sell.

I think you need to open your eyes that there is a world out there that doesn’t involve the sci-fi community and reviewing so many books that your peers and the publishers all know your name. I think you are deluding yourself as to the world outside of your field. I’m on quite a few of the non-genre mailing lists, and I hardly think that the sci-fi community is the end all, be all resource law for what must be in the writing world.

We COULD have a quote war, but I guarantee that for as many sources and cites that you pull up to support your claim, I can pull up just as many to support mine.

And no, book quotes aren’t always solicited after a book is sold.

Oh wait, no. You’re the expert. Never mind. Totally disregard everything I’ve ever said.

Not to disrupt this budding flame war, but I’d love to see some more numbers on this issue than what’s already been here. Already I’m pretty disappointed – it looks like my day job pays a lot more than my dream job – but I’d like to get a more accurate idea of what this industry really does pay.

I remember reading in “Trying to Save Piggy Snead” an essay by John Irving where he said that he makes about $500k per year, but that most of that was from movies made of his books. If we take that as the theoretical upper limit (ignoring Clancy, King, etc.) how much less could a schmoe like me expect to bring home if I somehow managed to crack out a well-received novel or two per year?

Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. That way if they get mad, you’re already a mile away. And they don’t have any shoes.

I’m sorry, but mailing lists are hardly the place to get solid information about publishing practices. They are made up primarily of aspiring writers, many of which have no publication track record, and often consist of people merely repeating the same old myths. My information comes from people who make their living as editors and writers; that’s a better source than Joe Wannabe’s complaint that all the publishers are out to get him.

Any editor will tell you that the reason why 90% books aren’t published is because they just aren’t good enough to publish. If your book reaches the level where the marketing of it is a consideration, then you’ll probably be able to sell it elsewhere. Good manuscripts aren’t laying around on the ground for anyone to pick up.

Not always? Ok, only 99% of the time. Blurbs have nothing to with the process. Have you ever asked an editor about this? Or just the people on the mailing list?

Exactly. I’ve been writing and publishing for over 15 years. I have friends and contacts in the publishing business. I am business manager of a magazine that discusses these issues. My articles on the basics of writing have been anthologized. So I think my experience should count for something.

How long have you been publishing?