The Glories of Authorship

A friend who might be getting a book deal asked me about “the numbers,” and here’s my response. This is to explain why, even with four books in print right now, I drive a 20-year-old car and live in a tiny studio, from which I work at two jobs.


Good to hear from you, and congrats on your upcoming book journey.

The numbers are somewhere between hard to figure and pretty standard, if that makes sense. In other words, there seems to be a typical range, and variations within that range are small to the world of publishing but seem big to writers and publishers.

In other words, between what I have gotten and heard about, advances on first editions may run from $3,000 to $6,000, if anything less, and royalties around 10-15% of the publisher’s net. And, if it’s not apparent, an advance is against those royalties. Also, if it’s not clear, the publisher’s net is roughly 50% of the cover price, so 10% of net is 5% of cover price. When they sell an $18 book, you make 90 cents.

So it kind of goes like this: you get $3,000 and feel rich. Then you work your ass off and create a book that means the world to you. It comes out, and you get to go over to Powells, buy a latte, and see your book¬†on the shelf. This is really cool. Then, in the first year, your publisher sells maybe 2,000 copies at $15 per, “earning” you something like $1,500. You don’t see this, of course, because of the advance. The next year they sell another 1,000, and you’ve “made” $750. If you’re lucky, the book does well, you got a good rate and/or the advance was small, you might see another check two or three years after the book comes out, which is typically a year after you do all the work.

So, bottom line:

  1. You get paid
  2. You work like hell
  3. A year later, you see your book in print and feel groovy
  4. A few years later you (barely) get paid again

If you’re smart you will not treat this as a way to get wealthy, and you will never, ever consider what your hourly rate of pay is.

This is why am moving towards publishing my own books!