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Q: royalties paid to authors ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   4 Comments )
Subject: royalties paid to authors
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Books and Literature
Asked by: poweroflove-ga
List Price: $20.00
Posted: 04 Aug 2002 17:27 PDT
Expires: 03 Sep 2002 17:27 PDT
Question ID: 50620
I currently am writing a non-fiction book about my experiences in love
and relationships.  It reads very much like a diary (in fact, much
of it is a diary) - personal, emotionally raw, touching, honest,
funny, real.  I have not yet decided if I will strive to publish with
a big publishing house, a small publishing house, or self-publish. 
Part of what I need to know before making this decision is the net
amount of royalties and other monies paid to authors using these
various methods of publishing.  Specifically, I would like to know how
much authors make in royalties using each of these methods at the low
end, at the high end, and on average.  Also, it would be helpful to
get statistics as to what percentage of authors fall into the low end,
the mid-range, and the high end money-making categories for each
publishing method.  Thanks in advance for your assistance.
Subject: Re: royalties paid to authors
Answered By: morris-ga on 05 Aug 2002 10:17 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars

Royalties for authors are all over the place, but as a new author, you
start at the bottom. Fiction authors are actually the highest paid, if
they sell, hardcovers pay appreciably more than softcovers. Royalties
are typically broken out on a scale according to the number of copies
sold, such as:

10% on the first 5000 copies
12.5% on the next 5000 copies
15% over 10,000 copies

The big question is percentage of what. According to the Author's
Guild, these percentages are possible for hardcover works, in my
experience, they are quite high. As a bestselling nonfiction author of
trade paperbacks (computer books), I get 12.5% of NET on the first
10,000, 15% thereafter. NET refers to the publishers net income,
slightly less than half of the cover price. In other words, on a $25
book, I average about $1.50 in royalties per copy. Through writer's
groups, I know many authors who make appreciably less.

Most nonfiction authors work for advances, the money the publisher
pays you to deliver the fished manuscript, with partial payments
coming at contract signing, intermediate stages, and as late as
publication. Foreign royalties, book club sales, special discounts and
rights sales also play a part. See the article "Book contracts,
publisher agreements, and author royalties"

When it comes to self publishing, I must warn you that the main
challenge isn't in the publishing part, it's in the sales part. You
can get your books into distribution (the distributors like Ingram
Books and Baker&Taylor) who supply bookstores and libraries if you
make the effort, but retail stores will not order your book from these
distributors unless you create the demand through reviews in national
publications (very hard to get) or extensive book readings and
speaking engagements.

That said, there are two choices in self-publishing, ordering and
taking delivery of the bookstore get the per unit cost down, or
print-on-demand (POD). I've self published several books using both
local offset shops and using the national print broker, RJcom

RJcom has an online pricing engine that lets you put in the cut size
(book cover measurements), number of pages, quantity, etc, and get the
pricing for various quantities. A 320 page hardcover with a four-color
dust jacket I did through RJcom at quantity 1,000 cost around $6.00
each. At my cover price of $21.95 and the standard industry discount
of 55%, I only make about $4.00 each for books sold through
distribution, BEFORE shipping and handling. Fortunately, that book was
a labor of love. As a soft cover, a 288 page paperback at 5.5" x 8.5"
with a four color cover will run

Quantity - Price/book

As you can see, the price with offset printing falls drastically with
the number of copies printed. Since your cover price is a constant,
the more copies you print, the higher your profit will be, IF THE
BOOKS SELL. Even large publishers will often print just a few thousand
copies of a new book, to reduce the risk of returns and the book not

The final option is Print on Demand, and you'll see some POD
publishers offering very high royalty rates, 30% of the cover and
better. However, in order to achieve these royalty rates, these POD
publishers are selling the books into distribution at a short
discount, as low as 10%, meaning that a book store that wants your
book will have to pay the distributor the cover price just to get the
book, and possibly shipping and handling to boot. Nobody will order
the book for stock on these terms, and many book stores won't even
order it if you walk in and pay cash-in-advance.

Most of these print-on-demand publishers use on of the big fulfillment
houses, of which Ingram Lightning Source is the biggest. There are
many expenses involved in setting up as a POD publisher, such as
buying ISBN numbers, set-up fees, formatting the books properly, but
in the end, you can use the following to estimate the actual cost of
producing your book through POD.

$100 set-up per book plus
$0.90 per copy plus
$0.013per page.

So, 300 page book that sells 1000 copies (excellent sales for POD)
costs the publisher $4.90 each. Since the book is produced by Ingram,
there are no extra shipping costs to get it into distribution. The
cover price is whatever you decide, but for the book to have any
chance to be stocked by stores, the discount rate must be at least
50%. You quickly see why POD books have such high cover prices, for
the publisher and the author to both make money. A POD publisher I've
had several conversations with who pays a 35% royalty is Booklocker at

Just keep in mind that they offer a short discount in distribution, so
your book is very unlikely to make it into stores, the best chance for
sales will be over the Internet

I hope this answered your question, and best of luck with your book.

Google Search Terms:

Author Royalties

Request for Answer Clarification by poweroflove-ga on 05 Aug 2002 15:56 PDT
Hi Morris,

Thanks so much for all of the wonderful feedback regarding royalties. 
I feel that there is a lot of information in your answer, which will
be extremely helpful for me as I decide upon a publishing method and
negotiate a book contract.  However, I still feel as though a big part
of my initial question has remained unanswered. When I asked for "the
net amount of royalties and other monies paid to authors using these
various methods," I was looking more for a range of actual amounts
made by first-time authors (e.g., losing $10,000 at the low end to a
profit of over $1,000,000 at the high end) than for a formula, which
allows me to calculate how much royalties I could make based upon
cover price and book sales. While the information you offered will
most definitely help me to know how many books I need to sell in order
to make "X" amount of dollars, it does not help me understand the
liklihood of selling that many books. Do you understand what I'm
saying? Perhaps, this bit of information will help to make my question
clearer.  I am planning to ask certain individuals (who have money but
are NOT publishers) to "invest" in the writing of my book.  I'd like
to offer them a percentage of MY royalties in exchange.  But, in order
for that offer to mean anything, I have to be able to tell them how
much royalties I can be expected to make overall.  That was why I
asked for "statistics as to what percentage of authors fall into the
low end, the mid-range, and the high end money-making categories for
each publishing method."  For instance, what percentage of authors
make less than $10,000 in royalties?  What percentage make between
$10,000 - $25,000 in royalties?  What percentage make between $25,000
- $100,000 in royalties? What percentage make over $100,000 in
royalties? How much do best-selling first-time authors make in
royalties (on average)? etc.  Do you see what I'm saying?  If not,
feel free to ask for more clarification before responding.  Thanks so
much for your assistance.

Clarification of Answer by morris-ga on 05 Aug 2002 19:28 PDT
Well, since you asked, I'll give you the bad news. Last year, using
numbers from Publishers Weekly on the number of books published and
the total value of the American book market, plus an average sales
price I derived from the top 100 books on Amazon, I worked out that
the average new book sold less than 2,000 copies. This means that the
average book is a financial failure for the author. This figure
includes books from large and small presses alike, though not
surprisingly, small presses can reach break-even at much lower numbers
than large publishers. Some books, known as backlist titles, may sell
small numbers of copies over large numbers of years, which accounts
for a good proportion of the income for some publishers (and authors).
Large trade publishers of non-fiction expect to average between 5,000
and 10,000 books sold per title, depending on who you talk to. None of
these numbers are available as publicly published figures, they are
gleaned from relationships with editors, agents and through
participating in professional groups. Much like Hollywood, publishers
really count of bestsellers for their profits.

As to breaking down the monies made by first time authors, I can
assure you that those numbers don't exist. In publishing, as in many
other industries, knowledge is power, and the information kept secret
in hopes of attaining competitive advantages. Publishers don't share
their figures on what books are making money, or how many copies
they've sold, unless they are bestsellers. My educated guess would be
that far less than 1% of new authors make over $100,000 and 90% make
under $10,000. I remember an interview with a non-fiction author (a
newspaper correspondent who wrote on the side) who didn't sell out an
advance until his 13th book, and it turns out that many non-fiction
writers never do. That's why I mentioned that most non-fiction writers
are essentially working for an advance.

When you talk about negative returns, you're talking strictly about
self-publishing. The maximum loss is limited by the amount of money
one puts in, but I'm afraid that very few writer/publishers brag about
their losses in public (I'm a bit of an exception there). The problem
for self-publishers is you can't publish 100 books in hopes of getting
that 1 in 100 bestseller. The playing field is not level, self
publishing is looked down upon by everybody from the Library of
Congress to the distribution level, and the only chance of achieving
appreciable sales is through extremely aggressive marketing.
Essentially, you have to sell the books by hand. If you're preparing a
business plan for potential investors, I would focus on your plans for
giving book readings and signings or whatever other means you choose
for getting in front of people and selling them your book. If you can
stick it out of the road for hundreds of events, eventually, your book
might catch the attention of reviewers or you could score an interview
in the mass media. Although many memoirs are published every year, the
vast majority are memoirs of famous people rather than memoirs that
make people famous.

I hope I'm not simply discouraging you, and I'm sorry I can't point
you to published numbers in these areas,other than my own. The only
way to actually get these numbers would be to survey a large number of
self publishers, but as of yet, nobody has gone to the expense. The
numbers I'm giving you are based on personal experience, professional
relationships, and feedback from articles I've written on these
poweroflove-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Thanks both to the official researcher of my question as well as to
the individuals who were kind enough to share their wisdom through the
comments.  I am amazed at the amount of information that I have
received through this one question.  Although I am a complete "babe in
the woods" with regard to all of this publishing stuff, I already feel
like I know much more than when I first posted.  Best to all.

Subject: Re: royalties paid to authors
From: angy-ga on 04 Aug 2002 19:49 PDT
The amount of royalties is a matter for negotiation between the
individual author and the publisher. Organisations such as The Society
of Authors in the UK

or The Writer's Guild
430 Edgware Rd London W2 1EH
Tel:+44 (0) 20 7723 8074
Fax:+44 (0) 20 7706 2413 

will give advice on royalty and legal matters, as will Arts/Law in

Or you could look for the services of a literary agent who will
conduct negotiations on your behalf.

The main advantage of a traditional publishing house over
self-publishing is that they organise the distrubution of the book.
The disadvantage is that most have a strict remaindering policy, and
withdraw titles for pulping after a very few months.

Be careful, too, over the terms of any advances on royalties offered
to you. One author of my acquaintance was put in the unenviable
position of having to repay her advance.

Good luck.
Subject: Re: royalties paid to authors
From: tehuti-ga on 05 Aug 2002 04:01 PDT
This has some useful facts and figures about royalties.  It is
specifically about authors of romantic fiction, but probably applies
in the wider sense as well:

This is a series of articles written by an author, topics include:
getting published, contracts, e-publishing, and a breakdown of the
costs of self-publishing.

Here is some information about the publish-on-demand system:

and something about finding an agent:

This web site also has information about agents, plus other articles
that might be of interest:
Subject: Re: royalties paid to authors
From: siliconsamurai-ga on 05 Aug 2002 06:18 PDT
As an author of 5 books and moderator of several forums for
freelancers I would like to remind you that professional writers
seldom write a book before it has been sold.

If you feel the "need" to write this book, then, by all means, carry
on.  But, if this is strictly a business venture, consider writing a
plot summary, the first chapter, the last chapter, and start sending
that out to acquisition editors so determine if there is a market.

You should already be sending this out even if you intend to finish up
just for your own enjoyment or because you can self-publish, just to
see what reaction you get.

I don't know if you are a first timer or not.  If you are then I
should mention that you won't find a real agent at this stage, nor are
paid readers of any use.

Also, don't show your work to any friends, etc. Whether they cheer, or
jeer, they won't buy the book - don't show it to anyone but editors,
only they can judge it and write a check.

Check out for a self-publishing option
where you can print a single copy or publish an e-book, or both. (I
haven't checked lately, they may have changed focus.) If they keep
publishing I am giving serious thought to going that route even though
I have publishers willing to take my next two books - with any luck
I'll make more money using Indy.
Subject: Re: royalties paid to authors
From: intotravel-ga on 01 Mar 2003 22:02 PST
Hi, poweroflove-ga, 

The most effective way to get your book published, i.e. made public!,
is to get a good, commercial publisher to do it.

I wouldn't go the self-publishing route unless you really get a big
buzz out of all the stuff you'd have to do to promote your work. For
example, you would have to develop your own website with a very clear
brand image of you as a writer, post to messageboards and the like,
maybe produce a newsletter, and invest money in finding out all this
stuff (domain names, website hosting, branding, list-management
software, the works) ... although I will say that the Google Answers
researchers know all this, and could give you very effective,
first-class information on it. (Actually, many of these issues have
already been answered here by the Google Answers researchers, who are
writing from personal experience.  For example, one website,, shows how you can brand yourself in a situation where
you have a product or service to market, but do not wish your name to
be bandied about all over the web.)

However, the advantages of finding a publisher are that 
  (1) you don't have to become a marketing expert, you can focus on
your writing,
  (2) your book will be available everywhere. There is nothing so
efficient as the hundreds of thousands of bookshops all over the world
as a forum for distributing your message!
   (3) a good publisher will have a good editor, who can improve your
book dramatically! Even F. Scott Fitzgerald had an editor. So did
Frederick Forsyth (his first novel was actually re-written with the
help of an editor; but several million dollars later, I don’t think
he’s complaining!).

As I haven’t seen your work, I could be totally wrong about what is
the best way to publish it. What I will say is that the traditional
publishing view of “self-publishing” is  that it isn’t really
publishing at all.

Having said all this, the advantage of self-publishing is that, at the
very least, it will make your ideas available to a network of people,
your family and friends and that wider association of people who may
know of you and your work, ideas and experience. If you want more than
that, I think it would require a great business/marketing partner or
an incredible motivation to learn all that stuff.

I know two people who have self-published their work: self-published
in the sense that they both gave their books to; and the
advantage of this is that I can go to xlibris, pay maybe $20 to $30,
and get a copy of their books. However, they haven’t had any publicity
as a result of this; and if they want to get a traditional publisher,
they will still have to do all the things they would have had to do to
attract an agent or publisher.  In other words, they will still have
to: do some research to identify suitable publishers, write a letter
enclosing a sample chapter and table of contents, and wait for a

I hope this is helpful, poweroflove!  I think all of your ideas about
a book are really great! (My own background is in journalism and book
publishing, and I’ve met lots of authors, so that’s where I’m coming
from.)     Best wishes.

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