When you see news reports of authors and celebrities landing multimillion-dollar contracts to write a book, it might be tempting to think that becoming an author is a path to riches. While some writers do make millions on their work, that is the exception rather than the rule. If you are lucky enough to land a book contract, a number of factors influence how much money you can earn on your work.
Advances and Royalties
When a publisher accepts your work, you make money based on your advance and the book royalties. In general, publishers calculate how much they expect the book to earn, factoring in the editing, printing, and promotion costs, the cover price, and expected sales. The author earns a percentage of the proceeds from the book, which varies according to the genre of the book and the production costs. Your advance, which can range from a few hundred dollars to more than six figures if you’re a household name or have an especially compelling story to tell, is based on the expected sales of the book. Once the book has sold enough copies that the publisher has recouped the advance, you’ll be paid royalties on each copy sold based on the terms in your contract. In some cases, authors choose to take a smaller advance in favor of a larger royalty percentage, but every publishing contract differs.
In some cases, you can earn money by selling additional rights to your book. If your book has appeal outside the United States, your publisher or agent may sell the rights to publish the book in foreign languages. If the foreign rights to your book sell, you get paid a percentage of the sale based on your contract terms. You can also earn money if you sell film or television rights to your book, or excerpts of your book to magazines. If you write nonfiction, your publisher or agent might sell excerpts of your book for anthologies or collections, and college and universities often pay for rights to reproduce sections of books for course readings.
Writing a book is one way to build your platform and expertise, and can be a springboard to more money-earning opportunities. For example, if you are a financial or investment expert, and you write a book about investing for beginners, you may get the opportunity to write a column in a newspaper or magazine, or get regular appearances on a television or radio show. These opportunities may be paid positions, and they will increase your exposure, leading to greater book sales. If you own a business, publishing a book can increase your customer base and improve the bottom line.
If you self-publish your book, meaning that you pay a printer or publishing company to print your book, it is possible, but rare, for you to make a substantial income from your work. When you self-publish, you’re responsible for all the costs for production and promotion, which can quickly eat up any profits. However, if you have written a quality book and are committed to the promotion and sales efforts, you can earn back the money you spent and then some.
- Writer's Digest; Publishing Contracts 101 (Protect Your Work); Oct. 6, 2009
- Writer's Digest; What's the Deal?; Tom Connor; Feb. 11, 2008
- CNET; Self-Publishing a Book: 25 Things You Need to Know; David Carnoy; July 27, 2010
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An adjunct instructor at Central Maine Community College, Kristen Hamlin is also a freelance writer on topics including lifestyle, education, and business. She is the author of Graduate! Everything You Need to Succeed After College (Capital Books), and her work has appeared in Lewiston Auburn Magazine, Young Money, USA Today and a variety of online outlets. She has a B.A. in Communication from Stonehill College, and a Master of Liberal Studies in Creative Writing from the University of Denver.