How much do authors actually earn? Royalties, advances and more

Now this is a question that I have, as much as the next person. And so thank you to the awesome person on Quora, Marion Gropen, who answered it. I’ve converted the figures too so you have UK and US currency (for all my lovely Brits).

The important stats:

  • The top 12 books per year sell more than a million copies
  • The next 100 or so books sell between 100,000 and 1 million copies

Sounds like quite a jump right? Well, it is and it will affect how much an author gets paid in royalties.


Royalties are the author’s cut of the book sales, effectively. They’re your commission for getting your sh*t together and finishing that awesome book of yours.

Typically, an author can expect to receive the following royalties:

Hardback edition: 10% of the retail price on the first 5,000 copies; 12.5% for the next 5,000 copies sold, then 15% for all further copies sold.

Paperback: 8% of retail price on the first 150,000 copies sold, then 10% thereafter.

Exceptions to the above include sales to warehouse clubs (like Costco or Sam’s Club), book clubs, and special orders; the royalty percentages for these can be half the figures listed above.

Source: Alan Jacobson

I am also going to include Marion Gropen’s caveat here: that often royalties include a minimum sold before they kick in. Usually this is 10,000 copies.

Because I’d rather be pessimistic than optimistic when it comes to projected future earnings (and I can start planning the size of my house/dog/desk accordingly).

Hardback market

books stack old antique

Most novels are sold as mass market paperbacks, with roughly ¼ of them sold as hardbacks.

A mass-selling hardback will have an average price of $22, or £16. (In fact, some hardbacks go for much more, up to £30/$39 is not uncommon)

Let’s say royalties are paid out after the first 10,000 copies sold (which isn’t always the case, and there’s an interesting article about that here) and the author is offered 10% of the first 5,000, 12.5% of the second 5,000 and 15% thereafter.

So remember for the following calculations, you are earning royalties on the number over 10,000. E.g. for 15,000 books sold, you earn royalties on 5,000 books.

  • After selling 10,000 hard backs, you would earn £0 ($0)
  • After selling 15,000 hard backs, you would earn £8,000 ($11,000)
  • After selling 20,000 hard backs, you would earn £18,000 ($24,750)
  • After selling 50,000 hard backs, you would earn £90,000 ($123,750)

Sounds pretty sweet after the 50k point right?

Well, think back to the important stats. If hardback accounts for a quarter of your sales, that means you’re projected to sell 200,000 books. Which puts you firmly in the top 100 books of the year.

There are 32 million books in print, worldwide. Amazon alone publishes over 1 million a year, and it’s estimated there are between 5 and 10 million print books published per annum.

So you’d need to be in the top percentile of that to receive your £90k kickback. To give you an idea for scale, here’s what the best selling paperback books in the US this October:

Best-selling books in the United States in the week October 22, 2018 to October 28, 2018, by unit sales (in 1,000s)

Screen Shot 2018-11-06 at 19.49.14.png

Source: Statista

Paperback Market

woman holding book

For a mass market paperback, royalties are typically lower. The Quora poster said they were around the 10% level, although the guardian article references 8% and so does Jacobson.

In the interests of pessimism over optimism, I will opt for 8% of the first 150,000 copies sold, then 10% thereafter, with no royalties paid on the first 10,000.

The average price for a paperback varies year on year, but presently it sits around £7.40 in the UK and $7.99 in the US. 

Remember again for the following calculations, you are earning royalties on the number over 10,000. E.g. for 15,000 books sold, you earn royalties on 5,000 books.

  • After selling 10,000 paperbacks, you would earn £0 ($0)
  • After selling 15,000 paperbacks, you would earn £2,960 ($3,196)
  • After selling 30,000 paperbacks, you would earn £14,800 ($15,980)
  • After selling 50,000 paperbacks, you would earn £23,680 ($25,568)
  • After selling 100,000 paperbacks, you would earn £53,280 ($57,528)
  • After selling 220,000 paperbacks you would earn £133,200 ($143,820)

Combine the two, and you’re looking at an “average”  per 100,000 books (20k hardbacks and 80k paperbacks) sold of:

  • Paperback + Hardback UK: £65k
  • Paperback + Hardback US: $75k

The Quora answer also states:

Some bestselling authors actually get more per copy, because their publishers deliberately overpay on the advance. They do this so that they can pay more money without setting a precedent on royalty rates for other authors.


person holding person holding kobo e reader

(Assuming that most authors will self-publish online, rather than paying for print.)

Important stats:

  • A handful of bestselling epub authors will hit 300,000 sales
  • A hundred or so will hit 30,000 sales

Amazon royalty rates:

List Price Apple iBookstore Other Retailers
$0.99-$2.98 35% 40% 70% 40%-55%
$2.99-$9.99 70% 65% 70% 40%-55%
$10-$199.99 35% 40% 70% 40%-55%

Source: Mill City Press

Let’s say you publish at £4.50 in GBP and $4.99 in USD on Amazon and receive 70% royalties.

  • After selling 10,000 ebooks, you would earn £31,500 ($34,930)
  • After selling 15,000 ebooks, you would earn £47,250 ($52,395)
  • After selling 30,000 ebooks, you would earn £94,500 ($104,790)
  • After selling 100,000 ebooks, you would earn £315,000 ($349,300)

These numbers look much better! 70% commission sounds great, right?

But you also have to factor in the self-publishing costs:

  • Writing and self-publishing software: £57 ($75)
  • Hiring an editor: £763 ($1,000)
  • Cover design: £190 ($250)

Source: Becomeawritertoday

And the cost of marketing your ebook:

Which sadly, I don’t have a number for. Because it really depends how much you can and want to sink into marketing your book. However, if you are going down the self-publishing route, I cannot recommend the Facebook group 20 books to 50k enough – there is a wealth of information, tips and guidance for those going down the self-publishing path, including lots of advice on how to market and how much to spend.

Now, I won’t get into the war on traditional vs. indie publishing, I think there are merits to both and the scope of this post is to focus on the monetary side of things.

But I will leave you with this quote from the Guardian:

In the wake of a year that has seen a bitter war of words rage between traditionally published and self-published authors, the survey shows that the old way of doing things continues to reap the most financial rewards for writers, with traditionally published authors making a median annual income of $3,000–$4,999, and independent writers a median of $500–$999. So-called hybrid authors, however – those who publish in both ways – did best, earning $7,500–$9,999 a year.

And the reminder that no matter which route you choose, if your book sells, you may be able to earn a decent wage from it. 

All sources are quoted and linked throughout the post. Please refer to inline links for further details of the sources used. Or drop me a comment below!


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