Understanding Publishing – Part 5: Money$$$

OK. This is the topic we are all interested in. How much do we get paid?

This is another topic that gets skewed by what the mainstream media covers in regards to books. We when think published authors, we think Stephen King, Koontz, and all those other huge name writers who have been around for a while and sell huge numbers.

That can skew us because that is the tip of the iceberg. Those writers represent the top 1% of writers. And unfortunately for the rest of us, that’s where most of the money is.

See, publishing, like most industries, is generally very risk averse. Publishers generally operate on budgets with very small profit margins. That means there isn’t a lot of room for mistake. Choosing to publish the wrong book can be devastating for a publisher as well as the author. The author’s career takes a big hit and the publisher’s yearly budget gets swamped.

Writers with well-known names have a built-in audience. That takes a giant piece of the risk pie off the table for a publisher. It’s Stephen King. What can they lose publishing his book?

That’s why publishers want authors with well-built platforms – authors who write in their field of expertise. They already know you have an audience and they know just how to reach them.

If you don’t have those things established, the publisher is taking a bigger risk with your project.

So how much will you get paid?

First, there are advances. But these are tricky and all across the board. If a publisher thinks your book is primed to sell well, they can and will offer an advance on your royalties. This gives you some financial freedom as the book process starts. However, it is important to know this is an advance. That means they are floating you that money on the belief your sales will allow them to recuperate that.

A big advance is great, but it comes with risk. If you don’t sell through your advance (enough to make that back and then some) then you could end up owing money to your publisher. So, be wary of what you agree to.

The average royalties for a hardback are between 10-15%. For a paperback, that’s 5-7%.

These can be calculating a few different ways, but the two most popular are a retail royalty and a conventional royalty. A retail royalty is locked in. That is a percentage of the sales based on the retail price. That’s easier for the author because you know how much you should make per sale.

The other method offers a percentage of the total sales. Many retailers offer discounts to booksellers, so you get your percentage of what the publisher earns. That is easier for the publisher, but harder for the author to keep track of outside of royalty statements. Those royalty statements should also be provided to you consistently.

So to sum, it’s important to know the ins and outs of the money. For most of the people reading this, myself included, there won’t be a lot of money out there for our books. We will be working in smaller profit margins, so it’s important for us to know what to expect and what our responsibilities are.

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