If you’re looking to become an author, you might be thinking how much do authors make? Is it a sustainable career option?
Many will look at being an author as being a “starving artist.” And while this may have been true when the traditional publishing industry turned away almost everyone, it’s just not the reality anymore.
There are so many people out there making a living writing and publishing books. And not just barely making a living, making a full, healthy full-time income while pursuing something they truly enjoy.
Authors can expect to make a full-time living provided they have multiple books, know how to market them well, and an active, engaged fan base.
There are a ton of factors that play a role in how much authors make in a year. No two authors will make the same amount, though we all wish we could be lumped with the income of J.K. Rowling or Stephen King.
How much an author makes per year depends on:
Royalty rate earned per book sale
Up-front advance offered (traditionally published only)
Scope of book marketing
Size of audience
How many books are published per year
How many books are currently out
While most people think traditionally published authors make more than self-published authors because of the fame of authors like Stephen King or George R.R. Martin, that’s not actually true.
The averages actually swing higher in favor of self-published authors.
You can see a real breakdown of each with our self-publishing vs traditional publishing analysis to see for yourself.
Here are the main differences in income for self-published authors versus traditionally published authors:
Traditionally Published Authors
40% – 60% royalties per book
Can publish 2-3 high-quality books a year
No advance, but you make money right away
10% – 12% royalties per book
Can take 2-3 years to publish one book
Up-front advance (but you don’t make royalties until that advance is “paid back” to the publisher)
If you want a specific amount made per book between self-published authors and traditionally published authors (after printing costs as indicated by Amazon, etc.) at a $13.99 retail price and a 50% royalty rate for self-published authors and a 10% royalty rate for traditionally published authors, here you go:
Self-Published Authors – $13.99 retail priced book
$4.77 per book
Traditionally Published Authors – $13.99 retail priced book
Note: Traditional publishing houses may have a lower printing cost through partnership deals or owning a printing press, but a $4.45 printing cost was used in the above calculations for both.
Regardless, you can see the major difference between the two: several dollars per book for a self-published author and sometimes not even a full dollar for traditionally published authors.
How much money does a new author make?
This is such a common question we get here at Self-Publishing School, and it’s understandable. Most people think you have to be really well-known to make money as an author.
This will help you understand how to price your book and help you calculate sales goals in order to reach an income level you really want.
Many of our students sell 2 -3 books per day through our Sell More Books program, and with many having multiple books, this number increases rapidly.
Ultimately, if you want to make money as a new author, your best bet is to write often, publish often, and create series or at a minimum, multiple books.
What are common author royalty earnings?
Since we covered this above for the most part, let’s give a quick overview of what author royalties look like.
Self-published authors can make between 40% – 60% royalties on a single book sale while traditionally published authors usually make between 10%-12% royalties.
First-time authors who want to traditionally publish can get an advance, which is usually $10,000 (usually not that much more for a first-timer). However, with traditional publishing, you do not start to earn royalties until you have sold $10,000 worth of books atyour royalty rate.
Basically, you have to earn back that $10,000 before you actually start to earn a royalty check from your publisher. And many publishers make a deal with the author that if they sell X amount of books, their royalty rate will go up, hence the difference there.
For self-published authors, you start making money from your first sale.
Ways to Make More Money as an Author
So now that you have an understanding of how much authors make, we wanted to let you in on a few tips for making more money as an author.
Here are our best tips for becoming a full-time author.
#1 – Choose between self-publishing or traditional publishing
First and foremost, you’ve got to learn the difference between self-publishing vs traditional publishing, and then make the choice that will be best for you.
Setting yourself up for success with this is crucial if you want to make the most money you can as an author.
There are successful paths with both avenues. Just know that traditional publishing will take longer (2-3 years with the entire process it encompasses) and you might not see big returns unless you end up getting lucky with a bidding war between publishing houses.
Those bidding wars are what usually get authors massive advances, like those 6 or 7-figure deals you hear about.
We actually put together a deep, full analysis for you to decide for yourself. Just click the button in the image below!
#2 – Write to market
Did you know traditional publishing houses have staff who come up with book concepts that are “trending” or hitting really well in the market, and then they also employ writers to bring those ideas to life?
Sometimes it’s the same person, but not always. They do this in order to have the biggest chance of making money by capitalizing on what’s “hot” in literature right now.
The best part? You can do this yourself as a self-published author.
But how do you write to market? And is it a less “legitimate” form of being an author?
There’s an argument between some more entitled authors and those who write to market under the guise of writing to market being a “sell-out” or some of the equivalent.
That’s just people being, well, entitled.
The truth is that if you love to write and can come up with story ideas easily, can write quickly, and are able to publish quickly, then writing to market is a legitimate (and smart) career opportunity as an author.
As a self-published author, you can write to market by looking at categories you enjoy creating stories in and seeing what types of stories are doing really well.
An example would be the Age of Vampire Novels that was initially kicked off by books like Twilight, triggering an explosion on vampire stories by many authors and publishing houses. And these sold really well.
Today, vampires aren’t quite as popular as Urban Fantasy in the Young Adult category.
If you’re someone who likes fantasy, you can benefit from writing those types of books and publishing them frequently.
The idea is to create a lifestyle with writing your novels. Instead of dedicating an entire month to it, you dedicate your life to building habits around writing every day.
Because if you want to make money as an author, you have to make it a habit, a part of your life, and a job.
So we recommend creating writing habits you can stick to in order to always be working on a story.
#4 – Publish series
If you truly want to “make it” as an author, writing and publishing a book series is a fast way to get there, especially if you publish multiple series.
The reason you make more money with publishing a series is simple: one customer is more likely to make multiple purchases.
If you have a great first book, they’ll buy the second and then the third, etc. This means you can make more money off of a single person.
Not only that, but if one customer buys every book in your series, they’ll also usually leave reviews as well as buy other books you’ve published that aren’t in the series.
Series establish a strong fanbase, which keeps you “employed” as a full-time author.
#5 – Put together an email list or other platform
Having a singular way you can communicate with people who have said “yes!” to wanting information from you is crucial. It’s like having a sales list.
We always recommend an email list because you own your list. Whereas with social media platforms, the company owns your followers, you don’t.
So if anything were to happen to a social platform and you lose all those followers, you’d have no way of communicating with them–just imagine if a social platform went down the DAY of your launch.
Email lists are also a great resource for recruiting beta readers, launch team members, and getting people excited about your book come launch time.
Here are a few things you need to create an email list:
Email provider like Convertkit (we have an SPS student exclusive deal through them!), Mailchimp, or other
A way to capture emails: like a website, a lead magnet in your book, etc.
That’s it! If you can capture an email address to a service provider, you’re done.
#6 – Commit to being an author
One of the best pieces of advice we have for you is to make a commitment. You can’t expect to make a full-time income if you’re only sort of interested in writing or you only work on writing when the mood strikes.
Just like with any other job, you have to work whether you’re in the mood or not.
This is the biggest mindset shift our fiction coach Ramy instills in our students. So much so that our exclusive community decided to take InNoWriLife a step further and track their progress with each other in a massive spreadsheet.
This is their dedication, and it’s why these students are so successful in being authors.
They wanted it and they made the changes needed to make it happen, like investing in Self-Publishing School to teach them the ropes.
But it’s not just our fiction students who are crushing this. Our Become a Bestseller nonfiction students are just as dedicated and have created the same habits.