How Much Money Can You Make by Writing a Book?
Imagine for a moment that you have spent a year carefully editing, creating, and re-editing a masterpiece. Now, you are ready to publish and dream of money in the realm of a James Patterson writer. Being able to lounge on a beach somewhere outside the 9 to 5 humdrum world of modern society is incredibly enticing. The only question left is how much money can you make?
The average salary for a published author is around $43,000, but that is just an idea. In reality, most authors never make it past the first book. So many factors can influence being a $500 dollar trickle seller to a massive gold rush of millions on a Harry Potter-ish best seller.
Then there are the side gigs. You can be a ghost writer and make passive income from writing for others dreaming of making it big. To put it simply, there is no way to know, but I’ll break down some numbers just in case.
Types of Ways Authors Make Money
All right, first my bonafides. I am a self-published author and freelance writer on Fiverr. I earn money from clients ordering articles, press releases, and other types of copy, as well as from passive sales of my numerous books.
Like myself, many authors earn money through:
- Digital Sales: eBooks are a booming industry, especially for the modern reader who loves convenience wherever they go. There were over 191 million sales of eBooks in 2020 alone.
- Physical Copies: There’s something nostalgic and special about holding a physical book – especially that smell! About 788 million units of books were sold in 2022 – making this this juggernaut of the publishing world.
- Audiobooks: With the rise of platforms like Audible, people are ‘reading’ through their ears more than ever. Plenty of people, from delivery drivers to stay-at-home parents, love audiobooks.
- Merchandising: From t-shirts to toys, merchandise can boost an author’s income, especially if you’ve created a captivating universe or characters. Have you ever picked up a Wheel of Time graphic tee?
- Movie Deals: This is the golden ticket. Think J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. From page to big screen, these deals can be incredibly lucrative. My personal favorite is the latest version of IT by Stephen King, and any murder mystery book turned film.
How Much Do Authors Make?
Again, there is no clear way to answer this question. You never know when your latest erotic novel in the reverse harem niche is going to “pop” online. The best way to discuss actual earnings is to look at per-book value.
For example, if you are a traditionally published author, you are going to make anywhere from 10-25% of your book’s profits. So if a $20 hardcover book sells, you will get $2-$5 for that sale. Where does the rest of the money go? That is going to be sent to the cost of publishing, artwork, printing, distribution, and a ton of other factors handled by your publishing house.
Then, you will have to pay anyone on your team out of your profits. So we’re talking about your manager (10%), SEO/marketing team, and probably a researcher or two. By the end of the day, you’re probably only bringing home $1.50 to $3.00 per book sold.
If you sell 20,000 units of books (which is an excellent feat in today’s world), your profit is about $30,000-$60,000 per book.
This is a bit of a pipe dream. Most authors will never break the $1,000 mark a year without a much deeper understanding of writing to market, a la Chris Fox. You can try to go the traditional route or put out a self-published book, but either way, if you want success, you’ll need to rethink this side hustle as a full-time gig.
Self-Published vs. Traditional Publishing
When it comes to how much money can you make by writing a book, you’re going to have to make a critical decision.
- Are you traditionally published?
- Do you self-publish?
- Are you a hybrid author?
Self publishing is very different from traditional. Instead of a house doing all the work for you, finding an editor, leveraging marketing, and making sales is on your shoulders. This is usually through a platform like Amazon KDP or Ingram Spark.
The earnings are much better. When you write the story you want and make a sale, you get anywhere from 35 to 70% of the royalties. So, if you have a $10 eBook on Amazon, you can expect to earn the profits from printing. Say it costs $3.50 to print. That means $6.50 is profit. Of that $6.50, you get $4.50.
In this world, if you sell 20,000 units, you are earning $90,000. Again, you’ll have to account for marketing (ads, running your website, hiring editors, etc.), but it is way more lucrative. Plus, you get creative control, which is nice when you want to tell the story in your heart and not up to the committee.
Oh, and one more final thought about the difference: you own the rights! Traditional publishing typically involves signing over some form of the rights to your intellectual property. That means a publishing company can control merchandising, film deals, TV series, and more without your consent.
In my case, I created an LLC that owns my intellectual property and an S-Corp that manages my LLC. This helps with taxes (especially capital gains) and ensures my books remain in a trust so my family can maintain control and earnings in the future.
What About a Book Advance?
Book advances are a bit of a different beast. Many famous writers got their start from a hefty check that a publishing company decided to dish out. A book advance is a payment against future royalties.
Here’s the trick: this is essentially a loan. If a publisher gives you a $30,000 book advance, they have done the numbers and think you should earn back that kind of money through sales. If you don’t, you will be responsible for paying back that advance to the publisher because that money has become “earned out.”
For traditional writers, you can expect a book advance between $5,000 and $50,000. For self-published entrepreneurs, you’re better off focusing on building your author’s platform than seeking an advance – because it ain’t happening.
What are the Typical Expenses for Writing a Book?
This is a bit of a loaded question. It really depends on the pathway you are traveling. If you are a self-published author, you will have way more expenses than a traditional writer. The good news is that it takes next to nothing to get started.
All you really need is a pen and paper. The better route is at least a computer/laptop and Microsoft Word. There are also tons of writing software programs you can use to help you along the way.
If you are self-published, you’re looking at expenses like:
- Multiple routes/types of editing $500-$3,500
- Cover Art $100-800
- Layout Design $150
- Marketing Budget $500
- Web Hosting & Site $250/year
- Software $100-$300/year
- Copyright Services $50-$100
- Email Hosting Plan $8-$15/month
As you can see, it gets pretty financially challenging to be a successful self-published author. You will spend anywhere from $1,000-$4,500 to publish an average length book of 45,000 to 95,000 words.
Or you can go the “superhuman” route and learn how to do these skills on your own. There are fantastic resources like Mark Dawson’s Self Publishing 101 course, Joanna Penn’s books, and the 20Booksto50K Facebook Group.
I will say that if you are going to spend any real money on being self-published – make it on editing. There is nothing more valuable than a quality edited book. Next in line is the cover art. The rest, you can probably get by on your own.
What are the Most Profitable Book Genres?
Here is where the rubber hits the road. If you want to earn a lot in a writing career as an author, you have to decide if you will “write to market” or put out art books (literature). This is like Brad Pitt doing an art film like Meet Joe Black compared to the recent Netflix-produced Bullet Train. One earns more than the other because it hits a broader audience.
So, if you want to earn more with your books, sink them into the top-earning niche markets per Amazon’s current earnings:
- Romance/Erotica ($1.44 billion).
- Crime/Mystery ($728.2 million).
- Religious/Inspirational ($720 million).
- Science Fiction/Fantasy ($590.2 million).
- Horror ($79.6 million).
I would also throw children’s books and teen-themed (think Hunger Games) in that ring as well. You know these do well because when you go into an airport bookstore, those are what is on the wall. When you want to make money online, you want to focus on these book genres.
No matter what, you must promote to earn. It doesn’t matter if you are writing the next Harry Potter series. Without solid marketing, no one beyond your mom is going to read your books. Luckily, that only takes a budget of $5/day on Facebook or a decent posting schedule to Instagram and TikTok to get you started for free.
Whether you’re hoping to make passive income or want to join the ranks of famous writers, writing a book is a worthy endeavor. But remember, while the potential is there, the guaranteed riches are few and far between.
Before you dream of millions flowing into your online accounts, let me leave you with some solid advice: find a balance between your writing passion and earning a living. Try to write in the genre that appeals to you but also will bring you enough income to take a vacation occasionally.
Can you make money writing a book on Amazon?
Absolutely! Amazon is a massive platform with a broad audience. It can be a goldmine with the proper promotion and perhaps a little luck.
How much money do authors make a year?
This varies widely. Some authors make nothing, while others rake in millions. The median is somewhere around $20,000 to $30,000 for mid-list authors.
How much do bestselling authors make per book?
Again, this can vary. A top-selling author might earn anywhere from $1 to $3 per book sold. With a hit book selling millions of copies, the earnings add up fast. A self-published author will earn much more through this side hustle, with around $3-$8 per book.