Monday, August 25, 2008

What authors make

There's a discussion over in about what authors make. Jeffrey A. Carver already chimed in there, and I just added this:

To expand a bit on what my friend Jeff Carver said above, many major US publishers pay the following royalty rates, or similar amounts:

Hardcovers: 10% on the first 5,000 copies; 12.5% on the next 5,000 copies; 15% thereafter

Trade (large-format paperbacks): 7.5%

Mass-Market paperbacks (beginning authors): 6% on the first 100,000 copies; 8% thereafter

Mass-Market paperbacks (established authors): 8% on the first 100,000 copies; 10% thereafter

Note that these royalties are on the list (cover) price, not on what the bookseller actually charges. If Amazon sells a $25 hardcover at $16, the author still normally gets $2.50 (although there are conditions when the discount to the bookseller has been so deep that special lower royalty rates kick in).

Most ebook retailers, on the other hand, pay royalties as a percentage of the actual price paid by the consumer, not the suggested list price (so although the percentages are higher, the actual royalty amount isn't as good as it appears at first blush).

First novels from major publisher normally have advances against royalties of $2,500 to $7,500, although there are exceptions; advances go up for later novels, if sales warrant.

A great many genre-fiction writers stall for their whole careers at a per-book advance level of around $20,000, though; few authors are getting $50,000 or more per book in genre fiction.

Note that the advances above for the principal licensed territory (in many cases, just the US and Canada). Authors may get separate advances for the UK (often bundled with Australia), and for foreign (translation rights). Some authors, however, sell World English Rights to the same publisher (Tor, the largest SF publisher in English, tries to buy those rights, for instance).

SF author Mike Resnick did a rough-and-ready back-of-an-enveloped calculation some years ago that suggested that of the 1,2000 or so active members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, maybe 100 make $100,000 or more per year. Change that figure to $500,000 or more, and it's probably 25 members.

(But even $100,000 isn't as good as it sounds -- you have to buy your own office equipment, pay your own health and other insurances, get no pension, etc. etc.; a standard yardstick is that you need to make twice as much if you're self-employed as you do as an employee to enjoy the same standard of living and level of security.)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


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