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Detailed Author Salary Report: How Much Do Authors Make?

Written by

Angelica Hartgers

https://selfpublishing.com/author/angelica-hartgers/

Published on

2019-09-05

Detailed Author Salary Report: How Much Do Authors Make?

What’s the average author salary? That’s a good question, and one that’s difficult to answer. 

Determining how much money you’ll make when you become an author is complex because no two authors are the same, and several factors can affect how much you make out of your writing career.

The wide variance in how much individual authors actually earn from their book sales is also caused by obscurity around the subject of financial earnings, which is not very transparent.

Some writers are of the mind that money should not be a measurement of success in writing at all and refuse to share insights, while others advocate for sharing book earning statements in order to embrace the realities and raise awareness. 

And sharing how much money a writer makes is taboo for some simply because they are shy about how little, or how much, they actually make from their books. 

No matter what your opinion is on the subject, you’re curious…

So, how much do authors make? 

While there isn’t a baseline number to report on how much authors actually make, it’s important to realize that an author’s salary has a wide spectrum. Some authors make millions, and others don’t make a penny.

author salary report

To help explain an author salary, here’s what we’ll cover: 

  1. Misconceptions on How Much Authors Make
  2. What is an Author Salary? 
  3. Salary vs Book Earning
  4. What is an Average Author Salary?
  5. Factors that Affect an Author’s Salary
  6. How Much Do Authors Make: A List of Author Salaries
  7. Leverage Your Skills To Build a Book Business

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With so many factors to consider when calculating an author’s earnings, it’s important to determine how, and why, the publishing world has such a variance in author income levels.

In an effort to make the topic of an author salary less obscure, we take a closer look at the income of several writers in this report, and will continue updating this list. 

Misconceptions on How Much Authors Make

When many of us think of an author – that is, someone who has made their career out of writing books, short stories, or other literary works of art – we think of social prestige and influence. But making a living out of writing doesn’t always equate to a financially solid career.

Sure, there are some famous writers who have achieved great financial success, like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, who are both examples of authors that have sold millions of books, and have had their literary work adapted into major motion pictures. 

On the other end of the spectrum, there are many brilliant authors who struggle to make money from their writing, and have to pursue other jobs just to make ends meet. To reference a well-known author, consider H.P. Lovecraft, an American writer known for his horror fiction who never saw financial success and lived in poverty until his death. 

And of course, there are many authors in the middle, especially with the rise of self-publishing and indie publishing. They are those who have written books, and made some money here or there, but nothing too significant for them to be able to quit working altogether. 

There isn’t a formula for creating a successful author career. 

It takes dedication, grit, and a lot of times, downright luck, fate, celestial intervention, or whatever else you believe in. 

But don’t let that discourage you from writing a book or starting your author career. 

Writers live in a time where the opportunity to earn from their creative passions is in abundance. 

In today’s publishing industry, writers can become published authors a lot more easily than they could in the past. Historically, traditional publishing dominated the book industry, and authors had to be accepted by a traditional publishing company in order for their book to be published. 

The issue with that is the traditional publishing method has always been very competitive, which means many brilliant writers have been turned away.  

Now, with the rise of self-publishing through online platforms like Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, anyone can publish a book. Some argue that this, of course, opens the floodgates and diminishes the quality of books. But many authors have found success through self-publishing high quality books, and have been built sustainable creative businesses. 

It’s important to get clear on the common misconceptions surrounding how much an author earns so that you have a realistic vision as you begin your own writing career. 

Don’t go into writing or publishing if your sole purpose is to make millions; having that mindset could set you up for failure. Instead, go into your author career with a fiery passion for writing and sharing your message with the world. With hard work and persistence, the rest will fall into place. 

Realities to be aware of when it comes to publishing a book: 

  1. Publishing a book is usually not going to bring you overnight success
  2. Writing a book will not make you rich in most cases
  3. Writing and publishing is not a get-rich-quick scheme
  4. Many authors find success by leveraging their book to create a business
  5. Passion for writing and sharing your message should drive your ambition

What is an Author Salary?

An author salary is the total amount of money that an author makes in any given year. The term ‘income’ is often used interchangeably with ‘salary’, both in this post and in the world-at-large. 

Because authors are usually self-employed and organize their work by book project, their income can vary substantially from year-to-year. A year in which an author writes two books will likely means a higher income than a year when they don’t write any. That’s why it is important for authors to continually work on completing their projects and sharing them with the world. 

This applies to both self-published and traditionally published authors. A self-published author might have more freedom in developing their completion timelines, but this also means that they are responsible for keeping themselves accountable to their creative and financial goals. 

Authors, like many other professionals, often choose to keep their financial information private. Recently, though, many have begun to publish their salaries/income to give those aspiring to join their ranks a real sense of the financial possibilities within the profession.

Salary vs. Book Earning 

Book earnings are only one component of an overall author salary. An author might still work a day job or do freelance work while they establish their reputation to supplement their income. For example, many authors with devoted followings have chosen to join networks like Patreon, where their fans can pay them directly to continue releasing their work. 

Some authors write and publish books with the intention of promoting their larger brand. This is the case for many entrepreneurs that want to share a concentrated version of their business vision. The interest generated by the book might translate to increased sales of a product, traffic on their website or participation in personalized coaching.

What is an Average Author Salary?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the median salary in May 2018 for a person who classifies as a “writer and author” on their tax documents is $62,170. This does not account for all authors, though since many “write part-time” or make much of their income through other means. 

To account for this gap, the Authors Guild conducted a massive survey in 2018 to get detailed financial information from more than 5,000 authors. Their research found a $6,080 median for all writers, while full-time writers have $20,300 median. The survey speaks to the wide disparities that exist in author salaries. 

Publishing ends up being a “winner-takes-all” market – a couple of authors at the top make the vast majority of the earnings. 

This fact shouldn’t discourage authors from continuing to publish their works. Being aware of the challenges and competition within the field is further motivation to reach for excellence.

average author salary
Source: Authors Guild

Factors that Affect an Author’s Salary

As a baseline rule: more book sales translate to higher author salaries. It is never that easy, though, and a multitude of other factors come into play. 

For instance, book earnings may include an advance (typically from a traditional publisher) and book royalties. 

An advance is the amount of money that a publisher pays an author for the promise of a book, and usually comes with half upfront and the remainder upon completion. Book advances are typically from a traditional publishing house, once your book is under contract. In self publishing, there are not any advances given since you are the publisher.

Royalties are the percentage of each sale that the author gets paid. These rates vary significantly depending on a variety of factors, including: self-published or traditionally published; physical copies or eBook; and where the book is sold.

Traditional royalty rates are typically significantly lower than self publishing rates, which means authors can earn more money per book sold with self publishing.

Amazon, for instance, takes either a 30 or 70% cut of each eBook sale depending on the set book price. 

For a closer look at the differences in royalty rates depending on publishing method, check out our Book Royalties Calculator:

Book Royalties Calculator

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4. My book's retail price:

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Some genres have better financial results for authors, especially those choosing to self-publish. Writers of fantasy/sci-fi and romance novels are often able to supercede the traditional publishing gatekeepers to find massive success with the devoted audiences of these genres. 

Financial guidance and business building books from recognized figures in their fields also tend to find their way into the hands of readers hungry for useful advice.

Common factors that affect an author’s salary: 

  1. Means of publishing. Is the author pursuing traditional publishing, self publishing, or independent publishing? 
  2. Type and genre of book. Is the author publishing a fantasy fiction book with a dedicated reader audience, or a cookbook? 
  3. Social following. Does the author have a large established social following, or is the author still relatively unknown? 
  4. Purpose of the book. Is the author writing a series of books within the same genre, or is the author an entrepreneur looking to write one book to increase business growth? 
  5. Other income avenues. Is the author’s salary only considering income from writing, or does the author have a full-time career outside of writing books? 

How Much Do Authors Make? A List of Author Salaries

We aggregated a list of author salaries that cover a wide range of income possibilities, from well-known authors to those still making a name for themselves.

Before we dive in to these examples, it’s important to note that this is a very small representation of author salary examples. These authors are only one side of the equation, and do not represent the thousands of other authors who do not make this list. 

However, we include examples of real authors here, because many of the author salary reports that exist are simply gathered by anonymous surveys. 

You’ll find a variety of author salaries in this list: from those who have achieved extreme financial success, to those who have made enough to replace the income from their full-time career, to those who are still working on earning money from their book endeavors. 

This author salary report is used to show a snapshot of the wide spectrum in income levels amongst writers and authors.

how much do authors make

Highest Income Authors

We’ll start with authors with the highest author salaries in the world. These authors have a long track record of excellence, with their books often adapted into film or television.

#1 – James Patterson is a popular thriller writer who topped the 2018 Forbes Highest-Paid Authors list, largely from the earnings of The President is Missing – co-published with former President Bill Clinton. He earned $86 million in 2018.

#2 – JK Rowling is the woman behind Harry Potter, the best-selling children’s series of all time. She earned $54 million in 2018. 

#3 – Stephen King is the ‘King of Horror’ due to his many popular scary novels over a decades-long career. He earned $27 million in 2018. 

#4 – John Grisham is a popular legal drama writer, best-known for books like The Firm, who earned $21 million in 2018.

#5 – Jeff Kinney wrote The Diary of a Wimpy Kid and earned $18.5 million in 2018.

#6 – Dan Brown wrote The Da Vinci Code and earned $18.5 million in 2018.

#7 – Michael Wolff wrote Fire and Fury, an exposé of the inner machinations of the Trump Administration. He is the only nonfiction writer in the 2018 Forbes list with $13 million in earnings. 

#8 – Danielle Steel is a romance novelist who is the best-selling author alive. She earned $12 million in 2018.

#9 – Nora Roberts is a romance novelist who earned $12 million in 2018.

#10 – Rick Riordan wrote the Percy Jackson series and earned $10.5 million in 2018.

#11 – EL James wrote the Fifty Shades of Grey series and earned $10.5 million in 2018.

Niche Authors 

Fantasy/sci-fi and romance novelists have managed to carve a successful niche of the publishing world, often by publishing their works directly onto Amazon and other marketplaces. We’ll cover a few of these examples below. 

#13 – Amanda Hocking is a fantasy novelist who made her name in the self-publishing world. Her success drew the attention of a major publisher who gave her a $2 million dollar advance for four novels and an additional $750,000 for republishing rights to three books in her back catalog.

#14 – Bella Andre is a self-published romance novelist, best known for her The Sullivans series, who made more than $116,246 dollars in the first quarter of 2011 according to a Washington Post article.

#15 – Hugh Howey is a self-published fantasy novelist, best known for his Wool series, who has generated more than a million dollars of income from his novels according to a 2014 Bloomberg article. 

#16 – Joe Konrath is a self-published author thriller novelist, best known for his What Happened to Lori series, who earned $78,231 in six weeks after publishing a novel in 2011 according to a Washington Post article.

#17 – Jim C. Hines is a Hugo Award-winning writer who has been posting his income for more than a decade. He earned $38,812 dollars in 2018, mostly from his traditionally published novels.

#18 – Kameron Hurley is a Hugo Award-winning author best known for The Stars are Legion and The Feminist Geek Revolution. She published occasional income reports and earned $47,096 in 2016, though only about $18,000 came from the sale of her traditionally and self-published books. The remainder came from Patreon. 

#19 – Brenna Aubrey is a self-published romance novelist known for turning down a major publishing contract. She published a blog post stating that she earned $16,589 the month after releasing her first novel in the aftermath of the traditional publishing rejection.

#20 – Melanie Hooyenga is a self-published romance novelist best known for her The Flicker Effect series. Marie Force, a major voice in romance novels, released a blog post about the experiences of indie/self-published authors, highlighting the experience of four authors, but only uses their first names. The section on “Melanie” mentions enough details to plausibly assume that she is talking about Melanie Hooyenga (year of publication, sales, self-published). The post states that Melanie made $90,000 in 2015.

#21 – Jessi Gage is a romance novelist that transitioned from traditional publishing to self-publishing to have more freedom and control over her work. She posted an income report that stated that she earned $21,827 in 2017.

#22 – Nicholas Sansbury Smith was able to leave his government job to pursue writing books full-time. He writes post-apocalyptic science fiction, and was able to sell 30,000 copies of his second self-published book Orbs, which led him to traditional publishing opportunities. 

Entrepreneur Authors

Another large sector of authors includes those who have used a book to build or grow a business. Entrepreneurs and bloggers are capable of using their books, often self-published, to build their brand and grow interest in their other business ventures.

#23Nick Loper is an entrepreneur and founder of the Side Hustle Nation blog. A year after publishing his book, Buy Buttons: The Fast-Track Strategy to Make Extra Money and Start a Business in Your Spare Time, Loper posted a blog post stating that it generated a profit of $17,900.

#24 – Chandler Bolt is an entrepreneur and founder of the Self Publishing School. He self-published a book, Published: The Proven Path from Blank Page to Published Author.  He stated in a 2016 episode of the Superfast Business podcast that the business generated $1.3 million in the year after beginning the venture. Bolt has built a successful business out of helping people across the country realize their dreams of becoming published authors.

#25 – Randa Derkson is a Canadian food blogger who started Bewitchin’ Kitchen. She self-published a cookbook based on her favorite recipes from her blog. She publishes a monthly income report and earned $3,012 (Canadian dollars) in February 2018 – the last report posted.

#26 – Alyssa Padgett is an RV life blogger that came to prominence after self-publishing her book, A Beginner’s Guide to Living in an RV: Everything I Wish I Knew Before Full-Time RVing Across America. She earns about $200 dollars a day according to an interview.

#27 – Jordan Peterson is a professor of psychology who wrote the self-help book 12 Rules to Life: An Antidote to Chaos (traditionally published). He earned between $600,00 to $800,000 a month from book sales, speaking engagements, Patreon, his business and other sources according to an interview.

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#28 – Pat Flynn is an entrepreneur and founder of Smart Passive Income, a course in business building. His self-published manual, Will It Fly?, generated $459,341 in direct and indirect income in the three years after publication according to a report on his blog.

#29 – Michal Stawicki is a self-published advice writer who is best known for his How To Change Your Life in 10 Minutes a Day series. He has been publishing his monthly income report for more than five years and earned $1,515 from his writing in April 2019.

#30 – Timothy Sykes is a business/investment blogger who self-published An American Hedge Fund about his experience in the penny trading market. He earned between $15 million and $20 million in 2014 according to a Forbes article.

#31 – Melyssa Griffin is a business blogger who self-publishes books, such as A Case Study of My Most Popular Blog Posts, as part of growing her brand. She published monthly income reports and earned $283,680 in December 2016.

#32 – Sarah Titus is a financial independence blogger who became known after self-publishing How I Became Financially Free: From Homeless to Well-Off: I’ll Show You How. Book sales now make up a small part of her income since she shifted all the book’s information on her blog. She publishes income reports and earned $981,037 in 2017.

#33 – John Lee Dumas is a podcaster who founded Entrepreneur on Fire. He self-published a greatest hits book that included highlights from the podcast. The website includes income reports for the brand as a whole. EoFire generated $2,029,744 in 2018, which does not take into account the salaries of the podcast’s employees and other related expense to run the EoFire.

#34 – Joanna Penn is an indie author that has built her company, The Creative Penn, around her self-published fiction and non-fiction books. She shares that her income is from course sales, affiliate income, professional speaking, and podcast sponsorships. Her income report from 2016 states that her total book sales income was $95,000. Joanna’s platform has only grown since then, so it’s highly likely her income increased as well. 

#35 – David Kadavy, a traditionally published author who turned to self-publishing, shares that he was able to sell 11,000 copies of his first self-published book. However, he explains that after all of his self-publishing costs, including marketing, he earned a humble $3,000. He stresses that his first self-published book was part of a larger scheme in which he plans to publish more books to start generating more organic sales.

#36 – Laura DeSilverio is a best-selling author that has written over 21 novels. In her 2017 income report, she states that her earnings from writing was just over $30,000; however, this was a year where she did not sign any new book contracts. This income came from book royalties from her traditionally published books, book sales from her self-published books, and various other writing-related jobs, such as speaking engagements, editing, and audiobooks.

Leverage Your Skills To Build a Book Business

As you can see, there are many different examples of author types and levels of income, with several contributing factors. This author salary report is meant to show a snapshot of the wide spectrum of income levels amongst writers and authors.

With that said, being an author is not a typical ‘9 to 5’ job that promises a guaranteed paycheck every two weeks. In order to turn a hobby into a satisfying career, authors are responsible for continuously producing books that excite/inform/engage readers. 

In addition, especially for those in the self-published or indie publishing community, modern authors must view their book writing as a business, and treat it as such by acquiring the necessary skills and expertise to create a sustainable business.

Earning money from a book typically involves leveraging technical, marketing, and business development skills. If you want to write a book and generate income from your words, it’s important to create a plan for success by thinking beyond your writing skills. If you’re interested in self-publishing your book, but feel overwhelmed at the thought of navigating the process, invest in your career with a self-publishing course.

Cheryl Strayed, the best-selling author of the memoir Wild, once said in an interview that authors must live with the reality that “Well, I might make zero or I might make $5 million!” 

Pursuing a career as an author is an extremely rewarding career, all financial talk aside. Not only are you able to create something profound in a tangible form of a published book, but you are also able to share your story with readers all across the world. It can open a world of opportunity for you, if leveraged correctly.

With clear expectations and realistic, achievable objectives, you can pursue a career as an author, through whichever avenue makes the most sense for you. 

By having a realistic look at the possibility of knowing how much an author makes,  you’ll be prepared with a sense of the financial possibilities in writing and publishing a book of your own. 

Don’t go into writing or publishing if your sole purpose is to make millions; having that mindset could set you up for failure. Instead, go into your author career with a fiery passion for writing and sharing your message with the world. With hard work and persistence, the rest will fall into place. 

Want to jumpstart your book writing process?

Join Chandler Bolt from self-publishingschool.com at his FREE Webinar Training as he reveals the exact tactics and strategies he used to write and publish 6 bestselling books in a row.

Click here to sign up today

Angelica Hartgers

Content Creation Specialist at Selfpublishing.com
Angelica Hartgers is the Content Creation Specialist here at Selfpublishing.com. When she’s not cooking up content for the self publishing community, she loves to read good books, travel the world, and spend time with her family.
Angelica Hartgers