How Much Does An Author Make Per Book?

POSTED ON Aug 8, 2023

Sarah Rexford

Written by Sarah Rexford

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If you're a debut author, you're likely wondering how much does an author make per book? After all, you spent quite a bit of time fleshing out your idea, writing your draft, and editing. While writing is an extremely enjoyable hobby, it’s helpful to understand exactly how much each book will sell for. 

For many writers, the ideal is to one day transition out of their day job and into full-time writing. But, to do so, it’s crucial to answer the question: how much does an author make per book? Once you have a concrete answer you can do the math: 

  • How many books do you need to sell annually to bring in a full-time income?
  • Should you traditionally publish or self-publish to best meet these deliverables?
  • How many books do you need to write to hit these sales? 
  • What format do you need to publish your books in?

In this article, I cover two methods of publishing and various book formats as they relate to book sales. So, if you’re wondering, how much does an author make per book, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s dive right in. 

Royalties with Traditional Publishing vs Self-Publishing 

The percentage you make on each individual sale largely depends on the type of publishing process you choose to take. For instance, if you choose to self-publish, you forego the advance but keep a larger percentage of the royalties. Self-published authors average out to bringing in 60-80% of royalties

On the traditional publishing side, Forbes says that “the average author at a traditional publishing house can expect to receive 4-15%, depending on your status and contract.” For instance, a debut author will likely make a smaller percentage of royalties than an established author. Once you establish yourself in the marketplace, you will likely bring in larger royalties. 

It’s important to note that traditionally published authors receive an advance at the signing of the book contract. According to one literary agency, for debut authors, advances can range from $5,000 to $50,000. For traditionally published authors, their royalties go toward making up their advance. As soon as their royalties match their advance figure, they begin keeping their royalties. So, how much does an author make per book? The answer depends on many factors:

  • Your percentage of royalties 
  • Whether you receive an advance 
  • The format of book you publish 

With these factors in mind, let’s consider the general average that authors make for every self-published book they sell. 

Self-Published Averages Per Book

Self-published authors begin earning royalties the moment they sell their first copy. However, the answer to, how much does an author make per book, depends on the format of the copy sold. 

One self-published author uses her rates to portray an accurate example of earnings across formats for standard royalties:

  • Hardback = 60-100% per sale
  • Paperback = 60-100% per sale
  • eBook = 70-100% per sale

To determine the exact dollar amount you would earn, pull out your calculator for some simple math. For instance, for hardback costs, this same author presents her personal stats. She sells each copy for $14.99 with a 30% wholesale discount and a print charge of $4.67. This brings her dollar amount per copy sold to $5.82 (note that for eBooks, you bypass printing costs).

Paperback earns less, but also can sell more due to the price difference. For the same book mentioned above, but in paperback instead of hardback, the math is as follows: Listed for $5.95 with a 60% royalty rate. Printing cost is $2.15, yielding $1.42 income for the author per copy sold.

Audiobooks vary greatly depending on the platform you choose to publish through and which audiobook retailers they distribute to. While audiobooks skip print costs just as eBooks do, it’s important to consider the cost of producing the audio for this format. 

Per Genre Sales

At this point, it’s crucial to note that some genres sell better than others. While we can each aspire to succeed to the degree of Stephen King and J.K. Rowling, or reach book sales such as J.R.R. Tolkien did with The Hobbit, before putting pen to paper, we need to note the genre each author wrote/writes. 

There are specific genres that sell better than others. And, you guessed it, each of the above authors wrote novels in these categories. Below is a list by The Richest, ranking the top five, highest-selling genres and the net worth of each genre. 

#1 – Romance / Erotica $1.44 Billion
#2 – Crime / Mystery $728.2 Million
#3 – Religious / Inspirational $720 Million
#4 – Science Fiction / Fantasy $590.2 Million
#5 – Horror $79.6 Million

Stephen King is known for his horror whereas J.K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien made a name for themselves via their science fiction and fantasy. Agatha Christie was known for her detective novels, as was Sir Authur Conan Doyle. Jane Austen and Nicholas Sparks made/make waves with romance, and Tim Keller, Francine Rivers, and John Bunyan did the same in religious and inspirational books. 

Note that niche books will likely sell well to their intended audience, but not reach the massive sales of these top five genres. That said, there are always outliers, such as a celebrity publishing a niche book and bringing in sales due to their large following.

The next question to ask is, what genre do you write?

How Much Do Authors Sell Per Book And Series?

If a book sells well, it’s highly probable that a well-written sequel, or even series, will bring in increased revenue. Series help authors in two ways:

  • They often increase the sales of the debut book
  • They keep readers purchasing the next installment 

Let’s say you write a fantasy novel that sells well. Readers love it, and want more. So you write the sequel. If you self-publish a paperback version at 60% royalties, you not only draw in your normal audience, but your audience who already loved the first installment and a high percentage of royalties on every new sale.

In addition, readers who purchase the sequel and then discover they missed the first book will often purchase the debut as well. With well-executed marketing, sales are likely to keep coming.

Royalty rates on Amazon vary based on the format in which you publish your book, as well as other factors (such as eligibility, if you want to position your book as the lead magnet for a sales funnel, etc.). 

Which genre and format you choose to publish your book in, as well as which type of publishing you choose to pursue, depends on your specific needs and passions.

If you love writing niche stories, you may want to focus on self-publishing so you can quickly get your book out to your audience and keep the highest percentage of royalties. 

If you want to write and leave the edits, design, and some of the marketing to a team of professionals, you may want to pursue traditional publishing. 

Whatever path you choose, weigh the pros and cons against your writing goals. Traditional publishing brings an advance while self-publishing brings higher (and immediate) royalties. Certain genres are known to sell extremely well. 

Consider the various angles, and then commit to writing and publishing your book. The creative process is a privilege to pursue! 

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