Telling Your Story

Show me the money: getting paid in publishing

Make money from writing

You wrote a book. Congratulations! This is in itself a great achievement. If it’s worth publishing, then how much money will you make?

Traditional Publishing

You may have heard terms such as advances and royalties in relation to book publishing but have no idea how they relate to your book. To understand how the industry works, you first need to know where your book fits. If it’s published by a traditional publisher, you will have been offered a contract that stipulates how much advance (if any) you receive and what the ongoing royalty rate is. Usually an advance is payment of royalty ahead of book sales. This money will come off any future royalties.

Royalty is usually set at 7.5–10% of the recommended retail price for a print book and 20–50% for an ebook. Some publishers may set the royalty on the NET price of the book. This is the price that the book is sold to the bookstore. Bookstores receive 40% discount on the RRP.

Here are some figures, based on a book that sells for $30.

Scenario: 10% royalty on RRP of $30 = $3 per book to the author

Scenario: 7.5% royalty on RRP of $30 = $2.25 per book to the author

Scenario: 10% royalty on NET of $30 ($30 minus 40% = $18) = $1.80 per book to the author

Scenario: 20% royalty on RRP of $12.99 (ebook) = $2.60 per book to the author

If you sell 1000 books and your royalty is 10% on the recommended retail price of $30, you will receive $3000. If you received an advance of $5,000 when you signed your contract, those royalty payments will come out of the advance, meaning that there is still another $2000 of royalties before your ‘debt’ is paid. Bear in mind that if you never sell more books than what your advance is worth, you don’t owe any money back to the publisher (but check your contract!).


Technically, there are no royalties when you self-publish. But you could say that you get 100% royalty, after costs. These costs are something that need to be monitored very carefully in order for you to make a profit. That’s why you need to do your homework to determine the best way to self-publish that is going to give you a good return on investment.

What are these costs? Some are once off, such as the publication costs: editing, design and layout, proofing and imagery. Ongoing costs are printing and marketing and commissions to bookstores and distributors, if you use them. If you are thinking big and want your book in bookstores, think about the commissions that they get (40%) and distributors (30%).

Scenario: RRP $30. Bookstore gets $12, distributor gets $9. You are left with $9. Can you print your book and cover publication costs?

Scenario: RRP $30. Sell on website using Paypal (cost $1.20 in fees). You are left with $28.80.

Questions to ask yourself: do I need to be in bookstores? Do I need a distributor? How will I market the book to get into readers hands?

Assisted Publishing

This type of publishing is a grey area because technically you are going 50/50 in the project, then getting 50/50 in royalties. Unless the company you sign up with is very transparent about how they work and you can’t work out how much money you will actually get, please steer clear of them. You may never see a cent.

The publishing industry is changing rapidly. The ‘old’ model, where a writer was paid by royalty is no longer the only way and new models of this system are also being created. The best way to work out what is best for you and your writing long-term is to educate yourself on these different scenarios and look at opportunities in terms of where you are in your writing career. In other words, if you are being offered an advance of $10,000 but you think you’re worth $50,000, take your time to consider your options.

If you’d like to know more about publishing and marketing your book, why not check out the many workshops that we run at Busybird Publishing. The next Book Camp is on Saturday 12 August and will cover this content in greater detail.

Blaise the book chick

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