FAQ: How Much Do Authors Make?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published July 21, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Pursuing a career as an author can be rewarding for creative professionals who enjoy writing and storytelling. Depending on several factors, such as publishing method, royalty percentages and public recognition, an author's salary can vary greatly. Learning what authors do and how certain factors can affect how much money authors earn can help you decide whether this is the right career for you. In this article, we provide answers to commonly asked questions about authors' salaries in both self-publishing and traditional publishing.

What is an author?

An author is the creator of a written piece of content such as a book, article or essay. Authors often specialize in specific genres such as poetry, fiction or non-fiction and may limit their creative works to the genre in which they specialize. A writer becomes an author when they publish their written work.

Related: How To Become an Author

How much do authors make?

The average annual salary for authors is $41,260 per year. Authors' salaries can vary greatly depending on several factors, including publishing method and genre. This career path is also unique to each individual who pursues it, so it's important to consider the type of writing you want to pursue and other factors when analyzing potential salaries.

What does an author do?

There are several tasks an author performs when writing a book or other work. Depending on the content they create and how they decide to publish, some duties might include:

  • Creating elements of a story such as setting, character, plot, tone and dialogue

  • Brainstorming ideas for stories

  • Outlining stories or collections to organize writing

  • Reading, editing and reviewing other written work

  • Researching to ensure that their content is factual and relevant

  • Drafting and revising their work

  • Pitching ideas to publishers

What factors affect an author's salary?

Here are some factors that can affect how much you earn as an author:

  • Publishing method: If you decide to self-publish your writing, you might receive higher royalties or more money for each book you sell, but working with a large publisher might help you sell more books.

  • Genre: Some genres, such as murder mysteries or romance novels, sell more than others. Therefore, the type of genre in which you choose to specialize may affect your earnings.

  • Cover and paper: Large, hardcover books often sell at higher prices, which can result in a higher salary, but they're also typically more expensive to print. Smaller paperbacks, such as poetry collections, might be cheaper to buy but are also often cheaper to print.

  • Volume of work: Publishing multiple books often allows you to earn higher royalties than solely publishing a singular piece of written work.

What are royalties?

A royalty for authors is an amount of money a publisher pays a writer in exchange for the rights to publish a book. Publishing companies calculate this number based on the number of sales a particular book garners. This can also vary based on format. For example, because the cost to produce physical books is often higher than other formats, an author might earn a higher percentage in royalties on e-book sales. Authors who self-publish are also more likely to earn higher royalties.

Related: How Much Do Novelists Earn?

What are advances?

Advances are payments made to an author early in the publishing process, often before their book is available for purchase. Since writing occurs much earlier than printing, advances from a publishing company help a writer attain income before they can earn royalties. Typically, publishing companies subtract advances from royalties. For example, if a publishing author earns a $10,000 advance, they may pay a small percentage of their royalties back to the publisher until it's paid back.

What are the differences between self-publishing and traditional publishing?

To understand how much authors can earn, it's important to distinguish between self-publishing and traditional publishing. Some of the key differences between these two forms of publishing include:

  • Marketing: Self-publishing requires authors to create their own marketing content, such as advertisements, social media pages and events. Many traditional publishers have marketing departments or specialists who can create these promotional materials for authors.

  • Distribution: You often distribute your books if you decide to self-publish, meaning you pay for storage and distribution as a self-published author. Traditional publishers often distribute orders for their authors and have designated systems in place for doing so.

  • Reach: Traditional publishers typically have other authors and networks with which you can connect. However, self-publishing may be more appropriate for you if you already possess a large social media following who may be willing to purchase your work.

  • Timeline: Traditional publishers often schedule their published works a year or more in advance, depending on the size of the publishing company. Therefore, self-publishing can help quicken the publishing process and allow your book to reach the market earlier than it would otherwise.

What skills help an author perform their tasks effectively?

Besides exceptional writing and reading skills, there are some skills that can help an author write and publish their work more effectively. Here are some skills you might consider developing before pursuing a career as an author:

Creativity

Creativity is the ability to develop and produce unique ideas. Authors, especially those who pursue fiction writing, develop their own plots, settings and characters, which requires creativity. It's also important for authors in any genre to think creatively both about their stories and how they might publish their book.

Related: How To Become a Writer in 7 Steps

Critical thinking

Critical thinking is the ability to analyze facts and create new opinions or observations based on that analysis. Authors often use critical thinking to develop realistic plots and characters, or they might use also use it to determine the best type of publishing process to pursue. Additionally, with outlining and editing, authors decide how to order content and what they might add or remove, using critical thinking to determine the best narrative flow for their work.

Time management

Having time management skills entails adhering to deadlines. Especially with large publishing companies, authors draft and submit content regularly. For example, authors may submit a chapter or two each month for an entire year to ensure that their publisher can edit, typeset and print their book on schedule. This is a helpful skill to possess for self-publishing as well, as it allows you to remain diligent with your own due dates.

Related: Time Management Skills: Definition and Examples

Organization

Organization is vital as an author and allows these professionals to maintain neat workspaces, desktops and physical and digital filing systems. Authors often work with large numbers of documents and other files, so organizational skills ensure they have more time to write, edit and revise rather than search for documents or other materials. File organization is especially important as it ensures that authors can easily access each version of their text, which they can use for reference throughout their writing and editing process.

Determination

Determination is the ability to persevere toward a goal. If an author decides to self-publish their work, they often dedicate their time promoting, marketing and reading to garner an audience. Similarly, searching for a publisher often requires patience and determination to find the optimal one for you.

Related: 12 Tips for Starting a Career as an Author

How do you earn more money as an author?

Here are a few ways in which you can increase your earnings as an author:

  • Write more: It's often beneficial as an author to write as often as possible because the more books you publish, the more you can earn through royalties.

  • Publish in different formats: Readers prefer to consume their content in different ways, and there are many choices now available to readers. Consider publishing print books, e-books and audio versions of your work.

  • Network with other professionals: Networking with other authors can help you discover new audiences for your book and learn techniques that have worked for others. Consider participating in readings and other events that can help you showcase your writing.

  • Consider related careers: Careers in teaching, copywriting or editing can increase your exposure and credibility and allow you to earn more money than you would solely working as an author.

  • Gain a social media following: If an author has a large following on social media, they can likely encourage more people to buy their book or promote it on different platforms.

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