How To Determine What Authors Get Paid

When someone decides to enter the competitive world of writing, one of the first questions usually asked is, "How much will I get paid?" Really it depends on what type of writing that you are interested in doing. The two most common are books and freelance.

In the book publishing world, there are several ways that an author is paid. Sometimes payment is determined by how much experience you have had, or how well your last book sold. There are four main ways that a book author is paid. 

  1. Royalties.  A royalty is a percentage of each book sold. The royalty will be determined in your contract, but you can expect to receive 10% for hardcover books and 6% to 8% for paperbacks.  Usually publishers pay royalties based on the retail price of the book, but they may pay based on the net price (the price that the bookstore actually paid to buy your book from the publisher).

  • An Advance.  Some publishers will take the risk on an up and coming author who has not published before and offer them an advance, but usually, it will be for less than someone who has been published.  Generally you would receive half of the advance when the contract is signed and the other half once the book is completed.  You will start receiving royalty checks once your book earns enough money to cover the advance. For example, if you are contracted to receive a 10% royalty of a book that sells for $10 and your advance is $5,000, your book will need to sell 5,000 copies before you will start to see royalty checks.

  • A flat fee.  When you opt for a flat fee, you will be paid one lump sum for your book, but you will not be entitled to any royalties.  Also, you might have to give up the copyright for your work.  The flat fee is a good option for those who are just starting out and trying to make a name for themselves.

  • Self-Publishing.  You can always try to self-publish your work.  There are several sites on the Internet that can help you do this. Go to your favorite search engine and type "self-publish" and peruse the various options.  These sites have varying fees ranging from free to several hundred dollars.  Of course you will pay for the actual printed book. One disadvantage is that you are completely in charge of marketing your book.  How much you get paid is directly determined by how much effort you put into getting your book out there minus the cost to publish it.

  • If you are a freelance writer of articles, poems, short stories, etc., there are a few options for you.

    1. The Internet. Many Internet sites do not pay writers, but will publish and promote your articles to give you exposure. There are some sites that will advertise your articles for you and people are allowed to view your article and purchase it. These sites always take a cut from the purchase price.  Some sites work with places like Google and Amazon and put ads on the page with your article and you get paid each time the advertisement is clicked.  Others will pay you an outright fee for your article. These can range from $3 to $50, depending on the site.

  • MagazinesMany magazines will accept articles from freelance writers. Their guidelines are usually listed on their websites along with how much they pay. It can be anywhere from $25 to $500 or more. Magazines always pay a flat fee.
  • There are so many great opportunities for writers out there.  At times, making a living might be difficult, but if you stick to it, nothing is more rewarding than seeing your work published and actually getting paid for it.


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    By Riley Klein