What Can I Expect to Make in Royalties as a First-Time Author?

“The time has come, the Walrus said, to speak of many things.”

(Lewis Carroll)

Today’s unspeakable thing is what all new authors want to know: how much money will I make as a self-published author?  Will it give me the freedom and riches I truly deserve?

The quick answer to the first question is, not much… and the second one is, no, not on its own!

Bestselling author Federico Pistoni (of Robots will Steal your Job) agrees with me, and I quote:

“Most people don’t make any money writing books, and chances are, you won’t be part of the 0.01% that makes it”.

Federico Pistoni

Derek of CreativeIndie worked out that only the top .06% of authors actually sell 1,000 books over a period of three months at Amazon – so Fed’s supposition is pretty darn close to statistical averages.

Even celebrities with a publicity buzz head-start struggle to make profits over and above their production and marketing costs.

According to Federico, traditional authors don’t fare much better: talented first-timers might get an advance of $2-4K, and 6-10 percent of the book sales of the first 10,000 copies, plus 20-30 percent of the eBook sales. The average book sells nowhere near that; probably more like 2,000 copies (and thus $4-6,000 in royalties). It’s a known thing that publishers expect only 1 in 5 books is truly going to make a profit run for them (and the author).

On the eBooks side, you might expect to actually get the 70% that Amazon advertise. Sure, but what about VAT in the UK, GST here, digital download fee (for large eBook size), currency conversion fee, countdown deals you need to do, and so on.  Put it this way, if I had a cat, royalties from all my eBooks currently available might pay for a plain version of its cat food. But kitty might get skinny sometimes.

So, if book sales alone – whether traditional or indie published – won’t make you a living, what fun and opportunity will it get you?

Let’s Take Back Our Power, Authors

The great thing about reading Federico’s article is that he disparages Amazon (finally, someone who does!) No, that wasn’t the great thing; it was that he sells digital books directly through Sellfy – which takes away the problem of hosting your own eBook sales/downloads on your website. He doesn’t use Smashwords, which also gives you an ability to sell direct (by showing your eBook widget) at 80%… But this is eclipsed by Sellfy’s 92% royalty to author!

Note: Many authors who have used Smashwords don’t realise that their royalty is higher if they direct their friends and other readers to their book’s Smashwords page, rather than rely on iBookstore and Kobo.

Plus, Sellfy’s commission includes the PayPal commission (around 2.5%)! You have the ability to sell PDFs that are not under Digital Rights Management (DRM) plus fully finished ePubs.  Being careful, I’d probably just go with ePubs.

While I don’t completely agree that authors make little to nothing for sales on iBooks or Kindle, because that depends on how you price it, I believe it does pay to DO YOUR OWN marketing. It also pays to claim the Australian tax-treaty exemption of 25%. Create a simple website-and-social-media-based path for fans to give you the most in royalties… and why not… you wrote the darn book – Amazon didn’t!

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About the Author

Jennifer Lancaster writes money and marketing books that help educate and inform.

She is a freelance editor, copywriter, and book writing coach who believes in independence and personal growth.

After many years in the industry, Jen has created self-publishing training for authors and advice on book marketing - called Business Author Academy. She lives in sunny Redcliffe, Queensland.


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  1. Great article Jen and very true. Personally my book makes me money through other means other than the royalties. To gives me the opportunity to speak at events, expos, conferences etc and then I may have the option to sell the books on the day.

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