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Monday, September 9, 2013

More Straight Talk about Royalties: 3,429 Books = ?



I've been a full-time freelancer for 16+ years, a book author for more than a decade, and a ghostwriter/coauthor for 8+ years. While I still work with traditional publishers, I've also published books through POD companies; published stand-alone ebooks (a stand-alone is an ebook that is only published electronically, compared to an electronic version of a print book; and launched my own publishing company, Improvise Press, earlier this year.

So I've accumulated a fair amount of knowledge about the book publishing industry, at least from an author's perspective. I'm what publishers call "mid-list." A mid-list author isn't a bestseller (at least not yet) but she usually produces a profit for her publisher. A mid-list author might sell 10,000 copies of a nonfiction book--not a bad number when you consider that traditional publishers produced more than 360,000 titles in 2011 alone (and that's not counting POD and stand-alone electronic books!) 

What new and would-be authors don't realize, however, is how little most authors actually make for their books. (This is the primary reason I started ghostwriting--so that I could cut back on the time I spent promoting books and boost my hourly rate.) I've seen average advances drop, particularly over the last five years. A book that might have garnered me a $15,000 advance a few years ago? Well, I'm probably going to get offered maybe $5,000 for it.

Which sucks.

But there is one advantage to a small advance, at least in theory--you can earn out faster. But not as fast as you'd probably like.

So let's look at some real numbers. I just received my latest royalty statement from Writer's Digest for Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success. (I've shared before what I make per-book.) The good news? The book is still selling, and selling steadily. The bad news? I have yet to earn out.

From January 1 until June 30, 2013, I sold a total of 802 copies of Writer for Hire, including 72 electronic versions. (This surprises me as I usually sell a higher percentage of ebooks than this.) That means that since the book was first published, I've sold a total of 3,489 books. Those 3,489 books have produced a total of $3,046.26. Do the math and you'll see I'm averaging less than $1/book--which is one reason I launched Improvise Press earlier this year.) Do more math and you'll see that I have to produce another $1,953.74 in royalties before I collect that elusive check--but I'll get there, I guarantee it.