Authors don’t make a lot of money

People have the impression that writing a book = making money. That by writing a book you’ll suddenly be rolling in dough. Advances! Royalties! Cash!

But it just doesn’t work like that.

Not only is this an absurd notion for a little book like mine — I’ll be happy if it covers the expenses we incurred while writing it — it doesn’t even hold true for New York Times bestsellers, as author Lynn Viehl outlines in this blog post. Her bottom line is simple: Despite a $50,000 advance, selling about 73,000 copies and hitting #19 on the New York Times bestsellers list, you’d make more money stocking shelves at the local supermarket than she did on book sales for this book.

It’s important to know what an advance is. An advance is money given to you up front. Royalties are money earned on book sales. Money earned from royalties are held against the advance. In other words, if you got a $10,000 advance, you won’t see any money from royalties until you’ve exceeded $10,000.

(Full disclosure: We did not get an advance for A Year of Hitchcock, so for us, this is a moot point. Everything we earn will be from royalties.)

Even more, seeing a book on store shelves does not mean the author earned any money on it. Book stores return unsold books. Authors do not earn royalties on returned books. So, on the shelf does not = a sale, and hence it does not = income.

Stephen King, John Grisham, James Patterson, Tom Clancy, the guys who move millions of books and get movie deals and all the rest? THEY make a lot of money. But most authors make very modest incomes, if they make any income at all.

Which is why the next time I hear someone ask me about the money that will surely come rolling in, I’m going to scream.


  1. Clayton

    Hey, Shoe: What are you going to do with all of the tons of money that’s going to come rolling in?

    HAHAHA… (you know I had to. Sorry!)

    No, that’s interesting, though. Knew there was a lot of books returned on average and probably a lot of variation with how much authors earned, but I’m surprised by just how big the rift is between those who earn lots and those who earn a minimum wage type yearly income. People You might have heard of, you know! Seems wrong in some ways. Actually! I remember reading somewhere that PKD, who I know you are a big fan of, just got by with his income! Even was near broke at one time. He was a pretty famous, award winning, high selling author! Ha! That proves it, right there.

    Congrats on your book,BTW! Can’t wait until I can get a copy. And, even though I know this means a lot more to you than stupid money, if that even means next to nothing to you at all… here’s hoping you sell far more than $10,000 worth, and fast, and are rolling in the royalty mula! 🙂

    Interesting blog entry reading, though. I wonder how much the publishers make, in comparison? Do you know? Do authors ever get ripped off while others make tons of cash off of their work. Know it’s happened, I’m sure, but do you know if that is that very common? Where does the money go?

  2. Clayton

    Oops. Misread you there with the $10,000 advance part. I thought you were saying that royalties didn’t come in until then, ever. Even without an advance.

    Just chalked it up to publishing costs and things like that. That would suck, though, hah!?

    My bad. The rest of my post should still make sense.

  3. Noto

    So let me see if I get this straight. Neither you or Jim received an advance for this book, so therefore you don’t have to worry about the buffer you have to fill before you start getting royalties.

    So that means you should already be rolling in the royalties. I mean, I bought a copy so that must mean that millions of other people are.

    So I don’t see what you’re complaining about, Scrooge McDuck. You should be swimming in the coinage, and without even having to wait to compensate for your advance.

    Gezus. Authors are so egotistical and pandering to the reader. You are not the “common man.” You should just act like the rock stars that you are.

  4. admin

    Noto, you might *think* my new Ferrari means the proceeds from this book were huge, but let me be clear about something: I couldn’t even afford the extended warranty.

    So as you can see, I’m suffering.

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