how much do authors get paid

How Much Do Authors Get Paid for Their First Book? A Guide to Understanding Publisher Payments

As a new author, you may be wondering what kind of financial reward you can expect for all the hard work you’ve put into writing your first novel. How much do authors get paid for their first book? While the amount of money you can make can vary greatly depending on a variety of factors, understanding what publishers typically pay can help you navigate the negotiation process and make informed decisions about your career.

In this article, we’ll explore how much authors get paid for their first book, what factors can influence your payment, and tips for negotiating a fair contract.

How Much Do Publishers Pay for a First Novel?

The answer to this question is not straightforward, as it can vary widely depending on the publisher, the genre, the length of the book, and other factors. However, here are some general guidelines:

  • According to Mary Adkins’ data, the average advance for debut authors is $57,000.
  • According to Rachelle Gardner, the typical advance for a first-time author is $5,000 to $15,000.
  • Rebecca Brandewyne states that the average advance for authors is $1,000 to $10,000.

The takeaway here is that there really is no “typical” advance for first-time authors. It depends who you ask, and truly representative data can be hard to come by.

There has been a push in recent years, though, for more transparency in these areas. Check out the hashtag #PublishingPaidMe on Twitter to see a discussion about advances and other payment rates, especially in the context of demographics.

Factors Influencing How Much Publishers Pay for Books

Here are a few of the many factors impacting how much authors receive for their debut novel.

Genre

Different genres have different sales potentials and therefore different pay scales. More popular genres, such as fantasy, romance, and sci-fi, often command higher advances. Remember, when a publisher sets an advance amount, they are basically placing a bet on the number of copies the book will sell (and so are you—more on that later).

Marketability

Publishers will consider how marketable your book is before deciding how much to pay. Along with genre, this can also include factors such as your author platform (especially for nonfiction writers), current market trends, and the potential for future sales.

Book Length

Generally, the longer the book, the more an author can expect to be paid. However, this is tied up in other considerations, including the author’s experience and name recognition. Generally, first-time authors will have a hard time selling longer books, since they require higher financial and time investments from readers (and higher printing costs for publishers).

Negotiation Skills

Your ability to negotiate your contract can have a significant impact on your payment. A literary agent will make sure you receive the best deal possible. If you are pursuing publication without an agent, such as with a small press, it’s important to be informed about industry standards.

Type of Publisher

Along with the type of book and the author’s experience, the type of publisher impacts the potential advance amount. Large publishing houses typically pay higher advances, while small presses usually pay less.

The potential earnings for independent authors vary even more widely. With no advance, indie authors are fully reliant on royalties. These authors serve as their own publisher and bear the up-front costs of editing, design, and marketing.

Representation

Literary agents typically receive about 15% of the advance and royalties.

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What Is an Advance?

Advance payments are a common form of payment for authors from publishers. This payment is a lump sum paid to the author before the book is published, often in installments. Advances are typically calculated based on the anticipated sales of the book, and the publisher will recoup this advance from the author’s royalties once the book is published.

How much do authors get paid per book? The amount of the advance payment can vary widely depending on a variety of factors, such as the author’s experience and reputation, the genre of the book, and the publisher’s budget for the book.

It’s important to note that an advance is not paid in addition to royalties. The author does not begin earning royalties until book sales equal the advance amount, which is known as “earning out the advance.”

If the book does not sell well, the publisher may not recoup the advance, which can impact the author’s future publishing opportunities.

Advances are typically paid in installments, at important milestones such as:

  • Signed contract
  • Approval of the final manuscript
  • Publication of the book

It’s important to carefully review the payment terms of your contract to ensure that you understand how and when you will be paid.

Earning Out Your Advance as a First-Time Author

For first-time authors, earning out the advance is an important milestone in their publishing journey. This means that the book has sold enough copies to generate enough royalties to repay the advance payment from the publisher.

Earning out the advance is important for several reasons. First and foremost, it demonstrates that the book is selling well, which can lead to future publishing opportunities and a strong author reputation. It also means that the author will start receiving royalties, which can provide a more stable source of income over time.

If an author does not earn out their advance, it can impact their future publishing opportunities. Publishers may be hesitant to take a chance on an author whose previous book did not sell well. They may see the author as a risky investment. Publishers are in the business of making money, after all.

It’s important to note that earning out the advance can be a challenging goal, particularly for first-time authors. It can take time for a book to gain traction in the market, and many factors can impact book sales, such as competition, changes in the market, and the author’s marketing and publicity efforts—even for traditionally published authors.

This is why some first-time authors actually opt for a lower advance. It gives them a better chance at earning out their advance and setting themselves up for a second book deal.

Payments from Big Publishing House vs. Small Press

Authors may receive different types of payments from big publishing houses versus small independent presses.

Big publishing houses typically offer higher advance payments and royalty rates, as well as larger marketing and publicity budgets. Big publishers have more resources and a larger distribution network, which can help to ensure that the book reaches a wider audience.

However, it can be difficult for first-time authors to secure book deals with big publishing houses, as they may be more focused on established authors or books with a proven track record of success. Authors typically need a literary agent to submit to large publishing houses, and this process generally takes much longer than the process of submitting to small presses.

Most small independent presses offer lower advance payments and royalty rates, but they may also provide more personalized attention for the author. Many of these small publishers accept unsolicited manuscripts from authors without representation. Authors with small presses may also have a greater degree of creative control over the book.

Small independent presses may also be more willing to take a chance on first-time authors or books that may not fit into a traditional publishing mold, which can provide opportunities for new and diverse voices to be heard.

Ultimately, the decision between working with a big publishing house or a small independent press depends on the individual author’s goals and priorities—not just on the advance amount.

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How Literary Agents Help Authors Secure Better Deals from Publishers

Literary agents can play a critical role in helping authors secure better deals from publishers.

Authors who want to get a book deal with a large publisher will have to secure representation. Big publishing houses do not typically accept unsolicited manuscripts (i.e. manuscripts directly from authors).

Furthermore, literary agents can help authors navigate the complex publishing industry and negotiate favorable terms with publishers. This includes securing higher advance payments and royalty rates, as well as ensuring that the author retains appropriate rights and creative control over their work.

Agents can help authors identify the right publishers and editors for their work, and they can provide valuable feedback and guidance throughout the publishing process. They may also have established relationships with publishers, which can help to ensure that the author’s work receives consideration. Plus, many literary agents provide editorial support before the submission process ever begins.

Authors don’t pay literary agents up front. Literary agents earn a commission on the author’s advance and royalties, typically about 15% of the total amount.

Overall, working with a literary agent can be a valuable investment for authors seeking to maximize their chances of success in the traditional publishing world.

So How Much Do Authors Get Paid for Their First Book?

There is no simple, universally applicable answer to the question of how much publishers pay for a first novel. The financial reward for writing (and selling) a first novel can vary widely based on multiple factors, including genre, marketability, and publisher.

There is no typical advance amount, but it is essential to understand how advances and royalties typically work. You should definitely understand your exact payment structure before signing a contract.

Earning out the advance is a critical milestone in a first-time author’s journey as it shows that the book is selling well and often leads to future publishing opportunities. Plus, earning out the advance means the author begins receiving royalties, providing a stable source of income.

Literary agents can help authors negotiate the best deal possible, and authors negotiating on their own behalf should do their due diligence to understand industry standards and advocate for themselves to maintain as many rights as possible.

If you’re not sure which type of publishing is right for you, book a consultation to discuss your options. We offer editing and book design services for authors publishing independently or traditionally, and we start every relationship with a conversation about the best path for your work and career.

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FAQs About Publisher Payments

Q: Can I negotiate my contract with a publisher?

A: Yes! As we mentioned in this post, your negotiation skills (or your representation) can have a significant impact on your payment. Be sure to do your research and have a clear idea of what is fair compensation for your work. Also be sure to negotiate which rights you maintain.

Q: Will I receive any royalties?

A: It depends on your contract, but most authors receive royalties. Authors only begin receiving royalties after earning out their advance. Independent authors begin earning royalties immediately.

Q: Should I self-publish instead?

A: Self-publishing has plenty of benefits, but it also has drawbacks. Indie authors are responsible for every aspect of their book’s publication process, including editing, book design, and marketing. The process requires a large up-front investment, and authors should ensure independent publication fits their goals before moving forward.

Q: How do I find a literary agent to represent my first novel?

A: To find a literary agent, you can start by researching agents who represent books in your genre and have a track record of success. You can also attend writing conferences and networking events to meet agents in person. To win over an agent, you’ll need an effective, stand-out query letter. (And no, a query isn’t just a summary of your story.)

Q: What percentage of royalties do authors typically receive from big publishing houses?

A: Royalty rates can vary widely depending on the publisher and the book format. Authors with big publishing houses typically earn about 5-15% of the list price on print books and about 25% on ebooks. Those published by small presses may earn 20-30% royalties on print books and 25-50% on ebooks.

Q: How long does it typically take for authors to earn out their advance?

A: Earning out an advance can take several years, or even decades, depending on the success of the book and the size of the advance. There is really no average amount of time necessary to earn out an advance. Authors typically earn royalties on book sales once they have earned back the amount of their advance.

Q: Can I negotiate the terms of my publishing contract with a big publishing house?

A: Yes, it is possible to negotiate the terms of your publishing contract with a big publishing house. However, this is usually done by your literary agent, who can help you understand the terms of the contract and negotiate on your behalf. Since most big publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts, it’s unlikely that an author would be negotiating their own contract in that case.

Q: Is it better to work with a big publishing house or a small independent press?

A: The decision to work with a big publishing house versus a small independent press depends on the author’s goals and priorities. Big publishers often provide higher advances and more resources. Small presses may offer higher royalty percentages and allow the author to maintain more creative control.

Q: Can a literary agent help me with marketing and publicity for my book?

A: Yes, literary agents can provide guidance and support for marketing and publicity efforts, and may have connections with publicists, media outlets, and bookstores to help promote the author’s work. This depends on the individual agent, so if this is a priority for you, discuss it with the agent before signing.

Q: How much control do authors have over the editing and design process of their book?

A: Authors typically have input and control over the editing and design process of their book, but the extent of this control may vary depending on the publisher and the author’s contract. Small presses often allow authors to maintain more creative control than big publishing houses.

Q: How does self-publishing compare to traditional publishing in terms of financial earnings?

A: Self-publishing can be a viable option for authors who want more control over the publishing process and a higher percentage of earnings, but it requires more work and a much higher initial investment from the author. Because indie authors are also the publisher, they get the publisher’s share of the royalties but are also responsible for the publisher’s responsibilities.

Q: What rights should I retain as an author when negotiating a publishing contract?

A: When negotiating a publishing contract, authors should aim to retain as many rights as possible. Potential rights to consider include translation, film and TV adaptation, and audiobook rights.

Q: How does the genre of my book affect the advance and royalty rates I can expect to receive?

A: The genre of the book can have a significant impact on the advance and royalty rates an author can expect to receive. High-demand genres like romance and sci-fi tend to command higher rates, while authors of less popular genres may receive a lower advance.

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