I'd like to make a profit off my book.
October 6, 2008 1:21 PM   Subscribe

How much do authors get paid for their published books? Specifics inside.

I am writing a book of pagan themed guided meditations that I am going to be submitting to various new age publishers. I think there is a need for this type of book in this particular market. If it does get published, how much could I expect to make from it? If it helps, the publisher I'm really going for Llewellyn (http://www.llewellyn.com/history/submit.php).

Annon because I'm not "out" about my new age beliefs (and would be publishing under a pen name). :)
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (13 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
a) If you're writing a book to make a profit, you're very, very likely to be disappointed. If you're writing the book because you enjoy writing the book, you may or may not make a disappointing amount of money for the work you've put into your work.

b)A pen-named new age book from someone whose experience doesn't even involve them being open about it to the people in their lives is less likely to be picked up. When it comes to meditation, health or well-being, people like to know the person guiding them knows something about what they're doing.
posted by scabrous at 1:31 PM on October 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

If this is your first book, just be happy that you get paid any money for it. I'd say a $500 advance and a very small royalty rate (that you'll probably never earn out) would be generous.
posted by mattbucher at 1:35 PM on October 6, 2008

Yeah, don't quit your day job.

It's nonfiction from a first-time author (yes? not that it probably matters if you'll be using a pseudonym), submitted to small presses, targeting a small market. If you get an advance, it will be tiny; with or without an advance your royalties will be small.

Sorry. Publishing's a rough world.
posted by rtha at 1:44 PM on October 6, 2008

It's impossible to say, as it depends on your contract. I got roughly $1 per copy sold for my first book. The illustrator got more than I did.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:02 PM on October 6, 2008

I write computer books, and I usually get a 2K to 4K advance. That's pretty high end, due to the fact that these are technical books and I'm an expert in my field. Also, these contracts are offered by my publisher -- I never instigate anything; nor do I start writing before the contract is signed and sealed.

I've written four books and just got my first royalty check ever. I think it was for $1.35.

My dad -- an academic -- wrote about 25 books. They were well reviewed and some of them are classics in his field. I don't think he ever made a cent off of them.

Listen to the people here who say write for fun, not profit. You basically have to be Stephen King to make a living writing books. Even though I earn a pretty good advance, if I count the hours I put in, I'm getting stiffed.
posted by grumblebee at 2:07 PM on October 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

How-to author here (knitting/crafts, written 10+ major publisher books) -- always take more money upfront as an advance if you have a choice between that and royalties -- Amazon et al have made royalties pretty much useless (see the "sold for 52% off or more" clause in most contracts these days). Happy to give you more solid numbers via MeFi mail, but basically, "don't quit your day job" applies in almost all cases.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 2:18 PM on October 6, 2008

Pretty much everyone I know has, at best, broken even with their first book. And I'm including fiction and nonfiction put out by both academic and commerical publishers that generated decent sales, good reviews, and (in a couple of cases) awards.

Of all those authors, I know exactly one who was able to quit his day job, and that was A) because he has partner with a steady job and benefits, and B) because he got a nice advance for his second book.

So go forward with your project, certainly, but it should be with the understanding that it's not going to be a money-making venture.
posted by scody at 2:20 PM on October 6, 2008

I'd think about this as my entree into the writing world. Start thinking about your second book ASAP. Some resources for sage advice:
PEN American Center
Writers' League of Texas
The Author's Guild
Washington Independent Writers
and that's just scratching the surface.
posted by kristymcj at 2:35 PM on October 6, 2008

Scalzi penned a really great post about how much authors make. It's specific to sci-fi but I think the concept applies pretty much across the board.
posted by COD at 3:13 PM on October 6, 2008 [3 favorites]

I am a writer and I will say firsthand that it's possible to make a decent amount of money self-publishing. I've penned six nonfiction books in my field that have done pretty well. The key here is to be very active and respected in the field (kind of have a grass-roots presence) so that you're in tune with what readers want, have an excellent website that doesn't smell of MLM or poor worksmanship, sell direct on your website, and sell through Amazon Advantage but stick them with a big markup to offset their 55% take. Also do not toot your horn about your success or you're going to have other writers and publishers covering your angle.

I'm not convinced it's possible to make more through a publisher, since I've been thoroughly unimpressed with all of the publishers/agents I've dealt with. I made one last try in 2003 with one of my good titles just to see what happened, and the agent took 4 weeks, sent a bad photocopy of generic suggestions for improving the book, and showed no initiative. This convinced me that the whole idea is quicksand, and besides, I've never heard of a non-bestseller nonfiction author bringing in what I've made. I guess they don't see the chunk of money that goes to the editors, staff, and fancy Manhattan offices. Self publishing does work if you have a good product.
posted by crapmatic at 3:41 PM on October 6, 2008 [3 favorites]

My dad wrote a book on how to build a canoe. www.feathercanoes.com

he gets a few bucks every quarter in royalties.
posted by patnok at 7:43 PM on October 6, 2008

Yet another published author here telling you "write for fun, not for money."

Also, writing isn't fun.

More practically, try to negotiate a good advance and assume you'll never make a penny in royalties. This is almost always correct. And as a first-time author dealing with a small press, $500 (as mattbucher said) would be a pretty good advance.

Listen to what crapmatic says. I think in such a specialized field, you'll make more money self-publishing a book or e-book. Find some websites that already have an audience of meditating pagans (or whomever the audience is) and make a deal with them to promote your book. Start your own website/blog with value-added content and spend a couple of years building it up and using it to promote the book.

If you make $10 a copy and sell 100 copies, that's $1000 - already probably more than you'll make from a "real" publisher paying you $1.00 or less per copy.

There are exceptions. I quit my day job years ago to write (computer) books full time, and I've made royalties way beyond the advance on a few. But this was during a tech bubble, and something far more mainstream than your topic. Now I make most of my income from other things, and don't write unless I'm really passionate about a subject.

Having said all of that... Good luck!
posted by mmoncur at 2:41 AM on October 7, 2008

Seconding Crapmatic's suggestions, self-publishing can be profitable if you are is comfortable rolling up your sleeves and getting involved in the entire process -- from design and editing to distribution and marketing.

The margins for selling a book from your own website can be surprisingly good, especially compared to how much you'll make from a publisher; through distributors and bricks-and-mortar retailers; or through Amazon.

I have self-published a non-fiction book (and an audiobook) and am now writing a second. I've made money on the process, but as others have suggested it's been a lot of work.

To get an idea of what's involved in self-publishing check out this book , which I found very helpful. (IIRC, the author has a website if you'd prefer not to buy from Amazon)

Good luck
posted by quidividi at 4:03 AM on October 7, 2008

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