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How Authors Get Paid

by Laura Backes, Publisher, Children's Book Insider, the
Newsletter for Children's Writers


You're working on your craft, learning how to create a strong
novel or intriguing non-fiction book. Great. But as much as you
enjoy the writing itself, you'd really love to get paid for it.
So what can you expect once you land that first book contract or
magazine article?
* How Authors Get Paid

Authors are paid in one of two ways: in a percentage of the price
of each book sold (called a royalty), or with a onetime lump sum
(flat fee). Here's how each one works:

The royalty is specified in your contract and varies by
publisher, but a common royalty rate is 10% for hardcover sales
and 6%-8% for paperback. Traditionally, publishers paid the
royalty on the actual retail price, but more publishers are
moving to paying royalties on the net price, or the amount they
actually receive from bookstores (stores purchase books from
publishers at a 30%-50% discount). Though getting paid on retail
versus net price is generally not negotiable, you can sometimes
get a slightly higher royalty if you ask.

Most publishers pay the author an advance against future
royalties. The author receives half the advance on signing of the
contract, and half when the final manuscript is delivered. If
you're getting a 10% royalty on the retail price of a $10 book,
and your advance is $3000, then once your book is published it
needs to sell 3000 copies before you'll start receiving
additional royalty checks. If the book never "earns back" the
advance (selling less than 3000 copies), it's the publisher's
loss. Of course, the publisher is hoping that your book will earn
much more.

The amount of the advance is generally determined by estimating
how much royalty the author would get on the book's first
printing. For a first-time author, the advance may be lower
(because the author doesn't have a track record and so the
publisher can't be guaranteed a certain number of sales). Authors
with an established following may command a larger advance
because they have a built-in audience.

New authors always want to know the numbers: Just how much of an
advance can they expect for a picture book or a middle grade
novel? Unfortunately, there's no easy answer. A small publisher
may not have the resources to lay out more than a few hundred
dollars up front, but might be willing to give a higher royalty.
A first-time author is always a risk for any publisher, and so
the advance paid will be lower than for a second or third book.
But remember that the advance is really just a payment on future
royalties; if your book sells well, you'll get the money in the
long run.

You also need to realize that for a picture book, the advance and
royalty are split between the author and illustrator. So if you
write the text but don't supply the pictures, you'll get one-half
the royalty (5%) and one-half the advance. For books with only a
few black-and-white illustrations, the author gets most if not
all of the royalty, and the illustrator is paid separately.

A flat fee means you'll be paid one lump sum for your book, and
you won't receive any royalties. If you're one of several authors
writing a book for an established series, if you're creating
material for a book packager who does mass market series titles
produced under one pseudonym, or if you're hired to write a
television tie-in novel or work with licensed characters, you'll
probably be paid in a flat fee. The copyright may be in your name
or that of the publisher's. While it's always nice to get
royalties, flat fees may provide you with more money in one lump
sum, and many authors take these kinds of jobs when they're
establishing a name for themselves. Magazines always pay in flat

* If My Books Sells for $16, Why Do I Only Get $1.60?

Believe it or not, the publisher doesn't walk away with $14.40
profit on a $16 book. A little bit of the publisher's overhead is
paid by each book sold. A large group of people will work on your
book: the editor, copyeditor, proof-reader, managing editor, art
director, production manager, marketing department, sales staff
and subsidiary rights (not to mention all their assistants), and
everyone gets a salary. Your book needs to be printed (probably
overseas, especially if it's a picture book) and shipped to
stores. Publicity efforts may include sending out review copies
(which come out of the publisher's pocket), printing up posters
or bookmarks, taking out ads in review journals, and sending the
sales staff to book conventions. Your book has to justify all
these expenses, and still have something left over for the

#      #     #


Laura Backes is the author of "Best Books for
Kids Who (Think They) Hate to Read" from Prima Publishing.  She's
also the publisher of Children's Book  Insider, the Newsletter for
Children's Writers.  For more information about writing
children's books, including  free articles, market tips, insider
secrets and much more, visit  Children's Book Insider's home on
the web at

Copyright 2001, Children's Book Insider, LLC

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