Authors are often stereotyped as being very wealthy, when in most cases, that is not accurate. Only the heavy weight authors (those with the most fame attached) are pulling in the big bucks. For me, being an author was mainly about providing me with a creative outlet as well as being a potential supplement to my income. While I have dreams of having movies and merchandise made after The Soul Smith and The Blacksmiths series, the realist side of me has become comfortable with the idea that my book sales may never become my primary source of income. So, in order to get an idea of what to expect, I started doing some research. According to fellow fantasy author Michael J. Sullivan, (writer of The Riyria Revelations series) the breakdown for how much authors make is shown below:

“Let’s look at some examples for a typical release that starts out in hard cover and is later released in mass market paperback

  • Hardcover: $25.95
  • Kindle: $12.99 (1/2 of hardcover – set by publisher)
  • Amazon buys the books at a discount (usually 50-55% off cover, so they pay $11.57) and might sell it at a discount for $15.24.

The money breaks down as follows:

  • $3.67 to Amazon ($15.24 – $11.57 they pay)
  • $2.60 to author (10% of list price)
  • $8.97 to publisher ($11.57 they get from Amazon – $2.60 paid to author)

On the ebook priced at $12.99 the breakdown is:

  • $3.90 to Amazon (30% of the price the publisher sets)
  • $2.27 to the author (25% of net price)
  • $6.76 to the publisher (Net price – 25% for the author)

Once a book is in mass-market paperback the ebook and paperback are usually priced the same and Amazon does no discounting.

So for $7.99 mass market paperback the print breakdown is:

  • $3.59 – Amazon (No discount – and assumes a 55% discount)
  • $0.64 – author (8% of list price)
  • $3.76 – publisher ($4.40 from Amazon – royalty paid to author)

For the e-book it breaks down like this:

  • $2.40 – Amazon (30% of the list price set by the publisher)
  • $1.40 – author (25% of net price)
  • $4.19 – publisher (Net price – royalty paid to author)

Bottom line, when in hardcover the author makes slightly better money if you buy the print book ($2.60 versus $2.27). When in mass-market paperback the author makes MUCH more if you buy an ebook ($1.40 versus $0.64).”

-Quoted from source:

Books are, of course, the primary product that is being produced when you are an author, however, there are other products that are made that can bring in revenue to the author. There are obvious things, such as Audio Books – and then there are non-obvious things (merchandise) that become obvious once you have a successful brand (and Trademark), such as: T-shirts, board/card games, video games, movies/television, etc.

According to Forbes, the world’s top-paid authors this year (2012) are:

  1. James Patterson, $94 million
  2. Steven King, $39 million
  3. Janet Evanovich, $33 million
  4. John Grisham, $26 million
  5. Jeff Kinney, $25 million
  6. Bill O’Reilly, $24 million
  7. Nora Roberts, $23 million
  8. Danielle Steel, $23 million
  9. Suzanne Collins, $20 million
  10. Dean Koontz, $19 million
  11. J. K. Rowling, $17 million
  12. George R. R. Martin, $15 million
  13. Stephenie Meyer, $14 million
  14. Ken Follett, $14 million
  15. Rick Riordan, $13 million

The majority of the authors listed above make that much money because their novels got turned into a movie or TV series (or in O’Reilly’s case, use TV to promote their books). With media attention like that, many people see the movie/show, buy the book, and purchase the merchandise.

The alternative is self publishing, and statistics show that over half of indie-authors make less than $500 a year. In fact, less than 10% of indie-authors make enough to live off of their earnings.

“According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS, independent writers with the highest earning potential can expect to earn a median salary of approximately $93,420 per year, as calculated in May 2009. The National Salary Data listed on PayScale lists the average author salary, tallied in December 2010, as being between $30,678 and $71,045 per year, with the middle 50 percent earning less than $50,000 per year.” (Quote from source:

Only time will tell if I will be on the Forbes list, or be a statistic for the Bureau of Labor Statistics or the National Salary Data.

4 thoughts on “How Much Money Do Authors Make

    1. Yes, while it is a bit daunting I think most authors fail to generate the income they want to earn because they don’t support their novel with the proper level of marketing. So please stay tuned to my blog because I will soon reveal my detailed, in depth, comprehensive marketing plan.

      In addition, for those authors that do market their book well but still don’t generate the income they want to earn, I think the problem lies in the quality of the writing and/or the lack of interest (or poor pacing) of their novel. This usually is reflected in the reader reviews.

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