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Old 08-20-2008, 11:13 AM   #1
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How much does the average author get paid?

So many of my favorite authors have blogs now, and it's such a wonderful experience to leave a question and have that author actually answer it!

Something does bother me though. So often an author is asked some variation on 'Why did you stop writing that series? It was so good, why not write more?'

And the answer is always something like 'The publisher refused to pay me enough money to live on, and they owned the series, so I had to stop writing them'

So what is the deal here? It's so easy to imagine that a professional writer makes at least a living salary...writing a book is certainly not a fast or trivial task, and not everyone is capable of it. Sure, someone like Stepen King can probably name his price for his new books, but what does Joe Average Author get for his work? Are they really getting ripped off by the publishers?
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Old 08-20-2008, 11:46 AM   #2
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Originally Posted by mdibella View Post
So many of my favorite authors have blogs now, and it's such a wonderful experience to leave a question and have that author actually answer it!

Something does bother me though. So often an author is asked some variation on 'Why did you stop writing that series? It was so good, why not write more?'

And the answer is always something like 'The publisher refused to pay me enough money to live on, and they owned the series, so I had to stop writing them'

So what is the deal here? It's so easy to imagine that a professional writer makes at least a living salary...writing a book is certainly not a fast or trivial task, and not everyone is capable of it. Sure, someone like Stepen King can probably name his price for his new books, but what does Joe Average Author get for his work? Are they really getting ripped off by the publishers?
The authors I've known have a wide range of incomes from their writing. However, one of your statements is puzzling. I've highlighted it above. I'm curious as to how you feel that writing and making a living from it would be easy? Or is there a missing word there?
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Old 08-20-2008, 11:48 AM   #3
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i read that statement as "it's easy for me to see how and why a living wage is appropriate for a writer," not "it's so easy to write, why aren't they paid well."
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Old 08-20-2008, 11:51 AM   #4
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I did of course mean that since writing a book is not easy, I would have thought that someone who can do it would make a decent salary. As an avid reader, I would HOPE that the people who produce the books I enjoy would not be living hand-to-mouth while someone else gets rich off their work.
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Old 08-20-2008, 12:00 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by mdibella View Post
I did of course mean that since writing a book is not easy, I would have thought that someone who can do it would make a decent salary. As an avid reader, I would HOPE that the people who produce the books I enjoy would not be living hand-to-mouth while someone else gets rich off their work.
Ah. Well, the publishing industry is a complex thing. making money on publishing a Stephen King is easy, but making money on publishing a Michael McDowell is not. Even though I much prefer McDowell's books over King's he is not being published any more becasue of economics.

Publishers go for long-term earners to pay the big bucks and buy new authors in the hopes of getting the next King and a few mid-list producers. But they don't pay a lot. The vast majority of authors have a "day job." Writing and getting published fulfills a need to write, rather than a need to eat.

Those who make their way solely on their writing are quite rare, in fact. Even writers who make their living in writing mainly do other types of writing than just novels. Tech writing, reporting, ad copy, etc.

What we see with folks like King and Rowling, and others with best sellers, is the very top of the heap, with a lot of mid-listers and first-bookers thrown in.
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Old 08-20-2008, 12:02 PM   #6
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For paperbacks, in the UK at least, the author will receive a royalty of typically around 10% of the cover price of the book. So if a typical papeback has a cover price of £6.99, the author would get 70p.
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Old 08-20-2008, 12:04 PM   #7
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Here's one blog where an author (a favourite of mine) comments a bit on the royalty situation:

http://themanwhonevermissed.blogspot...four-days.html

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Old 08-20-2008, 12:13 PM   #8
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Re: 'Even though I much prefer McDowell's books over King's he is not being published any more becasue of economics.'

Would you anticipate this situation changing with the increasing popularity of ebooks? Admittedly, there are certain publishing costs that will never decrease (editing, data input, etc etc) but when it no longer becomes necessary to actually print and ship a book, would the publishers be more inclined to take a chance on that less-than-blockbuster book? I certainly would hope so.

Which then begs the issue of, how much money should that writer be paid for his/her work? I can envision something like the residual payments an actor gets when his/her work is reused for additional profit. Every time someone buys an ebook, the author should get a cut of that money, I'd say. Then the problem becomes, what of those book contracts that were signed before anyone ever envisioned such a thing as an ebook. Who gets the money when one of those is sold in ebook format? If the author does not get any of it, I have a real problem with that!

My original concern was with the authors whose work seems to be quite popular, but they stop writing because they just can't afford to keep doing it. That strikes me as a system that is broken, somehow.
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Old 08-20-2008, 12:21 PM   #9
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I would say the average author gets about 5 to 10% of the sales price. If you are very good, you can demand more, but thats not average anymore.

Most of the time the author gets a downpayment for the book, which covers x sales and is not refundable. If the book is a flop, thats the publishers loss.
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Old 08-20-2008, 12:25 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mdibella View Post
It's so easy to imagine that a professional writer makes at least a living salary...writing a book is certainly not a fast or trivial task, and not everyone is capable of it.
That has never been a publisher's concern, unfortunately. Publishers essentially pay a market rate, often augmented by a cut of the expected profits. The rate is not based on any calculation of how much money a person should make in a given period to make a "living wage."

This has put most authors in the position of working a steady job for that "living wage," and writing books for additional income beyond the "living wage." Some authors would actually work for multiple publishers, or work on multiple concurrent assignments for the same publisher, to make enough cumulatively to equal a good wage, or at least a "living wage." (See the 30s pulp writers, for example.) And some would work for a publisher as a regularly-paid column or staff writer for periodicals, while working on books between assignments or on their own time.

Does this imply that writers are getting "ripped off" by publishers? Not necessarily. There are services publishers provide, like editing, marketing, printing and distribution, that (in a fair world) justify their costs, and the rate they pay writers, to see a profit.

I think it's fair to say that, beyond the lucky "bestseller" writers, the average writer may make a large lump sum from a single book, but overall, the amount of money they make is roughly equal to "hobby money," i.e. a nice addition to your income, but not enough to seriously live off of.
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Old 08-20-2008, 12:41 PM   #11
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Would you anticipate this situation changing with the increasing popularity of ebooks?...

Which then begs the issue of, how much money should that writer be paid for his/her work?...
Certainly the rise of electronic publishing will change all the equations. Writers will discover alternatives to the services provided by publishers, and some will strike out on their own... publishers will see areas where their infrastructure costs will be lower, and will strive to add as much of that saving as possible to profits, but must still show writers that they are cost-effective.

In the end, pubs and authors will see rates changing... pubs will have to change, as they see more and more authors selling on their own and bypassing them... and authors will have to decide whether cutting out the pub is worth the extra work they have to do for themselves (prep, marketing, transactions, etc).

With this change, new models of publishing and profit-making will likely arise to take advantage of the new medium... there will probably be a lot of "churn" in the coming years.

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My original concern was with the authors whose work seems to be quite popular, but they stop writing because they just can't afford to keep doing it. That strikes me as a system that is broken, somehow.
Not broken at all. Part of a writer's contract with a publisher may be to grant the rights for a set of characters to that publisher. But that was simply a tool they used to get the contract, and they could just as easily turned down a contract with that stipulation. It is not required legally, and authors with more "pull" can and do often pass on that clause.

As the "system" changes, "average Joe" authors may find themselves more free to turn down such contracts in the future, or if they cannot get a satisfactory contract for their book, to publish themselves.
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Old 08-20-2008, 01:17 PM   #12
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I'm a professional novelist myself working in a relatively small field (Science Fiction), I think about this question all the time But I've been very, very lucky. Most of my fellows are not so fortunate, as you can see here.

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The average author earns about £16,000, a third less than the national average wage, it is revealed. So what? They're doing what they love. But hidden behind that figure released by the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) is a grimmer truth: when you take away the superstars who are earning shedloads, the actual figure for the rest is closer to £4,000.
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Old 08-20-2008, 02:20 PM   #13
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Re: 'Even though I much prefer McDowell's books over King's he is not being published any more becasue of economics.'

Would you anticipate this situation changing with the increasing popularity of ebooks? Admittedly, there are certain publishing costs that will never decrease (editing, data input, etc etc) but when it no longer becomes necessary to actually print and ship a book, would the publishers be more inclined to take a chance on that less-than-blockbuster book? I certainly would hope so.

Which then begs the issue of, how much money should that writer be paid for his/her work? I can envision something like the residual payments an actor gets when his/her work is reused for additional profit. Every time someone buys an ebook, the author should get a cut of that money, I'd say. Then the problem becomes, what of those book contracts that were signed before anyone ever envisioned such a thing as an ebook. Who gets the money when one of those is sold in ebook format? If the author does not get any of it, I have a real problem with that!

My original concern was with the authors whose work seems to be quite popular, but they stop writing because they just can't afford to keep doing it. That strikes me as a system that is broken, somehow.
There are many factors. First, why should the publisher *pay* more for something the author will - by emotional need - be forced to produce anyway? Writing is a compulsion.

Second, since the average publisher puts little or no effort into really *marketing* these works, instead relying upon consumer need to drive them to seek out new works, there's often the strong probability that the *average* novel will only sell 10,000-15,000 copies. Yes, yes, it makes sense to drive up demand by creating a desire in customers, but - well can you say 'publishers are hidebound reactionaries'??? I knew you could! So, after going through all the effort of releasing one or two books from an author in a given series, the average publisher steps back from the table and waits. And waits. And waits. And when no one realizes there's a new title out there (and how would most customers with all the other demands on their attention and energy), the new release falls like a lead brick careening down into the depths of the Marianas Trench. Which proves to the publisher that the series is unloved and should be abandoned.

Think of the average major publisher as Janus. One facet is full of hope and dreams - that's the one which actually coughs up money to the author for that first novel. The other personality, now. That's the one which believes that nothing will succeed, that every novel is just another attempt by some conniving con artist to steal the company's hard-earned wealth - and which needs to be punished by cutting off all support so that *this* particular thieving vine will wither and die as soon as possible. Money doesn't grow on trees, you know!

Given the harsh realities of the publishing industry, it's a wonder authors get even a few pennies, much less anything approaching a "living wage".

Derek
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Old 08-20-2008, 02:25 PM   #14
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I did of course mean that since writing a book is not easy, I would have thought that someone who can do it would make a decent salary. As an avid reader, I would HOPE that the people who produce the books I enjoy would not be living hand-to-mouth while someone else gets rich off their work.
Writers of books do not get paid a "salary." They get a royalty off of each book sold. As mentioned, it is usually 5 to 10 percent of each sale. A friend of mine wrote a successful niche book, it is consider the book to have if you work with a particular graphics program. The book cost $50 retail, and she got $5.00 of each sale.

She also had a "real" job, because in order to make a living the publisher would have had to sell a whole lot more of those books every day than they actually did.

Of course, the retailer makes a profit, an there is some portion of the remainder that the publisher is supposed to be spending marketing the book and the author. There are also production costs. If the author has an agent, I would surmise that the agent's fee comes out of the author's cut.

Putting a book out in eformat decreases production costs significantly. However, this just means more money for the publisher, since they are not going to suddenly decide to increase the percentage going to the author.

But, in short, no ... most authors (unless they have written several best sellers) either have salaried writing jobs (as newspaper editors or reporters, or as script writers/readers), or other jobs which pay the bills.

That's just the way it is at present. I'd like to see it change.
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Old 08-20-2008, 03:48 PM   #15
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I've seen 5-10% of sales mentioned a couple of times, in conjunction with maybe some money upfront. That means 90-95% of the revenue flow is not going to the creator. Now I understand publishing costs and marketing and everything, but that is pretty appalling.
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