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How much an author earns for a book?

ankur rathi
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Joined: Oct 11, 2004
Posts: 3830
Since there are so many authors here I can ask & expect a genuine answer.

How much an author earns for a book?

Is it fixed (say 5000$) or royalty based (% on sell) e.g. a book's price is 10$ in USA, 5$ in India, 8 pounds in UK etc. How much money author will get out of it?

I can understand that it would depend on the contract but any general (true in many cases) answer will also help.

Thanks.
Bear Bibeault
Author and ninkuma
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Joined: Jan 10, 2002
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  65

Maybe it's cultural, but at least in the US, asking what people make is not considered polite.


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Pushkar Choudhary
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Joined: May 21, 2006
Posts: 425

Bear Bibeault wrote:Maybe it's cultural, but at least in the US, asking what people make is not considered polite.


I guess it would be the same everywhere else too.
ankur rathi
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Joined: Oct 11, 2004
Posts: 3830
I apologize but it was not personal to anyone.
Pat Farrell
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Joined: Aug 11, 2007
Posts: 4637
    
    5

John C Dvorak has some recent rants about book publishers and their "Dummy Contract". He claims that when a publisher first approaches an author, they offer what JCD calls the Dummy contract. It is completely baised in favor of the publisher. If you sign it, you are a dummy. If you say "let me have my lawyer look at it" then they will cave on much of the really evil stuff.

The details vary by book, author, and publisher. But a typical non-dummy deal has two main parts:

1) an advance, which is money that the publisher gives the author when the contract is signed. For example, when President Clinton signed, his advance was "believed to have been worth US$12 million" Most advances are a lot lower, hundreds of times lower. Sometimes they are zero, advances of a few thousand dollars are common for successful authors, and the big names get more.

2) a per book royalty amount. Usually pretty small, maybe a buck or so. Sometimes just a few cents.

The "advance" is not free money, it is rather an advance on money earned by the per-book royalty.

In a fair deal, the publisher gives an "advance" that will be paid for by the number of copies that are expected to be sold. It is a rare book that sells a million copies. Thus an advance of a million dollars is news.

If the book doesn't sell enough to pay off the advance, and if the contract says so, the author may be forced to write more books to recover the advance.

Folks like John Grisham, Ken Follet, Tom Clancy sell most of the books in the US. The distribution curve is amazing. The top folks sell all the books, and a zillion authors sell just a few.
Mark Spritzler
ranger
Sheriff

Joined: Feb 05, 2001
Posts: 17249
    
    6

Pat, funny thing is iPhone apps are the same, just a few selling most of the apps, and most of us getting just pennies.

Mark


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Pat Farrell
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Joined: Aug 11, 2007
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    5

Mark Spritzler wrote: a few selling most of the apps, and most of us getting just pennies.

A lot of items work in the market this way. Books, music CDs. The Dummy contract for both books and music are very similar. In music, its really hard to get out of the dummy contract. I remember a 60 Minutes TV news show about The Dixie Chicks, who are clearly stars. They said that they don't make any money off their CD sales, they only make money on the shows they do live.

There are roughly 700,000 Books-in-print at any time. I had access to sales information by title and date from a major wholesaler. Something close to 90% of their sales was the top 15,000 book titles. And all titles (except The Bible) look like a Poison distribution: they hit their peak quickly, and then taper off to zero in an exponential decay curve.

Until this century, local bookstores earned their living picking titles that were not on the NY Times best seller list, knowing what appeals to their local customers. Amazon has killed that, there are only a tiny number of independant bookstores in the US anymore.

Just as there are no more local CD stores.
Maneesh Godbole
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Joined: Jul 26, 2007
Posts: 9990
    
    7

That is one thing bad about today's digital world. Everything is online.

Buying a book is an experience. One just does not go, pick, pay and go away.
I just love visiting book stores. As soon as you enter, you get a whiff of the new book "smell". It is fantastic. You can see racks and racks of books, with people browsing, considering, picking and choosing. The feeling of adventure and knowledge is in the air. Just the sound of crisp new pages being turned makes it worth the while.

We do not have TV but have chosen to invest in books instead. Visiting a bookstore every fortnight is almost a ritual for us. Usually we end up spending 3-4 hours there. It is fun to discover a new book or find some old one which you always wanted to read.

@Pat,
John Grisham, Ken Follet and Tom Clancy have a good fan following in India too, especially Grisham. I personally feel Tom is in a bit of trouble nowadays, especially now that the cold war is long done and over with. Being an non US, I find his books heavily biased and to be quite frank, quite typical. YMMV.

Unfortunately, book sales follow the herd mentality found in fashion, gadgets and soap. Everybody does it or has it.
Recently I read The Lost World which had an interesting hypothesis. Evolution is also dictated by differences in ideology or thinking. If everybody starts thinking the same, we are doomed. With the emerging global culture, I suspect we are already on that path.


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Pat Farrell
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Joined: Aug 11, 2007
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    5

Most of the remaining bookstores near here either have a Starbucks or similar store inside or next door, so in addition to the book smell, you get coffee smells. It makes visiting them very nice.

Agree that Tom Clancy has lost it. I think its more than just his pro-American bias. Tom Clancy is a brand, he has lots of uncredited writers cranking out his books, doing all the research, etc. With his first one or two, Tom did all the research and the military detail was amazing. He could not get any major publisher to take his book, it was considered too strange, and he was unknown. His first book was published by an obscure military textbook house. But it caught on, made huge amounts of money. Each release since then has gone downhill, IMHO.

I think this may be why J. K. Rowling is retiring the Harry Potter series.

Of course, both Clancy and J. K. Rowling have enough money to build their own personal Taj Mahal.
Jesper de Jong
Java Cowboy
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Joined: Aug 16, 2005
Posts: 13875
    
  10

Pat Farrell wrote:... a Poison distribution: they hit their peak quickly, and then taper off to zero in an exponential decay curve.

Ah, you mean a Poission distribution, named after a French guy, doesn't have anything to do with poisoning anyone...

And did you know that "poisson" means "fish" in French?


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Pat Farrell
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Joined: Aug 11, 2007
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    5

Jesper Young wrote:Ah, you mean a Poission distribution, named after a French guy, doesn't have anything to do with poisoning anyone...


Yeah, spell checks don't solve all problems. This is the distribution used for nearly all modeling and queuing systems. IMHO, its mostly because it is well understood, is reasonably close to what the real world looks like, and all the hairy calculus has been done by others many years ago, so modern Grad students don't have to do much work to use it.
Ernest Friedman-Hill
author and iconoclast
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Joined: Jul 08, 2003
Posts: 24166
    
  30

I will add that for computer books, some are done using the advance/royalty system described here, while others -- especially of the "Learn Something in 21 Days" variety -- are done as "works for hire", and the author is paid a fixed price for the writing. I've done both kinds of books myself. The royalty system involves more risk but also more potential earnings. (I'm not implying that the author has a choice -- the publisher generally offers one or another.)

I've been told that most computer books do not earn out their advance -- in other words, the initial payment is all the author ever sees. Those computer book authors who do in fact collect royalty checks are a lucky minority.

For international sales of books by US authors, the royalty percentage is generally the same as for domestic sales. That means that if a book sells for half the cost in India as it does in the US, the author makes only half as much per copy (and actually, it's generally not half the cost. Royalties are based on what the publisher gets, not the retail cost. The wholesale cost of the Indian edition of a book is much less than half the cost of a copy in the US, so authors make very little on individual international sales.)


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Bear Bibeault
Author and ninkuma
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Joined: Jan 10, 2002
Posts: 60053
    
  65

There is also the possibility of negative royalties to account for returns of unsold books.

Bottom line: when it comes to computer books, if you are writing the book with the intent of making money on it, you are a danged fool.
Bert Bates
author
Sheriff

Joined: Oct 14, 2002
Posts: 8764
    
    5
For computer books in the U.S. these days it *typically* goes something like this:

Let's say the book is going to sell for $40 at the store. The publisher will get about 1/2 of that, $20. The author's royalty is around 10% of that $20 (I've heard of percentages ranging from 3% to 20%). If we take 10% as an average, that means that the author will typically get $2 / book. Now, there are all sorts of details that can change that - for instance a lot of publishers hold back a percentage of the author's royalty for something called the "reserve for returns". The idea is that if the bookstores return a lot of the books they originally ordered the publisher might have to use the "reserve for return" to help offset the cost of those returns.

These days the average computer book will sell maybe 4,000 copies. A really rare, top-selling, stays on top for a long time, computer book might sell 100,000 copies. Ten years ago some of the top computer books sold 500k to a million copies in a couple of years, but that just isn't happening any more. A lot of the the bestsellers that you see on Amazon, if they stick around for a year or more will probably sell 25k to 50k copies.

Computer book advances tend to be in the $5k to $10k range, and as others have said, these are 'advances'. If your contract earns you $2 / book, and your advance is $5,000 the publisher will keep the royalties for your first 2,500 sales to pay off your advance.

Finally, I have to speak to the notion that you can't make money selling computer books. I agree that most people don't, but I also STRONGLY believe that that attitude leads to crappy computer books. It seems to me that a lot of computer books get churned out in a couple of months by authors who are just trying to earn their advance.

The other attitude that mars a lot of computer books is that some authors write books to get technical credibility from their peers. Often books written for this purpose are incredibly precise, and equally incomprehensible - with little concern for the people who might actually want to learn something from the book. In other words, the author writes the book so that he'll look smart, not so that his readers can learn.

Arrrrgh!

FWIW, I think that Kathy and I have been really lucky with our books, but I also think that we stuck by some decisions that seem to make a difference:

1 - We write for the learner.
2 - We don't care what the experts think of our books.
3 - We focus our content and ignore topics that we don't think are necessary.

hth,

Bert


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Bear Bibeault
Author and ninkuma
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  65

Bert really nailed it (no surprise there). Explains why so many computer books are rather crappy. The best books are those written with the intent to help the reader, rather than the author.
Pat Farrell
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Joined: Aug 11, 2007
Posts: 4637
    
    5

Bert Bates wrote:"reserve for returns"

I think book sales are unique in this area. In anything else, when you walk into a retail store, the retailer bought the stuff that is on the shelves. With books (at least in the US), the bookstore can send unsold books back (within a window) and get full credit. So the reserve for returns can be a big issue if the book doesn't sell.

There are a lot of books (and a lot of titles) that get returned.
Arvind Mahendra
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Joined: Jul 14, 2007
Posts: 1162
what about with ebooks? How is the profit sharing and pricing model adopted or tweaked in that case?
Do authors stand to make more/less as with traditional books? It doesn't need the same infrastructure, middle men/additional labor and raw materials so seems a whole lot of scope to eliminate/minimize alot of the costs to the reader from the actual printing to transportation of goods and finally shelving at a retailer. Or are any gains offset by piracy problems?


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Arvind Mahendra
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Joined: Jul 14, 2007
Posts: 1162
Arvind Mahendra wrote:what about with ebooks? How is the profit sharing and pricing model adopted or tweaked in that case?
Do authors stand to make more/less as with traditional books? It doesn't need the same infrastructure, middle men/additional labor and raw materials so seems a whole lot of scope to eliminate/minimize alot of the costs to the reader from the actual printing to transportation of goods and finally shelving at a retailer. Or are any gains offset by piracy problems?


I think I wanted to ask about how ebooks work and ended up asking how Amazon works.
Ernest Friedman-Hill
author and iconoclast
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Joined: Jul 08, 2003
Posts: 24166
    
  30

In my experience, generally authors have a similar deal for ebooks as for paper books: royalties based on a percentage of the publisher revenue. Although the price is lower for the ebook, there's no cut for the retailer or distributor, so in practice the publisher (and thus the author) gets about the same amount for an ebook as compared to a paper book.
Malhar Barai
Author
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Joined: Aug 17, 2001
Posts: 399
Agree with others, usually it ranges from 10-20% (thats what my publisher paid me )

Bottomline is, you have to be very precise in what you write & have enough knowledge on the topics at hand, else you are just a fly-by-night kind of author.

HTH
MB


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