Make Money As an Author – Part 1: Traditional Publishing

Written By: Bill Walker - Jan• 06•11

Make Money PublishingI was at a networking event a couple of months ago and I was talking to someone about independent publishing and how I believe that independent publishing is the best opportunity for someone to make money as a writer in today’s world. All of a sudden a woman with extensive experience in the traditionally publishing world overheard our conversation and said she strongly disagreed with my opinion. She is of the opinion that the best way to make money as an author is to be traditionally published. Unfortunately, we were not able to finish our conversation so I thought I would write a couple of articles to explain my position. This article is going to cover income potential via traditional publishing.

I should clarify that when I say writer I mean a writer of books, not journalists that get paid to write for news media or for magazines. So for all of you out there wanting to write and publish a book this article is for you.

I know that many people dream about writing the next New York Times’ best seller. While a good dream, the odds are that it is most likely not going to happen. Before you can be a New York Times’ best-selling author you need to get your book into the hands of a traditional publisher and then have that publisher actually publish your book.

Publishers are in the business to make money not to satisfy egos of authors. I know that may sound harsh but it’s true. The most important thing to a traditional publisher is the number of books they can sell. Another important thing a publisher wants, is to sign authors that have many more books inside them that they can later publish. The older you get the more difficult it will be for a publisher to take a chance on you. In the old days publishers knew it was going to take three books to break an author and were willing to invest time and money in a new author. They knew they would lose money on the first two books but then make it all back plus their profit on the third book. Well, publishers want to make money on the first book and make money on the next two as well. What’s changed over the past 20-30 years is that they are no longer willing to lose money on the first two books to make it back on the third book. The first book has to be profitable and it has to be profitable in the first 21-90 days or the publisher will lose interest and move on to the next book in the publishing queue.

Now without a selling platform established in advance your chances of signing a lucrative book deal are practically zero. There may be exceptions to this publishing practice, but for you, a member of the general public; these exceptions will not apply to you.

Did you know that 95% of all traditionally published books sell less than 500 copies? Remember the premise of this article is to earn a living as an author via traditional publishing. Can you really live off of the royalties on the sale of 500 books? Of course not. Not only that but if you only sell 500 copies of your book you will receive no royalties at all.

That’s because royalties are only paid after the publisher recoups their production costs. Those costs include: the advance, editing, interior and exterior layout, etc.

What does all this mean to you? Let’s do the math and see:

Congratulations, John Doe Publisher is going to publish your book. You will be paid a $2500 advance and you will receive an 8% royalty on all books that are sold. John Doe Publisher will own the copyright, publishing and distribution rights of your book.

Okay, now that you have signed the contract what happens next? Well, you’ll be paid the $2500 advance and your book will go into production. This part will take 12 -18 months. This is the time it will take to finish your manuscript (if not already complete) go through editing/re-writes, interior and exterior design (text layout and cover design) and printing and distributing your book.

Unless you’re financially independent or have a spouse or significant other supporting you, you’ll need to keep working your full-time job while your book is going through the publication process and then continue to work while you promote your book after publication.

How much did the publication process cost? I don’t know for sure and I don’t think the big publishers are going to tell me what the author is charged. But I do know how much I charge for preparing a book for print…

  • Editing- These costs vary depending on how much editing you need. My guess is that all books published at the big publishing houses are going to put your book through comprehensive editing – plot, character development, continuity, grammar, spelling, etc. Costs for this service are between $.10 and $.20 per word. If you’ve written a 70,000 word book then editing will cost $7,000-$14,000.
  • Interior Layout- this is how your book will look inside. All the formatting and laying out of the text takes place at this stage of production. The process of preparing your text for print will cost $500 – $1,000.
  • Cover Design – A professionally designed cover is extremely important for the success of any book. Cover design will cost $500 – $1,000.

The total for just these three steps plus your advance is $10,500 – $18,500. That may not seem like much money but if you receive a royalty that is 8% you need to sell 13,125 – 23,125 books just to break even! This is assuming your book’s retail price $10 and you are receiving your royalty of $.80 which is based on the full retail price. However, you are most likely receiving your royalty off of the wholesale price. If the wholesale price is $5.00 your royalty would be $.40, so then to break even requires sales of 26,250 – 46,250 books!

This doesn’t include money to be paid to your agent and any marketing or promoting costs the publisher has incurred. All of which comes out of your royalty income requiring that even more books be sold to break even.

Remember that 95% of traditionally published books sell less than 500 copies. Even if you take an average of the revenue reported by the traditional publishers and using an average sales price of $10.00 per book, divide that by the total books published this results in an average number of sales of about 7,500 books per title.

In this example the total earned and payable to you is $2,500. You don’t break even and the only income you’ve received is your advance. If your goal is to still publish your book via traditional publishing methods then work very hard to create a platform in order to sell your books. Always remember that regardless of publishing method authors sell books!

Part two of this topic will go over the expenses and income potential of independently publishing your book.

If you have experience with traditional publishing and disagree please send me your argument and I will post it.

Author: Bill Walker, Founder of Simplie Indie and Prismatic Publishing

Define Your Publishing Objective

Written By: Bill Walker - Jan• 04•11

Many aspiring novelists, begin the writing process without really thinking about what his/her publishing objectives are. They don’t think about questions such as: Why do I want to write a book in the first place? How will this book be published? For whom am I writing this book? Who is my target market? Do I want to make money from the sales of this book? How am I going to market my book?

These are questions that should be answered prior to writing your book. Here are a few things to consider:

What are your goals and objectives?

  • Why do you want to publish a book? (What is your Big “Why”?)
  • Is this a hobby or do you want to earn a living as a writer?
  • Are you going to print just a few copies for friends and family or do you want worldwide distribution?
  • Do you want to become a household name?
  • Who is your target market?
  • Are you passionate about your writing?

How do you envision your writing career?

  • Hobby – A favorite leisure time activity or occupation.
  • Job – A paid or unpaid position of employment.
  • Career – A life’s work or journey.

The way you view your writing career will guide you as you define your publishing objective. If writing is just a hobby then traditional publishing is probably not for you. An inexpensive self-publishing method is probably best. If your goal is to make a living as an author great care needs to be taken with your work. Developing a strong marketing plan will be vital to your success. Go after traditional publishing if you can. If that method doesn’t work then independently publish your book. Take your book through the same steps a traditional publisher would. The biggest difference between the two is that with independent publishing you, the author, take on all the financial risk but if your book is successful, you will reap all the financial rewards.

If your goal is to earn your living as a published author it is extremely important to treat your writing as a job. Life happens and it’s easy to fill your time with things that will keep you busy. Don’t let that happen. Schedule time to write. Then when it’s time to write, write!

Treat your writing as a business

  • As an author you are an entrepreneur.
  • As an entrepreneur you need to treat your writing as a business.
  • As a business, have you written your mission statement and vision statement, developed a marketing plan, set a budget?

There has never been a better time to be a writer. The internet makes it easy to connect with your fans anywhere in the world. The world of publishing is changing and this change has resulted in a tremendous opportunity for writers that take control of their careers.

I’m going to end with a quote about the future of publishing:

“Let’s be clear. Everybody who writes is going to publish what they write. This is not one of those things that is debatable anymore…And it doesn’t really matter whether you think this is a good thing or a bad thing for the world of books and publishing – it is going to happen regardless of what any of us thinks”

– The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing – p. 27- quoting John Feldcamp, Pres. of Xlibris Corp.

The process of getting published is time consuming and often frustrating as well as extremely exciting. Defining your publishing objectives from the start will give you guidance as you write and publish your book. Your fans are waiting.


Written By: ANDREA ROTH - Dec• 30•10

Yes, you read right – “Words” is the name of this little essay.

Although used on a daily basis, words are the main beam of communicating, other than having vocal cords and body signs. I like words. Always have. So much so that I play word games in my head. For instance, once a word enters my vortex, I will dissect it into many other words.

Take the word “independence” for example. Inside that one word there are others such as in, id, end, depend, pin, pen, pie, pine, etc. You get the idea. I compare this mind-game to playing a lone game of Scrabble, a fashionable yet old board game of words. A most joyous game to me!

Before becoming a published author, I created manuscripts for many college classes; however, my biggest and best feat was being a pen-pal. Composition of numerous letters day-after-day as a child enlightened my existing writing capabilities. That was fun, writing to friends that I met but once a year at summer camp. It was more fun to have my mail box fed in turn, with their responses.

With the topic of words in mind, I appreciate new words, those that are not used on a daily basis, especially words that I have never seen before. Words such as deglutition, bloviate, manque, anent, pleiad, etc. This list is endless and could become as fat as a voluminous dictionary!

Sharing such verbiage with you, I must let you know that I have not completely read any dictionary. Long ago I read as far as the ‘d’ alphabet. Just because I could. However, such a task soon became tedious and was put aside.

Since that long-ago time, authors have enlightened me through their works with the use of unfamiliar words. Habitually, I will dog-ear a page to enable myself to look up that word and its usage in a sentence. This has been most interesting – to me. This is not an importunate endeavor. Amphigories are acceptable.

Off the topic for a moment, I have met more than one person whom are “numbers people.” What I do with words in my mind, they do with numbers. Peripeteia perhaps? Go figure! I am certainly not laconic!

Enjoy! A. K. Buckroth

15 Commandments for Writers

Written By: Bill Walker - Dec• 22•10

Focus on Your Writing

The Sacramento Suburban Writers Club wants to help you write and publish your book. As such I thought this list of 15 Commandments for Writers would be a great early post on the club’s website. I have posted these on my website and at the time did not know who the original author was, but now I do. Wes (former club president) sent me a link to Amazon where the book can be purchased. They are from a book about Mystery writing. Each one is followed by a short paragraph explaining more details. The book is You Can Write a Mystery by Gillian Roberts.

As you set your writing goals for the new year (2011), stop and think about this list of commandments for writers. Which one(s) do you need to work on?

  1. Thou shalt think like a professional, starting now.
  2. Thou shalt begin and keep going till you’re through.
  3. Thou shalt take your efforts and desires seriously.
  4. Thou shalt call it work.
  5. Thou shalt write for yourself, not the market.
  6. Thou shalt not wait for visits from the muse.
  7. Thou shalt not ask whether you are good enough.
  8. Thou shalt not intimidate yourself by comparing your writing with a published and polished work.
  9. Thou shalt not worry whether your idea is new enough.
  10. Thou shalt not talk your idea away.
  11. Thou shalt not self-censor at all during the first draft.
  12. Thou shalt not risk writer’s paralysis by looking for the precise word or being afraid of sounding dumb.
  13. Thou shalt not believe that if writing is hard, you must be no good.
  14. Thou shalt not set yourself up for failure with impossible goals.
  15. Thou shalt not believe in writer’s block.

I hope you find these useful as you write your next book. There has never been a better time to pursue your dream to be a published. Your fans are waiting to read your next book.