The Nitty Gritty on Royalties

The Nitty Gritty on Royalties

One thing that every author wants to know is “How much will I get paid?” This answer varies widely, depending on your choice of publishing venue. Keep in mind that the information below is vastly simplified and quickly changing because of the digital revolution and print-on-demand platforms in book publishing.

For an author choosing to self-publish, a good, custom editing/production job will cost you about $5000 on This includes copy editing, typesetting/design, proofreading, cover design, and an ISBN number/barcode. That doesn’t include the cost of printing the books, Amazon’s cut once you throw it up there, or any type of publicity. But, if you’re willing to make the investment and have your own marketing vehicle (like an online business or a frequently-visited blog), you could possibly make money this way.

For an author who contracts with a traditional publishing company like Sourced Media Books, the answer also varies for each publishing company. Below are some general trends. Again, they will vary, depending on the (1) marketability of the author, (2) the format of the book (hardcover, trade, mass market, digital), and (3) whether you have special clauses in your contract (escalating royalties, reserves against returns, advances, etc.).

Large publishing companies tend to pay a percentage of the retail price of the book. The royalties usually vary between 6.5% and 15% (6.5% for first-time authors, 15% for well-known, established authors). I have not heard of a royalty deal higher than 15%, but it’s possible that J.K. Rowling receives more than that–if you find out, let me know :). Keep in mind that these companies do not accept unsolicited manuscripts, so you’ll have to hire and pay an agent 15% of any royalties you receive.

Small-to-medium-sized publishing companies tend to pay a percentage of the wholesale price of the book (somewhere around 45% of the retail price). The royalty, again, varies between 6.5% and 15%.

Other, more progressive companies are starting to view the author/publisher relationship as a partnership. Sourced Media Books, LLC for example, pays authors 50% of net cash proceeds (a very generous royalty by industry standards, particularly for first-time authors). This type of arrangement is especially good for authors who contract with companies that (1) have streamlined overhead costs and/or (2) produce e-books as well as print books.

While we tend to think chiefly in terms of royalties when it comes to being paid, other benefits can also be lucrative. For example, in addition to generous royalties, Sourced Media Books, LLC also runs a full publicity campaign for each book without any additional cost to the authors–something that very few authors receive, even in large publishing companies. And authors are able to buy books at wholesale (50% of the suggested retail price) and sell them at retail in any of their own marketing venues. This option can be especially lucrative for authors who do speaking engagements or have a large circle of family and friends.

Again, this is just a general summary of some book publishing trends. But it should help you decide which options are best for you. With the changes that are rapidly taking place in the book industry, these numbers will likely be outdated next year!

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