Top 5 Highest Selling Authors

How much do book authors make, actually? What’s the average author salary? Is it a sustainable career option?

These are common questions – and they are good ones to ask if you’re thinking about becoming an author. But reality is, the answer isn’t that simple. 

Determining how much money authors make is complex because no two authors are the same, and numerous factors affect how much they earn. 

In this article, we’ll discuss what an author salary is, factors that affect how much an author makes, how much bestselling authors make per book, misconceptions on how much authors make, and more.  

Author Salary: What Is It?

Essentially, an author salary is the total amount of money that an author earns in any given year.

Because authors are typically self-employed and organize their work by book project, their income can vary from one year to another. A year in which an author writes 5 books will likely mean a higher income, than a year when they only write 1 book. That’s why it’s important for authors to continually work on completing their projects and sharing them with the rest of the world. This applies to both traditionally published and self-published authors. However, while a self-published author might have more freedom when it comes to their deadlines, it also means that they are responsible for keeping themselves accountable. 

How Are Authors Paid? How Much Do Authors Make Per Book?

A payment, known as an ‘advance’ in the publishing industry, is paid to an author by a publisher before the author’s book is published. It represents the projected future royalties. A typical guideline for an advance is the amount the book is projected to earn in royalties during the first 6 to 12 months after its publication. For new authors, advances are often in the $5,000 – $10,000 range. 

Generally, advances are divided into two installments. The first installment is paid when the book contract is signed, and the second is paid once the final manuscript has been submitted. Once the book is published, an author earns royalties only after enough books have been sold to cover the advance. The royalty amount varies per author. Also, the royalty percentage may rise with the number of copies sold, such as 10% for the first 1,000 books sold and 15% for subsequent sales. 

If you’re self-published, you will get much better royalties. However, you also have to take on the time and costs of creating and marketing your book. 

Authors, like other professionals, usually choose to keep their financial information private. However, many authors have recently started to publish their income to give aspiring writers a real sense of financial possibilities within the profession. 

Author Salary vs. Book Earning: What’s the Difference?

An author salary is the total amount of money that an author earns in any given year. On the other hand, book earnings are only one factor of an author’s overall salary. 

To supplement their income, an author might choose to work a day job or do freelance work while they establish their reputation. For instance, many authors with dedicated fans have chosen to join networks such as Patreon, where their fans can pay them directly to continue releasing their work.  

Also, some authors write and publish books with the intent of promoting their larger brand. Many entrepreneurs do this. The interest that the book generates often translate to increased traffic on their website or increased sales of their products/services.  

What’s the Average Author Salary?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the median salary in 2019 for a person who classifies as an author and writer is $63,200 per year ($30.39 per hour)[1]. However, this doesn’t account for all authors, since many write part-time or make much of their income through other means. 

Factors that Affect and Author’s Salary

Generally, more book sales translate to higher author salaries. However, it’s never that easy and numerous factors come into play. 

For example, book earnings may include an advance (normally from a traditional publisher) and book royalties. An advance is the amount of money that a publisher pays an author for the promise of a book. It usually comes with half upfront and the remaining balance upon completion. Traditionally, book advances come from a traditional publishing house, once your book is under contract. If you’re self-publishing, there aren’t any advances provided since you are the publisher. 

Book royalties are the percentage of each book sale that the author gets paid. The amount you receive can vary depending on several factors, including traditionally or self-published; eBook or physical copies; and where your book is sold. Royalty rates from a traditional publishing house are usually lower than self-publishing rates, meaning that authors typically earn more per book sold with self-publishing. 

Also, some genres offer better financial results for authors, particularly those who choose to self-publish. Writers of romance and sci-fi/fantasy novels are often able to surpass traditional gatekeepers to find immense success with devoted audiences of these genres. 

Some other factors that affect an author’s salary include:

  • Means of publishing. How is the author publishing their book? Through a traditional publishing house? Or are they self-publishing? Self-publishing is known to have higher royalty rates, and the author gets more money from each book sold. 
  • Social following. Is the author still relatively unknown? Or do they have a large, established fanbase and social following? If an author already has an established fanbase and social following, it may be easier for them to sell more books compared to someone just starting out. 
  • Genre and type of book. Is the author publishing a sci-fi book with a dedicated reader audience, a romance novel, or a children’s book? Each genre and type matters because the larger the audience is, the higher the earning potential.
  • Other income avenues. Does the author have a full-time career outside of writing books? Or is writing their only source of income? This can dramatically affect an author’s income. 

How Much Do Bestselling Authors Make? Top 5 Highest Selling Authors

To give you some real-life examples of how much bestselling authors make, we’ve compiled a list of the highest selling authors today. 

  1. Elisabeth Badinter (Net Worth: $1.3 billiom)

Elisabeth Badinter is a French historian, philosopher, and author. Badinter is best know for her philosophical treatises on women’s role in society and feminism. A 2010 Marianna news magazine poll named her, ‘France’s most influential intellectual.’ Badinter’s net work is around $1.3 billion, making her the richest author in the world of all time. 

  1. J.K. Rowling (Net Worth: $1 billion)

J.K. Rowling is a British author best known as the brain behind the massively successful Harry Potter series. As of 2020, Rowling’s net worth is estimated to be $1 billion. 

  1. James Patterson (Net Worth: $560 million)

James Patterson is a prolific American author best known for writing thriller novels. Patterson made $10 million in 2020 thanks to a multi-book advance paid in late in 2019. Patterson’s net worth is approximately $560 million. 

  1. Stephen King (Net Worth: $400 million)

Stephen King is a highly acclaimed author of contemporary horror, suspense, fantasy, and science fiction. He is one of the most popular authors in the world, and many of his books have been adapted into television shows and movies. King’s net worth is roughly around $400 million.

  1. Nora Roberts (Net Worth: $390 million)

Nora Roberts is a bestselling American author with over 200 romance novels. Roberts started her writing career in the late 70s and went on to score her bestseller with Playing the Odds in 1985. As of 2020, Roberts’ net worth is estimated to be $390 million. 

Misconceptions on How Much Authors Earn

It’s crucial to get clear on the common misconceptions surrounding how much an author makes so that you have a realistic vision as you start your own writing career.

Don’t go into publishing or writing if your sole purpose is to make millions; having this mindset may set you up for failure. Achieving success as an author can be difficult. So, instead of focusing on how much you will earn, start your writing career with a passion for writing and sharing your message with the world. With persistence and hard work, the rest will follow.

Realities you should be aware of when publishing a book:

  • Writing a book won’t make you rich in most cases. Many authors achieve financial success through writing multiple books, or using a book to grow their business. 
  • Publishing a book won’t usually bring you overnight success. 
  • Writing and publishing is NOT a get-rich-quick system. Writing is difficult – ask any writer! Publishing takes persistence and dedication. Publishing a book doesn’t meant instant wealth and fame. 
  • Passion for writing should drive your ambition. When you’re passionate about what you do, your passion will fuel you through the difficult and discouraging times throughout your career as an author. 

The Bottom Line

Answering the question, ‘how much do authors make per book?’ isn’t easy. There are several factors that can affect how much an author earns, from their means of publishing (traditional vs. self-publishing), social following, genre and type of book, number of books sold, and more. 

Being an author isn’t easy, and achieving financial success through writing books is even more difficult. However, that’s not to say that it’s completely impossible. Some of the highest selling authors like Elisabeth Badinter, J.K. Rowling, James Patterson, Stephen King, and Nora Roberts prove that you CAN achieve financial success as an author. 

However, don’t let financial success be your sole motivator as an author; having this mindset may set you up for failure. Instead of focusing on how much you will earn, start your writing career with a passion for writing and sharing your message with the world. With persistence and hard work, the rest will follow.


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