Obviously this question has a lot of different answers. I'm interested in the typical total profit that a writer might expect to see from:

  1. A NYT Bestseller
  2. A diet or self-help book that sells 100,000 copies
  3. A romance novel that sells 10,000 copies
  4. A self-published novel that sells 5,000 copies

What are the typical rev shares for new authors? How are the deals structured? Do you always get royalties, or is flat fee more typical?

  • I don't know the exact numbers for the cases you presented, but generally: If you don't write a bestseller, don't expect to get rich from writing. And not much people write bestseller. You should write, because you have something to tell, not for the money. And if you're lucky, many people are interested and buy your book.
    – Mnementh
    Nov 19, 2010 at 18:54
  • Of published authors, I believe the statistic is that 40% can make a living from it.
    – justkt
    Nov 19, 2010 at 18:55
  • 6
    @justkt: That's a pretty high number. Do you have a link to this statistic? Nov 19, 2010 at 19:03
  • 1
    @John - it's a memory from college writing seminars, which may be incorrect.
    – justkt
    Nov 19, 2010 at 19:05
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    You can take a look on the Author Earning Report. You will notice that from 120,092 authors on Amazon Kindle, the average price is $8.80, the average daily revenue for the author is $11.48 ranging from $0.00 to $12,225.50 daily. Jul 25, 2014 at 19:39

5 Answers 5


A NYT Bestseller

Probably you'll make a good bit here, but generally, if you make it this far, it's not going to be your first book, and you're going to have worked it out contractually before hand. Mind you, you can be on the list for selling ~5000(hardcover) copies a week. If you write something that makes the list, you'll probably bring down $50,000+, but the numbers vary wildly depending on what rights you sold the publisher, what your contract stipulates, etc, etc.

A diet or self-help book that sells 100,000 copies

In what time period, in how many printings, etc, etc? Is it hardcover or paperback? This is pretty hard to judge. For books that aren't pegged on religion, fad diets, or new age mysticism, 10,000 copies would be considered a great run for this kind of book. 100,000 is pretty rare.

A romance novel that sells 10,000 copies

Chances are, you'll make the same for selling 1 copy as for 1 million copies. Romance novels are almost all commissioned. The company sends you the exact outline, and you write it to their spec, for a flat fee. You probably don't get to put your name on it, but why would you want to? Now, if you're writing your own novel, it'll make the same as any other type of book, depending on your contract.

A self-published novel that sells 5,000 copies

Well, you'll make like 10 bucks a book, but on the other hand, you'll have to spend your life wandering from bookstore to bookstore trying to get them to buy 5 copies at a time. So in terms of hourly wage, eh.

  • 3
    And 5000 copies of a self published book is huge. I've read that the average is about 100-150 copies (lifetime total , see reviews.cnet.com/self-publishing)
    – MGOwen
    Nov 22, 2010 at 1:09
  • @mgowen: Well, consider how much they cost per copy and ask yourself how much you want to set yourself back? Publishing houses (usually) aren't stupid. If you can't get one to take your book, it doesn't mean you're an unappreciated genius, it means you're probably not going to be a commercial success. There are exceptions, and you should never give up after just one rejection, but sometimes it's just not meant to be. Nov 22, 2010 at 2:13
  • 2
    "Chances are, you'll make the same for selling 1 copy as for 1 million copies. Romance novels are almost all commissioned. The company sends you the exact outline, and you write it to their spec, for a flat fee. You probably don't get to put your name on it, but why would you want to?" This is untrue. Romance authors are authors like everyone else. I, personally, write romance and we get paid advances and royalties the same as a mystery or crime fiction author. We're not told how to write our books, nor are we paid a flat fee. (Unless it an anthology you have a short story in.) Dec 15, 2010 at 23:01
  • The answer for self-published book should be changed to take into account self-published e-books, which is where many authors are making their money (without having to leave home). Most new e-books are selling for at least 2.99, and with the current royalty models, the author keeps $2 of that, which means 5,000 copies would result in $10,000. Jul 26, 2011 at 3:03
  • I am curious, how fast do you make that $50,000+ for a NYT Bestseller? Is that just how long it stays on the bestseller list? Jul 10, 2015 at 19:22

I have two answers here, both from established writers. These are not necessarily any sort of average, but more they are specific cases to understand where you could stand.

Lynn Viehl had a 100k print run and a NYT bestseller in fiction. She wrote about her experience here and here, and I'm waiting on the next one. She received a $50k advance, with sales of roughly 61k. She has not earned back her advance.

The second thing is JA Konrath, who has done a lot of Kindle publishing (also has print deals). He has written a lot of posts on his sales, but the latest post has him earning $26k from his book sin the last six weeks. That extrapolates to $200k. Note that he has multiple titles selling here.


I can't really comment accurately on your particular examples, but royalties and payments can become quite complicated.

For example, there is often an advance against royalties to consider initially. This advance is up-front money for the author, and is typically paid when the book goes to print. I have read that publishers will often shoot for an advance to equal what they expect author royalties to be in the first year the book is out. However, bigger names get larger advances, and a good agent may be able to wheedle a slightly better one as well.

When royalties start coming in, they first go against the advance. (If the book never sells enough copies for the royalties to reach the advance amount, the author still keeps the full advance.) Until the author profit reaches that advance number, they don't actually see any of it. Once the author's earnings exceed the advance, they'll begin getting payments on a schedule.

Royalties can also be tiered, meaning that if you sell X number of books, the royalty rate increases, and if you sell Y books above that, it increases again, and so on.

Further, the royalty rate depends largely on the type of print run. Hardcovers have higher royalties (and higher prices), so hardcover runs will be more profitable at an equal number of sales. Trade paperbacks typically have lower royalty rates, and mass market paperbacks even lower. Adding to the complication is that a book that has an initial hardcover run is often reprinted a while later in one or more paperback forms.

E-books are still a new product, and as such, the rates are in subject to fluctuate. E-books may be released simultaneously with hardcover or paperback editions, or separately, and their pricing varies considerably depending on that release timing, the publisher, the author's name, Jeff Bezos's mood and the current celestial alignments.

Some "average" royalty rates, that you should take with a grain of salt, for all the reasons already stated:

  • Hardcover: 10 - 15%
  • Paperback (Trade and Mass Market): 7.5 - 12.5%
  • E-books: 25% (many in the biz suspect this could soon go as high as 40%)

Also remember that agents will typically take 15% of the author's portion as their commission.

Some sources (by no means comprehensive): 1, 2, 3

  • The current e-book royalty rate is actually closer to 70% (using the Amazon royalty charts). For any book selling below 2.99 or above 9.99 they pay 35%. For any book selling between 2.99 and 9.99 they pay 70%. Their intention was to keep e-books priced below 9.99 as much as possible. Jul 26, 2011 at 3:05
  • @Steven - The numbers I had originally posted were rough numbers from "traditional" publishing. Self-publishing electronically will produce significantly different royalty rates. And, as I mentioned, the electronic market is still pretty wild and these numbers may be volatile for some time.
    – sjohnston
    Jul 26, 2011 at 14:05
  • Good point. If an author has a contract with a traditional publisher, then their royalty rate is probably closer to 25% for e-books. From what I've seen, by the time your agent gets his cut, it's actually closer to 14%. The rates that I posted for self-publishing e-books is based on the standard rate that has been offered by Amazon through their Kindle Direct Publishing program and hasn't changed in over a year. Jul 26, 2011 at 14:21

Traditional publishing pays the author about $1 per hardback and $.50 on each paperback sale. Midlist authors usually get advances in the $10,000 range for a first run hardback. With the goal to make back their advance on the first year of sales. And then to switch to a paperback that gives them royalties that decline every year thereafter.

If a book goes to another printing at a later date, you can ask for a refresher royalty.

Many publishers use basket accounting. Which says you make no money besides the advances until you have paid back all previous advances. So if book one does not earn back your advance, you will see no royalties beyond the advance on book two until it does.


Selling 5000 copies of a self-published book is pretty optimistic. I've self-published two books and between them, last I added it up, I'd sold about 600 copies. I'm probably up to 650 or so by now. I understand that's fairly typical.

How much you make per book depends on the royalty arrangements. The formulas can get complicated but if you self-publish you may end up getting about 20%-30% of the cover price, but then out of that you have to pay for any marketing yourself. If your published by a traditional publisher you get a significantly lower percentage, 10% or less, but that's all yours.

So in my case, well, one of my books sells for $15.85, and I get between $1.50 and $5 for each copy sold (depending on the marketing channel). My other book is $40 and I get about $8.

After subtracting expenses -- mostly an ad in a magazine and some modest costs to maintain a web site -- last year I made $300 from my writing.

I used to write magazine articles. I once added up how much time I spent writing an article, and I figured that, even if you didn't count the articles that I never sold, I was making about $2 an hour writing.

So seriously, if you're looking for a way to make money, you're better off getting a job at your local hamburger place.

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