Figures describing the amount of money authors of books make can be misleading. For every book that becomes a best seller, many more linger on the shelves, making an estimate of how much an author can expect to earn largely guesswork.
Typically book authors are paid an advance, or advance against royalties. The amount of this advance varies with the amount publishers can reasonably expect to make back on sales of your book. The amounts of advances can vary dramatically, from a few hundred dollars to millions, depending on factors such as the fame of the author and popularity of the topic. Do not expect significant advances until you become an established writer.
Authors should also be paid a percentage of the money their books make. This percentage, called a royalty, varies with both the type of book published and the number sold. In some nontraditional publishing arrangements, authors are paid only royalties on the books they sell. For authors who have received an advance, royalties begin to accrue after the publisher has recouped the amount of the advance. Hardcover fiction books usually garner higher royalties than paperback mass market titles, as do books that sell more copies.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the mean income for independent writers in 2008 was $93,420. However, you must also take into account the fact that the minority of writers that earn much more than average are included in that average and therefor pull the mean to a higher earnings estimate than most writers make.
Since authors are not directly employed by their publishers, they are responsible for their own medical insurance and other benefits that employers typically provide. Take these expenses into account when estimating potential earnings.
2016 Salary Information for Writers and Authors
Writers and authors earned a median annual salary of $61,240 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, writers and authors earned a 25th percentile salary of $43,130, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $83,500, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 131,200 people were employed in the U.S. as writers and authors.