Exactly how much do authors make a year and what skill do they need to pay the bills? Find out everything it takes to become a full-time author and how much money you could potentially make.
When I grow up, I want to be a…
In a recent study, becoming a writer was among the top 10 jobs children said they wanted to do when they grow up.
Reading this made me giddy that, even at an early age, children still read enough books to the point where becoming a professional author is an aspiraton.
Of course, that same study surveyed thousands of adults only to find that 67% of them had failed to achieve their childhood dream job (although 18% of adults surveyed said that they were still pursuing their childhood dream job)
Like most children, I, too, had big dreams of becoming an author. I was lucky enough to realize at an early age that the reason I occupy this planet is to help people by telling stories, a motivation that fueled my perpetual learner attitude for decades.
Admittedly, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I first set out on the path of an author, which is exactly why I feel compelled to let people know what they’re getting themselves into should they choose the same route.
How Much Do Authors Make a Year?
Nothing like writing the great American novel, am I right? For generations, the idea of becoming a bestselling author has been glorified and coveted by young, aspiring writers with a story to tell, but what does it really take to earn a livable wage working as a full-time author?
I have a lot of experience answering the question: How much do authors make a year? (Very rarely is that question followed up with, “What skills do you need to know as an author?”)
I have lectured about in college classrooms across America following the release of my 2016 book, How to Make Money Writing Full-Time. Now, in preparation for the 2022 edition of my forthcoming book, Jobs in Writing (out December 14, 2021) I am doing extensive research on the top-paying jobs where people rely on their writing ability.
So, how much do authors make a year? Making a livable wage as a full-time self-published author is not easy, but for writers who possess determination and self-discipline, it’s a very achievable goal. One of the most important yet often overlooked facts about being a professional author today is that writing books is only a small fraction of the work you’ll be doing. A majority of your job is a hodgepodge of different business and marketing skills.
With the publishing industry changing at such a rapid pace, you’ll need to do a lot more than self-publish books back-to-back to make it as an author. Technology and market trends in publishing are evolving literally every single month. This is something we’ll touch more on later in the book.
One of the best ways aspiring authors can stay in-the-know about relevant trends within the publishing industry and detailed book marketing strategies is by subscribing to by twice-a-month email newsletter below. Not to mention all of the free author tools and resources you’ll receiver after joining.
How Much Do Authors Make? Professional Author Salary on Average
Author salary can vary greatly depending on a large number of variants, however, keep in mind that there are also many different costs that go into publishing a book that will sell.
Traditional Published Authors
Thinking of going the traditionally published route? Today, major publishers only consider taking on new authors if you already have a sizable following. (read: celebrities).
Although a publisher will handle many important aspects of your book, such as editing, formatting, and cover design, however, the cost of all these services comes from author’s future royalties. So, whether you’re traditionally published or self-published, you still need to pay for all of the same stuff. Thus, the amount of royalties that traditionally published authors make per ebook, paperback, hardcover or audiobook sale is significantly lower than self-published authors, who pay for these costs out of pocket.
More and more publishers are looking towards the authors to do the heavy lifting when it comes to actually marketing and selling their book. Although traditionally published authors famously receive a sign-on bonus between $5,000 to $10,000 for securing the rights to the author’s forthcoming book, the trade-off is the aforementioned reduced royalties.
Author Required Skills
In addition to actually writing the book, a successful author needs to know variety of other skills, including:
- Time management
- Editing / proofreading
- Cover design
- Market research
As you can see, there is a lot to learn. Luckily there is a lot of free author tools & resources available online.
Author Job Availability
Competition is fierce for self-published authors who want to make a full-time income. In 2019, there were over 1.7 million new self-published books, a vast majority of which made less than $100 that year.
Author Earning Potential
For seasoned professional authors who know what they’re doing, however, there is a lot of earning potential. The image below shows the monthly earnings for 3 Kindle eBooks via Publisher Rocket taken on September 3, 2021.
The first book, The Keeper of Happy Endings by Barbara Davis, was ranked as the #1 bestselling Kindle book on the date this was taken. Interestingly, the book hadn’t even been released yet and was only available for pre-order with a publication date 27 days after the date this data was pulled. Even during the book’s pre-order period, it managed to earn $733,380 in a 30-day period with approximately 146,676 Kindle pre-orders at a rate of $4.99.
How much do authors make? Author Barbara Davis is making approximately $5,880,000 gross annual revenue just from Amazon KDP sales.
The second book is The Oysterville Sewing Circle by Susan Wiggs. This data set is interesting because the book has been out for over 2 years and has an Amazon bestseller ranking of #34,192. Still, at a price of $8.49, this book manages to sell approximately 205 Kindle copies in a 30-day period, earning $1,748 even 2 years after it’s release.
How much do authors make? Author Susan Wiggs is making approximately $14,616 gross annual revenue just from Amazon KDP sales.
The third book we pulled data for is a novel titled The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave. As we can see, this book is ranked #13 out of the estimated 9 million Kindle books available for sale on Amazon. (And in case you’re wondering, there are approximately 50 million listings for new and used physical books on Amazon at the time this was written) This book is perhaps the most interesting out of the three because even though the book is ranked #13 overall and has been out for nearly 6 months, it’s steadily grossing over $1 million in sales each month. This is largely due to the fact that the Kindle version is priced at $13.99, well above the average eBook price range, with approximately 78,925 Kindle orders.
How much do authors make? Author Laura Dave is making approximately $9,000,000 gross annual revenue just from Amazon KDP sales.
Keep in mind that author’s royalty rate for Kindle eBooks is 70% the book’s list price, minus a small delivery fee.
Author Time Requirement
For new authors to succeed in today’s marketplace, it requires a minimum of 10-12 hours of daily dedicated work, at least 5 days a week (although when you’re first starting out, most of that should be research, online courses, and learning about the industry). Not unlike freelancing, there is always something you can be doing to improve your status as an author. This is why self-discipline is paramount to the success of a full-time, professional author.
Most professional authors set aside a few hours in the morning to write, the time when 87% of authors say that they do their best work. The second half of the day is used for checking advertisements, planning marketing, managing contractors, engaging with readers over social media, and other responsibilities.
The old adage, “you’ve got to spend money to make money” has never been more true than when it comes to selling books.
There are a ton of smallish costs involved in publishing a book. Although experienced authors are able to do a lot of the required tasks by themselves, some of the typical costs that first-time authors should expect to pay include:
- Research & Classes: $100 to $300 to enroll in an online course that will teach you the bulk of what you need to know about publishing.
- Writing Software: $60 for Microsoft Word, $60 for Scrivvner, or $24 for Google Workspace, which are the 3 leading choices for authors.
- Editing / Proofreading: Editing can cost $1,000 per 10,000 words and up.
- Formatting: $50 and up to format your book into an ePub eBook and printed paperback / hardcover.
- Cover design: A good cover will cost around $100. You can get them made for cheaper, but the quality suffers dramatically.
- Advertising – $150/mo on ad campaigns
- Marketing: Average cost of book marketing is between $500 to $3,000 for bestsellers.
How Much Do Authors Make a Year & What Skills Do They Need?
– The Bottom Line
There is a very high threshold of knowledge, experience, and costs that aspiring authors must get past in order to start making a livable wage as a self-published author. Fortunately, there are also plenty of free resources only. Only after plenty of trial and error will you be able to figure out the formula of what works for your specific books, and although it could take years to get to that point, automating your book sales is a very real possibility.
Author Community Question
What do you think the single biggest hurdle is for authors to sell more books and make more money?
What are some of the most difficult skills you’ve had to learn as an author?
Comment below and let’s discuss!