How much do authors earn – typical UK royalties

I’ve been asked this several times recently so I thought I’d try and answer it. And I shall be talking about the typical royalties offered by many UK publishers for a paperback fiction book. (We do things differently at Celandor as we are a not-for-profit publisher but that is a private affair between us and our authors!).

In most cases a publisher will offer the author a royalty of between 8-12% of the net price of a paperback fiction book – in other words the price they sell it at, not the cover price.

So let’s say a book has a cover price of £10. In a typical best-case-scenario the bookseller will buy it from the publisher at £5 (the net price) and the author royalty will be between 40 – 60p. Ready with the champagne yet??!!

But that is a best case scenario…. many publishers use book wholesalers to place books and the wholesaler will want to buy at a discount of up to 65% of the cover price. So using a wholesaler means the net price of a £10 book drops to £3.50 and the author royalty falls to as low as 28p!

Don’t want your book to go through a wholesaler?  Ok. Then you need to know that many booksellers will only buy from book distributors. (It makes sense as they only have to deal with a dozen companies rather than a thousand authors and publishers.).

And book distributors take a cut of the sale price to cover their costs. And the cut is usually between 25-35% of the net price.

Confused? I’ll spell it out then! The book that you as a writer have lovingly crafted has a cover price of £10. Isn’t that great! Think of all the money you’ll make! Kerching!!

But…..the chain of bookshops you have dreamed of appearing in will only buy from a book distributor. The distributor sells your book to them for £5 (the net price) and then takes their cut of this, say £1.50.

So all that is left of your beautiful £10 book is £3.50. So once again you end up with a royalty of around 28p per sale.

Depressed? I’ll make things worse then! Most book sales are very small. A list of 10,000 new authors on Amazon shows an average sale of 79 copies a year – even some well known authors only sell 1,000 copies a year of some titles. In fact lots of smaller publishers would be delighted to make 1,000 sales of some titles.
(On a £10 book the author would earn about £300).

Thinking of giving up now? Well ask yourself why you write. If you’re doing it to make money then maybe there are safer ways – articles in magazines etc (grab a copy of the Artists and Writers Yearbook from the library for ideas).

And of course some authors do write blockbusters and become truly wealthy. If money really is your driving force then the industry is always looking out for writers of a series of books with the same main characters; they can build on the first books readership and so reduce the gamble they’re taking.

But many authors write because of their love of writing and why not? That’s an excellent motive; besides it’s always a thrill to see a book on a shelf with your name on it!

So….. hope that helps answer the royalty issue. You’ll appreciate it’s a bit more complicated than this but the figures above give a pretty good idea of how things work.

Ah….. and in case you think I wrote this to make authors flock to Celandor then I didn’t! In fact we are so busy that the earliest I could even open a new manuscript, let alone read it, is probably 2014. For that reason we are currently closed to new submissions.

So good luck elsewhere. And don’t give up.

(ps ebook publishing is a different ball game!)

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