How to make money writing a book? And how much do authors make today? Maybe you’ve always had a way with words. Or you’ve got epic stories to share. Whatever it is, know that in today’s world of publishing, writing for a living can be your reality. Here’s what to know. ⬇️
How to make money writing a book: traditional or self-publishing
Two ways to go about this.
Traditional publishing is the long-established way of getting published. It entails pitching your manuscript to various publishers or agents in hopes of landing a book deal. Once signed, the publisher handles most of the work, such as editing, designing, and distribution.
With the rise of the internet and digital tech, self-publishing has become a popular alternative. No more gatekeeping; anyone can self-publish. With even a budget of zero, you can easily turn your manuscript into a digital format like an ebook or audiobook and have it up on online stores like Amazon.
When it comes to how much you can profit with your book, there are differences to know between the two routes –
How much do authors make today?
How much does an author make in both traditional and self-publishing routes? Forbes reports:
“The median income range for self-published authors is under $5,000 and nearly 20% of self-published authors report deriving no income from their writing.
By comparison, authors published by traditional publishers had a median income range of $5,000 to $9,999 and “hybrid authors” (those who both self-publish and publish with established publishers) had a median income range of $15,000 to $19,999.
At the high end of the spectrum, 1.8% of self-published authors made over $100,000 from their writing last year, compared with 8.8% of traditionally published authors and 13.2% of hybrid authors.”
Yes, traditional publishing brings in more money for authors overall. But look: how much does an author make per book? According to this recent report, traditional authors earn $1.79 per book, while self-published authors earn $5.74 (a whopping 221% difference!) That’s because traditional authors keep around 10% of their royalties while self-published authors keep around 60% and beyond.
Differences between traditional and self-publishing
Before deciding on which path to take, get familiar with the self-publishing vs. traditional publishing debate. Major differences to know:
|Rights||The publisher has the rights to your book deal. Exact conditions depend on the publisher.||Keep all the rights.|
|Royalties||Get around 10%, depending on the publisher and country.||Get around 60-70%, depending on the store. (Get 100% with PublishDrive.)|
|Decisions||The managing team makes most decisions.||Make all decisions, from your cover design to promotional tactics.|
|Timing||Publishing a book can take up to two years. You may have to wait even longer to publish the next one.||Launch your book within months. And you can publish the next one as soon as you want.|
|Getting published||It’s challenging to get published in a sea of competition. Publishers face countless book proposals.||Anyone can get published. Your success depends on how well you reach your market.|
The pros and cons are obvious. Landing a contract with an established publisher can get you the big budget backing you need for activities like marketing. (However, “now more than ever, authors are expected to market their own books, regardless of whether they were published by a traditional house or self-published.”)
Plus, there’s no guarantee your book will ever get picked up. Pitching a manuscript is tiresome, taking many authors years and years to get through. If you’d like to speed up the process, opt for publishing yourself. Perhaps a publisher will sign you later down the road, like with E.L. James’ 50 Shades of Grey.
Regardless, let’s go over the steps you can expect from both routes.
Steps to traditional publishing
Here’s what traditional publishing looks like –
Step 1: Write and edit your manuscript
For both traditional and self-publishing, you gotta edit and edit again for a spotless manuscript. Expert Tiffany Hawk shares this insight about pitching book proposals:
“Until you’re a well-known author with successful books under your belt, you’ll need a finished manuscript before you go to agents or publishing houses. For non-fiction, instead of finishing and polishing the whole book, you’ll write a proposal and pitch agents with that. The proposal should include an overview, author biography/platform, comparative titles, target audience, marketing and publicity plan, chapter outline, and sample chapters.”
Step 2: Work with an agent
“If you want a traditional publishing deal that gets your print books into bookstores and attracts serious reviews, 99.99 times out of a 100, you’ll need an agent.”
To find a good query agent that fits your needs, you first need to define the specifics of your book. What category or niche genre does it fit into? Then research agents that are looking for books like yours. You’ll need to write personalized query letters for every agent. Send them out regularly and don’t forget to follow up.
Step 3: Wait as your agent submits your book to publishers
Your agent takes care of submitting your book to various publishing houses. There are big names like Penguin Random House plus smaller imprints which are divisions within a publishing house. All you can do at this step is be patient and wait. Be aware: editors have limited funds, only investing in a few books per year. It gets tough.
Step 4: Sign book deal
When an editor finally wants to buy, they’ll contact your agent first. Their offer should include the money they’ll pay you, the publication date, and all other information in between. You can go back and forth to soothe out the details and sign when both parties are ready.
Step 5: Pre-production to launch
This is where your publisher takes care of all the components that make up your final book before launch. If there are major differences in opinions, your agent works as the middleman on your behalf. The components include your book cover design, copyediting, proofreading, advanced reader copies (ARCs), and marketing strategy.
Step 6: Launch and sign books
You’ve made it at this point! You’ll sign a box of books. Your publishing team will mostly determine your publicity efforts. And you may run a few social media accounts to engage with your readers.
Steps to self-publishing
Now, the self-publishing journey –
Step 1: Write and edit your manuscript
Just like in traditional publishing, you want to write and edit your book to perfection. In self-publishing, you take care of most matters. That means you won’t have a publishing team finding editors for you. You can write a book online and edit yourself with tools like ProWritingAid (see these self-editing tips). But I strongly recommend hiring a professional to look over your book on sites like Upwork or Fiverr. Costs start at $10 per 1,000 words.
Step 2: Design book cover
I also suggest hiring a professional to design your book cover. You want a design that fits industry standards and entices any onlookers. If you’re under a budget, check out this guide on how to create a book cover for free. There are free tools like Canva for those with limited design skills.
Step 3: Format your book
When you’ve got your final manuscript and cover design, the next step involves packaging everything together. In other words, format your manuscript into an ebook file fit for self-publishing online.
“Creating your ebook will require two main actions: 1) going through and formatting your .docx file for conversion, then simply 2) uploading your formatted .docx file to a conversion software like this free ebook converter by PublishDrive.
Once you’ve got your generated ebook, you can upload it to the various channels out there for self-publishing. I’m talking bookstores like Amazon KDP, Apple Books, Google Play Books, and beyond.”
Step 4: Self-publish and distribute
Now you’re ready to self-publish! But where to go? Best free self publishing sites today:
- Amazon KDP: Amazon captures more than half of the digital book market. As an indie author, it’s the #1 spot to sell your book. But do note that KDP requires an exclusivity period where you can sell nowhere else for the first 90 days. (Learn how to publish a book on Amazon and make money.)
- Apple Books: Apple Books is pre-installed on every Apple device. That’s a pool of billions of people you don’t want to miss.
- Barnes & Noble Press: Barnes & Noble is one of Amazon’s main competitors, reaching millions of readers on its website and NOOK store. It’s also a great store if you’re keen on self-publishing print.
- PublishDrive: I mentioned Amazon requires an exclusivity period for the first 90 days. With PublishDrive, you can skip that agreement and distribute your book to numerous bookstores. I’m talking channels like Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, plus hundreds of other bookstores. (How much do writers make with PublishDrive? The maximum amount with stores by keeping 100% royalties.)
Step 5: Market your book
As a self-publisher, you own the marketing process of your book. If you have the funds, hire specialists for the support. I know marketing can sound daunting, but don’t fret too much. Many indies are self-learners, truly on top of their promotions. And there are a ton of resources available for you online. Definitely check out this comprehensive indie book marketing plan for creating a solid strategy.
Your best bet: reach every market you can
I close by sharing a best practice that makes your writing for money gig worth it. This: publish your book in every book format, bookstore, and country possible. Why? Indies who’ve done so doubled their sales last year via PublishDrive.
This tactic is all about maximizing your revenue streams by reaching every market you can. Reach ebook lovers, audiobook lovers, and print lovers. Reach book retailers, digital libraries, and niche platforms. Go global beyond your home country.
Now you know how to make money as a writer. What next?
Here’s how to get writing published via PublishDrive:
✅ Distribute to thousands of bookstores
✅ Get marketing, royalty reporting, and more
✅ Join indies who doubled sales in 2021