The Writer’s Den: How Do Authors Earn Money?

Welcome to the second installment in my new blog series, The Writers Den. Each month there will be a guest post from a very special guest author with each author offering something different and informative on a particular area of writing and publishing.

This month Cassie Hamer, author of ‘After The Party‘ (2019) and ‘The End of Cuthbert Close‘ (2020), lets us in on the usually taboo topic of how authors earn money, and why it’s not always the bottom line.

On Monday the 23rd of March, my second novel – The End of Cuthbert Close – officially came into the world. On that same day, a new raft of coronavirus lockdown measures came into effect, including the closure of all pubs, clubs, gyms, cinemas and restaurants.

In that moment, I understood the book launch I had planned for 100+ friends and family would not go ahead. All other face to face talks I had lined up were cancelled.

Three days later, the Prime Minster announced further social distancing measures including the restriction of weddings to five people, and funerals to ten. We, along with thousands of other parents, started the children on remote learning – and found ourselves wanting as teachers.

In that week, I grieved the cessation (hopefully temporary) of the life as we knew it, I was horrified by the sight of unending queues outside Centrelink and, perhaps selfishly, I expressed sorrow at what seemed to be the increasing inevitability of low book sales and the loss of potential earnings. My family was sympathetic but pragmatic.

‘You never went into this for the money, right?’ my sister gently reminded me.

She was right. When I first started writing, I never thought about earning an income from it. I wrote for the sheer joy of creating something and I’ve often said that the lack of money in publishing is one of the reasons the writing community is so supportive and encouraging. We’re here for the love.

But I’d be lying if I said money didn’t matter. Of course it does. Everyone needs an income to survive, and authors are no different. The more money you can earn from the craft, the more time you can afford to devote to it.

So – what exactly do authors earn, and how?

In 2015, Macquarie University released a landmark study that showed authors, on average, earned $12,900 a year from their writing, and supplemented that income with other activities – some of which were writing-related (such as editing) but mostly from unrelated activities, that is, maintaining a ‘day job.’

Basically, that’s nearly $13,000 from book sales. This income would have been earned either through an advance or royalties. An advance is the money you received from a publisher before the book is published – it’s literally an advance payment on projected sales. Once you have ‘earned out’ your advance, then you’re able to receive royalties which, in Australia is generally a standard amount of 10% on the RRP, so the author earns $3 for every $30 book sold. If you are indie published, the numbers are completely different – there’s no ‘advance’ as such, but a much high royalty amount per books sold.

But how many books can you sell? It’s impossible to know for sure but if you’re traditionally published, the advance amount is a good barometer of what the publisher will print – and print run is key. According to the Australian Society of Authors, publishers usually set the advance at 50% of expected overall royalties. For example, a $3000 advance on a book that will sell for around $30 suggests that the publisher expects to sell only about 2000 copies. Of course, some books exceed expectations and sell out quickly, thus demanding a re-print.

In Australia, a book that sells more than 10,000 copies is generally regarded as a bestseller. In 2015, approximately 2% of the books published in Australia achieved that status. In other words, more than 98% of authors made less than $30,000 in book sales.

I don’t say any of this as a means of deterring anyone from writing. We’ve all heard the stories of books that become mega bestsellers and there’s every reason to believe that yours could be the next smash hit. I barely knew any of this before I signed my publishing contract and, even if I had, I would have signed it anyway.

I love to write. The act of creating something from nothing fills me with profound satisfaction. But it takes time, endless time, and sadly we live in a world that values activity on the basis of its capacity to generate an income. If you’ve ever been a stay-at-home mum, you’ll understand what I mean. Money confers status, and importance. It demands prioritisation.

Or does it?

In the current health crisis, we’ve been reminded as never before, what really matters. Health, family, spending time with the people we love, doing the things we love to do and the value of living in a connected community.

Over the past few weeks, the things that have given me genuine happiness are my kids’ kisses, the abundant sunshine, my puppy dog, and the random acts of kindness I’ve witnessed in my own community and in others around the nation. And writing.

These are the things that truly matter, and none of them cost a cent.

About Cassie

Cassie Hamer has a professional background in journalism and PR, but now much prefers the world of fiction over fact. In 2015, she completed a Masters in Creative Writing, and has since achieved success in numerous short story competitions.

Cassie lives in Sydney with her terrific husband, three, mostly-terrific daughters, and a labradoodle, Charlie, who is the newest and least demanding member of the family. In between making school lunches and walking the dog, Cassie is manages to find time to write novels.

Cassie’s debut novel, After the Party, was an Australian bestseller and her second book, The End of Cuthbert Close, is available in all good book stores now or online at Booktopia.

You can find out more about Cassie on her website, or catch up with her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.