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Writing Books/writer's profit per book


How much from the price of the book goes to the writer of the book? Where else does the rest of the money go to?

Dear Mr. Bessa:

Good question!  I can give you a basic breakdown by percentages.  Of course, the breakdown will differ with every writer.  Two areas that differ widely between writers are their income tax structure and the contract that the writer has negotiated with his agent (if he chooses to use an agent; there are writers who choose to go it on their own).

Off the top, your agent will receive 15% to 20% depending on the publication staying domestic or going out of the country.  Again, you may owe your agent additional fees depending on the agreement you negotiated.

Next, if you have accepted a healthy advance all in one shot, your taxes (not withstanding your deduction schedule) will be anywhere from 30% to 50%.

A book is a product, and like any product, it costs money to produce: research materials, office equipment, raw manuscript materials, office services, etc.

So, off the top, an author will expect to pocket 15% to 20% of the initial offering on the book.

However, a good agent will establish a decent royalty schedule which can net the author anywhere from 2% to 12% of the per copy price on the book itself.  Again, there are the above deductions to consider.

One of the author's largest expenses is often the publicity it takes to sell the book.  These expenses are worked out between the author, the publishing house and the agent or publicist.  Each author's picture in this area is different.

Given the odd and rare moment in literary history, an author might write a "Harry Potter" and become quite wealthy in a short time with film contracts and product spin-offs, and advances on future editions that haven't even been written yet.  However, this is not the norm.  It's safe to say that one should not quit one's day-job until one has a backlog of four to six titles selling well.

Mr. Bessa, I have over-simplified the picture.  Believe me, it can become quite complex.  Read publications dealing with book publishing, however, please, only believe about 50% of what you read.

Max Roth

Writing Books

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M.L. 'Max' Roth, Executive Editor


My specialist area is literary and philosophical fiction. I am pleased to answer all queries regarding story, plot, character arc and development, environment, structure, theme, subtext, and conflict.


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