How much money can book authors make? (video)

Viewing time: 4 mins 36 secs 

The Write Question is a weekly video podcast all about writing. Today’s question? How much money can book authors make? If you have a question you’d like me to answer you can email me, tweet me @pubcoach, or leave a message for me at the Skype account, The Write Question. 


How much money can book authors make? That’s the topic I’m addressing today in The Write Question. I’m Daphne Gray-Grant, the Publication Coach.

I have a question from Debra Allen, a writer based in Charlotte, North Carolina. Here’s what she’s asked by email…

“I’m wondering how realistic it is to try to earn a living from writing books? I see authors like John Grisham and James Patterson and wonder how much money they make and whether I’d ever stand the chance of achieving the same type of income.”

Thanks for your questions, Debra. You’re wise to be very cautious about throwing all of your eggs into one writing basket.

First, let me emphasize that I’m a self-published author so my experience is different from people like James Patterson and John Grisham who use traditional publishing houses.

My two books have done really well but they have NOT provided me with enough income to retire or make other types of work unnecessary.

But, they have provided a reliable base income and led to other kinds of work for me, such as coaching, teaching and speaking. In other words, my books support my work and my work supports my books. This kind of relationship is very valuable to me as a small business owner.

And, by the way, some websites will try to tell you that self-publishing is dramatically more lucrative than traditional publishing. This is only partly true. Sure, you will make more money per book but you’ll need to find a way of reaching thousands of readers. Many self-published authors simply don’t have the ability to do that.

In terms of traditional publishing, I did some research for you, and discovered that the earnings are relatively low. According to writer Derek Murphy — see link in the show-notes — the typical advances right now are between $5,000 and $10,000.

That might sound like a healthy sum but if you consider how many hundreds of hours you’ll spend working on your book, it usually works out to less than minimum wage.

And remember that the vast majority of authors don’t “earn out” their advance, meaning that they never receive a penny in royalties. For more information on how advances work, check out my video that includes a detailed description of advances. Link is in the show-notes.  

The bottom line is that most people are not anywhere near as successful as James Patterson or John Grisham. Part of the issue relates to luck and timing.

Not everyone who wants to become an actor is able to be a George Clooney or a Julia Roberts. In the same way, only a small percentage of writers will become bestselling authors. I’m not saying those people don’t exist. I’m just saying they’re rare.

As you consider working to become a published book author, I’d suggest you ask yourself several questions first:

  • Why are you writing? Is it a task that’s fun for you and that you really enjoy? If so, why does it need to be a source of income? Could it just be an enjoyable hobby?
  • Are there other ways you can support yourself while you write on the side?
  • Is money your primary motivator? If your answer to that question is yes, I’d suggest you consider another line of work. Something in sales or marketing is much more likely to provide you with greater financial recompense — and will do it faster.

Finally, let me wrap up with the words of the Stoic philosopher Seneca: “Wealth is the slave of a wise man. The master of a fool.”

Debra, don’t allow your judgement to become clouded by the small number of writers who are exceptionally successful. When you hear hooves, think of horses, not zebras.


Viewers, if you have any writing-related questions, I’d be happy to do a video on them. Just send me a quick email,, or put a note in the comments section of this video.

And, if you’d like to learn more about how to make writing a happier and more rewarding process, check out my latest book Your Happy First Draft. I don’t sell it in bookstores or via Amazon. The only place to buy it is on my website, link on the screen below and in the show notes. 


How much does the average author earn publishing their book (Derek Murphy)

How advances work (video)

Your Happy First Draft

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