Author incomes – when does the money come in?

This is a quick post to answer the question I have been asked several times recently, which is: how soon are authors paid for their work?

Oh, boy, I remember the day Marion Donaldson called me to confirm that Headline wanted to buy my first book, and that she wanted another two titles in the series. I danced a jig in my hallway, so thrilled that at last all my money problems were over … yeah, right. Hindsight is a wonderful thing!

However, it was interesting later when I looked back on things, to consider that number. What would make the publisher think of a three book deal?

It was some years before that I’d been wandering around a bookshop, early for a client meeting, and happened to spot a book by some geezer I’d never heard of. The cover was interesting, the back intriguing, and I liked the writing style. It was enough to tempt me to part with some of my hard-earned cash. The book was The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett.

However, usually I would not buy books by people I’ve never heard of. I’m not silly, after all. If you see a book on the shelves and you’ve never heard of the author, what is the likelihood you’d buy it? In my case, I soon realised that I wouldn’t buy one if there was only the one title. One book does not prove a writer’s ability, I’m afraid. I’d be very unlikely to buy a hardback by an unknown author, just as I’d be extremely unlikely to buy a book by anyone unless I can see a track record. For me, that means at least three books on the shelves. Three means that they’ve established themselves with their publisher, and therefore they do have something worth looking at.lasttemplar_paperback_1471126455_72

I knew all this when I wrote my first book. So I knew that I would be unlikely to see serious money until I had there books on the shelves ready to be bought. That meant a quick calculation:

1.  I would not see decent royalties until three books were published;

2.  I would not see the third book in print until middle of 1996;

3.  Thus I would not see decent income until after June 1996.


4.  Royalties are paid only twice yearly, and then three months in arrears;

5. That means although I may make sales in June ’96, I’d not see real income until the next royalty run, which would be three months later, i.e. September ’96;

6.  But – hardbacks don’t sell that well. I knew I had to wait for the mass-market paperbacks to hit the shelves before I could earn money. That would be nine months later – March ’97;

7.  That meant I wouldn’t see a royalty payment realistically until at the earliest, September ’97.

8.  Since an “advance” is only an interest free loan that must be repaid by royalties. So I would have to pay back the debt before I would see an income from my books.

9.  That being so, I knew it would be probably the following run before I’d see any income. That means March ’98.

10. So, for the book that I wrote in March of 1994, I would see an income, with luck, four years later.

Some people make money faster. There are plenty of people who make very good money from their books. Some are fortunate and earn high incomes soon after publication. I’ve been enormously lucky and I am still making a living from my writing – that makes me a very rare animal. Most cannot afford to. However, for all new authors, I have to give the same warning my agent gave me all those years ago, in 1994 when she accepted my first book. She said, “It will take at least four years before you will have a living income. Not a good income or a comfortable income, but one on which you may be able to live.”

She was absolutely right, too!

Which all goes to explain why so many people go straight to ebooks now!

Painting of Nine Maidens near Belstone.

Painting of Nine Maidens near Belstone.

39 Responses to “Author incomes – when does the money come in?”
  1. Me Too says:

    And, people wonder why I say, “Support your favorite authors … or you might not see them again.”


  2. Jack Eason says:

    Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    Michael on the oft asked question about royalties. ;)


  3. And it’s even tougher now as few first time authors are even considered for a three book deal. One book and an option for the second is the standard now it seems.


  4. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
    Words of wisdom – and caution – from Michael :D


  5. Reblogged this on Michaelphelps1's Blog and commented:
    A word to the ambitious, optomistic NEW Author . . . keep your day job, BUT . . . DO NOT GIVE UP . . . PERSEVERE! Thank you Chirs, The Story Reading Ape and AUTHOR MICHAEL JECKS.


  6. This is the reality – one which many writers’ classes don’t mention.
    I can’t afford to buy many books, but I can ask local libraries to purchase them. Once one library buys a book, there’s a very good chance word spreads to others and their librarians/branches buy, too.
    One way to help new and unknown writers get started.


  7. mamalisa4 says:

    Hi!! I am new here, just followed :) I Love this post!! It discloses so much. I feel like there is a great mystery to the business of writing. Thank you for sharing! :)


  8. Reblogged this on Shirley McLain and commented:
    We all go into writing with our eyes wide open, knowing that we are not going to instatly get rich. I think somewhere in the back of our minds we are hoping that someone will see how talented we are and everything will fall into place to make a great deal of money. This post was posted by writerlywitterer and it brings us back to reality about how long it takes to earn from writing. Enjoy. Shirley


  9. noelleg44 says:

    Great post, and one that gives me hope as I am now writing my third book. I am a lucky, albeit a lot older, writer. I have my retirement to live on.


  10. So true, Michael. It’s taking me an average of three years to sell through my advances, and royalties seem to be 9 months behind, in my neck of the woods.


    • It’s the same in the UK, Melodie. So diversification is the only route for now, I think. More events and speaking engagements. Trouble is, of course, that it all detracts from the actual writing, which is the key to good writing!


  11. kcg1974 says:

    Great, honest post!!


  12. Clive Mullis says:

    Nice bit of wisdom and a reality check, especially for those who think it’s a get rich quick scheme. At least I’ve got my pension and a little job that lets me have time.


  13. Clive Mullis says:

    Reblogged this on Random Ramblings and commented:
    Reality anyone?


  14. Thanks for this information. It’s great to see that you keep at it despite the difficulties. It’s intimidating to think about how competitive the market is. I still would love to write and hopefully publish a novel someday.


  15. MoldiOldi says:

    I have bought books by authors I have never heard of, and I have been rewarded more often than not. That is the joy of going into a real bookstore, where I can check look at the endpapers and see the basics of the plot, and leaf through the book. That is how I discovered the “Medieval Murderers” series. The first book left me wanting more, and so I bought more.

    Also, thank you for the article about the reality of authors’ incomes. I think a lot of us who love books don’t realize things like this.


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