How Much Money Do You Make When You Write A Book?

Let’s take a second to chat about how the book bid-ness works, at least for us. Sometimes we get hilarious and adorable comments like this: “Holy cow, your book was a New York Times bestseller! Congrats! You must be rich!!” …

… and it makes us realize that other than fleetingly mentioning how the whole book deal thing works in this blogiversary video (around 17:10 near the end), we haven’t really talked about it at all. So since folks have been requesting more behind the scenes details on the subject (even from as early as September of last year when we did the Q&A video below) this post is well overdue. Let’s dive in and over-share, shall we? Spoiler alert: Donald Trump, we’re not. But that’s ok. We’re cheap-os and we know it (please sing that to the tune of “we’re sexy and we know it” out loud in whatever room/office/subway car you’re currently inhabiting).

As we mentioned in the video, this book thing has always been for the fun and the amazement of seeing our names in print. It has never been about money, which is a good thing since that’s not usually what comes a-rollin’ in when you’re a first time author (well, not unless you’re Lena Dunham apparently).

The way that a book usually works is that the author gets a fee for all of the work that they do before the book comes out. This is called an advance. In our case, being first time authors, it was a modest advance. Someone like Stephen King might be able to buy a yacht with his. Ours… no yacht. Actually, if you break our advance down across the time over the past two years that we’ve spent outlining the book, writing the proposal, pitching the book, writing the manuscript, revising the manuscript, doing projects for the book, shooting the book, and editing the book we probably made around five dollars an hour while working on it (we didn’t keep a time log or anything, but that’s our best guess). So yeah, John probably earned more per hour at his high school library job of shelving books than he did writing one (especially since he’s splitting that $5 wage with me – ha!).

But you won’t see us complaining. It’s an amazing opportunity (one we’d almost be happy to have done for free – just don’t tell our publisher) so that’s why we said “holycowyes!” to a book. If you’re a first time author like us, we actually wouldn’t recommend writing a book for the money (you’d probably be really let down if you were just in it for the dough). Instead, I’d recommend doing it for the experience and the thrill of seeing your words in a bookstore and your book on your mom’s coffee table… that’s a pretty freaking awesome moment.

The way it works, at least how it worked for us, is that first you get that modest advance (paid out in smaller installments throughout the book-writing process) and then a few years later after the book is out in print (it typically takes around 2-3 years for it to go from concept to being printed) you get into the “book royalty” area. We’ve been told that many authors only earn their advance but never “make it” to receiving royalties, since it necessitates selling enough books for the author to hit their royalty point. See, the publisher actually doesn’t pay us a penny until their book sales earn back all of the advance they paid us plus money they spent on the illustrator, the photographer, etc. So it’s not until they earn all of that book-making money back that we’ll start receiving royalties (which are also pretty modest since we’re first timers).

We’re nowhere close to hitting that royalty point. Maybe in a year or two we’ll get there. Maybe sooner. And maybe never. But assuming our publisher eventually makes all that money back, they’ll start issuing our little royalty checks twice a year. Once we hit that point we’ll make around a dollar or two per book (royalties are a very small percentage of the heavily discounted price that a bookstore pays per book, which is usually around half of the book’s cover price – and it can vary by vendor). But as of today, we haven’t seen a book check since the last installment of our advance came a year ago.

So we thought that was an interesting tidbit to share. We never really knew how it worked, so learning that an author doesn’t get paid when the book comes out or with the sale of each book was enlightening to us. And a year ago if we saw someone get on the NY Times bestseller list, even for just a week, we’d probably assume they no longer use toilet paper and prefer to use hundy dolla bills to wipe their bestselling author buns. It’s so not like that around here. We use gold bars. Just kidding. Those would be cold.

We also always assumed authors got paid when they toured – even just a little bit to offset the work they’re unable to do while on the road (our tour stretches over four months) but that isn’t the case, at least for us it’s not. But they cover the travel expenses and dude, we’ve had the opportunity to meet so many of you! And I’ve achieved my lifelong goal of getting to sign ceramic animals! And that, my friends, is the beauty of book-writing. Plus, you know what they say: Mo money, mo problems ceramic animals and then your husband wants to kill you.

Another reason we thought this post would be helpful is that we don’t want to embark on any big projects without explaining that we’re paying for them in the same way that we’ve always paid for things (the old penny-saving-over-time method that we know and love). Our book agent actually said it’s somewhat rare for a first time author to make more money on the back end of a book than on the front end (meaning that your modest advance is usually the most any first time author will see from a book) so we’ve known that from day one, which is really nice when it comes to setting expectations and all that good stuff.

As is the case for a lot of other things in our life, we did this for the love. Corny but true. The fact that you guys share photos like this with us? Seriously, it makes our chests all swelly and bursty. Even John’s stony man-heart.

Plus when it came to the actual deals that publishers were offering us, we wanted to choose who we worked with based on things other than the money. For example, a few other publishers wanted to create a big $50 coffee table book with us, and we felt a lot less comfortable with that. So one huuuge reason that we went with our publisher (thereby choosing this deal) was because they “got us” and allowed us to be our dorky selves on every page while slapping an approachable price tag on the thing.

So all of this is just to say that we’re more committed than ever to keeping it real, saving cash whenever we can, and squirreling away extra pennies towards future projects, just like we always have. There’s no Rolls Royce and Beverly-Hills-ish plastic surgery in our future but I fantasize about completely different things anyway. Like Clara’s big girl room. Dude, who’s excited about Clara’s big girl room?! $herdog is beside herself (you know she only uses the third person when she’s really hyped). Last night I was making up rap names for the whole family. Burger could be Potato Skinz. And Clara could be Small Fry. Catchy, right? And I tried to change John’s name from J-Boom to Applebeez or Bloomin’ Onion but he wasn’t having it.


  1. Scully says

    “Donald Trump, we’re not.”

    And thank your lucky stars for that! The man has declared bankruptcy 4 times. His wealth comes from selling insanely-inflated, cheap China-made ties at Macy’s and people who tune (why?!) into his show to watch if he keels over from a rage-induced heart attack.

    You’re both just too lovely to be lumped in with a man like him. <3

    • KathyG says

      I used to write a lot for blogs and services, and initially most of my writing was free, BUT it exposed me to many different opportunities that WERE paying. Doesn’t that happen here too, you get paying jobs directly off the book? So that counts, just kind of indirectly?

    • says

      Oh yes, I’d definitely say that being real “authors” adds a lot of legitimacy to what we do and will hopefully expose us to new opportunities. Although I think creating our first baby (the blog) has really been where all opportunities stem from. The blog has bought us amazing things like writing gigs for magazines, a book deal, a little ol’ lighting collection, etc. So it’s really cool to think that it all started with one little post back in 2007!


    • says

      Oh gosh, they chat about how much we make for our book? You can see from the video we embedded in this post that folks were asking us to cover this topic back in September of last year, so just like explaining behind the scenes details for how we do a magazine photoshoot, we thought this would be interesting to folks :)


    • Steph says

      I was just going to ask this – because it seems like a direct response to their speculation and I hope you guys don’t feel like you have to justify ANYTHING to anyone!

    • says

      I swear I don’t read it (seriously ask Katie B). I can’t read that stuff because I’m a total wimp. Hah! Perhaps people asking about it innocently to us are coming over from those threads so those threads sparked it without us knowing? I just think people are curious about money. Haha!


    • says

      Mostly they just discuss whether or not you are pregnant. And what the best time for you to conceive would be. In case you were wondering, it’s after the book tour ends, because of your morning sickness. Because, you know, your uterus is public property. *eyeroll*

    • Suzanne says

      I can’t imagine what it feels to be talked about, but really YHL is more like a book I’ve read, or a show I’ve seen, and sometimes a person just wants to talk about “it”.

    • Sherry in BC says

      I can’t believe that there would be a blog that puts down other Blogs…..guess I am naive. If a blog isn’t your cup of tea, move on and find another. People be strange. Anyway. I am a 56 year old granny living in a big old Craftsman house in Vancouver Canada. Not your typical demo but I love your blog. I wouldn’t necessarily decorate with your colours or furniture or whatever but I read it because of the great tutorials and you push me to think outside of my comfort zone. Keep it up and don’t let them get to ya.

  2. says

    Growing up I wanted nothing more than to be an author. Somehow I ended up with this mechanical engineering degree instead, so I’ll have to live vicariously through you guys.

    I’ve loved watching your book develop and I can’t wait for book 2!!

  3. says

    Interesting. I had no idea it worked that way. I figured you must be close to hitting the royalty point by now. But you’re right in that it seems like an amazing experience. And I’m sure things will be easier the second time around. You know we will show you just as much love (if not more!) when Book #2 comes out!

  4. says

    That is interesting! I work at a small publishing company, and I don’t think we pay our authors any advance at all (or a VERY teeny tiny one). They get royalty checks once the book sells right away (and don’t have to wait for us to cover the cost of their advance)–but it is definitely not a lot at all! Still–fan-freaking-tastic that you WROTE A BOOK. That in and of itself is awesome.

    • Lauren says

      It definitely has to do with the cost of making the book, too. Graphic- and photo-heavy books cost more and take longer to make, so you’re more likely to see a bigger advance and little/no royalties. Very similar to textbook publishing.

  5. says

    This was a great post because I was thinking you guys were ballin’ as well. You guys are the real deal, all passion.

    I was wondering if you could do a post on SEO? I know having good SEO is what gets your blog seen, and therefore keeps the paid ads on the page. I have my own blog and I am trying to rev up my SEO, was wondering how you two handle that…how to get your blog “searchable” and how to get people to just stumble onto it? OR do you just have such a wide fan base that you don’t really get “hits” through google searches…can you overshare please?


    • says

      Ooh that would be a fun post. I would definitely say that what we focus on most is: regular posting (which helps SEO) and content (good content gets pinned, emailed to friends, keeps people coming back, etc). So we don’t have any quick secrets (like coding or specific wording or anything) that we do to help SEO. Actually we’ve heard that naming your posts things like “how to make a headboard” is smart since it’s descriptive but we’re all weird and punny so we’d rather call that post something like “getting board in the bedroom” – haha!


    • says

      I’m no SEO expert, far from it actually, but I do know one SUPER easy proven way to drive more traffic. Name your blog photos like this : How-To-Make-A-Headboard-DIY-Project-1 instead of IMG10056 (the default setting). When you add the hyphens it shows google that each word is separate instead of DIYHeadboardProject. I hope this is helpful! Also, search SEO tips on pinterest.

  6. says

    You guys are incredible for all that you do and being so open about things that are generally considered “none of your business.” Not to mention super talented, funny, and REAL! Keep on being you!

  7. says

    Great post! Having gone through the book publishing process before myself, i can agree that it doesn’t live up to what people fantasize it to be. And promotion and marketing is SUCH hard work and long hours. And very humbling at times.
    Thanks for sharing this!

  8. Katie says

    Thank you for explaining what it’s like to write a book; it gives me something to pass on to my 12 yo son who wants to be an author. I also wanted to let you know that I was so excited 2 weeks ago when I got an email that let me know that your book was ready for me to borrow from the library, and was disappointed that I couldn’t get it until yesterday, so I wasn’t sure it would still be there waiting for me. But it was!! And I’ve already paged through it all making mental notes and hopefully I’ll get to do a few things before it’s due. And hopefully my husband will get me my own special copy for my birthday. Thanks for the book ideas!

  9. says

    As a little boy, I dreamed of being an author of my very own book so it’s exciting to see how things work behind-the-scenes when writing one. Although I haven’t been published (yet… gotta think positive right?) I’m having fun on the ‘ol blog plus living vicariously through you two.

    PS – I should be receiving your book in the mail this week. That means you can expect an obligatory twitpic at some point… just a heads up.

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