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.

Comments

  1. Maureen says

    Thanks for this! I love how you guys share so much. That’s what makes you all so darn lovable! I wish that you guys WERE rich because you deserve it (but then, I still like feeling we are still in the same boat of having to save for things. lol) None the less, you guys deserve every good thing that comes to you! And perhaps another book????

    Also, I don’t know if you will remember, but I commented yesterday about epically failing TWICE on giving my closet ceiling a “tufted” look. Well, last night, even though there may have been some random cursing, I got the job done! I just had to share since this things was the biggest pain in my arse ever. :)

  2. Emma says

    You’ll make a killing on the next one :) You can be more demanding too. On your next book tour, insist on traveling with an entourage. You can roll 20 deep. Make sure Burger/Potato Skinz has his own valet (like on Downton Abbey!). Thanks for sharing the book publishing facts – I had no idea that the publishers had to be made whole before the author(s) started receiving royalty checks.

    • says

      Aw thanks Emma! It’s actually a two book deal, so we get exactly the same modest advance and royalties on the next one. But we can’t wait to write it! Well, we’re resting a little but definitely still brainstorming!

      xo
      s

    • says

      No don’t feel bad! It’s an amazing we-still-cant-believe it experience and we never went into it thinking we’d be rolling in loot! I promise, it has completely surpassed our expectations in a truly positive way. It’s insane to see a book that you wrote. It’s up there with having Clara, getting married, etc. So momentous and “is-this-real?” inducing!

      xo
      s

  3. Thais Bessa says

    It shows it was a labour of love, the book is beautiful and super cool.

    You guys got a 2-books deal, right? Are you already working on that second one? When can we expect it? :)

    • says

      The publisher has told us to finish the tour, relax and brainstorm, and maybe in a year we’ll get cracking. It takes about two years for things to come out, so maybe in three years the next one will come out?

      xo
      s

  4. Natalie says

    I usually just skim your posts when I read during the day (too busy toddler chasing) but I read this time and I’m super glad I did! “We use gold bars. Just kidding. Those would be cold.” I’M DYING! Spit coffee and everything.

  5. Erin says

    I am so excited about Clara’s big girl room!! When I saw the post yesterday about panting it I almost jumped up and down hahaha. The funny thing is that my Dad always called me Small Fry when I was little and when I read that about Clara I thought it was the cutest thing!

  6. elaine says

    Really interesting. I really hope you make it to some nice royalty checks (and more book deals)! I was totally thinking you’d get some $$ from my copy of the book. I guess I’ll have to go buy some more!! :)

  7. Stacy says

    thanks for posting this. I’ve always wondered how a book deal works and you’ve definitely broken it down so it’s understandable. I love your book – bought it as a Christmas present for myself. Now, I just have to tackle some of the great ideas that I saw in it.

  8. Donnamarie carson says

    Just ordered a copy of your signed book! Love your blog! If your ever in nj would love for you to stop by :). Obsessed with decorating and all there is to it!! Dmarie

  9. Kara says

    So glad you chose these publishers – you made the right choice! :) Very interesting tidbits to share, thanks! And I can’t wait to see whatcha got cookin’ up for the Small Fry’s room!