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. says

    Yal are awesome. I’ve recently had my eyes opened to how much fitness personalities make when they put out a DVD – sounds pretty similar to books! Next deal, you’ll be able to go into it as “best sellers” though!

  2. Kathi says

    Sounds like book deals work very similarly to major label record deals…lots of people assume because a band/artist has a song or 2 on the radio that they’re rolling in the dough, but the reality is most artists don’t make a dime from their albums (this is in the major label world) until they sell a million copies or so. They get an advance and the label pays recording and touring costs, but all of those expenses are “recoupable” by the label until they’re paid back…and the rate of payback is typically less than a dollar per album sold by the artist…

  3. says

    Thanks for posting this! If every blogger started blogging to make money, there certainly would not be the passion there is today in this digital world.

    Please come to GREENVILLE, SC!! It’s SUCH an awesome place! :)

  4. says

    Very interesting – I had no idea it worked like that! I’m still excited to see what else you guys have up your sleeves this year!

    P.S. There are online rap name calculators and I ran John’s name into a couple of them…here’s what he gots – (1) El J Scam or (2) MC – Hill. Personally, I like the first one. :)

    And just because I couldn’t resist, Clara got Tiny Baby Clara C Cookies and Sherry got Sherry P Curves a.k.a. Icy Sugar. LOL

  5. Christi says

    This post is awesome, I was actually wondering about this topic but thought it would be rude to ask!

    My dream is to write a book, so the fact you guys did is fantastic. Much props to Skinz and Small Fry and $herdog and J-Boom!

  6. Carrie says

    I am so glad you are making Richmond more well known. Our area has a lot of great qualities but people seem to grasp onto the negative . Not very long ago I was checking out at a CVS in Radford, Va (I go to school out there) and I gave the clerk my phone number to get my CVS discount. He said “804? are you from Richmond? Don’t people get stabbed around every corner there?” Me:(read in sarcastic tone) “out of the 19 years that I’ve lived there I have never heard of such a phenomenon, but if thats true I am a hard core survivor because there are many corners in Richmond.”

  7. karen little says

    Love all this detail in this post, written in your own fun style, of course! Takes the mystery out of writing a book and making moulah. I love having/reading your book as well as giving copies for gifts. You inspire me.

  8. says

    Sherry, you are hilarious. When you come to Denver on tour for book #2 (or book #1, tour part 2???), I am going to copy that girl in the photo above and bring my ceramic fox for you to sign. Which I bought because of you (and which my husband looked at very strangely when I brought it home, but I told him, “Sherry from Young House Love has them, so it’s ok!”). Thanks for the continual home inspiration, and thanks for bringing some smiles to my morning!

  9. Noel M says

    I love that you’re so open and informative about your work! It’s why you’re so loved among bloggers :)
    PS – this also makes me want to buy more copies of your book and give them away to friends so that you’ll get closer to the royalty mark! :) Um, and also because it’s a good book :)

  10. Olivia says

    Thank you for the update on this, I was definitely hoping you guys were getting some extra money since it seems like the book is selling really well. I hope you do make it to the royalty check stage – even if it’s small, that would be so neat to get a little surprise in the mail every now and then! And you guys deserve to make some money on it after all that hard work. I know money wasn’t the goal, per se, but still… Anyway, thanks for sharing the deets!