Three Painful Truths about Growing Book Royalties



It’s been over a year and I am starting to see some growing book royalties. I’ve scattered a number of “seeds” and several have taken, while others still remain in their seed form. I’ve done my best to care for each little stream of income and watched several of them start to blossom, if just a little bit. Here are three painful truths I’ve encountered so far:


  1. Royalties flow from marketing; Marketing is rarely passive.
    • Marketing is a often an educated net approach for me. That means that I need to cast out the net, then trim it back as I learn which areas work and don’t work. Furthermore, if I cast it too often in one area, I see less gain. The trick is to find what exactly you want, and focus in on that. If you say just “book sales” then you’re marketing is probably too big. I want to create a funnel of book sales, so that after one is purchased, others are purchased. That requires finding and building fans as best I can. That involves looking to create personal interactions and have many products available for sale. Creating those one-on-one interactions and building new products would hardly be considered passive.
  2. Royalties are usually slow.
    • After a book is published, I need to help gain some traction and reviews for the book. After I gain that, I need to run some promotions. After I run those promotions, I need to make sure that the book fits into the regular cycle of promotions/up-sells. All of this, combined with the month or two delay of book royalties, means it could be a long time before I see if a book was “successful” or not. Many times I don’t know for 6+ months. It’s easy to assume a book wasn’t successful, because it’s not growing like a weed. Sometimes you need to just let it sprout a little bit.
  3. Cost is often more important than royalties.
    • Earn out is crucial. You want a book to be successful. That doesn’t mean massive sales after a massive promotion. A successful book is one that naturally makes good royalties past it’s earn out and promotions. The more natural a book makes good royalties, the better. To know if a book is good or not, you need to get past the cost to create the book (cover/editor/etc). If your book costs are massive, you may assume a book isn’t a success when it is. Keeping the cost low also allows an author to build up their back catalog. That’s essential to the overall ecosystem of an author. They need funds to invest in more books, which (at least for me) come from past books. The more books I write, the more books I am able to write.


Conclusion: The EFA says that the professional rate of a fiction writer is 20 cents / word. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers describes a novel as 40,000 words. I like NaNoWriMo’s 50,000 word mark personally. That means that each professionally crafted (author with 10 years of writing full-time) novel created should have a value around $10,000. If they took that value, and got a 10% return every year (aka a royalty), that’s $1,000 or $83 per month. While that sounds scary, a professional / prolific writer can probably produce about 5 novels a year. That’s $350/mo (after taxes) for the rest of their lives. That’s the price of a new car every 5 years. Imagine working a year and now you get a new car every 5 years for the rest of your life. Writing is amazing!