I’m not going to get all technical and cover the minutiae and vagaries of how publishers account and/or abuse royalty payments. This is a De-Mushify, not de-mystify.
An author earns $0 for writing a book. He’s spent the last 5 years agonizing over scenes, characters and whether the papyrus font is cool.
He then spends countless hours trying to find an agent. If he’s lucky enough to get one, she offers to represent the manuscript for $0. (and tells the author to stick with Times New Roman font under pain of death.)
The agent then beats down the doors of publishers, pitching the book, schmoozing, calling, emailing, kibitzing, and generally working her tail off to sell this book.
No money has changed hands yet. The author and agent have done all this work for $0.
|My cat also edits my work. (The cone is to deflect alien thought-rays)|
Now both the author and the agent have received a little bit of money for their trouble.
Then there are royalties. Every quarter, or year, or bicentennial of the Hindenburg Disaster (however the publisher computes it) the author receives a royalty check.
The amount, naturally, depends on the number of units sold during that period. But, naturally, the publisher has various obfuscating accounting methods to shake down royalties. Such things as returns, breakage, vaccinations, vacations, monkey training, cabbage farming supplies, etc.
Suffice to say, authors who get a traditional book deal usually get an advance and then royalties.
But always remember that you write for free. There is no guaranteed pay. It certainly isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. Heck, it isn’t even a get-rich-slow scheme. My dad’s written something upward of 40 books, but I’ve seen his quarterly royalty statements to the tune of $5.
There is no guarantee. You have to be in it because you love it, not to win it.
*But what about cover art? Allow me to digress.
The publisher usually scoffs at an author who suggests an artist. In most cases the author is left to bite their nails as the publisher commissions an artist to make them a cover. The artist gets paid a flat fee for the art. No royalties, no kickbacks.
If they did the art for $500, and the book becomes a mega-seller, they still get only $500.
Bummer. So if you are an artist, try negotiating a smaller commission fee for a percentage point of sales (royalties). Or, you might have to forego the commission fee for a % point. It’s a risk, but royalties are nice.
If the publisher will go for it.