How Much Do Middle Grade Authors Actually Make?


an author in home office look at how much money authors make

Though there are several online sources that provide information about author income, there is very little about middle grade author income. Still, it’s important for us to look any available data with a critical eye. People tend to use partial data to manipulate their audience. The intention of this article is use data available to us in order to better understand the financial landscape for authors in today’s publishing industry.

According to a survey of 76 middle grade author published in October 2017, their median annual income was $21,000. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that “Writers and Authors” earned a median annual income of $62,170 (May 2018). However, the Authors Guild’s 2018 Author Income Survey reports that American authors earned a median annual income of $6,080 in 2017. However, 63 percent of the authors in that same survey who reported receiving book related income during that same year actually earned a median annual income $43,247.

How Much Do Middle Grade Authors Make?

The only data I was able to find about middle grade author annual income came from two surveys conducted by authors.

Hannah Holt surveyed 76 middle grade authors and learned that their median annual income in 2016 was $21,000. The average advance for each of their books was $20,000.

Ali Standish conducted a survey in 2017 that featured 38 responses from middle grade authors. 62% of respondents received advances under $25,000, while a surprisingly high number (17%) received an advance between $100,000-$300,000.

The good news is that authors get to keep advance money regardless of their sales numbers. The bad news, however, is it will be just shy of impossible to get your next publishing contract if you don’t earn enough in royalties to pay your advance back.

It’s the very reason some authors prefer a smaller advance. They’d rather earn out the advance on their royalties and continue to work with a publisher than risk a big payout that doesn’t earn the advance back if the book doesn’t sell as expected.

Authors Guild 2018 Author Income Survey

According to the Authors Guild, their 2018 Author Income Survey was the largest survey ever conducted in regards to American author earnings. In fact, the survey results detailed responses from 5,067 full-time and part-time authors.

According to their data, the median income of an author in 2017 was a paltry $6,080, which is down 42 percent from 2009 when it was $12,850. If that’s not enough doom and gloom, earnings from book income alone dropped a little over 50% to a mere $3,100 in 2017, which is down from $6,250 in 2009.

It wasn’t all bad, though. When looking at all writing-related activities for full-time authors, annual median income jumped from $6,080 to 20,300. Still, that’s a 20% drop from the $25,000 median income that full-time authors earned in 2009.

There was a slight uptick in income from writing related activities (things like teaching and public speaking). Even better news for self-published authors, whose book-related income has nearly doubled since 2013. That catch is that despite the advances they’re still 58 percent behind than their traditionally published counterparts.

Author and Writer Median Annual Income from the Bureau and Labor Statistics

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the median annual salary for an author and writer is $62,170. They don’t limit their data to book authors, though. Their “Author and Writer” category includes professionals who write:

  • Books
  • Movie, play and television scripts
  • Magazines
  • Blogs
  • Advertisements
  • Blogs

The good news is that the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a fairly positive job outlook for authors and writers. In fact, they expect 8 percent employment growth from 2016 to 2026. Of course, most of that is likely to take place in the media publishing or advertising sectors, but new authors are published every day.

How Authors Get Paid

An author gets paid royalties in exchange for publishing rights to the book. Royalties are determined as a:

  1. Percentage of the retail price. That simply means a percentage of the retail price that the book is sold at. Authors typically average a 10-15% royalty for hardcover books, and 5-7.5% for paperback books
  • Percentage of net sales. That means authors get paid a royalty on the amount received by the publisher, which varies based on discounts.

Some smaller indie publishers are starting to offer profit sharing in lieu of traditional royalties, where the author gets paid once (and if) the book become profitable.

How Royalties Are Distributed

You’re first royalty check typically comes in the form of an advance against sales. All subsequent royalty checks are paid twice annually after you’ve earned back your initial advance.

How a Royalty Advance is Determined

Advances are determined by how many copies of a title your publisher thinks it will sell. For instance, if your contract states that you receive a 10% royalty on the retail price for all hardbacks and a 5% royalty for all paperbacks sold, here’s the simple formula they would use to determine your advance.

  • 10,000 hardback books priced at $20 = $20,000 in royalties
  • 10,000 paperback books priced at $10 = $5,000 in royalties

Based on those projections, you’d receive a $25,000 advance. But there’s a catch. You don’t get it all at once. For each one of my nine books, here’s how my advance broke down:

  • 50% upon the execution of the contract
  • 50% upon the delivery of the final manuscript

Times have changed, and now quite a few publishers have moved to a model where your advance would look more like this:

  • 25% upon the execution of the contract
  • 25% upon delivery of the first draft
  • 25% upon delivery of the final draft
  • 25% on the day your title is officially released

That means if you’re lucky enough to get a $25,000 advance against royalties on your book, your payments will look like this:

  • $6,250 upon the execution of the contract
  • $6,250 upon delivery of the first draft
  • $6,250 upon delivery of the final draft
  • $6,250 on the day your title is officially released

There’s just one problem, though. Your agent is going to get a 15% cut of each one of those payments, which leaves you with this:

  • $5,312.50 upon the execution of the contract
  • $5,312.50 upon delivery of the first draft
  • $5,312.50 upon delivery of the final draft
  • $5,312.50 on the day your title is officially released

I don’t know about you, but those are fairly sobering numbers—especially if it takes you an entire year to write a book. That means if you’re writing full-time, you’re only taking home $21,250, which is almost exactly what the middle grade authors in Hannah Holt’s survey reported as their median annual salary. That’s not exactly a livable wage.

Related Questions

How Much Do Authors Make for a Bestseller? There are many bestsellers, including the New York Times, USA Today, Amazon, Publisher’s Weekly, and many more. Each list has a variety of categories, and the qualification for each category varies by the publisher. However, if a bestselling hardback book sells 40,000 units at $20 each, and if the author receives the standard rate of a 10% royalty of the retail price, that author would earn $80,000.

How Much Do Authors Make Per Book on Amazon? If you choose to sell your independently published book through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program you can make up to a 70% royalty of the purchase price for each book sold. To qualify, your book must have a list price between $2.99 and $9.99. The list price must be at least 20% lower than the list price of the physical book on Amazon, and the book must be made available for sale in all geographies where the publisher has rights.

Jon Lewis

Jon S. Lewis is the bestselling author of nine novels, including GREY GRIFFINS (Scholastic), CLOCKWORK CHRONICLES (Little Brown), CHAOS (Thomas Nelson), and a few comics for DC. He is also an award-winning digital marketing executive.

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