A typical royalty is 10% of the recommended retail price on hardbacks and 7.5% on paperbacks. So, for a £16.99 hardback the author would receive around £1.70 for each copy sold and for an £8.99 paperback they would receive 67p.
This royalty usually drops when retailers demand discounts. So, if a major retailer offers a 52-55% retail discount (a common occurrence) the author gets four-fifths the full royalties, with a further drop on sales at even higher discounts.
Royalties for self-publishers are a proportion of any wholesale or retail receipts and are set by the wholesalers and retailers. For eBooks, the author receives 25% of the monies paid by the retailer to the publisher. Subscription services for eBooks and audiobooks are relatively new and the situation regarding royalties here is complex, contract-dependent and, in general terms, unclear.
Before royalties can be used to pay bills, they are first used to pay off the advance given to the author by their publisher in anticipation of the profits to come. Self-published authors support themselves while writing and must pay to have their book published, so royalties need to cover these outlays and subsidise their next book.
Public Lending Right
PLR is a modest payment (around 8p) received by authors each time their work (written, eBook, audio) is lent through a public library.
Introduced in 1979 and recently expanded to include e-lending, it balances the social need for free public access to books against an author’s right to be remunerated for the use of their work. Although no substitute for royalties on purchased books, PLR is a valued part of many authors’ incomes. Over 22,000 writers, illustrators, photographers, translators and editors receive PLR payments of up to £6,600 each year.
Funding by the crowd offers aspiring authors the option to pre-sell a book or a book idea whilst gathering support and publicity in the process. A number of crowdfunding sites have developed that specifically target authors and include Unbound and Authr. All have slightly different focuses and crowdfunding models, but authors can realise a greater financial return per book than typical royalties. Kickstarter and Indiegogo also have publishing categories on their crowdfunding platforms.
Polyp, one of Ethical Consumer’s cartoonists (and a self-published, crowdfunded author) commented: “The book industry has been subjected to increasing corporate centralisation, meaning publishers are motivated more and more by profit, and take far less risks with new authors, or controversial subjects. But even without that influence, the world of publishing can itself be extremely elitist and fickle, with its gatekeepers essentially playing a game of ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ when claiming to know what might or might not be a successful title.
“Crowdfunding is a superb way to bypass these barriers, if you have good reason to believe there’s an audience out there, and feel confident you have the means to reach them ... though our experience is that it’s fatal to assume crowdfunding is a sort of magic money tree – it requires real concentration, outreach and hard work to succeed.”