Who gets what
Here’s how proceeds from a best-selling hardback novel ($27.95) usually get divvyed up:
The retailer: 45% ($12.58)
The author: 15% ($4.19, from which the agent takes up to 15%, or 62 cents)
The publisher: 13% ($3.55)
Printing: 10% ($2.80)
The wholesaler: 10% ($2.80)
Marketing: 7% ($2)
(Source: Mental Floss Magazine)
Of course there’s a whole school of remoras nibbling in the slipstreams of the above profit-takers—editors, publicists, reviewers, website builders, media people, truckers, author’s psychiatrists.
Multiply the above numbers by half a million or sometimes several million copies and you can see that everybody involved does nicely.
But this is typical only for a top best-selling author with a shark for an agent. Many little-known authors don't fare nearly as well.
My first traditional advance/royalty contract granted me just 6% of gross, only after the entire advance amount initially given to me on signing was paid back, that is. (That’s why it’s called an advance against royalties.) At $6.99 for the mass-market paperback, that royalty amounted to only 42 cents per copy, less something called Reserve For Returns, an arbitrary amount the publisher holds back out of profits for possible returns of unsold copies. Subsequent contracts for two more novels in the thriller series were a bit better, but did not promise me enough to buy a decent pre-owned kayak, much less make a down payment on a yacht. The publisher, the wholesaler, and the retailers did modestly well on the three books. Me, not so much, being at the absolute bottom of the contractual food chain, but that was to be expected, I suppose, considering I WAS ONLY THE GUY WHO WROTE THE DANGED THINGS.
Any worthwhile endeavor has a period of dues-paying. For a struggling writer in the traditional publishing business, it’s quite literally the generous paying-out of dues to everybody involved.
Then, of course, I had to wait almost two years for that first book to see print, which is not uncommon.
It’s an interesting business.
p.s. No post last Monday because another captain and I were delivering a 53-foot Hatteras from Maryland to North Carolina. While I don't make enough to buy a yacht, at least I can occasionally pretend what it would be like to own one.