If you have looked at JK Rowling -- said to be worth $900 million after the Harry Potter books -- and figured you want a piece of that action, it's time for a reality check. Book authors do not tend to be well paid. Nonetheless, you can earn a decent amount if you're moderately successful as a novelist. And with the Internet opening up more opportunities for self-publishing, it might not be such a far-fetched dream.
Overall, the median wage for all types of writers and authors is $55,870 in 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, that includes writers for television and advertising -- disciplines which often pay much more than book writing. The bottom 10 percent of all authors earn around $28,180, while the top 10 percent can expect around $115,740. Between 2010 and 2020, demand for writers is expected to grow by 6 percent. This is slower than average job growth -- but at least demand isn't shrinking.
Being a book author isn't like getting a salaried job. Not all books sell, and not all sell the same volume. If you get published, then you may receive an advance -- an upfront payment before the book hits the stores. Advances vary wildly. After that, authors tend to receive royalties for every copy sold. This often sits between 8 percent and 10 percent, resulting in around 80 cents to a dollar on every $10 book sold. That means if you sell 10,000 books you might make around $8,000. The vast majority of books sell fewer than 5,000 copies.
The Internet has made it easier for pretty much anyone with a bit of smarts to become a self-published book author. You don't even need to offer printed material. Ebooks can be downloaded and read on digital devices. But, according to a report in "The Guardian," around half of self-published authors make less than $500. The good news is that you can -- in theory -- set your own royalty rates, though you will have to learn a lot about online payments, publishing delivery and Web marketing.
What To Write
If you're looking to earn money, then experimental literary fiction probably isn't the genre of choice. Crime and mystery authors tend to sell better than fantasy and science fiction. Romance authors, as a group, tend to outsell all other genres -- as much as 170 percent more than their writer peers on average. Well-educated women in their early 40s appear to be most likely to earn well as a book authors. If that sounds like you, pick up a laptop and get writing.
Based near London, U.K., Peter Mitchell has been a journalist and copywriter for over eight years. Credits include stories for "The Guardian" and the BBC. Mitchell is an experienced player and coach for basketball and soccer teams, and has written articles on nutrition, health and fitness. He has a First Class Bachelor of Arts (Hons.) from Bristol University.