How Much Can A Debut Author Make On Their First Book?

Jennifer Mendez The Writing Process

There are many misconceptions when it comes to money and being a debut author. Realistically speaking, unless you’re the next J.K. Rowling, writing the next best-selling series and persisting through constant rejection letters from publishers, you won’t get rich.

That means quitting your day job is a bad idea, friends. Stay inside the cubicle, work on the spreadsheets, and live your author dreams from the comfort of your couch. Until you get noticed that is.

But just how much money can an author make off a debut book? And is it entirely possible to make a living off this career path? Here are the real numbers.

Ways to Make Money Off Your Book

Mack Collier, better known as one of Forbes’ Top 25 Social Media Marketers in the world at large, breaks it down:

“1 – The advance

2 – Royalties off book sales

3 – Reselling the book themselves (typically you can buy your book for at least half off cover price, and sell it anywhere your publisher isn’t.  Such as on your website, but not on Amazon)”

Many debut authors make the mistake of leaving the selling up to the publishers, but this is a terrible mistake. Upping your sales is critical not only to break even but to make a profit. Speaking of which…

Talking Shop

This is where things get tricky. The advance can be anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000, but that’s not exactly viable for some debut authors. Unless you’re established, publishers are wary of giving you that much money upfront…

…because you have to pay that money back. It’s an advance.

Royalties, on the other hand, work based off Gross royalties (list price) or net royalties (the profit the publisher makes off the book, which is typically 50%). If book sales increase, you may be offered higher royalties, but debut authors need to ask for it.

Because we are fantastic with words, and not so much with math, Mack Collier has an unbeatable analysis:

“Let’s say you get a $5,000 advance for your book and you get 10% royalties net profit, and the book’s list price is $25.00. That means you are making $1.25 per book, and that you will need to sell 4,000 copies of your book just to break even. Thus the averages say that you will never make a penny from royalties off sales of your book (earn out). The average US non-fiction book sells about 250 copies a year and around 3,000 copies over its lifetime.”

But What About Hourly Rate?

Hypothetically speaking, because most people have a daytime job, say you spend your nights and weekends on your novel. That’s maybe 12 hours a week writing the book. Suppose it takes a grand total of 6 months to finish the book. That’s 288 hours writing the book. Say your advance was for $4,000, so your hourly rate was…

$13.89, just $6.64 above the average American minimum wage. That is not including the money spent on marketing and promoting the book, which may mean little to no money being made thereafter.


Readers might be wondering “what’s the point?” Honestly speaking, there isn’t one for people who aren’t in it for the long-haul. The most successful authors wrote a handful of manuscripts, or more, before being published, making it easier to keep publishing books. This stream of publications led to them making more money, and thus, getting exposure for their work. The other alternative is to simply not quit your day job, and just write books as a side project, or hobby. Some of the best stories have come from debut authors who didn’t do it for the money but because they already have careers. Kurt Vonnegut was a car dealer, did you know?

About the Author

Jennifer Mendez

Jennifer Mendez has brought insightful articles to From author interviews to how literature meets gaming to expert insight into tools and writing processes, her dedication to helping our author community is quite inspiring. You can find more of her writing at