So it's been over a year now that I've been collecting royalty statements from O'Reilly for The Geek Atlas, and the other day someone commented to the effect that I must be living large off book royalties. Clearly, this person either mistook me for J. K. Rowling or knows nothing about books.
Here's how book sales work using The Geek Atlas as an example.
The cover price is $29.99. O'Reilly sells the book to the retailer for much less than that: the publisher is getting around 60% of the cover price (numbers below). That, by the way, is roughly how Amazon.com sells you books for so little: they didn't pay the cover price for the book in the first place.
I get 10% of what O'Reilly gets. So if the book sells for $29.99 and O'Reilly gets 60% ($18) then I'd get $1.80 per copy. In practice, the actual amount I get per copy is around $1.25 because different retailers have different discounts, and because my book might be sold in bundles of other books with different discounts.
Now, lest you think I'm complaining: I'm not. It was a great privilege to write that book and I'm happy whenever I do get some money back from it. But if you are thinking of writing a book bear that in mind. I spent 6 months writing The Geek Atlas: I didn't do it for the money!
Here's a quick chart showing how the actual royalty I receive per book has fluctuated over the last year.
For eBooks I get the same 10% of what O'Reilly gets. Here's the trend in that:
Interestingly, I make less money now from eBooks than physical books.
Two other important factors play into the money I receive: the advance and reserves.
O'Reilly were kind enough to pay me an advance while I was working on the book. It's not called an advance for no reason: the author pays that money back from the royalties. Basically my first few royalty statements were all negative because the royalties I was receiving were going to paying the 'debt' to O'Reilly.
The other factor is the reserve. I get paid when a book shop buys the book (not the consumer). But that creates a problem for the publisher since the book shop can return the book as unsold after a certain period of time. So from each royalty statement O'Reilly reserves money to offset any returns of the book.
They actually reserve 20% of the royalties on physical books. I then get that money back (if the book is selling!) 6 months later.