How Authors Get Paid for Different Book Formats

e-readerMy husband sent me this blog post from writer Brian McClellan, and I thought it was fascinating. He writes about how authors earn money from their books, and which types of formats support the author. (McClellan is an epic fantasy writer, but I should tell you I’m not familiar with his books.)

We know so little about how to support the authors we love, although McClellan does reassure us that he’d rather have a devoted fan in any format. Personally, I’m not going to change the way I read because it’s more lucrative for an author. But I do want to know the author is getting a fair deal.

McClellan provides a ranking of which types of purchases benefit the author most, based on his personal experience with a big publisher. He notes that, in large part, the higher the cost of the book, the more benefit to the author.

  1. purchasing direct from the author
  2. hardcover
  3. audiobook
  4. ebook
  5. borrowing from libraries
  6. trade paperback
  7. mass market paperback
  8. secondhand
  9. piracy

He discusses each of these formats and comes up with an average dollar benefit per book for each type. He concludes that e-books offer the best “reader cost” to “author benefit” ratio, and of course reminds us that word of mouth support and reader reviews are helpful too.

I was interested to read the part about library books, and to see that I’m not doing an author a huge disservice by reading through my library. Libraries pay a high markup on ebooks and audiobooks, but then they can lend to an unlimited number of patrons. McClellan notes that the support of library readers is important to him, and still earns him some income, and gets his books read more widely. I would add to that, my library will order e-books if a number of people request them, and I’m assuming that also influences the number of e-books they order. So requesting an e-book from my library would have to be a good thing for the author.

We know so little about how authors are paid, and of course it all depends on contracts and publishers. Here’s an example: the recent movie Home is based on an entertaining children’s book written by Adam Rex (a friend of my sister). Does he make less because the movie doesn’t have an obvious relation to his book, The True Meaning of Smekday? Of course he’s got to be pretty happy to have his book made into a big-studio movie, and one I hear good things about. But I’m not sure viewers will connect the movie to his books.

In the near future I will have a post from an author who recently went from a publishing house to self-publishing. She’ll tell us why. I’ve also heard negative things about how “rental clubs” like Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited treat authors. But I don’t know what’s true.

So check out McClellan’s thoughtful post, and let me know what you think.  Thankfully, there are a lot of ways to support the authors we love.

This post is part of the Book Blogger Discussion Challenge at Feed Your Fiction Addiction.  Check it out for other posts about books and blogging.

  6 comments for “How Authors Get Paid for Different Book Formats

  1. Liza Barrett
    April 21, 2015 at 11:04 pm

    I’m so surprised that borrowing from the library earns more for the author than mass market paperbacks! I wouldn’t really have expected that, but I guess it makes a certain amount of sense. This was really interesting — thanks for sharing!

    ~ Liza @ Classy Cat Books

  2. April 23, 2015 at 3:38 pm

    This is very interesting. I thought authors got a flat rate for their book and that sales were helpful to them in negotiating future contracts, but they didn’t necessarily make a lot from sales, but from the advance and other payments.

  3. April 25, 2015 at 9:27 pm

    I didn’t know anything about how authors make money, so this was really interesting to me! I was especially interested to see that using the library is actually above mass market paperbacks. I use my library a lot, so I’m glad that I’m still supporting the author by doing so. I’ll have to go read McClellan’s post to see more details.

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

  4. May 3, 2015 at 12:53 pm

    Very interesting link & discussion! I’m glad that he put libraries on here, even if there’s not currently any accurate way to get a real author profit percentage from library purchases. I think another way of looking at it is that many of the books that get borrowed from libraries would not have been purchases instead if not borrowed (in other words, a library borrow does not equate to a lost sale).

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