I know. Nobody likes talking about money, especially in the publishing business, which can be impenetrable on a good day, and as recent merger issues have confirmed, dishonest on a bad one. I’ve always found that in the absence of accurate information, the worst case scenario prevails, so even if the news isn’t great but you’re just not sure how much money might be waiting for you at the end of a long process of writing a novel, here’s the best I can do this week in terms of tracking down some numbers.

I started at PublishersMarketplace, which among other things tracks deals across the publishing business. I filtered for science fiction and fantasy deals made since the beginning of 2022, and looked through the listings for ones that specify a deal category—and not all of them do. So the scientific accuracy of the following data is at least that suspect, but it’s good enough at least to identify some trends and set some basic expectations.

PublishersMarketplace divides deals, which is to say the advance given to an author by a publisher, into five categories ranging from “nice” to “major.” Here’s what I found reported for 2022 so far:

There were twenty “nice” deals (advance of $1000-$49,000), which is 45% of the total of 44 deals specified since the start of 2022.

There were eight “very nice” deals ($50,000-$99,000), or 18% of the total.

Ten “good” deals ($100,000-$250,000) made up 23% of the total.

And the last 14% came from six “major” deals ($500,000 and up). Most of these were multiple book deals (three or four books) by T.J. KluneOlivie Blake, Thea Guanzon (the only debut), Pierce BrownA.K. Mulford, and Danielle C. Jensen.

There was nothing in the “significant” deal category ($251,000-$499,000).

What does that mean?

Just playing the odds, you have the best chance of scoring the lowest deal tier level, of course, but second place jumps up two categories to “good” deals, leaving only two more “very nice” deals than “major” deals.

In all honestly, don’t expect, as a new author with no proven sales record, more than that $49,000 “nice” deal limit. In my experience I think it’s lots more likely that “nice” advance is $10,000 from bigger publishers and $5000 from smaller publishers.

But just for the sake of argument let’s say we average the “nice” deal out to $25,000 and take out 15% for your agent—because you’re not getting even a “nice” deal without an agent. That nets you (pre-tax) $21,250, which isn’t terrible, but certainly doesn’t make you rich.

If instead you put your book up on Kindle Direct for $2.99, which is the minimum for their 70% royalty, you’ll be getting back about $2 for each ebook you sell, meaning you’ll have to move 10,625 $2.99 eBooks to match that up-front advance from, say, Del Rey or Tor. Make that eBook cost $4.99 and you “only” have to sell 6250 of them to make that $21,250.

Unfortunately, according to WORDSRATED, the average self-published book sells 250 copies, which is a full 6000 fewer copies than we’re targeting, for $500 or $850 at those two price points.

Lots less money.

The bigger publishers will expect to ship about 5000 copies, more or less, and will have based your advance on what they think that initial order will be. It will probably be less than that. So what, then, if you end up only selling 250 of your traditionally published book? You keep the $21,250 and the publisher eats the rest.

Now, I do know, and have worked with, indie fantasy and science fiction authors who have sold thousands of copies of their books in both eBook and POD (Print On Demand) through Amazon and other outlets like Ingram, Nook, Smashwords, etc. But that’s pretty rare. Only 1600 self-published authors (across all categories, not just genre fiction) earn more than $25,000 a year and “more than 1000” have earned $100,000 in the past year. Those last figures feel super hopeful for all of us indie authors… sort of. But when you consider that 300,000,000 self-published books are sold every year, those 1000 or 1600 authors really start to look like the exception to the rule.

What does this mean? Should we all just get demoralized, give up, and get our real estate licenses instead?

I’d advise you to do both, actually. Have a “day job” like almost everyone else, and write as much as you can, learning to write as well as you can, and when you’ve finished your novel, take a year, maybe two, to laboriously hunt down an agent who might jump you past the “nice” deal—or at least into it. If you do decide to go the indie route, either be content with a few hundred books sold over five or ten years and feel good that you at least put something out there—and I’ve worked with authors who see this as a win, and plan for that going in. Otherwise, understand that if you are publishing your own work you are now taking on a separate role as a publisher. The authors I’ve worked with who have succeeded in the indie sphere have approached it as a business, because that’s precisely what it is. This requires investment of up-front money, lots more time than you might have bargained for, strenuous efforts on marketing and public relations, and all the other things that go into first launching then running a small business.

And once again, with feeling, if you see writing as a get rich quick scheme, you’ve been tragically, hopelessly misinformed. Yes, it has happened—or it has seemed to happen—but wow, people, is that rare. That’s essentially MegaMillions lottery rare.

Please take this as good news, though: All of the rest of us have given over our lives to this thing, and a few of us have figured out, by hook or by crook, how to make a living doing it.

Go in with your eyes and ears open, be smart enough to know when you’re not smart enough then start learning, and most of all keep writing, and you might just end up, like me, at age fifty-eight, having spent the majority of your adult life making a full-time living in the business of books.

Which is pretty fucking cool.

THIS JUST IN: Notice how I kept qualifying everything here with versions of “as far as I know” or “as far as I can tell” or “based on the limited data I managed to collect”? Public Books asks “Where is All the Book Data?” READ THIS!

—Philip Athans

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Or contact me for editing, coaching, ghostwriting, and more at Athans & Associates Creative Consulting.

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Here’s a book I published myself that I hope to one day sell more than 250 copies of!


About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, ( is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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