How do Authors Make Money? More than just advance/royalties!

You’ve written a book. You want to make money. Here’s how. A lot of people talk about how advances and royalties work, but there’s more to it! (Note: Most of this will be described as if you are getting traditionally published (aka the literary agent and publisher route), but it ALSO applies to non-traditional routes such as self-publishing.)

  1. Advance & royalties
  2. Selling foreign rights
  3. Selling movie rights
  4. Selling merchandize
  5. Paid appearances
  6. Online presence and traffic
  7. Tax deductions

Advances and Royalties

I could do a whole post on advances and royalties. But here’s a quick and simple guide. An advance is money the publisher gives you upfront. Royalties are monies earned over time as the book sells copies. However, you only start getting royalty payments once you’ve earned royalties equal to the amount of the advance. They’re the same method of earning money (selling books), but it’s just a question of when you get the money. And if you don’t earn enough royalties to equal the initial advance amount, don’t worry. You don’t have to pay it back.

One thing to note about advances and royalties, as well as foreign and movie rights below, is that any money made from this will exclude a commission paid to your agent. Their job is to help you sell, so they get a cut of the profits.

Selling Foreign Rights

Your contract with your agency will state that your agency will help you sell not only your book to a publisher in your own country, but also to publishers in other countries/languages. If this happens, you’ll get paid the same way as above: an advance and royalties. The payments typically go through the agency, which takes care of any conversion concerns and commission/credits incurred by your agency. For example, if your agency pays money to ship your manuscript overseas, that money will come out of the next paycheck you get. (Take note of this for the tax section later!)

Selling Movie Rights

Selling movie rights is a bit different than foreign or publish rights. Firstly, it doesn’t come with an advance or royalty. A producing company will pay you for the rights to your book. These rights typically come with a time limit, which means it may expire after a certain amount of time. This is why buying movie rights is actually called “optioning the rights.” For example: “Studio X has optioned Awesome Book.” This means that the studio now has the ability to make a movie if they want to. The author gets to pocket this money (via their agent who takes their commission). And then if the option expires, it can be sold again. This is because studios typically buy up a lot of options but don’t necessarily make the movie for a lot of different reasons (for example if the book doesn’t end up doing well or if the right director or actors don’t come together).

Selling Merchandize

If you have a great quote from your book or you’ve made some additional art or swag, you can sell these! You might not have a big audience for the merch, so not a lot of authors do this. Many others make swag and give it away for free as part of preorder campaigns to entice readers to preorder their book. And the authors pay for this swag out of their own pocket and don’t make a profit. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t an option! You’ll have to look carefully at your book contract though, because your publisher may have also bought merchandizing rights along with the book rights. But if you’ve maintained them, there’s no reason you can’t look into it as an option to make some more money.

Paid Appearances

Once you have a book out, you can work to schedule appearances. If these are at schools, events, conventions, or stores, you can set it up as a paid appearance. It may be a signing, a reading, or a speech. In most cases, the author is responsible for setting these events up, though you may end up working with your publisher if you want to take some of your books to sell.

If it’s an appearance at a book store, you can call (several months ahead of your visit) to make sure they will have stock of your book. Then, if the event is marketed and attended well, you may make some money by selling your book! A lot of book signings though, especially early in an author’s career, are rather small and don’t have a significant profit, if any. And your publisher may or may not help set up these events.

This is where business acumen and networking come in handy. You should be encouraged to connect with local booksellers and librarians, and schools if that’s an appropriate audience for you.

Online Presence and Traffic

This, like merchandizing, may have a smaller audience or range of effect. And you’ll want to think twice to make sure it’s a good path for you. If you have an online presence (like a website or a YouTube channel), you can consider monetizing it by selling ads. If you do this, you’ll want to be careful about what types of ads are running on your content. When you become an author, you’re building a brand. And with your online platform, the wrong ads can reflect poorly on you as a creator.

Tax Deductions

First things first: getting a tax deduction isn’t the same as making money–it just means that you get to skip paying tax on some things, so it effectively costs less for something. So, deducting taxes doesn’t MAKE you money, but it does SAVE you money. It feels appropriate for this list about making money.

Remember the commission you pay your agent on advances, foreign rights, and movie rights? You don’t have to pay taxes on that commission, because it isn’t money that you are netting.

Money you spend on merchandizing, whether it’s something you sell or give away for promotion? That cost can be deducted as well! Travel to and from paid appearances? Some of that cost can be deducted as well. The cost of maintaining your website domain or paying for designers to work on it… these can be deductible as well.

Being an author and publishing books is a business, and you should do your research about what is and isn’t deductible, because you could save a lot of money! I really want to stress the research side of this though, because it could be easy to deduct a cost you’re not supposed to, or to deduct 100% of something when you only use it for business reasons for a percentage of the time.


How do Foreign Editions of Books Happen?

With the recent announcement that there will be a German edition of my book, NAMELESS QUEEN, it begs the question: How do foreign editions of books happen?

  • What IS a foreign edition of a book? A foreign edition is a version of the book that is being published in a different region and/or language. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s in a different language, though. For example, you may sell World German rights to a publisher based in Germany. You may sell US English rights to an American publisher and sell UK English rights to a publisher in England. Or you may sell World English rights to a single publisher. It can be broken out regionally and/or by language.
  • How do you get a foreign publisher to publish your book? Depending on who has retained the ability to sell the foreign rights, (this is something specified in a contract), either your publisher or your agent will reach out to foreign publishers or agents in order to see if they’d like to pay for the ability to translate and publish your book. Sometimes these connections happen at trade shows, conferences, meet-and-greets, good old fashion solicitation, or networking contacts. Sometimes Book Spies get ahold of your book first and then the foreign agencies or publishers are the ones who reach out. Regardless of who initiates, there will be a contract. The contract will specify things like the advance amount and the timeline for translation and publishing.
A foreign edition of your book may look different, but it’s still your book!
  • Who translates the foreign edition? If you’re working with a foreign publishing house, they will often have in-house or hired translators. This person will translate your book. In less traditional circumstances, such as if you are self-publishing or retaining the ability to sell foreign rights, you may end up hiring a freelance translator yourself.
  • Are the covers different? They can be! The foreign edition is a whole different book through a different publishing house. That means they design their own cover, which makes sense! The domestic cover may have been designed in-house at your publishing house, and your foreign publisher would have to buy the rights to use it or just pay for their own. And a different region/language has an entirely different market, so trust your foreign publisher to know what will sell well in their area. If a cover really resonates or works well globally, a foreign publisher may pay to use it, giving it a more consistent look internationally.
  • What if something in the book doesn’t “translate” well? There are often words or phrases that literally can’t be translated, but translators do this for a living and can handle it in stride! Sometimes there are things that won’t translate culturally. This can be anything from a sense of humor to cultural references to idioms. In these cases, they may ask you to make some changes.
  • When is a foreign edition published compared to the domestic version? Most of the time, when a foreign rights deal is struck, the contract specifies when the foreign edition should be published. Most often, it is scheduled for within a certain amount of time after the original-language edition is published. This is so that the success of the book in its home market will build buzz in the foreign market. It’s all in the contracts, so it can vary from author to author and from book to book.
  • Does an author get paid for a foreign edition? Yep! If you’re getting traditionally published on all fronts, then you’ll get an advance. Sometimes a domestic publish deal will pay the author their advancement in installments (part on signing the contract, part on the publication of the hardcover, etc.). Foreign deals are often all-at-once. A couple special money things to pay attention to:
    • If you’re dealing with a foreign country, they may have a different currency. The contract may specify in either their currency or yours. If it’s in the foreign currency, then keep an eye on the exchange rate!
    • If you have an agent, they’ll keep a percentage of what you earn through the rights that they help you sell. This includes selling foreign rights. Most often, if your agency is selling foreign rights, they’ll also work with a foreign agency who will also take a percentage.
  • Does the author get any copies of their foreign edition? Sometimes a contract will specify that the author will get a certain number of the foreign editions sent to them around the time of publication.

If you have any questions that aren’t on this list, let me know! Ask in comments, or toss a message my way. I’ll be glad to answer if I can.

German Edition of NAMELESS QUEEN!

I can finally share that there will be a German edition of my first book, NAMELESS QUEEN. The translated title is DIE NAMENLOSE KÖNIGIN, and it’s being published by Bastei Lübbe, translated by Axel Franken. You can check it out on GoodReads (and of course you can add the english version on Goodreads)!

Here is the beautiful German cover:


The German edition comes out on March 27th, 2020. I still can’t quite share when the English version will be published, but I’ll be able to share more in just a couple short weeks!

Here’s the blurb from the German edition (it’s in German, of course):

Coin ist eine Namenlose und gehört zur untersten Schicht der Gesellschaft im Königreich Seriden. Sie lebt auf der Straße und schlägt sich als Diebin durch. Dann passiert das Unglaubliche: Der König stirbt, und auf Coins Arm erscheint eine schwarze Krone, die sie als seine Nachfolgerin zeichnet. Mit dem Tattoo erwacht in ihr eine mächtige Magie. Schon bald bemerkt sie, dass ihr Schicksal keinesfalls vom Zufall gelenkt wurde und sie ihre neuen Kräfte im Palast nur zu gut gebrauchen kann …

Amazon description of DIE NAMENLOSE KÖNIGIN

What is an ARC for a book?

I got four ARCs of my book in the mail this week! My book will be published early next year, so what’s the deal with ARCs? What are they?

A.R.C. (pronounced “arc”) stands for Advanced Reader’s Copy. It’s also sometimes called just an “advanced copy” or “review copy” or “uncorrected proof version.”

Essentially, an ARC is an early printed version of a book. Here are the facts:

  • When they happen: Typically they are made about 4-8 months before the on-sale date of the hardcover book.
  • What are they: They are created from the copyedited version of the book that hasn’t gone through final proofing quite yet.
  • How are they different from a published version: Sometimes they have temporary cover art. Sometimes the cover art and design are final. You can tell the difference between an ARC and a published copy because an ARC will have some extra emblems on the cover. ARCs also often have the publish date on the spine, and sometimes info about the author or marketing campaign on the back.
Example of an ARC for Julie Murphy’s DUMPLIN’
  • What are they used for:
    • They are sent to reviewers, book sellers, bloggers, and other people who the publisher think will generate good buzz and good reviews for the book. The point of ARCs is to generate market buzz before the book goes on sale.
    • They are also sent to more established authors of the same genre/category in the hopes of getting good blurbs for the cover or general publicity.
  • How do people get them: They are often available through some services like NetGalley that allow ARCs or even e-copies of the ARC to be acquired by book professionals and reviewers.
  • What are Galley Proofs? They are different than “galley proofs,” which is similar to an ARC but in a printed-from-a-printer format that isn’t manufactured similar to a proper book.
  • Anything special inside an ARC? Sometimes there is special content inside the ARC itself. For me, there’s a special “Dear Reader” letter at the beginning of the book!!
  • Are there electronic ARCs? Some books have just e-ARCs instead of printed ARCs, though in some cases there are both.

Q&A with an Author: trade secrets, worldbuilding, and magic systems

I’ve recently received seven questions from a young writer about the process behind inspiration, writing a fantasy novel, and pursuing inspiration. Here are the answers!

  1. Are there any trade secrets for getting a fantasy book published?
  2. How do you describe magic?
  3. How complicated should a magic system be?
  4. How much time do you spend explaining versus doing?
  5. How long do you spend worldbuilding?
  6. Do you pursue inspiration before or after worldbuilding?
  7. How clear is the picture in your head?

1. Are there any trade secrets for getting a fantasy book published?

Trade secrets for getting traditionally published:
The only real trade secret is to do your research. Understanding how it works is a big first step. A zillion people think about writing a book but never do, and even the people that do write one often want to rush into the process and get their book published ASAP. And that impulse is understandable, because it’s exciting! It’s an accomplishment! It’s awesome! But to be successful, writers need to be objective about their own work and put in the hard work of improving it before taking the next big steps. For as many steps as there are between wanting to write a book and actually doing it, there are even more steps to getting published: revising, querying, going on submission, revising again, selling rights, and more! So, getting to know the industry and writing what you love and improving your craft are my best pieces of advice.

Trade secrets for writing a fantasy novel:
Voice is queen. What I mean by this is that one of the most important things about writing a book that people will connect with is having a character with strong voice. The other mechanical pieces of a story also have to be good, but even an interesting story can be ruined if the main character doesn’t resonate with readers. There are two different types of voice. One is the voice of the author (this is why reading books by a particular author always feel like “that author’s writing”). The other is the voice of the main character. You want to have an interesting character that leaps off the page is memorable to readers. You want people to read it and want more.

2. How do you describe magic?

You want to introduce magic organically into the story. That means introducing it as it is needed by the plot, but early enough in order to set the stage for the rest of the story. Magic can take so many forms inside of books. There can be external energy sources with rules (like Harry Potter’s wand) and creatures and hidden worlds (like Percy Jackson) and specific powers (like talking to animals or becoming invisible). What’s important is making sure the magic fits in the world being created and with the characters and plot.

3. How complicated should a magic system be?

Simpler is always better. You always want to start with a simple premise. This is true for the magic system and, more importantly, the stakes of the story. Not only will this make it easier to pitch when people are trying to sell the book, it will also make it easier for you when you want to build on it. As with all art, you have to learn the rules before you can break them, and this applies to the interior logic of stories as much as it does to the craft of writing itself. Create a solid and simple foundation for the magic system, and then start asking story-building questions like: who can do magic, who can’t do magic, what are the limits of the magic, what is the cost of doing the magic, and who wants magic?

4. How much time do you spend explaining versus doing?

There are a couple ways you could be asking this question: how much time is spent in summary vs. scene; and how much time is spent on backstory vs. present story.

For summary vs. scene, it’s really a balance. Summary is often used in montages and to give brief backstory or introduction, but scenes are really the lifeblood of a book.

For backstory vs. action: You want to spend as much time on action as you can. Reveal the world while things are happening in the story. Show how magic works while your main character is doing something interesting with magic in the first chapter. Scenes should always be doing double work. There’s some great advice from Maggie Stievfater on this.

5. How long do you spend worldbuilding?

Similar to the above question, worldbuilding should happen organically through the whole first third of the story. It isn’t something where you spend a couple paragraphs explaining before you start the story. That kind of writing is called “scaffolding,” and while it may help you envision the world better so that you can write it, it likely won’t have any place in the final manuscript. But if you need to write an intro so that you yourself understand the world enough to write it, go for it! You can always remove it or change it in revisions later.

6. Do you pursue inspiration before or after worldbuilding?

I like that phrase “pursue inspiration.” Inspiration is often talked about like it’s a magical lightning strike that does the hard work for you. In fact, coming up with ideas and crafting a story is a lot of hard work. Inspiration is more like static electricity than lightning. You don’t get struck by it—you have to do work to generate the sparks.

There is no thunderbolt that brings you a fully-fleshed out idea, it’s the tough work of generating friction in order to make tiny static sparks. These sparks arise throughout the whole process, such as when you finally realize how to make the inciting incident compelling, or how to deliver your main character to the climax of the story with the right emotional overtones, or the logic that will make the magic system make sense. As far as designing a world and pursuing inspiration, I work with whatever feels like it’s going to give me the most friction–whether that’s worldbuilding or characterization or the magic system or the antagonist. Then you balance your way through developing all of these things together until a coherent story takes shape. Authors all do this work differently. Some start with their idea for a compelling main character or an interesting magic system or a even a scene or line of dialogue. And it can change from book to book as well as from author to author. Do whatever feels right!

7. How clear is the picture in your head?

Before I start writing a book, I often have a pretty good sense of the plot and the world, and it doesn’t take too long to get a grasp on the main character’s voice. So, sometimes things pretty clear, and sometimes I only have a vague idea certain pieces. In my earlier books especially, writing the book wasn’t just about getting the story down, it was an exploration of the story. A lot of my early writing was me trying to figure out how “story” works and how to make scenes and dialogue interesting or funny. That meant that my earlier work had a lot of room for improvement, but that’s how I learned! One thing to remember is that no matter how much planning you do before you start, there will always be changes when you’re in the thick of things. And no matter how good things are at the end, there will always be changes and revisions and improvements down the road. I know other authors who draw their main characters or who make maps of their worlds or who write throwaway scenes with characters who will never meet just so that they can build a better picture of the story in their head. There are no wrong paths or choices!

Happy writing!

-by Rebecca McLaughlin-

Q&A: I’m An Author!

I’m an author! I’m getting a book published! My book comes out early next year. So here’s a quick Q&A if you want more details and how you can learn more or support me and the book. And if you have more questions, please ask in comments! I want to be more transparent and share more with folks!

Q: Like, legit published?

A: Totally legit! I’m getting traditionally published (through an agent and publishing house). That publishing house is Penguin Random House, the largest publisher in the WORLD.

Q: What kind of book are you publishing?

A: It’s a “YA Fantasy” (The Y.A. stands for Young Adult. This means it’s for teenagers, technically, even though YA is read a lot by adults too! The Fantasy is the genre, like magic and the supernatural!)

Q: What’s your book about?

A: My book is called NAMELESS QUEEN. It’s about a street thief who suddenly ends up on the throne of her city, while a weird and impossible magic tattoo appears on her arm. Now she has to try to survive her reign long enough to save the people she left behind on the streets. There are magical hallucinations, sword fights, a twisted conspiracy, and the mystery of how she became queen in the first place.

Q: Can I buy it?

A: Not yet! It goes on sale early next year. Sometime later this year, though, it’ll be available for PREORDER, which means you can buy it early and have it shipped to you on the day it comes out! And even better news: the audiobook will be released at the same time as the book comes out, so both formats will be available!

Q: What can I do to support your book?

A: You can add my book on GoodReads (if you’re into that kind of thing), and you can follow my Author Page here on Facebook. My author page is mainly where I’ll be posting about the book and sharing updates as we get closer to the publish date.
(goodreads link:
(author page:

Q: Okay, and if I DO buy your book when it comes out, will you sign it?

A: Absolutely! I’ll be doing book signings, and if you’re a friend or fam, send me a message and we can probably work something out! There might even be places where you can buy a pre-signed copy! I’ll keep updates on my Author page.

Q: Are you going to move to New York like a millionaire if you become a bestseller like Harry Potter?

A: Nope. Hitting the bestseller list just means you had a great week of sales, but the plain truth of it is that even if that happens, it’s nowhere near a million bucks. You’d have to stay on the NYT list for MONTHS to earn that much. And there’s only one JK Rowling. She’s the exception, not the rule. Sorry to dispel the myth of being an author! It’s hard work, typically doesn’t pay much, and isn’t very glamorous. But! It’s a lot of fun and rewarding, and it’ll be totally worth it if there are any readers out there who enjoy the story of a thieving con artist who takes over a city.

More questions?

If you’re curious about any of the following, leave a comment with a question!

  • Traditional publishing
  • My journey as an author
  • What a career as an author looks like
  • My book
  • Me as a person (I promise I’m human probably)
  • Future lottery numbers (I don’t believe in the lottery, but I will absolutely pretend to know THINGS about THINGS)

–by Rebecca McLaughlin–