How much work is involved in getting traditionally published?


I have some experience with small, niche publishers (I write LGBT romance under a pen name). It’s always been kind of a dream of mine to see my work in bookstores, however, and I have a bunch of completed and in-progress YA and MG manuscripts that I think would fare best traditionally pubbed.

However, I am curious as to the amount of work required to do well with traditionally published novels once you actually get the contract. My number one goal with my writing (other than the sheer enjoyment of writing) is money. I don’t care about being well known, I just want to make money on my hobby if possible, and even now the best way to do that in the YA and MG world still seems to be traditional publishing.

However, I don’t want my hobby to affect my performance in my job in academia (academia is not stable, so if I lose my grant funding/can’t get a grant, that’s a problem. And I very much doubt I’d be one of the lucky few who can support themselves solely on writing). Academia is demanding, and I worry about navigating trade publishing alongside the demands of academia. Small pubs in niche genres are fine–a blog tour here, an online interview to fill out there, and bam, 1k per book.

But how much more intensive (and potentially monetarily rewarding) would being trade pubbed be? Would my time get sucked up in interviews and social media? How many hours on average per week are expected of a trade-pubbed author to do “the business” side of things–advertising, interacting on social media, traveling for interviews, etc? Do publishers suddenly demand books in a series in a certain amount of time? Is the money worth it? Does it affect performance at your day job?


Maybe someone in this thread can help you

I'm an established full-time author - willing to answer questions if you have them


Caveat upfront: There are Very Few traditional writers who make much money in publishing. I think you’re right about trad being the way to go with YA and MG, but that doesn’t change that there’s not a lot of money in it unless you hit it very big.

The name of the game is content first, and then marketing. Why? Because marketing pays for itself when it results in multiple sales (from the same person). Getting one person to buy just the book being marketed is a low return game.

You would need to talk to your agent and publisher about producing work more quickly than once a year. There is no money in that. (And make sure you’re not limited from self publishing or other writing too!) Produce work quickly, and then do what marketing you’re allowed to do as a trad pubbed writer. (You can’t, for example, do any special pricing, so some avenues will be closed to you.)

As for time? Shrug. Writing, editing. There are some blog interviews and such near launch. The weeks before launch are probably the busiest overall – and will be hectic – but it’s short-lived.


I’m curious what you mean by small, niche publishers? It is my knowledge that if your book gets picked up by a publisher whether large or small, it is considered traditionally published.

The only other end of the coin is self-published. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong, aside from self-publishing publishers that is.

Are you referring to trying to get on with a large publisher or one of their imprints? Either way, you do need to market your work.


If you want to make money you’ve a better chance if you self-publish.


Your publisher isn’t going to send you traveling for interviews or signings or what not. That said, Traditional publishing lives and dies by early sales. Preorders are HUGELY important, so you do need to do a fair amount of marketing (blog tours, writing blog posts, Goodreads, etc) so that your pre-orders are as large as they can be. If your numbers 3 weeks after release are poor, it’s going to hurt and that’s why many series get into a downward spiral.

Is the money worth it? Few people make any decent money in traditional publishing (even in the very popular YA market). I happen to, but I’m an exception not a rule.

As for timing of subsequent books - publishers generally want to release a book a year at the same time so that you develop an expectation in the readers…as in “Oh that next xxx book will be out in April.”


Traditional publishers vary. Small publishers ARE trad publishers, but they likely don’t pay an advance, and they almost never have bookstore distribution. Big 5 imprints likely do both. Mid-sized vary in what they offer/can do – always do your research.


I publish with Dreamspinner press, a publisher that specializes in M/M romance. They offer a 250$ advance with each book, and my last book with them averaged about 1k in sales before release hype faded. I’ve also published series of novellas with Extasy books, a niche romance publisher that only puts books out in Ebook form.

I don’t consider it traditional because 1). These presses don’t require agents, and 2). I don’t see circulation in large bookstores.


Thanks. I’m curious what “decent money” is, and on the flipside, what is considered poor sales. I know very few people make livable money off publishing. But are we talking successful traditionally pubbed authors make 10k a year (not enough to live on but a huge chunk of change in my opinion), do most make around 1-3k a year (not bad but not awful) or less than 1k (essentially coffee money?) I know it depends, but what is considered good sales versus poor that you mentioned, and what amount of author earnings does that imply?


Decent money and poor sales aren’t exactly related – because the person determining each is different.

“Decent money” is determined by the individual author. You think $10K is a huge chunk of change. I have more than that in my “fun money” slush fund – and would be really unhappy if it were offered as an advance. It’s entirely relative. Established writers want to see their advances increasing, and they likely won’t be happy with less than the previous book made, no matter how much the advance actually is.

Sales are a publisher thing. Publishers want to turn a profit, period. If they paid a huge advance, even a large number of sales might not actually be enough to reach the break even point. If they have put little money into a project, then it takes far fewer sales to make a profit, and even seemingly low sales MIGHT be enough to earn another (similar) offer from them.

I say “might” because publishers are, more and more, not interested in mid-level authors. They want authors without a sales history, because there’s a chance they could blow up big, and they want the mega sellers. It really sucks for the slow-but-steady authors who actually make up the bulk of their stable.


I classify “decent money” as making a living wage from your books. That is going to vary wildly depending on where you live and what the cost of living is. I actually have two houses.

  • One in Fairfax County VA where the income range is $73,310 - $203,983.
  • One in Page County VA where incomes range from $27,923 - $81,691.

So, if I was earning $50,000 I’d be doing pretty good by Page County standards but really poorly by Fairfax county.

I know traditionally published authors who have both those profiles (around $10,000 and those that make $1,000 - $3,000). And I consider both to be pour selling, especially when the authors have multiple books out. For someone with multiple books out, I’d consider anything less than $20,000 to be pretty poor performance.


Yes, exactly. A project with a $10,000 advance that produces $50,000 in author income will be seen as a SUCCESS from the publisher’s perspective. However a project with a $100,000 advance that produces $50,000 in author income would be a FAILURE. Even though they produced the same income.


When you say that “you would consider less than 20k to be pretty poor selling,” does that imply that less than 20k would be very little to make for a traditionally published author by your individual standards, or that 20k is considered poor by most people’s standards and that most traditionally pubbed authors make more? Can the author who made between 1k-3k expect to be dropped by their publisher and agent for doing so poorly, or are poor sales just a fact of the industry for some?

Also, this confuses me too:

–Yes, exactly. A project with a $10,000 advance that produces $50,000 in author income will be seen as a SUCCESS from the publisher’s perspective. However a project with a $100,000 advance that produces $50,000 in author income would be a FAILURE. Even though they produced the same income.

I had thought, perhaps mistakenly, that authors only see profit if their earnings have exceeded the advance. Doesn’t the author seeing income from sales at all imply the publisher made back the advance, plus whatever percentage they take from royalties, making both cases a success?


AUTHORS profit as soon as there is an advance – it is money paid to them. If they earn out, they get additional money beyond the advance.

PUBLISHERS profit before an author earns out. It’s a common myth that publishers lose money if the author doesn’t earn out. Not necessarily true. The publisher will turn a profit before the author earns out (assuming a decent advance was paid).

There’s no way to attach numbers to that though. I can’t tell you how many copies a book has to sell before turning a profit, because it varies with every book. The author will NOT be told either.

I see where the confusion is here. By author income, he means “total amount of royalties earned on the book.” An advance is an “advance on royalties,” so if an author was given a $100K advance, but earned $50K of author income, he has not yet earned out. That $50K is NOT over and above the advance.

In the first example, then, the author is paid $10K advance + $40K in additional royalties, which means the book sold VERY well! In the second example, the author was paid $100K advance, but only earned back about half of that, which means the book sold only about half of what was expected.


My statement about $20,000 was related to an author with multiple books. So if you had 6 books out and you were making $20,000 each book would be earning just a few thousand a year, which I think is not very good. And that is poor for both self and traditional. It’s also a rate that many authors (both traditional and self-published make). If you are earning $1,000 - $3,000 for a single book in single year it will not be “low enough” for the publisher to drop it. So it will remain “in print” with them - even though it’s not selling much. They may end up remaindering any print copies, but they’ll continue to earn on the digital copies (print and audio) and so you won’t be “dropped” but the chances of you getting a new contract would be pretty low.

Authors see “profit” when the contract is signed in that they get an advance. Now, if they don’t “earn out” (royalties exceed the advance) they don’t earn any additional income.

Publishers see “profit” when their expenses (production costs for editing, cover design, printing AND advances) exceeds what they brought in. So, if the advance is $50,000 and the book brings in $30,000 they have a loss of at least $20,000 (plus the costs of production which might be another $10,000.

Now that said, a publisher can get into the black long before the author “earns out” because the publisher’s cut is higher. For example, let’s consider a book that sells for $25.00 which had a $10,000 advance (and 10% royalty) and sells to the retail chain for 50%.

  • At 1,000 books sold the book has earned 1,000 x 25 x 50% = $12,500. $10,000 of that went to the author and $2,500 is with the publisher. The cost of the printing and editing is probably more than $2,500 so the publisher has made no money.

  • At 2,000 books sold the book has earned 2,000 x 25 x 50% = $25,000. The royalty on that is 2,000 x $25 X 10% = $5,000 so the author hasn’t earned out and they still only have $10,000 in their pocket. But the publisher is now in the black $25,000 - $10,000 (to author) and ($5,000 in production cost = $10,000. So both the author and the publisher has earned the same amount.

  • At 10,000 books sold the book has earned 10,000 x $25 X 50% = $125,000. The royalty is 10,000 x $25 x 10% = $25,000 so in addition to the $10,000 advance the author has earned an additional $15,000 in royalties. But the publisher is doing A LOT better than the author since their take is $125,000 - $25,000 (paid to the author) - $5,000 in production costs = $5,000 in printing more books = $99,000 which is a lot more than the author’s $25,000.