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



A book earns out when the portion of the book that is allocated to the author exceeds the advance. To make the math easy, let’s assume a $20 hardcover book with a 10% royalty rate. That means each book is worth $2 to the author. So the author will earn out a $10,000 advance when 5,000 books are sold. But let’s say there were only 4,000 books sold…The break down would go something like this:

  • 4,000 x 20 = 80,000 total income
  • Distributors and retailers will get 50% of that or $40,000
  • The publisher will pay about $2 a book for printing and warehousing so that’s $8,000
  • The publisher will pay $3,000 for editing and cover design
  • The author is paid their full $10,000 advance

So the publisher will earn: 80,000 - 40,000 - 8,000 - 3,000 - 10,000 = $19,000 in profit (which is almost twice as much as the author earned.

Now, if the book were to sell 6,000 copies the author would have “earned out” and made an extra $2,000 in royalties which are in addition to the $10,000 advance they received to license the book in the first place.

Mostly right. In the old days when print ruled, most books earned 95% of their lifetime sales in the first 6 weeks, so if you didn’t earn out by then, you never would. With the advent of audio and ebook, there is a “longer tail” to income. The print will still fall off that quickly, but the audio and ebook sales (will continue - at a much smaller amount). Because of that, some books wil eventually earn out but if it takes 8 to 10 years to do so, that’s a failure. The publishers want a book to earn out in the first 24 months (and some in the first year) after release.

My books have unusually long legs, and even books that came out in 2011 are still selling quite well, so my “sales profile” doesn’t resemble most books. But I’d say there are definitely a lot of books that essentially earn peanuts after that first 6 weeks and so they are still selling in a profile that follows the traditional model.


So, I’m looking for a new self-publishing (a print-on-demand one) company for my third book, since I wasn’t really satisfied with my first one (Nook Books). Do you have any suggestions as to what companies I should look into?


Amazon KDP (formerly CreateSpace) for sure. Unless you’re in a country where their shipping costs are high. A friend in Australia uses Lulu because they print locally and therefore their shipping costs are less.


When it comes to print on demand there are really three choices.

  1. KDP – this used be called CreateSpace but it’s now bundled in with the ebook portion of that self-publishing business.
  2. Ingram Spark - which used to be called Lightning Source
  3. Lulu - which has the advantage of doing hardcover editions.

I’ve found the quality from CS and LS to be pretty similar (and I don’t think they’ve changed in the transitions of naming. Of the two, CS is cheaper for books bought by the author, but Spark allows you to set a better margin. Really I’m fine recommending either one.


Good point. Thanks for clarifying. I don’t know much about the publishing industry at all!


Thank you for your time to respond with such wonderful detail - exactly the info I was looking for! Great advice.


So surprised that most queries are bad: a lot of people thinking they just have to throw a banana at monkey to get signed. Thanks so much for this forum and this invaluable advice.

Reading your other answers: Fiction writers don’t fill their pockets even if published AND optioned! (I’m now realizing that the playwright rocking his 1980s, brown corduroys to the set of his movie adaptation was not just into the retro look.) I’ll share what I wrote in my forecast to-do list:

  • Offer cheap product placement in sequel to local pizzeria?
  • Choose a topical theme for novel and work the speaking engagement circuit like Sarah Palin?
  • No rest for the weary writer.

Damn these writing genes: if I was a good actor…this time next year, I’d be a millionaire. (JK!)


Well, I don’t think they have any idea that their queries are bad. So it’s not a matter of them thinking they don’t have to put forth much effort. I think most aspiring authors realize how much the cards are stacked against them, but I think they also aren’t self-aware about their writing skills (or lack thereof) or how best to present their idea in a way that would entice an agent.


hello! i’d just like to be another person to thank you deeply for this thread and your transparency. this has all been super SUPER helpful to me, and i’ll probably be returning here whenever (if ever) i get a manuscript polished enough to consider trying to get people to pay me actual real money for it :blush:


You are very welcome. It’s why I’m here, and if you ever have any questions…you know where to find me.


You could try this guy. I used to know him on Amazon’s WriteOn community before it folded. ¯\_(ﭢ)_/¯


Interestingly…this person does a “First lines” critique and I was wondering if he knew his stuff or not, so I sent him the first line of one my debut novels (which has sold more than 100,000 copies) and he did indeed like it an picked out the things about it that made the opening compelling. So FWIW, I think he has a good head on his shoulders and knows his business.


Yes, he should be pretty good at that—he gets plenty of practice! Back at the WriteOn forum he used to run a thread with another guy who worked at HarperCollins, I think, (they’re both retired now) where they’d evaluate the first 600 words of your book. You posted in the thread and they’d tell you where they’d stop reading and why—poor pacing, bad grammar, dull intro scene, that kind of thing.

Sadly, Amazon shut down WriteOn a couple years ago, but now those guys do the same thing at the Scribblers forums. That kind of thing can be very helpful to anyone who wants to know why people stop reading their work. ヽ(^。^)丿


Agreed - you have to really catch someone in your book’s opening so having someone who is experienced to give you some feedback is quite a gift.


I wanted to say thank you for this forum blog. It has been very informative and your carefully crafted answers are more work for you.

I may not post very much, I am an observer who is thankful for your time and effort.


Thanks! I’ll take a look.


Really love this thread. So much insight!

I am going to try the traditional publishing route. I’ve been familiarizing myself with how to write an enticing query. A couple of things I wanted to ask about:

  1. In your opinion, how important is having titles to compare your novel to? Query examples that I have encountered typically say “My novel incorporates the dark fantasy elements of Such and Such” towards the end of the letter. I am finding this difficult for my vampire novel because…well, vampires. It’s a genre that everybody has an impression on. For this reason, I am trying to go out and read more up-to-date sci-fi/fantasy titles to become more acquainted with what is selling right now.

  2. Do you know of any good online resources for query critiques? I found AQ Connect but I am having trouble making an account for some reason.

Thanks in advance :slight_smile:


So you did get an agent? Was it one of those random luck scenarios that’s impossible to replicate? Querying didn’t work for me either, and the book’s eventual publication by a small press happened though a friend of an acquaintance, of all things.

Is this what you meant when you said you were first published at 47? That’s where I am now. Whether the book sells or fails is a matter of luck, but just being accepted by a traditional publisher and seeing my paperback in stores has been validating.

Also, you’ve said that many self-published books fail because they weren’t ready for prime time. Without the judgment of traditional publishing, how can you tell if a book is ready for prime time?


So, Noah Lukeman…one of the biggest agents around…wrote a short called “How to Write A Great Query Letter” it’s a short read and free., and he HIGHLY recommends the practice. Since he’s in the business of reviewing queries, I’m going to take his advice as credible. It certainly will get the “feel” of your stuff in very short order. BTW, I highly recommend reading his free short (which I linked to)

The BEST site with reguard to queries is Query Shark and I HIGHLY recommend you read every post out there (327 right now). The “bad” rejected ones will teach you a great deal (even more so than the “accepted ones.” As for where you go to have your query reviewed, I do think there are a few people in this forum who will take a look. Just make a new post with a topic such as “Looking for feedback on my query” and I think you’ll get some takers.


Well, I guess technically, I did get one agent through the query-go-round. But it wasn’t me who wrote the query (at that time it was my wife doing the queries on my behalf. But since that agent never sold anything I don’t really count that one.

My second agent we got because I had received a few contracts for foreign translations of my self-published novels. I did some research on foreign agents and just dropped them a line saying, “I have foreign translation contracts in hand and need someone with expertise to negotiate them.” The first person I reached out to, said they were too busy for new clients, so I asked them if they knew of anyone else, they gave me a name, and that is the agent that we started working with. Later…much later, when we were taking the series back to US publishers in New York, I asked my foreign language agent if she knew anyone who would rep the work for the US and she said she would. That’s how I got my second agent.

That agent kinda “dropped out” – went to Germany, fell, in love, and stopped answering emails or doing “business.” So I basically picked an agent that was doing a lot of my genre and dropped a line that said, "I’m published by Hachette, I’ve sold xx books, I’m looking for a new agent, are you interested. And she said yes. I left that agent after she screwed up a 1/2 million dollar deal. Basically we got it straightened out but it required a LOT of work on my wife’s part and some very creative problems solving. We suggested to my agent that she should take 10% (leaving 5% to Robin for all the work she did), and the agent, said, "No way, I get 15% period. At that point Robin said, "Okay, fine, I’ll give you 2 choices. (1) you can take 10% of this job and get 15% on future jobs and continue to be our agent or (b) you can take 15% of the ADVANCE for this deal, and if we earn out you’ll not get any of that money…and we’ll part ways and you’ll get no more of our business…and she chose (b).

So for my next agent, I basically went to a really big agent in my genre (who represented some of the biggest authors in the business, and said, I’m changing agents, you interested)? And he said yes. These days most of my contracts are done by my wife, Robin. But we still use my agent for foreign rights and television/movie. Which is something that we really can’t do well. Going forward, I’ll have no “traditional” publishing in the US (except for audio), and Robin can handle those herself, so there really isn’t much room for an agent for anything other than those two areas I mentioned.

Yes, my first published book was with that small press in 2008 when I was 47. From 2009 - 2010 I was mainly self-published. From 2011 - 2013 I was all traditional publishing, I started dabbling back into self with books released in 2014, 2015, and 2017, but I also had traditional books released in 2016 - 2018.

Well, that’s the BIG problem of self-publishing. There is no easy way to know. I do look at the first five pages for authors and provide a critique (and 99.99% of those aren’t). Critique partners and beta readers can certainly help in that area. Mostly it’s a matter of beingn “self aware” of your own work and reading it objectively and seeing if it “stands up” to the traditional works you read.