Writing a book is hard enough, but capturing the attention of literary agents and overworked editors is harder. And with international conglomerates eating up little publishing houses, the industry is left with fewer imprints for your manuscript. The bold, new prospect of self-publishing beckons, but breaking free of traditional publishing means abandoning that oh-so-lovely advance.
So how do self-published authors get paid, and what kind of royalties do they receive?
Self-Publishing Royalties 101: What You Need To Know
Just like traditionally published authors, seriously committed self-published authors can receive royalty income from multiple sources, including:
- e-Book Sales, Domestic and International
- Print On Demand (“POD”) books
- Foreign Language Translations
Since most self-published authors receive the lion’s share of their income through e-book sales, this guide will focus on e-book royalties, specifically for U.S. sales. That income will come primarily through the five major e-book vendors: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Google Play, and Kobo.
Amazon is the dominant vendor of e-books through their platform Kindle Direct Publishing. Smart self-published authors make sure they’re listed in Amazon’s store, if no other.
KDP’s royalty rate depends on how you price the e-book:
- For e-books priced under $2.99 and over $9.99, the royalty is 35% of the cover price
- For e-books priced between $2.99 and $9.99 (that also meets other eligibility requirements), you have the option to choose a royalty that is 70% of the cover price.
- The 70% royalty option is also available for English e-book sales in most foreign countries (subject to deductions due to local foreign taxes).
Amazon also has an option called KDP Select, which financially rewards authors who choose to upload their books exclusively to Amazon:
- Books enrolled in KDP Select can receive a 70% royalty in Brazil, Japan, Mexico, and India, four countries that are excluded from the high-royalty option for authors who have not enrolled.
- Books enrolled in KDP Select are also included in two Kindle e-book subscription services. When their books are accessed through either service, self-published authors are paid for per-page-reads (called “KENP”). The number varies monthly but tends to swing between $.004 and $.005 per page read.
Amazon pays royalties sixty days following the end of the calendar month in which the sales were made.
Barnes & Noble Nook Press
Barnes & Noble’s Nook eReader started out strong in sales, but this traditional brick-and-mortar store has been struggling to keep up with its tech-smart rival, Amazon. Yet, for a lot of dedicated readers, Barnes & Noble is still the place to go for both print and e-books.
Nook Press, their self-publishing platform, offers three tiers of royalty rates:
- For e-books priced between $.99 and $2.98, the royalty is 40% of the cover price.
- For e-books priced between $2.99 and $9.99, the royalty is 65% of the cover price.
- For e-books priced between $10.00 and $199.99, the royalty is 40% of the cover price.
Like Amazon, Barnes & Noble pays the author sixty days following the end of the calendar month in which sales were made.
As of March 2016, there are no longer international sales through Nook.
Apple, the premier company delivering digital content, has become a serious contender ever since it decided to include the iBook reading app in all updated iPhones. Many authors find that sales on iBooks rival those on Amazon, in part because Apple makes self-published authors’ e-books available in over fifty countries.
Through their iTunes Connect platform, Apple offers these royalties:
- For e-book sales in the U.S., the royalties to the author are 70% of the cover price.
- For e-book sales to most foreign countries, the royalties to the author are 70% of the cover price, minus any applicable taxes, such as VAT.
Payments to the author are made within forty-five days of the last calendar day of the month in which the book sales were made.
Google Play Partners
The Google Play Partners Program is currently closed to new self-published authors, but the company may open access again at any time. Google Play is geared to delivering content to Android devices and, at last count, distributes that content in over seventy countries.
For U.S. sales, Google Play’s royalty rates are a bit tricky. Google Play pays a 52% royalty on cover price, but the price that the reader actually pays is always discounted from what the author has entered as the cover price. Fortunately, the 52% royalty is on the price the author set, not Google Play’s discounted price.
Unlike other vendors, Google Play pays out royalties quickly, usually within a few weeks after the last calendar day of the month in which the book sales were made.
Kobo Writing Life
Kobo may be the little kid on the block but it has the biggest heart. Based in Canada, Kobo distributes e-books worldwide in seventy-seven languages through their Kobo store and their Kobo app. They’ve also developed a network of retail partners, including many independent bookstores that would otherwise not be able to deliver electronic content to their customers.
According to Kobo’s Writing Life Platform’s Terms of Service, Kobo royalty rates are as follows:
- For books priced at $1.99 to $12.99 USD, Kobo pays a 70% royalty on the cover price.
- For books priced less or more than the above range, Kobo pays a 45% royalty on the cover price.
Payments to the author are made within forty-five days of the last calendar day of the month in which the book sales were made, as long as the cumulative amount is at least $100.
It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the prospect of setting up and tracking accounts at five (or more) different vendors. Fortunately, many companies have sprung up who will take your e-books and upload them to multiple vendors for you, aggregate the payments, and send you reports. There’s a price for this convenience, of course, and it often comes out of your royalties.
Some of the reputable vendors include:
The idea of receiving 70% royalties on book sales, compared to the 6%, 8%, 10%, or maybe 15% offered by a traditional publisher, can be shockingly eye-opening. A self-published author needs to sell far fewer books to earn the same amount as someone who has signed a traditional publishing contract, but the self-published author is saddled with formatting, designing, and handling all the technical aspects alone, which can be onerous. One truth is undisputed: The rise of self-publishing has caused seismic changes in the publishing industry, and the dust hasn’t yet settled.
Question: Considering the advantages and disadvantages of self- and traditional-publishing, which would you choose?