Monday, May 24, 2010

LDS Author Roylaties

**Note: This post was updated on June 2 after 5 additional authors completed the survey**

I know many people wonder how much an author makes. Even more assume authors are rolling in the dough, when in fact the opposite is true for a strong majority of authors. If you have ever heard the phrase "starving artist" then it should not be a surprise to know his brother is the "malnourished author."

To help clarify what authors earn, especially LDS authors, I posted an online survey and then spent the past two months pestering fellow authors to take the survey. I was successful in getting 41 to do so. Here are the general results of that survey:

Number of books published per author
One book - 29%
Two books - 20%
Three books - 10%
Four books - 10%
Five books - 5%
Six or more books - 27%

More than half of the authors, or 68%, indicated only one or two of the books they have published are currently still available on the market.

The vast majority (83% or 37 authors) indicated none of their books had sold more than 10,000 copies.

Market Targeted by Author
National market - 32%
LDS market - 46%
Both - 22%

Royalties Earned in 2009
Less than $250 - 40%
$251 to $500 - 8%
$501 to $1000 - 15%
$1001 to $1550 - 5%
$1551 to $2000 - 5%
More than $2000 - 28%

2009 Royalties Compared to 2008 Royalties
Higher - 28%
Lower - 23%
The same - 26%
2009 was first year earned royalties - 23%

Of course, greater participation in this survey would help to ensure the data is more reliable. If you are an author and have not yet taken this little survey (8 questions total), please do so! If I get another five authors to participate I will re-post with the updated results.

Click here to take survey

Scripture of the Day: Mosiah 5:2 and 7


  1. You know, I have been dying to ask some of my LDS author friends about the moola but felt it rude to do so . .. glad to know that even though I write for the national market, (for a publisher notorious for small-to-none royalties) I'm not missing out on that much dough. And, I agree, the uninitiated seem to think that a published book equals big bucks--they are thinking of the few and far between b/c those are the books that get all the media attention. One writes books for the pure love of it. Period. A little money is just frosting on the cake.

  2. this is great information. Though I'll be honest, I'll be thrilled if I sell 1000 copies!

  3. Well, that was very interesting and a bit discouraging.:-) Although I do not have writing ambitions my daughter does--but I think she she will be more as Heidi described--just want to write for the love of it.

  4. This was very interesting to read!

  5. What authors don't know is how big of a difference their personal efforts make and how important publishing multiple titles is in selling backlist.

    As a PR person, I can tell you that authors who do 5 things for their books every day sell exponentially more books than those who don't. We're talking the difference between $100 in royalties and $10,000 in royalties the first year after the book is published.

    The keys: Bring a great product to the market and be ready to sweat, just like you would for any career and you can make it :)

    Just food for thought...

  6. Sheralyn makes some great points--but assumes the authors don't know them. :) I knew the importance of a backlist early on--but knowing it and hitting the pavement doesn't help if the book goes out of print anyway. By my 3rd book in 3 years, 2 were out of print--and NOT for lack of marketing efforts.

    I have had 7 novels published total. Those two are the only ones out of print. I'm thrilled that book #3, which has been out for 5 years, is still in print and HAS sold over 10K.

    The LDS market is a unique animal in the publishing world, and the typical PR stuff doesn't yield the same results in such a narrowly focused niche as it would elsewhere.

    That's not to say we shouldn't work hard on promotion--it's just that we have to work hard *differently* and have different expectations.

    In this market, doing 5 promotional things won't up your numbers from 100 or 10,000 copies (if that were the case, I'd be very rich). That said, my sales ARE higher than the average LDS novelist because I work so hard on promotion. But it'll be pretty close to impossible for anyone to duplicate what Lund and few others did almost by accident.

    One interesting note is that if a novelist is with one of the big 2 LDS publishers, they'll almost certainly sell more of one title than most national titles do.

    (Depressing and encouraging all at once, no?) :) Thanks for passing on the results! I'll see if I can get more of my writer buds to participate.

  7. Rebecca,

    Fun survey. It should definitely open some eyes.

    I was just curious why you stopped at $2,000. I know that for Covenant and DB, a book needs to sell at least 3,000 copies and preferably 5,000 or more to be considered profitable. With royalties around $1.25 per trade paperback and $2+ on hard back, that means royalties of $4,000-$10,000 per title. I think it would be fun to do some higher levels. Maybe $5k, $7500, $10k, and $25k+

    Just a thought,

    Jeff Savage

  8. Were either Glenn Beck or Orson Scott Card part of your survey? How about the Vampire lady? LOL! Well, I thought ya'll would make more than LDS composers, but...Len gets about 10% of the cover price of any piece of music. Most sell for $1.25, but his contatas sell for about $4.00 each. Assuming people are honest and actually buy a copy per choir member, one piece averages 15 or so copies per sale (like ward or stake). His contata from 1991 sold 10,000 copies the first year and a trickle each year since. That's been his single biggest seller at once. Marketing was the key there. He hasn't had anything new published in two years, but he gets a royalty check every quarter. It usually covers some smaller wish we'd been having. It's not enough for him to quit his day job!

  9. Wow. These results are a lot different than I thought they would be. I would be really interested in knowing how royalties from non-fiction books stack up against royalties from fiction books. Everyone says non-fiction sells more books - but it would be interesting to find out if that's really the case, if so, by how much more.

    Thanks for putting together these statistics, Rebecca.

  10. Very interesting!

    I'm with Jeff. I was curious why your survey stopped at 2,000 books because a book to be considered a success at Covenant and DB has to sell over 5,000 copies.

    Thanks for putting this together. Great post!

  11. I had the entire survey reviewed by a Cedar Fort rep (my publisher) as well as LDS Publisher. But I, too, think there is value in what Jeff says. Repeating the survey again next year would allow for some interesting tracking of data; plus I could add some higher dollar figures to the royalties category.

    Thanks for your feedback! Rebecca

  12. Very interesting. I will know more after I actually make a royalty check.

  13. For what it's worth....I just now took your survey, so hopefully a few more authors will too. Thanks for posting and sharing it!


Comments are much appreciated!