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About Writing Right: The Blog


I came across an online question the other day asking about who gets paid royalties. A strange question for many reasons. Nevertheless, here's how I replied.

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If this question is really what you wanted to ask, the answer is simple: everyone who earns them.


Satisfied? I didn't think so because I don't believe you asked the question you wanted answered, which is: When does an author get paid royalties?


If I'm correct, the answer is a bit more complicated than my original response—but only slightly. All authors who signed with either a conventional, advance-paying publisher or a POD self-publishing aggregator such as Amazon KDP, Barnes & Noble, D2D, and Lulu receive royalties. The royalties may vary from one publisher to the next, depending upon numerous factors, but the royalty percentage (the percentage of the book's earnings that the author receives for each sale) is in the author's contract with the publisher. So is the frequency of the publisher's payouts. Most conventional publishers pay royalties earned to their authors every six months or twice a year. KDP pays monthly.


Other elements enter into the picture that determines the amount of royalties an author receives in any payout, such as returns (books sold to a vendor returned to the publisher because they didn't sell). But those amounts are usually relatively small.


Now, when an author signs with a conventional advance-paying publisher, he receives an advance against royalties, which means exactly what the phrase implies. The publisher pays the author X amount of dollars up front (think of it as a loan) and deducts the author's earned royalties from payments due to that author. If a publisher pays an advance of $1,000, and the book sales earn the author $400 in the first payout period, the author is still short of repaying the advance to the tune of $600, so his account is credited but he receives no royalty check from the publisher in that period. If the same is true in the second period, he is now short only $200 shy of "earning back the royalty." If the third reporting period also results in $400 worth of author royalties (quite a coincidence, I know), the author is now ahead of the original advance payment by $200 in earnings, so the publisher will pay out $200 for that period. It's simple math.


While there are some instances that may complicate this equation, including other debits the publisher may have paid on behalf of the author (such as the preparation of an index for nonfiction books if the author doesn't provide one or copies of the book the author has purchase from the publisher for his own use), the formula is relatively accurate. An author's royalties, then, amount to the percentage the author has earned on sales minus any of the author's debits the publisher is carrying.


Got that? Good. Now, don't you wish you had taken the time to phrase your question more precisely? Fortunately, you found a respondent who's pretty good at mind reading.


You're welcome.

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D. J. Herda is author of the new series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available in eBook, paperback, and hardcover formats at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. You can check out his weekly column, "The Author-Ethicist," at Substack

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