Advances, Royalities and Work-for-Hire: How Writers Make Their Money

Know what you are agreeing to before you sign the contract.
Photo by Alexander Mils on

Yesterday (see post) when I was writing about how to pick a publisher, I mentioned royalties and work-for-hire. Then I realized that maybe not everyone is familiar with those terms. They have to do with how wirters are paid.


The writing that I do for Red Line, whether it is published by Abdo, Capstone, or Brightpoint Press, is work-for-hire.  That means that the publishers owns the copyright. I am hired to write it and am paid a fixed amount.  No matter how much money the publisher earns, I get paid the contracted amount and no more.

When you blog for someone, like the blog posts I write for WOW! Women on Writing, this is also work for hire. I make a set amount per post.


The work I did for Schoolwide was royalty based.  This meant that I earned a percentage on the sales of my work.  The more my work sells, the more I make.

A royalty is good because the better the work sells, the more you make. But it also means that until the work sells you don’t make a dime unless you get an . . .


I haven’t been in this position . . . yet!  When you sell a book, you are sometimes paid an advance against royalties.  The publisher pays you $500 or $1000 or $5000 when you deliver the project.  When the work starts to sell, the publisher keeps track of how much you have earned in royalties.  You will get a check once this amount is greater than the advance.

If you get an advance, it is worth-your-while to do whatever you can to help market your book. Because if it doesn’t earn more than the advance, the publisher may be less likely to take another book from you.

It sounds complicated because it is. The formula for calculating royalties is more complicated than it sounds. You make X% on a hard cover and a smaller percent on a paperback. Bookfair sales offer up yet a different royalty as do e-books and audiobooks.

Does this mean that you should only do work-for-hire? That’s up to you. I am not going to say no to royalties. Do you hear that, publishers? I will not say no!