In Your Corner: Royalties. What do they mean?

fountain pen money coins royalties

Royalties. There is no better word to convey a connotation of status, power, and entitlement for the published author … but it’s a word which can be dangerously misleading, or seductive. For one thing, getting your royalties isn’t the same thing as getting royalty.

royals tv show

Just sayin’.

You might be confused by the word. In fact, it took years of working in the self-publishing industry with legitimate experts on this subject for me to really get a handle on the finer points. I can’t go into all of them in a single blog post, of course, but I’m here today to talk about some of the common misconceptions about royalties as well as what royalties really are, and what they can do for you.

Definition A:
Royalties or a royalty paid to an author is a percentage of revenue earned on book sales.

Definition B:
Whatever the vanity presses can eke out of you without you knowing.

Traditional publishing houses pay royalties to their author clients based on a percentage of the listed retail prices of their books. This percentage depends on format, and can be tied to net receipts and/or net profits, which are essentially two more loopholes the industry invented to keep a little more of the money out of authors’ hands. And many times, these same institutions will offer authors advances against their expected royalties, which only occasionally works in the authors’ favor.

We never said they weren’t smart. But they’re definitely not out for their authors’ best interests.

So, what about self-publishing? Aren’t there royalties to be had there, too?


Yes and no. As a self-publishing author, you’re both author and publisher. So in the strictest sense, you don’t receive royalties because you don’t extend a deal to yourself and give yourself a percentage of your book’s profit, gross or net or anything else. But in a looser sense, and in most self-publishing literature, this is equivalent to receiving 100% of your book’s royalties–which sounds pretty great, doesn’t it? You’ve already covered the up-front costs of editing, publishing, and marketing, so what’s left is all yours, kids!

In self-publishing, your royalty is the total amount you’re paid. There might conceivably be situations where you split your revenue–say, if you co-authored your book, have a translator or illustrator you did not pay as an independent contractor, or if you accidentally publish through a shady vanity press service which keeps a percentage for themselves.

Read the fine print, always! This is especially true when it comes to paying vanity presses, self-publishing service providers, and DIY self-publishing platforms like Amazon’s Kindle Direct.

princess bridge inconceivable gif

Incidentally, the Princess Bride contains plenty of useful material for the conscious self-publishing author. Case in point:

princess bridge inconceivable gif

Royalty as a word has its roots in an ancient, mostly outdated traditional model of business. You want to steer clear of any of the aforementioned companies which offer “X percentage of your royalties!” unless they’re offering a flat 100%. Simply put, you’re already paying them for the same services which traditional publishing houses withhold from your royalties to pay for–marketing and such–so there’s absolutely zero reason to let these vanity presses take money out of your royalties on top of everything else you paid a flat starting fee for! They are counting on you not understanding what royalties were invented for, and fleecing you out of the difference.

It’s oh-so-easy to fall into a trap if you don’t do the math. And the only math here worth having is the full, 100% royalties delivered straight to you. Every book sale is your revenue or earnings, and always be sure to do your due diligence before selecting a publishing company. Your down payment and up-front publishing costs are an investment, and your royalties are the payoff! With a little care and a keen eye for the fine print, you can make back those initial expenditures.

You are not alone. ♣︎


ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

One thought on “In Your Corner: Royalties. What do they mean?

  1. Within a few months associated with Print on Demand, the Vanity Press the corporation keeps whatever commissions comes from the seller of the book as they have distributed for you on sites like Amazon, e-book, store sales in printed volume etc.. The author gets nothing throughout the remaining life of the book you’ve published. The corporation keeps the royalties and grows fat on your work. It’s very profitable, and a killer system they have devised. May I add it should be illegal, but is not. Self publishing authors be aware, you’ve been taken.

    The royalties commissions go on for years, perhaps a decades with the corporation raking it in, and you will never know it. Try finding out from sellers and distributors it’s a stone wall. The question is where do the royalties go after you’re published? Hmmm?

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