Making a living from writing

Is it possible to make a living from writing?

Be an internationally sought-after bestselling author with your own books and live only from writing - you are not alone with this dream. In reality, unfortunately, only a few authors can live off the sales of their books. How much do publishing and self-publishing authors earn and is there any chance at all of making a living from writing?

Who earns from a book sold?

Many authors are shocked at first when they learn how much of the gross sales price of their book is left for them in the end. In the book market, there are a number of participants in the value chain who claim a share of the revenue for themselves. These include the publisher or Self-publishing service providerthe book trade, the costs of printing, cover, book typesetting, editing and proofreading, and marketing. The trade margins for chain bookstores are up to 40 percent. Whether you can make a living from writing depends on many factors. The biggest, in most cases, is luck.

Making a living from writing: What does a published author earn?

A contract with a book publisher is the key to big money. That this is not true becomes clear when you take a closer look at the economic situation of the book market. For years, total book sales have remained relatively constant at around 9 billion euros a year (in Germany), and have recently been rising again somewhat. However, this sum is being spread over an increasing number of titles, because the boom in Self-Publishing more books are put on the market. The turnover must be shared by all new publications, because there are more books, but more are not bought.
Estimated sales in the book trade (Germany)

Source: Statista

Example calculation: How much does a publishing author earn?

An average book has a starting print run of between 1,500 and 4,000 copies. For an example, we calculate with a print run of 3,000 copies and a retail price of 9.90 euros. After deducting the value-added tax of seven percent, the net sales price is 9.25 euros. About 40 percent of that goes to the book trade, so that leaves 5.55 euros. The publisher has to earn something from this, and printing and shipping also incur not inconsiderable costs. In the end, what remains for a author a maximum of ten percent remains. At a net selling price of 9.25 euros, that's 93 cents, and extrapolated to the circulation of 3,000 copies sold, that's a profit of 2,790 euros.
Example earnings of a publishing author with 3000 books

Do publishers pay advances?

Advances are usually only given to prominent authors or already known personalities. Unknown authors either get no advance or only a small one. For the most part, only bestselling authors with very large print runs can make a living from writing.

Making a living from writing: What does a self-publisher earn?

This question can't be answered across the board either. Only a few self-publishers can make a living from writing. For one Self-Publisher Bible survey a total of 1,895 interviews were conducted with self-publishers in 2020. While the median earnings in 2018 were still 1,048 euros per month, one year later they were only 677 euros. In 2020, the figure then rose again to 952 euros. According to this survey, half of all self-publishers earn less than 50 euros a month. Only about one in ten receives more than 2,000 euros a month and has a chance of making a living from writing.

Which costs you must not forget as an author

As a self-publisher, you incur the same costs as for a publisher: From Cover design through printing costs to marketing. They hardly differ from the calculation example carried out above. With the help of Price calculator of self-publishing service providers you can calculate your commission. From this fee you still have to pay tax. The taxes are based on your earnings. Even if you are a part-time author, you must declare the activity in your tax return. As a full-time author, you must not forget that you have to pay for health and pension insurance yourself. However, the Künstlersozialkasse.

How can I maximize my earnings as a self-publisher?

How much fee remains in the end also depends on the choice of the right self-publishing service provider. The comparison is not only about getting high unit commissions, but also what support the respective service providers offer. A high fee is worthless if the book does not sell. You should also take care of your book marketing, some service providers help with numerous marketing activities. Think carefully about what you want to write about and how you market yourself and your book - set trends instead of publishing the hundredth book on an overused topic.

Self-publishing hint
In our guide to self-publishing: Your path to book success we explain step by step what you need to do to get started as a successful self-publisher.

How many authors can make a living from writing?

A book publication is associated with high costs. As an author, only a fraction of the sales price remains as a fee. That's why very few authors manage to make a living from writing. The news magazine Spiegel conducted a survey among 3,000 authors. Only 150 writers said they could live off the sales of their books. That corresponds to a share of about five percent. The remaining 95 percent finance their livelihood through a regular main job or by writing editorial texts or editing other books.

Why you should still fulfill your dream of writing

As a writer, you are first and foremost an artist. Your priority should therefore be writing without having to worry about your income. Why not be a part-time writer? Alternatively, you can pursue a self-employment that is related to your work as a writer. For example, you can work as a copywriter, proofreader, editor or translator. You can also give readings in bookshops and at literary festivals, which will bring in a small income and draw attention to yourself and your book. As a specialist book author, you can give lectures or work as a consultant or coach.

Our advice:
Start small and organize readings in a private setting or at a local bookstore. They are usually happy to support regional authors.


Only very few authors succeed in making a living from writing. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't take your book public. Self-publishing is the ideal way to fulfill your dream of writing your own book. Due to low costs, you do not take any financial risk and you can have books printed as needed without having to finance a large initial print run in advance.


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