Last week, Radio 4’s Moneybox looked at the economics of being an author. (

At a little over 28 minutes long it clearly doesn’t go into too much detail, but it certainly highlights some of the extremes in the publishing world.

The two main guests are Karolina Sutton, from the Curtis Brown Literary Agency, and independent author Mark Dawson.

Both guests confirm there is a business need for each publishing model: the traditional approach (agent/traditional publisher) and the self-publishing approach (dominated by Amazon).

Because although both routes lead to publication, they use different business models to do it. Self-publishing has come of age and is respected by many of those who work in the traditional publishing arena. Karolina Sutton expressed awe for those who write and self-publish, because they have to be both writers and business-minded.

But I would argue that all writers need to be business-minded, even if you seek the traditional publishing route, because, as the programme discusses, there are some genres that generate more business for their writer than others, irrespective of which route to publication you choose.

Novelist Ros Barber explained how much she earned for her traditionally published literary novel, sold through various outlets (ranging from independent bookshops, through to national chains and Amazon). If her book retailed for £9, then her cut per copy ranged from 67p through to 20p. Ouch!

However, the traditional publishing industry would claim that she’s not dealing with sorting out an editor, proofreader, cover designer, marketing strategy, printing and distribution, etc, that self-published Mark Dawson is doing.

Traditional publishing is not financially easier either, as Ros clarified. Despite receiving an almost unheard of advance of £75,000 for a debut novel, it was spread over the four years it took her to write the book. And because advance payments are split, the final payment was made on publication, which came two years after delivery of the manuscript. So that fantastic £75,000 was spread across six years and equated to £12,500 per year. That was BEFORE her agent’s cut and tax.

Mark Dawson may have sold over 2 million copies of his self-published books, and be reaping approximately £3.80 per copy of his £4.00 novel, but he has to commission editors, proofreaders, cover designers etc, and organise his own marketing. (He also spends thousands on a social media advertising campaign.)

So, different business models, different ways of working, but the same (sort of) result: a published book. You might think you don’t need to be business-minded if you’re seeking the traditional approach, but there is business consideration to be made. And in both cases the writer needs to understand that writing is a business. It’s a question of deciding which business model is right for you, and for each book.

Do listen to the programme, if you can.

Good luck.

The Economics of Authorship

3 thoughts on “The Economics of Authorship

  • February 25, 2019 at 7:08 PM

    Thank you, Simon, for sharing this information, it proves once again that there is no easy road.

    • February 25, 2019 at 9:06 PM

      That’s right – no easy road, but not necessarily a right or a wrong road, either. It’s a question of finding the right road for you.

  • February 26, 2019 at 10:06 PM

    I just missed it when it was on, so listened to it on the catch-up service. It was interesting and good that it brought-in self-publishing, but it wasn’t long enough to go into depth.

    But I agree, whichever approach the writer needs to remember it is a business.


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