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Actually, the facts are obvious, from low royalties to everyone wanting their slice of the pie, until the creator of the original work has to write a best seller to ever make a living from their work.
The real question is what can authors do about it?
The answer is remarkably simple, but the solution is difficult, until authors start working together to force the middlemen, third parties and marketers to charge reasonable rates for what is in effect never guaranteed anyway.
There are traditionally two ways that authors are paid, excluding through media writing, which can be quite lucrative. Publishers pay authors, either in a one time payment or flat fee for writing a book, or as a percentage of the sales of their book (sometimes with an advance, which has to be paid back through sales at some stage).
Generally speaking (unless you are a successful author), royalties will range anywhere from 6% to 10%, although it varies for paperbacks (6% - 8%) and hardcover sales (10%). Those royalties are calculated against the retail sale price. However, as publishing faces the squeeze from everyone, including the likes of Amazon and other online retailers, in terms of their demands for a bigger slice of the pie or larger added costs to the retail price, many publishers now pay royalties on the net price of the book.
At the end of the day royalties have always been calculated against assumed or calculated risk, costs and likely sales of the first edition of the book, increasing slightly with each re-print. If your book has lots of pictures, then you could also find yourself sharing the royalties with the illustrator. The more pictures the greater the split, and vice versa. For many first time authors, flat fees are often a safer bet, where they are available.
It is important to realise that the publisher is not always the bad guy in all of this, because there are many costs associated with your book, including proof-reading and artwork to marketing, sales and distribution, and then there are the print costs. Today, there is the additional cost, and it is one which is causing publishers and authors a great deal of concern. It is the large online retailer, whose effective monopoly on the online market, means that they want their pound of flesh too, and not always adding that mush to the sales process, because they are just a shop front. Regardless of a big name, your book still has to be promoted to get readers to consider it in the first place.
More than ever before, first time author’s books have to justify themselves in the commercial world, or they won;t even be considered.
Ultimately, if your book can’t justify all the expense, time, commitment and resources required to generate real sales, then it will be dead in the water.
Vanity publishing, on the other hand, can be expensive, but it doing exactly what it says on the tin - publishing for the vanity of the author, is only really suitable for certain types of books and authors. If your book is simply for you, or you want to be able to sell a few copies to friends and family, or a very small network of interested people, then the cost may be worth it for you. You probably won’t make any money, unless you have advances orders to justify the cost, and you certainly will have to spend more than necessary on some things that you could just as easily have done for yourself, had you known the process.