On Book Publishing and Royalties

On Book Publishing
Craig is on the left. Strauss is on the right.
I didn’t get an agent for any of my books. I contacted the publishers directly myself. If you do a search for agents, finding one may help get your book picked up by a mainstream publisher. Just write an outline, 1-2 chapters, and a query letter to get them interested in selling your work. My big problem is that I never sought a mainstream publisher. I didn't figure it would be worth the wait to get a rejection letter in the end of the process, due to the polemical adversarial tone in most of my books.

I self-published my first book with Trafford Books in 2004. It was titled, From Minister to Honest Doubter: Why I Changed My Mind. I had to do most all the work in formatting it. In it I had a photo of my two professors, James Strauss, who taught at Lincoln Christian Seminary, and Bill Craig, who taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS). Strauss attended my graduation from TEDS in 1985, where I earned my third master's degree, a ThM. Half of my hours were taken under them both at these two schools. They were my advisors and mentors.

Now as unbelievable as this is, I didn't know at the time, when I self-published this book in 2004, how influential Bill Craig had become since I left TEDS in 1985. I thought it was worth mentioning, but nothing more than that. But when Edward Babinski saw it in print he told everyone about it. People think I'm trying to hitch a ride on the coattails of Craig's acclaim, but I assure you I'm not. My work stands on its own. But people want to know. They want to know if Craig had a wayward former student, and if so, what does that student know that Craig doesn't know? So I mention it. It's mention-worthy, that's all.

My self-published book got picked up by Prometheus Books, the premier atheist publisher of its day. I merely mailed a copy of my self-published book to the president and founder, Paul Kurtz. After reading it he insisted that senior editor-in-chief Steven Mitchell get it published pronto, skipping over other books in the review queue. Perhaps my being Craig's former student may have helped Kurtz decide, who knows? But obviously Mitchell wasn't impressed and took his time, finally assigning me to an editor who took her vacation holiday in the middle of the copy-editing phase. As a result, more than a year and a half later, it didn't get published until after the new atheist craze was over, due to the ever changing focus of the media.

My Royalties

While I was very happy to be published by such a prestigious publisher of atheist books, Prometheus basically robbed me with an extremely low percentage of royalties at 5% of the net proceeds. The standard is 16% of the net proceeds. Don't accept any less, as I did. Prometheus offered the least royalties, failed to pay as expected, and was extremely slow in responding to my queries. At this point in time they've basically sold out to Rowan & Littlefield. I don't know if they publish any more books, but if they do, it's a much scaled down version of the publisher it once was. They paid the highest advances for books though, from $2500 to $5000. Finally, my last two anthologies with them paid 15% royalties, plus 25 free copies to distribute.

After getting robbed by Prometheus I started negotiating with publishers. I kept asking for more. I'm not sure my books warranted it. It's their call. Do not expect this with any of them, especially if you are a first time author! I think several of them were just impressed with my previous books.

My Prometheus royalties are based on the Net proceeds, and are paid bi-yearly by Rowan & Littlefield. Last year this time I received a 2021 royalties check for $249, which was for all of my books published by Prometheus Books!

To give you a sense of the steep decline in royalties from declining sales, I don't get any royalties for my two books with Pitchstone Publishing, nor from God or Godless (co-authored by Rauser) published by Baker Books. Just yesterday I received this in the mail. I haven't earned anything above my advance yet!
Here's my royalties statement for the end of December from Hypatia Press. "The Case against Miracles" and "Varieties of Jesus Mythicism" earned me $111.29. I get this statement three times a year but they're dwindling in size.

My Recommendations

Other book publishers to consider are American Atheist Press run by Frank Zindler, Tellectual Press run by Ed Suominen, Onus Press run by Johathan Pearce, Pitchstone Publishing run by Kurt Volkan, Hypatia Press run by David McAfee, and the Global Center for Religious Research run by Darren Slade.

Wipf & Stock is another publisher to consider. All they are concerned about is whether it'll make them money, and they only offer royalties of 10% of the net proceeds. I think they make you do much of the work. Amazon is another one. It allows you to self-publish your book but you have to do all the work, and it only sells on Amazon. There are others like Create Space, but I never used any others.

Kurt Volkan at Pitchstone Publishing was a professional, helpful and knowledgeable publisher. He paid out $2,000 advance. 15% net on hard-copies. 35% net for ebooks. This is the standard royalties package to expect. He paid as promised, with 25 free books.

I went with Hypatia Press for my book, The Case against Miracles, because I negotiated a higher royalties package with them as a fledgling publisher, at 50% net, especially when equally sharing royalties and the advance with Bob Price as a co-editor of the Varieties of Jesus Mythicism anthology. Again, I'm not sure my books warrant it. It was their call. They paid $1000 advance, split between Bob and myself for the Jesus mythicism book. They pay as expected. I negotiated 30 free books, most of which Bob and I both signed and shared the responsibility of mailing to the contributors. David G. McAfee does all the book edits. McAfee is a bit rough on the edges, unwelcoming of changes and impatient with queries.

I went with Global Center for Religious Research (GCRR) for my last anthology, God and Horrendous Suffering. Working with Darren Slade has been just as good as with Kurt Volkan, maybe better, with a higher royalties package of 30% net for hard-copies, and 50% net for ebooks.

Jonathan Pearce did all the work gathering material for my last book, Debating Christianity. So I didn't negotiate royalties with him. I was happy to let him do it, and get paid for it. But if you'll look, he offered better than my earlier publishers without any negotiations, since royalties per retail rather than per net are better. Net is the amount the publisher sends after the expenses of getting books printed and mailed out. Retail is what the buyers pay for the books.

I didn't earn much more than my advances up until publishing with Hypatia Press and GCRR books. But my books with them aren't doing as well in sales as my previous ones. In terms of money paid out they aren't earning that much, since the earnings are driven by book sales, and the market for these books has tanked. The highest I got paid per year was $8,250 in 2012, and $6,000 in 2015, due to the advances.

People have repeatedly chided me as if I'm only out to peddle books and make money. Sure, I promote my own books. But it's not to make money as much as it's to change minds. In order to change minds I provoke people to read my books, where minds have the best chance to be changed, if they can be changed at all by me.

My whole life shows I was never out to make money. I spent a lot of money trying to understand God, Christianity, the Bible, life, morality, and death. It cost me a great deal of $$$ in tuition, books, and living expenses to earn a four year degree, plus three master's degrees, along with a year in a half in a PhD program, just to earn degrees that don't pay much money. The only teaching/preaching jobs I had were being a part-time adjunct philosophy instructor, and the ministry.

Even as a carpet cleaner, I only wanted to work 25-30 hours a week so I could write books and play; which means to do what I wanted, whether it's reading, writing, traveling, building things, playing pool, cards with friends, riding roller coasters, swimming, boating, karaoke, watching movies, plays, and comedies, and so on, and so on. Why wait until you retire before you play? Downsize now! You may die along the way and never end up playing. Life is too short to spend 60+ hours a week selling cars, furniture, or insurance, just so you can earn enough money to buy the biggest, best, most expensive everything! [You can quote me!]

Now it's true I have spent a great amount of time in writing, blogging, and promoting my writings. But I have loved what I do. I'm sharing what I've learned in life though my education and reading.

Two Questions By Authors

The pay I offer my authors is a free book or two. One author asked me about this after God and Horrendous Suffering was published, with his chapter in it.

John, Will the publisher send complimentary copies of the book to the authors? Also, I can't remember if I provided you with bank information - I know splitting the royalties 18 different ways won't amount to much, but better than nothing...Thanks!
My response:
Thank you for your contribution!

I never promised you any re-numeration. Did you think otherwise? I hope not. I was under the impression that having a chapter in the book would be a reward of its own. The blurbs are talking about YOUR CHAPTER as well as others: LINK. I'm sending authors a signed copy!

Since you know from experience how meager the royalties can be, it would be too much work to calculate and send royalties to eighteen authors (with 24 essays!) every three or six months, then send out tax forms every year. I've done way too much work on the book already. And splitting the $1000 advance isn't worth it either, if you don't mind. I hope you understand.

If I do well on the book I'll consider sending each author one or more additional copies of the book.

However, I should make sure I get paid sufficiently for having the clout needed to put the book together, plus the time I spent on getting good authors for the chapters, the Foreword, and the Blurbs. I also spent time getting a good publisher. I should get paid for writing the Introduction, plus five lengthy chapters, and basically co-writing four other chapters (one of them should have my name on it). I also worked with the publisher on all the edits, and the book cover, and on promoting it.

Sorry, but it was a huge amount of work. Not a day went by in a year when I didn't have some task to do on it.

Again, I hope you understand. --John
Hi John, Yes, just being a contributor, and having the note in the book regarding my own books are reward enough. We had once talked about how meager royalties would be divided by so many contributors, so I thought I would ask.

A signed copy would be great!
One other author asked if it would be okay to publish their chapter separately, outside of the anthology. I responded:
Well, I can't stop you since you own the copyright to your own chapter. But this anthology exists as a whole because of the combined efforts of the editors, publisher, and the grouping of authors. It introduces readers to all of the chapters in it, just like one great song on an old LP record album, or tape track introduces listeners to other songs on it. So the more that individual authors publish their chapters separately then the less readers will read the whole anthology. Just as your chapter will be read by more readers who are more interested in a different chapter, so also readers who are only interested in your chapter will read the other chapters because yours is in it. It's a whole. It gets read by more people as a whole. Cheers, John W. Loftus
Next up, I'll tell you what I know about self-promotion.


John W. Loftus is a philosopher and counter-apologist credited with 12 critically acclaimed books, including The Case against Miracles, God and Horrendous Suffering, and Varieties of Jesus Mythicism. Please support DC by sharing our posts, or by subscribing, donating, or buying our books at Amazon. As an Amazon Associate John earns a small amount of money from purchases made from Amazon. Buying anything through them helps fund my work here, and is greatly appreciated!