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Do living authors still get paid royalties for their old work?

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Do authors still get paid royalties for their old works? For example, If I decided to buy a copy of the "Odessa File" by Frederick Forsyth or "Kane and Abel" by Jeffery Archer, do the authors get paid royalties for them?

Another example would be me buying the Harry Potter series for my kid, maybe 10-15 years down the line (it would definitely be considered a classic by then). Would J.K. Rowling benefit from it?

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Author royalties depend entirely on the author's contract with the publisher. If the contract says they get royalties, they get royalties. If the contract says they don't get royalties, they don't.

The issue of copyright, which other answers mention, is beside the point. The author licenses or sells the copyright to the publisher for an agree sum or share of income. It is that contract, and only that contract, that determines if they get royalties and, if so, how much and when.

In some cases, authors sell copyright to the publisher outright. For one technical book I contributed to, I was paid a fixed sum on acceptance (and did not get my name on the cover). I have no clue how many copies that book sold. I got paid up front.

For another book I contributed too, I got paid nothing at all. My contribution was a single page, and its basic value to me was as an advertising piece. It was touted as an industry glossary written by industry experts, so my reward was reputation by association with the bigger industry names who also contributed. You can buy all the copies of that book you like, but I won't get a cent.

Another book I wrote many years ago now is still technically in print, because it is available digitally (or was last time I checked) but it is totally out of date and hasn't sold a copy that I know of in years. If you bought a copy of that book, though, I probably would not see a cent, because the contract stipulates that royalties are only paid out when the reach a certain threshold (which I no longer remember), so your purchase would probably not make my royalty account reach that threshold.

(Dry the starting tear. I do still get paid from my more recent technical books, thought in those cases I get a percentage of revenues rather than a royalty on sales.)

All that said, it is normal practice that authors of fiction are paid in royalties and that royalties are paid to the author or their estate as long as the book remains in print. So yes, if you buy a copy of their books, it is a virtual certainty that Forsythe and Archer will get a piddly little royalty from the one copy you buy.

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In the US, an author holds the copyright to his work for all his life, and his heirs hold it for 70 years after his death, at which point the work becomes public domain. (source) In other countries the number of years after the author's death may vary, but I do not know of a single country nowadays where copyright expired before author's death. (This used to be the case in the beginning of last century - copyright would only last for X years after publication. It isn't the case now.)

A publisher pays the author royalties in exchange for the rights to publish their work. Since the author holds the copyright, the publisher cannot just go ahead and publish - the right needs to be paid for. That's what royalties are. (Source)

So to answer your question, yes, a living author continues to get paid royalties for their older works.

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Minor point as I've met people who don't get this - authors and publishers are only paid for the new copies of their books. When you buy books from any kind of second-hand store, it's only the store owner getting the money.

I came to the belated realisation that my years of finding old SF books in such stores wasn't helping authors and started buying e-books instead.

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Following your logic, libraries should be forbidden entirely - you get to read books without paying anyone for them. Does that really make sense to you? Galastel 9 days ago

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Assuming that you are referring to works published in the USA, it depends on:

  • who owns the copyright and the specific terms of the contract. In some cases, the publisher owns the copyright. In some cases, the author is entitled to royalties only after the publisher earns the amount paid as an advance. Often books don't earn more than the initial advance, and so the author can hypothetically not earn anything from the sale (even though the sale can ultimately lead to more earnings).
  • Is the book being sold for the first time, or is it a used book? Used books don't earn the author any money directly (although there may be indirect benefits). Authors don't earn anything from review copies either.
  • Are you buying an ebook version? Generally speaking, the author earns more money from an ebook sale than a physical copy.
  • Is the book seller selling a book or ebook with the consent of the copyright holder? This can be difficult to tell sometimes (especially with printed books), but some common sense will usually provide the answer.

You should generally make an effort to acquire a book or ebook legally and cheaply. On the other hand, I pick up free and cheap books all the time -- and feel no guilt about doing so. Most authors publish several books, and so even if you get one title for free, chances are more likely that you will buy additional volumes by the same author. Giving away free and discounted titles is a legitimate part of building brand awareness.

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This post was sourced from https://writers.stackexchange.com/a/47392. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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