Welcome to our new Tuesday segment, where we’ll be revisiting some of our most popular posts from the last few years.  What’s stayed the same?  And what’s changed?  We’ll be updating you on the facts, and taking a new (and hopefully refreshing) angle on a few timeless classics of Self Publishing Advisor.


[ Originally posted: July 13th, 2011 ]

You want to become a self-published author, but you also have bills to pay and a lifestyle to maintain. So you pull up Google (or your search engine of choice), and search for “average income for book authors” or “average income for self-published authors”. You skim the results but can’t find any solid statistics. There’s a good reason why. Ready for it? Authors aren’t paid a salary. They earn royalties based on the sales of their book. These royalties are paid to them on a set schedule – usually provided that they meet the agreed upon “minimum earning threshold”.

So, will I be able to pay my bills if I become a self-published author? That’s an excellent question. Unfortunately, there is no “one size fits all” answer to it. When you publish a book, you are essentially taking a “gamble” on yourself. Many authors keep their day jobs until they are able to earn enough to support themselves on their book sales alone. One dedicated Outskirts Press author made $100,000 in only 180 days (6 months). However, there are some authors who don’t earn anywhere near this amount in a year. Furthermore, there are some authors who may not sell even one book over the course of a year.

How do you know where you fall? Self-publishing is all about investing in yourself. Given that successfully publishing a book involves 20% writing and 80% marketing, you should naturally spend most of your time/money on promoting the book after you write it. If you need help, you may consider enlisting the services of a book marketing consultant.

The income of a self-publishing author is 100% in their own hands. No one can “predict” how much you will earn as that is only a result of two things:  the quality of your book and substantial effort in marketing it to the right audience.


 Four years (and a few weeks) have passed since Elise first posted this blog about potential profits in self-publishing, and everything she wrote about then still holds up today.  But if you were looking for some statistics or some hard data to back up her assertions, consider the following information mined from a 2013 Forbes article:

  • 20% of self-published authors reported making no income at all from their writing, with a median income of under $5,000.
  • traditionally published authors had a median income of between $5,000 and $9,999.
  • hybrid authors–those who self-publish through a company like Outskirts Press–had a median income of between $15,000 to $19,999.
  • of authors who self-published, 1.8% made over $100,000 from their writing (in 2012); of traditionally published authors, 8.8% made a comparable amount; outdistancing the pack, hybrid authors performed the best, with 13.2% making over $100,000 in the same year.

The Forbes article stressed that theirs was an “non-scientific” sampling, so as not to be construed as “nationally representative” or even wholly accurate.  Still, when you look at the data, you can’t help but be impressed by one thing: hybrid authors are making out like bandits, comparatively!  We shouldn’t be discouraged by the first point, as the numbers don’t look all that great for traditionally published authors when it comes to profit and loss.

Take a look at this article from Publishing Perspectives, which includes a beautiful little infographic breaking down earnings by price bracket.  Those authors who make no money at all are fairly similar between traditional and self-publishing groups, but drop dramatically in the hybrid bracket.  On the whole, hybrid publishing platforms tend to spread out the earnings, percentage-wise, whereas self-published and even traditionally-published markets clump authors together into the lower income brackets.  (All but the Lucky Few, that is.)

All this to say, there’s been a shift in the last five years away from “strictly” traditional and “strictly” self-published modes of authorship.  The advent of indie and hybrid publishing–the diversification of the entire publishing system–has created more opportunities and more middle ground for authors who want to remain in control of the creative process.  None of this impacts Elise’s sound recommendation to stick to the 20/80 ratio (20% writing, 80% marketing)–but it does provide food for thought when it comes to offloading some of that marketing to professionals.  It’s no longer a question of “Can I find a niche?” but rather “Who is going to market my book most effectively?”  The answer isn’t always what you might think. ♠

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

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