Welcome back 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.

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[ 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.

money in the bank

Back in 2011, Elise was so perfectly on point that it’s almost a crime to revisit her post and attempt to add a touch of 2015 to it–––but I’d like to deliver some good news.  With the expansion and stabilization of the  indie, hybrid, and self-publishing markets, greater numbers of authors than ever before are able to make bank at the end of the year.  Exceptions like the one Elise mentioned remain exceptions, but now it’s not unheard of to stumble across authors like Mark Dawson, who reportedly put away some $450,000 after selling his book through Amazon Direct.  And the very fact that we can now cast a skeptical eye toward Amazon shows just how far we’ve come, I think, in that we now have established parameters for what’s “acceptable practice” and “sound ethical behavior” in our self-publishing platforms.  We have options, now, and we can afford to pick fights with industry supergiants if they act like the profit-driven corporations we know they are.

That said, we also have made progress in nailing down some of those “solid statistics” that Elise mentioned––another benefit of participating in a maturing market. In May 2015, AuthorEarnings put out its annual report.  AuthorEarnings, a website which has made its purpose to “gather and share information so that writers can make informed decisions” also has a “secondary mission […] to call for change within the publishing community for better pay and fairer terms in all contracts”––which is pretty wonderful for self-publishing authors like you or me, who want to know where we fall on the spectrum of wage-earners in our industry.  AuthorEarnings’ report shows, in great detail, how the profits from the sale of ebooks is divided up between authors, publishers, and Amazon.  And in their longitudinal study, published in September of this year, they give us a few handy statistics.  For example:

“5,643 authors in our longitudinal data set — or roughly 2.8% of the original 200,000 — whose Kindle best-selling ebooks appearing on Amazon best seller lists were consistently earning them $10K/year or better.”

And:

“[A]lmost half of these 5,600 authors — over 2,200 of them — are consistently making $25K/year or more on their Kindle bestsellers, and more than a fifth of them — over 1,200 authors in the data set — are making $50K/year or more on their Kindle best sellers alone.”

Keeping in mind that we’re talking about trends and percentages, not instruction much less guarantees, these numbers present a huge leap forward from what we had at our fingertips even just four years ago.  They present lots of opportunity for hope (lots of self-publishing “midlisters” are making good money), but also groundwork for caution (lots of authors are not visible in the data at all).  You certainly ought to keep Elise’s admonitions to self-promote carefully, often, and effectively.  The best way to sell your books is to make sure that they’re readable, “findable,” and affordable!

In closing, I’m going to ask the same question now that Elise did in 2011: What level of success have you seen as a self-published (or traditionally-published) author? Have you been able to maintain your lifestyle on royalties alone?  We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.  And even more, we’d love to be on hand to cheer you on.  You’re not alone in this endeavor!  ♠

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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