From the Archives: “How Much Do Self-Publishing Authors Earn?”

Welcome back to our 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: August 18th, 2014 ]

How much do self-publishing authors earn?

There is no one size fits all answer.

What an author earns varies greatly. Income is based on a variety of factors, including the author’s goals, intended market, and marketing strategy.

One of the main reasons author income varies so greatly is because many authors don’t self-publish to make money. They never intend to market and promote their book, so they earn very little. For these authors, success is not defined by the amount of money they make or the number of books they sell. Instead, it is simply based on whether or not they accomplished their goals.  Some common definitions of success among self-published authors include:

  • Sharing their story with family and friends
  • Reaching a niche market
  • Finishing and publishing their manuscript, regardless of how many books they sell
  • Gaining fame
  • Earning an income
  • Increasing their business
  • Building their following of readers
  • Adding to their resume
  • Getting picked up by a traditional publisher
  • And many, many more

I assume you ARE interested in earning money if you asked this question. For those of you who want to make a profit, here is what you need to know:

  • Depending on the trade discount set by you or your publisher, you can expect to earn royalties on average of $2-$7.
  • Some self-publishing companies offer more flexibility in setting pricing and royalties, so it is important to select a company that meets your needs.
  • Marketing is key to financial success! If you want to earn money from your book, be prepared to dedicate your time, money, and effort to marketing and promoting your self-published book.
  • Quality is also extremely important. You must offer readers a professional, well-written book.
  • A dynamic cover and professional editing are a must.

A great way to learn more about how much self-publishing authors earn and how they define success is studying other authors. Read interviews and books by successful authors. Network with writer’s in your area. Join professional writing groups. Talk to people who have self-published. Learn about the industry. All of this research will not only give you an idea of how much self-publishing authors earn, but will also offer excellent tips and advice for making your book successful.

– by Jodee Thayer

Jodee’s right, of course–it’s not necessarily useful to know the exact amounts that every self-publishing author makes, since so many aren’t in the game for the cash.  But there is a certain benefit, I think, to knowing:

A. Some self-publishing authors are going to hit it big. And by “big” I mean BIG, with Hugh Howey’s Wool saga pulling in roughly $150,000 a month from ebook sales back in 2014, for example–and other authors like Amanda Hocking and John Locke doing very well indeed.

B. Many self-publishing authors are going to find the middle ground, becoming what in the traditional publishing industry might be considered “midlist”–but without the crippling disadvantages of traditionally published midlist authors, who are promised marketing assistance for example but very rarely ever receive it.

and C. Some self-publishing authors aren’t going to make much money, either because they choose not to put the time and energy or money into marketing it (for whatever, possibly legitimate reason) or because they have no idea where to begin.  We at Self Publishing Advisor want to move as many authors from category C. to categories A. or B. as possible–assuming that the authors want this too!

I would also like to encourage you with some hard data. Hugh Howey (mentioned above) has done a lot of work to open up the self-publishing industry and render it transparent, and his industry watchdog company (AuthorEarnings.com) does some very necessary and useful work each year in publishing its Author Earnings Report. The latest one posted to the site is from May of this year (2016) and while the nature of the study itself has fundamentally changed (from a longitudinal study to a cross-sectional one), Howey is able to draw some inspiring conclusions.

By broadening the parameters of their search, he says, they appear “to have nearly doubled the count of authors currently earning in this $10K/year ‘tax bracket.'” And while “$10,000/year is hardly a living wage in the US,” he continues, “it’s a nontrivial supplementary income. Especially for doing something you love.” According to this May 2016 study, only 18% of authors make less than $10,000/year–and “almost half” of the remainder “also appear in the $25,000-or-better bracket above”–meaning that roughly 1 in 5 self-publishing authors on Amazon make very little money, 2 in 5 make “a nontrivial supplementary income,” and the remaining 2 in 5 are making a decent chunk of change (more than $25,000/year, at least).

This is good news. Aiming to eclipse the superstars like Hocking and Locke and Howey may not be an attainable goal, but earning good money from your books is.  Now get writing!

hugh howey wool

Thanks for reading.  If you have any other ideas, I’d love to hear them.  Drop me a line in the comments section below and I’ll respond as quickly as I can.  ♠


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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ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the 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 at http://kellyschuknecht.com.