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Half of self-published authors earn less than $500

24 May 2012

From the Guardian:

Despite the splash caused by self-publishing superstars such as Amanda Hocking and EL James, the average amount earned by DIY authors last year was just $10,000 (£6,375) – and half made less than $500.

With Hocking raking in sales of $2.5m, Fifty Shades of Grey’s James signing up to a mainstream press for a six-figure advance and a slew of deals for other self-published successes, the sector is starting to look like a gold mine for would-be authors. But a survey of 1,007 self-published writers – one of the most comprehensive insights into the growing market to date – found that while a small percentage of authors were bringing in sums of $100,000-plus in 2011, average earnings were just $10,000 a year. This amount, however, is significantly skewed by the top earners, with less than 10% of self-publishing authors earning about 75% of the reported revenue and half of writers earning less than $500.

“The majority of the information out there is about the outliers, whose success is inspiring, but as we can now confirm bears scant resemblance to the experience of most authors,” said Dave Cornford and Steven Lewis, who carried out the survey, published on Thursday, for the Taleist website.

. . . .

But money isn’t always the primary goal for self-published writers, they discovered, with only 5% considering themselves “unsuccessful”. The respondents were also still keen to continue self-publishing: nearly half plan to release more titles this year than they did last, and 24% have a whopping five or more works due for publication this year.

Link to the rest at the Guardian

And here’s a link to The Taleist Self-Publishing Survey. They’re selling it for $4.99 on Amazon.

When considering any survey, you need to take a close look at the methodology and sampling techniques.

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104 Comments to “Half of self-published authors earn less than $500”

  1. I’d also be curious to know if the survey had a breakdown of the number titles each author was selling versus income. It seems the authors with only a single title (or a bunch) would skew things as well. Hocking and Locke did well in part because they each had over ten titles for sale.

  2. I think I made a little over $1,000 in 11 months of self-publishing, and that was from one novel and a free short story collection. I think it’s safe to assume that each new release will add to my take, and the older books will continue to make money.

    However, according to this survey, I should just quit, because we all know it’s impossible to build a readership over time.

  3. Lol, probably all 1 book wonder kids. Game on if you can make more than 1k with one book – you’d be a better writer than me.

    Last check I was making a grand a month off all stores, probably more. I have a lot of work up, but my market is smaller than novel writers in some genres, so it’s to be expected.

    This survey sounds like something the papers would pick up (reads like the KDP forum, actually, which is a bit of a lowbie hangout, compared to here and others.) Not that impressive.

  4. Oh, dear,

    Looks like I am going to have to pay attention to this report and the reactions.

    Just one example off the top of my head-quote from the report in the Guardian to the 2.5 times more that traditionally published authors made compared to the rest.

    “This suggests, said Cornford and Lewis, that “traditional publishers are decent arbiters of quality” and that “the reading public finds, in these authors’ work, the same high standard (or marketable writing, at least) that led publishers to choose them in the first place”.

    NO what it says is that they are much more likely to have a backlist that they have self-published of 5 or more books, so they are making more money than those of us who entered the game recently.

    I now have 2 books out, and made $50,000 since Dec 1, imagine what I could be making if I had 4-5 books out (and none of them would have to do as well because having content makes up for smaller sales.)

    Makes me angry when people draw conclusions when there is not enough data and factor analysis to support it.

    M. Louisa Locke, author of Maids of Misfortune and Uneasy Spirits

    • I’m guessing a huge factor is that the established authors have fans already who are waiting for their work and can give them that first push.

    • “NO what it says is that they are much more likely to have a backlist that they have self-published of 5 or more books, so they are making more money than those of us who entered the game recently.”

      Not inclined to get into quality arguments (too subjective, too big a subject), but certainly it does make a difference that we (traditoinally published authors) do indeed, as you note, tend to have a lot of backlist books ready for this new technology, rather than only relying for self-pub income on new books which have to be, y’know, WRITTEN.

      I’ve been self-publishing backlist for about 16 month, and currently have about 18 ebooks posted in multiple markets, with 4-6 more to come by end-of-summer. That’s all stuff I just had to edit and package, not write. And having that many titles ensures that, yes, I’m making a LOT more $ than the figures cited in that survey–even though, by the standards of outliers, I’m making peanuts.

      So, yeah, whatever else is or is not occurring in the e-market, I would agree that one factor that differentiates anyone is–how many books did they have ready in 2010 that were up-and-earning before 2012? Many factors, including stories which readers lover, contributed to Amanda Hocking’s success in the emarket–but having a whole lot of books ready at once was certainly one of the factors. Even with -a- wildly successful book, she wouldn’t have made that much money; she had about -10- wildly successful ebooks in 2009-2010.

  5. Now I even wonder what the average price per book was, how many authors were in KDP Select, and how many stores each author was present in if they were not in KDP Select.

  6. I don’t remember if this presentation from Mark Coker ha been linked before : it’s data he has had mined from Smashwords selling history… I think it lays a not so different (but at the same time a little bit) view of self-publishing financial results: http://blog.smashwords.com/2012/04/can-ebook-data-reveal-new-viral.html

  7. No, not all 1-book wonder kids. I’ve got 4 titles out (working on a 5th) , I have good reviews, I’ve done KDP Select, I have cheap books, but I’m still on the bottom rung in earnings.

    It’s still better than the nothing I would have gotten without self-pub, though. 🙂

    M. Louisa and Dan, that’s amazing! Any tips for me so I can join you up there?

  8. I would definitely like to see a breakdown of this survey based on how many books each author had published, what price they set their books at and perhaps what genre they published under. Also, I wonder how many hours each devoted to marketing.

    Marketing, I fear, will be my Achilles heel. I hope to be getting an offer for a job soon. Steady money will be nice after three years of only part time work, but my writing and blogging time will take a heavy hit.

  9. Actually, this bears out what I’ve been noticing anecdotally. Also, it seems to mirror “traditional” publishing to some degree.

    Is there really a mid-list in publishing? Isn’t it pretty much the stars, then everyone else? Isn’t that what self-publishing is, too?

  10. This is what stood out for me –
    But money isn’t always the primary goal for self-published writers, they discovered, with only 5% considering themselves “unsuccessful”.

    I find this to be true. Many of my clients aren’t necessarily self-publishing for the money. Extra money is always nice, but some of the clients I am seeing have merely set a writing goal for themselves and want family and friends to be able purchase it too.

  11. Has anyone who’s read the full report seen if they have income per book statistics? It seems to me that number would be much more meaningful than total income.

  12. I don’t question their numbers.

    The problem is perspective. The vast majority of authors going the traditional route made ZERO. That’s the thing that’s missing here.

    The people making less than $500 could be said to be the biggest beneficiaries in self-publishing of all. They were making nothing before. They were making something now.

    Furthermore, they have a much better chance at the work continuing to make money later. The book will remain available as long as they choose to keep it available, and in as many formats as they choose.

    The other thing to consider is that this isn’t a flat scale. It isn’t a case of Great Authors making a lot of money and Lousy Authors making none. We all serve different demographics.

    This group of authors making less than $500, and who would have made nothing under traditional publishing, include those who write for small audiences. Everything from fanfic to poets and literary writers — and also the cutting edge of anything.

    That $500 figure is nothing to be ashamed of or fear. It’s COOL. It means something wonderful for our culture.

    But I think the writers of this article weren’t thinking about literature, or writing or the great body of work being sold. They were thinking about writers as people who are in it to get rich.

    But everything they say about that applies to the traditional side even more. Sure, a few hot writers get rich, but more than half don’t make any money at all.

    • It makes me wonder (not worry, though) if ebookstores will charge a listing fee in the future to clear out titles authors are not interested in keeping active.

      • Once you spend the money to build the system to publish and sell ebooks, Josh, the incremental cost of adding/maintaining another ebook in the system is tiny.

        I would be surprised if Amazon flushes any indie ebooks out because of poor sales.

        • That’s why I’m not worried. But after a while if your books get pushed off the first couple of pages of search results, even Amazon’s algorithms won’t help your discoverability, which could lead to lower sales.

          • They only clear you out if you publish in Polish. It actually happened at Amazon awhile ago. PG is right about the above.

            Ps. Maybe… But I have some 400,000 ranked books on Amazon that still sell now and then and they are well off the charts. I also have ones that have never sold that suddenly do and they are a year old. Having a good blurb, cover and story sells books. People will still find you.

          • Clare K. R. Miller

            The algorithms might not help your older books, but if you’re still publishing, your newer books will help your older books. If you’re not publishing newer books, you’re probably not worrying about poorer sales of your old ones.

          • If you are in a niche where everything ties together… then yeah, you may be down in the 400-600K range, but someone will come looking for “hardware mysteries” and they’ll stumble upon the slightly incestuous “also-bought” lists that include your Mistress Fixit’s Cozy Mystery Series, and if it’s reasonably priced, they’ll sample or buy, and you’ll be up in the 200K range for a while, till the next person wants that particular “fix.”

            My short stories do a lot of this.

      • Why should they?

        eBookstores do better the more books they have. That’s just a fact. It isn’t in their interest to “clean out” the long tail. They would be more likely to provide an incentive to authors to keep those titles up.

        • Scarcity v. abundance thinking.

          Also, a way to goose revenue if they think they can get away with it.

          • And those who do that — who think that way — put themselves out of business.

            The long tail isn’t some esoteric concept that only the enlightened non-business types understand. Amazon literally built it’s entire business on the concept.

            As did Google. And YouTube (before it was bought by Google) and so many others. Clearing out the dross is just not on the radar. They may WAY too much money from those “forgotten” titles for them to kill the goose that laid the golden egg.

            Scarcity thinking just isn’t in the tool box for these businesses. It isn’t in the culture coming up either, including that of the customers.

            This sort of thing will come up in two places:

            !.) Dealing with spam — but most successful interent businesses have figured out that a high barrier to entry tends to keep out more customers than it keeps out spammers, so they don’t use that. Catchpas are much more useful. But don’t make the barrier a money matter. (Remember modern retailers see content providers as CUSTOMERS — like YouTube does.)

            2.) Smaller retailers are likely to do this, but the will likely charge the fee up front. And as a result, they will not be popular among customers. Just among writers who are desperate to be listed places that have some “exclusivity.”

            • I did some sums a while ago based on the kind of servers we use, and as hard as I tried I couldn’t make the cost of storing an e-book more than a few cents a year. So if Amazon sell one copy of that book at $0.99 and take their 65% cut, it’s paid for itself for at least a few years.

            • Interesting comments. Amazon and Pubit/B&N (not sure about the others) do charge a transmission charge of a few cents to recover bandwidth from the publisher. It will be interesting to see if one of the stores offers, for instance, 80% to the publisher but includes some fixed listing fee or increases the transmission charge?

            • Smashwords offers 85% (or is it 80%? I always get it confused…) of Net*, with no fixed fee or “transmission” charge. However, it doesn’t have a cellular connection to a specific e-reader, either — Kindles download “for free” in the US, and if Nooks have a transmission charge as well, then they have the same deal?

              I think the fixed-fee thing is just a way to slowly become irrelevant to anyone but the big publishers or self-publishers, who can afford a little something to be on every ebook store.

              *Net is defined as “what we get after the PayPal fee, averaged over the whole purchase, is subtracted.” For a 99c book, I may get between 54c and 81c, depending on how much was in that buyer’s shopping cart when they pressed the final “pay now” button.

    • I went and read the whole Guardian article, and found the the last paragraph quoted here DID go further and indicate that most indie authors are happy with what’s happening and looking toward the future.

      In spite of the tone of some sentences, the overall article is actually very positive, I think.

    • “The problem is perspective. The vast majority of authors going the traditional route made ZERO. That’s the thing that’s missing here.”

      Valid point, Camille. Before ebooks existed and writers only earned by licensing rights to publishers, the various surveys I saw over the years always placed writers’ income at an average between $500 and $2,000 per year.

      I’ve been making a full-time, self-suporting living as a writer for over 20 years, so I’ve certainly always made much more than that, even in my worst years. But I’ve also always encountered daily evidence of how skewed expectations or beliefs are: Whenver people who meet me learn I’m a writer, they’re stunned (and often assume I’m a hobbyist or abject failure), becuase in the world that readers and non-readers know, writers earn money on a par with JK Rowling, Danielle Steele, Stephen King, etc. They think of writers as multi-millionaires. Not as people earning working class or middle-class incomes. Writers live in mansions in Hollywood in their minds, not in a middle-class house next door that needs a new roof.

    • Yup. This is what I meant about apples and bananas below. There’s value in exploring, quantifying, describing the experience of the <$500 authors, and that wasn't done. They were thrown into a meaningless global pile.

      I'd also be fascinated to see the people in the $500 – $10,000 range, and what begins to more people in that directions.

      All kinds of fascinating data here – but you first have to acknowledge that we're not all the same kind of creature 🙂

  13. “…the average amount earned by DIY authors last year was just $10,000…”

    Which I’m willing to bet is MORE than the ‘average’ trad-pubbed author made last year – especially with debut advances in most genres running around $5k. Just sayin’ 😉

    • And how many traditionally-published authors are receiving less than $500 per year in royalties for their backlist titles?

      • (raises hand)

        Although, thanks to my self-published romance short stories selling very well, I’ve now killed any chance of getting my backlist reverted due to low income threshold. Royalties this year for my trad-pubbed titles will be higher because of my indie success. But the pub house still gets about 90% of that income. Sigh…

  14. So this means half of all self published writers are making more than $500? There are an enormous amount of self pubbed writers. That’s not too bad for what some folks like to call a giant slush pile of unpublishable crap. But alas, its just a survey, and a pretty meaningless one given the early stages of self publishing’s opportunities and the relatively minute sample size. It’s just a good chance for the author to misrepresent some partial numbers to lob another grenade at the independents on behalf of the traditional industry, apparently. Oh well.

  15. I spent the ten years before I took up authoring analyzing data. I’ve now read the entire report, and there are some serious flaws in the methodology. Perhaps the most serious is that they use “average” income for a lot of findings. Average is only an appropriate metric when the data is reasonably bell shaped. When, by their own admission, half the respondents earned <$500, and 10% of the sample earned 75% of the income, you have a dataset that isn't remotely close to bell shaped.

    What does this mean? That pretty much all of the conclusions in the report relating to income (which I think are the ones that interest most of us!) are highly suspect at best. I wish it weren't so – I think there's the potential for a lot of interesting findings here, even with acknowledged limitations in the sample – but the analysis wasn't handled in a way to provide them.

    Back in the days when I had paying clients, I would have strongly discouraged them from using this report as a basis for any business decisions. I'll offer anyone reading this comment the same advice for free :).

    • English majors and statistical analysis can be a deadly combination, Debora.

    • I’d be curious for more specifics of how you think the analysis should have been handled, Debora. If anything, the use of mean data rather than media skews the results high and makes self publishing more attractive. Example: Mean income = 10k. Median income = $500.

      • More data collection.

      • Hard to say without seeing the data. But for starters, I’d have analyzed the <$500 crowd separately. Normally with data like this you'd want to create segments – group authors with similar experiences and describe that experience (they tried this with top earners, although that was a very poorly defined group, in my opinion – something like income/book would have been a better choice).

        In other words, instead of describing a bowl of fruit by the average diameter and firmness, talk about life as apples and bananas (and yes, I'm very aware this sentence is headed nowhere good, LOL… ending it now!)

        That kind of analytics, however, requires either a lot of care or a much larger sample size.

    • It’s still an interesting study though….

      Because they did find it wasn’t a bell curve. So yeah, the findings they make are pointless, but it sure points us in some interesting directions.

      Just knowing that the median is $500 and the average is $10,000…. wow. That says a lot. Especially since they found that AND that 80 percent of the respondents were happy with self-publishing. That very much goes along with your Apples and Bananas thought: widely disparate incomes, but very consistent happiness? Gotta be very different expectations — very different populations.

      • Oh, they have fascinating data, although they manage to bury most of it. I’d just love to see the data, rather than the poorly drawn conclusions. Give us more than one model of indie author to aspire to be!

        There are several other interesting nuggets as well, for example, 31% who never tried trad publishing. (I’d be in that group, and I had no idea we were that big). So lean about these groups – show the richness of the indie experience. Don’t lump us all together – that’s far less interesting.

        • Did you look at the survey itself? It’s free on Prime, so I borrowed it.

          There’s more info, and some of it just exactly what people are asking for here. But you’re right, a lot of the most interesting results are buried in a lot of prose.

          I haven’t reached the end yet, but I’m hoping they have more raw data at the end of the book.

          • Yup, read it all. I think you’re doomed to be disappointed in your wish for more raw data :). A few interesting nuggets, but the way they’re buried suggests to me that the authors don’t recognize their value. (And overvalue a lot of pretty statistically suspect stuff).

  16. To me, an important question is: who are those writers making less than $500? If they are hack writers with bad novels, then they are better off self-publishing. If they are good writers with decent novels that somehow just didn’t have enough exposure or the right editorial support, then there’s a possibility that they might have been better off going traditional. Perhaps for those people, it might’ve been worth it to spend a year trying to submit the novel — at most, they lose a year and $500 in income.

    • Livia:

      I highly doubt that going traditional would be a good idea for anyone making that little. For some, sure. It’s a large group, and some will have just thrown up a novel (and I think “throw up” is probably accurate for both meanings here) on Amazon and didn’t get any results.

      However, I would put myself in just above that category right now. I’ve made between $600-$1200 a year — but I also have a lot of books out there.

      The problem is that I write cross-genre, non-commercial fiction. I’ve been in and around publishing for 30 years. I’ve sold fiction to pro magazines and had them reprinted and anthologized — I still get money from a story I sold many years ago to Highlights — I’ve had a play produced, I’ve worked as a story analyst-editor, I taught writing at a major university. I’ve had some of the most amazing mentors in the business.

      So I feel safe in saying that my work doesn’t suck. What I want to write simply isn’t commercial. It’s not high-brow or literary, it’s just out of step. I would get all sorts of good attention from all sorts of folks — generating job offers sometimes — but ultimately I’d always end up with a conversation that went something like this:

      “Nobody wants westerns.”
      “But it’s really a cozy mystery.”
      “Ack, NOBODY wants cozy mysteries. They’re too bland.”
      “But this one has gunfights in it.”
      (Blank stare.)
      “And gunslingers playing with dolls!”
      “Uh … no. Thank you anyway.”

      And they weren’t wrong to turn me down. I remember after I published that very book, I’d sold about 100 copies, and had 10 reviews, all good, but every single solitary review began with the phrase “I don’t like westerns but…”

      People are very very reluctant to try the kinds of genre mixes I do. And as a result, marketing doesn’t matter. It’s all hand-selling for stuff like this.

      So could my blurbs and covers use a makeover?

      You know, all the work I did with real publishers in that area tells me that wouldn’t make much difference. Sure, my stuff could look nicer, slicker. However, the way covers and blurbs work is that they tell the audience what they are getting — and if the book is not what they’re looking for, it doesn’t help to have a slicker version of it.

      So I’ve decided to go the other way. I am building my own brand, in lieu of a genre. That’s a very very slow and long term process. But it does allow me to concentrate on the work.

      • Camille,
        I would say it’s an author by author thing. If it’s something cross genre that doesn’t fit into the boxes like your work, then I think you’re right that traditional publishing would not be the right choice for you. But I could see there being some writers who write commercial stories who are bad at marketing/DIY. I could imagine for example, that there might be some YA fantasies (very commercial) currently undiscovered and selling in the <$500 range that could've sold to a publisher for a good advance (and YA pays well in traditional publishing right now). As always, it comes to the author, the book, and the offer.

        • After working in the industry, I can say that a major reason they haven’t sold to traditional publishing is because publishers have to throttle the output to make sure any particular title makes enough to cover publishing expenses.

          But the audience is happy with having more titles, and at the higher return per sale, the author can make a living selling much fewer copies than a publisher can. So even those authors would not likely be better off selling to traditional publishing.

          A perfect example of someone who didn’t sell to traditional publishers because of genre throttling is Amanda Hocking herself.

          Again, from my experience on the other side of the desk, better marketing generally isn’t the core problem. Sure it makes a difference, but only at the margins and when the product already has some traction.

          I seriously believe that the author who would sell well commercially will do okay at self-publishing — IF, (and it’s a really big if) they don’t hate the process. Those who hate the process will never get good at it.

          But as you say, some will be better off with traditional publishing, and those who will are those who will try, because they don’t like self-publishing. The learning curve is too high for such people.

    • I can’t help but think the vast majority of writers earning $500 are not hack writers but are young writers on their training novels and stories. They are doing their best.

      • Thomas:

        Absolutely!

        The majority of writers are beginners. Most give up, but even those who keep going spend a good portion of their time learning.

        Something I heard from an old editor a long time ago: a major portion of the success of the old-fashioned submission process comes because it’s so slow. It sorts out the people who give up too soon. (I.e. the people who aren’t serious about it.) That makes the editor’s job a lot easier.

        And low income, high-effort has the same effect for self-pulbishers.

        • And where the old-fashioned submission process failed is that slow also weeds out good writers who don’t equate seriousness with eating rejection for years.

          I think it takes a certain personality to handle that kind of environment – I’m very clear it would have weeded me out. And while I make no claims to being a good writer yet, people seem to enjoy my stories :). So I’m quite curious about the 31% who, like me, headed straight for self publishing. And how we might be different from those of you who survived the old system.

          • I see four groups:

            1.) Those who never considered the old system.

            2.) Those who never made it into the old system, and lept for self-publishing when it became available.

            3.) Those like me who were in the old system, more or less survived, but it never was a good fit.

            4.) Those who were really suited to the old system and only left because it was economically necessary.

            Oh, and a fifth…

            5.) Those who don’t see a difference between old and new. They take all opportunities that come their way.

            I suspect the difference between old-school and new-school is going to become more interesting a little later, when the difference in experience doesn’t cloud the figures so much.

            Actually, I think 15 years down the line, that division will be VERY interesting. But it might be hard to study, because there won’t be very many old-school folks still around. Might be necessary to compare 15 year veterans of the business now with what newcomers are like 15 years later.

            • I’ve missed you :).

            • Missed you too, Debora. I do hang out here quite a bit. (Much more than I should.)

            • There’re quite a few of us who hang out here probably more than we should 🙂 Fun though!

            • I’m one who couldn’t crack the old system due to a variety of things. Timing, interested editors leaving, agents wanting a book rewritten to a different genre…in all the discussions, not one of them ever indicated that I couldn’t write well. But I approach self-publishing with the same expectation that I did when I worked under the trade model. Slow, steady development of a reader base. I think where some of Camille’s first group get into trouble is expecting the readership to emerge full-blown in a month or so. With a few rare exceptions, that won’t happen any more than it does in trade publishing. It reequires patience and the discipline to provide new product. Those who aren’t writers, but just following the next get-rich fad, will soon fall by the wayside.

              Most of us are destined to be solid, mid-list genre writers. The main difference for us is that we can now receive far more profit from booksales as well as write to our own paces and create the stories we want to create; rather than compromise to fit a publisher’s brand. We’re no longer held back by a trade publisher’s schedule, either, but can write and provide our books to our readers as they become available.

      • I absolutely agree. How many were trying to get their name out there so they can build a base? Also, how many got discouraged after one modest-selling book and failed to follow up? Persistence is the key, IMO.

  17. “What does this mean? That pretty much all of the conclusions in the report relating to income (which I think are the ones that interest most of us!) are highly suspect at best.”

    This is a really nice way of putting it. I would go further, because I think it probably should be said, and suggest that such a rudimentary error reflects a fundamental lack of understanding of data analysis, and calls into question the credentials and qualifications of those involved. (And, if reports are to be believed, this is far from the only serious problem with the methodology.)

    This is worse than useless, as people will be citing this report’s conclusions as SCIENCE. They’re not. They are selling $4.99 of quackcrap.

    • Bonus points to anyone who can use “quackcrap” in a sentence :D.

      And yes, data analysts everywhere weep when pretty but meaningless reports get quoted until they are gospel.

  18. Didn’t Amazon state a bit ago that around 1000 self-published writers sell 1000 or more eBooks a month? If we assume an average price of $2 that’s about $24k+ a year for 1000 people.

    The survey says 1,000 people * $10,000 for a total of $10 million. $7.5 million was shared between 100 people. Leaving $2.5 million for 900 people or $2777 average each, with 500 of those making $500 or less.

    I wish I had the raw data, would be interesting to see how many self-published authors in total the two different sources imply.

  19. And now that I’ve thought about it, looking at their credentials and qualifications…

    They are both writers, but not technical writers. (Journalism and plays, primarily, it looks like?) One of them has a vague background in financial services. Nothing remotely relevant to the collection or analysis of social science data.
    http://blog.taleist.com/about/
    http://davecornford.com/

    If I missed something, or there are other contributors, mea culpa.

    But look, the collection and analysis of survey data is not just something you do on a lark one day. It requires a specific set of skills and experience to do in a way that isn’t complete crap. It’s obviously quite possible to lie with statistics (as many popular articles have shown), but that doesn’t mean there isn’t such a thing as good practice, or, you know, competence.

    This seems to be the equivalent of that guy you know who’s never written a word in his life going on and on about this blockbuster screenplay he wrote over the weekend while totally buzzed. Sure, it’s a possibility, I guess. But would you buy it?

    • I think they mentioned originally they were doing it because no one else was. Personally I like the idea and hope they redo it yearly, improving methods as they get feedback.

      • That almost makes it sound like a public service, which…is not something you charge $4.99 for. Part of my irritation is that I very much agree that it would be great for someone to do this kind of survey, but it only has value if it’s done competently, and they don’t seem to have consulted with anyone who could have helped them with that. Or even, you know, books on the subject.

        • I disagree.

          At least half way, anyway. I agree that doing it on a lark is not the way to go. And that it would be great is true scholarly folk were to do this.

          However….

          No study like this is ever comprehensive, and such studies only ever have meaning in the context of the studies that went on before it.

          The point of an early baseline study is to find out what needs to be studied. It’s a jumping off point.

          I agree with Wayne that it would be great if they would keep at it and keep improving their methodology. Or even better, if they would inspire more professional scholarly surveys down the line.

    • Writer of quacktrap dropping in . . .

      While my blog is for my writing, my commercial background in is marketing and consumer research, so I’ve commissioned, used and designed plenty of studies in the past – but each is different, and so is the audience.

      There’s plenty of scope for adding to the analysis, like more profiling of particular groups or segments, and we’ll do that in future blog posts.

  20. I’ve been following various trad-pub community discussions of this study since it broke.

    It’s like watching a bunch of volcanoes spewing out huge, suffocating clouds of writing myths instead of lava.

    • Hehe. To be fair, though, I’m also seeing some backpedaling and “self publishing as ideology” reactions in indie responses. The battle cry is usually around the issue of money and royalties, but now people are saying, “Even if you don’t make much money indie publishing, you’re still a success because you went for it, made your art available to people, etc.. Which I totally agree with. But given that argument, I hope those same people don’t go back next week to bashing traditional authors for only caring about having their book on the shelves, or trading money for validation. Because if what you value is really just putting out a quality book, growing in your art, and getting it to readers, Harlequin will do a fantastic job of that for no upfront money.

      • 90% of self-published writers wouldn’t have got a trade publishing contract, and the ones who would have are probably in the top 10% by earnings as self-publishers.

        So the 50% making $500 or less a year (e.g. me) would mostly have made zero under the trade publishing system and are making more than that today. That’s a win by my standards.

  21. $4.99 for their survey? I’ve got a great idea! I’ll start out with the contrarian conclusion, slap together an email survey, and sell my results for $2.99! Best of all, I have a degree…in science!

  22. Average of $10k, and half made less than $500–I find that delightful and inspiring.

    What’s the average for “authors who submitted manuscripts to a traditional publisher instead of uploading to Amazon?”

    Even if were limited to “authors who got accepted by a publisher”… what’s their average?

  23. BTW, the survey is free on Amazon Prime right now, for those who are curious to see if there is more information in the study than in the articles (and who find 4.99 to be too steep of a price…)

    If I find anything significant which makes a difference to the debate, I’ll mention here, and maybe do a blog post if it’s more involved.

    • No it’s not? It’s in prime, so it’s free to borrow if you have prime and prime-enabled device. (I do not.) Otherwise it shows up as 4.99 to buy.

      And Dave Cornford, would you care to address any of the points made about methodology?

      • I said it’s free on Prime, not to everybody.

        Here’s a mini-review of the full book. I glanced over it all to see if they gave full data reports (they didn’t) but otherwise I have only read parts of it closely. Keep that in mind.

        The full report is actually fascinating, and I would be tempted to pay for it — but because they don’t give their raw data, it’s just not worth the money. (I would definitely pay for the actual raw data. Especially the cross referenced stuff.)

        The biggest problem is that there is a disconnect between the study and the audience. (The same disconnect that sent me running from Kindleboards, actually.) The indie writing culture is focused very much on “how to” and black-and-white answers. And I think the authors do spend too much time throwing bones to that audience.

        That’s exactly what lured them into saying unsupported things.

        But this study really isn’t about how to get rich. It isn’t about proving a point or supporting an agenda.

        It’s about taking a snapshot of the self-publishing demographic. And snapshots are just that, a flicker in time. The methodology is actually suited for that task.

        And that’s also where the best stuff in this study is. “Who are Indie Writers?” You can’t do an accurate study on the other things until AFTER you’ve studied that. And as is often true of first studies, they clearly didn’t know what there was to find.

        They break out the top earners for special consideration, but not to say “this is how they do it” only “this is what they do.” What I see in that section is a cultural difference, not a “method” difference. I really wish they had broken out more groups for the same kind of look. Or if not, I would like to see them delve deeper in to that group in a “Millionaire Next Door” sort of study.

        And I wish they had given more of the data, rather than data summaries buried in prose.

        The two biggest problems I had with this book are both deal killers (in terms of purchase):

        1.) They didn’t give us a full report on the actual numbers, they only broke out some numbers into charts. They could have given us the full numbers, and even run some extra reports which they didn’t write about — just let us see the data and correlations. That would have been so easy, and would have greatly increased the value of the book.

        2.) The charts were unreadable on an old-time Kindle. I believe all those charts are available on their website, which is ironic, because the paid version gives you less info than the free stuff on the website.

        So no, I don’t recommend buying it. If you have Prime, though, it might be an interesting read. It also might be worth checking out the charts on their website.

        And I do hope they continue with this. If they learn from their mistakes, this could get more interesting all the time.

  24. Hey

    Almost every publisher is trying to build a strategy around digital content management and delivery. From a technology perspective, the development of EPUB standard has helped publishers move quickly into digital publishing. We have recently published blog post on Digital Content Management, do check it out and let us know how you find it: http://blog.harbinger-systems.com/

    Looking forward to read more interesting stuff.

  25. Average earnings are still better for the self-pub author, the figures below are for sales through traditional publishers…

    (Reposted from the Konrath blog:)

    In 2008, the UK Sunday newspaper the Observer (the sister publication to The Guardian) published an insert on books and publishing. Their breakdown of the cost of a £20 hardback was as follows:

    Retailer £11.00
    Publisher £3.50
    Author £2.00
    Production £2.00
    Distribution £1.00
    Promotion £0.50

    They also noted that the average income of a UK author was £16,000 (a third of the national average). However, once you removed high flying authors and celebrities from the equation the average earnings for the remaining 50,000 authors was £4,000. As a result only 20% of UK authors in 2008 were making a living as writers.

    • How’s it higher?

      16,000 pounds > 10,000 dollars
      20% UK traditional authors making a living > 10% self pub authors making a living

      Am I missing something?

      • What I’d love to know is whether the UK numbers were for *published* authors, or whether they weighted a huge pool of zeros into their average.

        • Most likely it’s just for published authors — I don’t see them surveying the slushpile. But the question is, how useful would averaging in the zeros be? If you’re trying to make the case that indie publishing is superior to traditional publishing (though, it’s no secret that I’m not a fan of that type of “us vs. them” thinking), then it’s relevant. But if you’re a new author trying to decide whether to take some time to try submitting to publishing houses, or if you’re a new author with an offer in hand, then averaging in the zeros doesn’t help much.

          • “But if you’re a new author trying to decide whether to take some time to try submitting to publishing houses, or if you’re a new author with an offer in hand, then averaging in the zeros doesn’t help much.”

            Any way you cut it, you’re left with an apples and oranges comparison. The self-publishing survey has a probable self-selection bias (something I believe they mention in the full report). Chances are those who were doing the worst were less likely to have taken the survey. However, the survey of published authors excludes everyone who has chosen the traditional publishing route and shows no income, which seems to be the same bias, only more extreme.

            Something else to consider with the self-publishing survey is that a percentage of those completing the survey published their first book in 2011, so the income wouldn’t have been what they could have expected for a full year.

            • Actually, I’m not convinced the Taleist survey is necessarily biased in favor of high earners. I agree they likely missed people who are earning very little – most of those folks aren’t looped in to the self-publishing community. But the survey recruited from blogs and forums targeted at self-publishers – and my anecdotal observation is that the high earners aren’t well represented at those locations. If you hang out on the Writers’ Cafe on Kindleboards, for example, you tend to see a lot of those writers disappear (I think it’s the natural outcome of having made it through a lot of the learning curve and having a different set of demands – the shift from seeking visibility to feeding the hungry reader hordes).

              To Livia – I think the utility of the zeros is in knowing how big that number is on the trad side. As a new author, maybe my calculus is… I have a 50% chance of making more than $500 a year on the indie path, and a 95% chance of making nothing on the trad path. Forget being one of the stars – where does a new author with a decent mid-list type book tend to do better? (I suspect a more useful comparison would be knowing how many indies earn $5K – typical debut advance – with their first book in the first couple of years, but I have lots of data wishes :D).

            • Good thoughts Debora. I’d also add option C — which is that you don’t actually have to decide between indie and trad at the very beginning, but could pursue both for a while. You could, for example, delay indie publishing a book for a set time period while querying it. If you get an offer, then the choice becomes, “I have concrete amount I could get from a publisher, or I could indie publish and I have x% chance of making N dollars at indie publishing.” That gets rid of some of the variables. Even better would be if you also have some indie sales numbers for other titles to compare it to.

              I personally see very little disadvantage to querying the first book while you write the second, since indie earnings tend to be miniscule until you have multiple books anyways, and many writers I know show tremendous growth from book 1 to book 2, so it gives you time to go back and look at book 1 with more mature eyes.

            • Replying to Livia (sorry, there are apparently limits to how deep we can nest comments).

              I can only speak to my own experience. My first book took off – which is not typical, but I’m far from alone in that experience. So there is a potential disadvantage in querying first :).

              I don’t think indie publishing is for everyone, or for every book. I think new authors need to ask themselves two questions. 1) Do I have the temperament and skills for trad and/or indie? 2) Is this book a good fit with trad and/or indie?

              In my case, I don’t like chasing my tail, so querying would make me crazy. I’m an entrepreneur – the business side of publishing is something I enjoy. My main series is light fantasy/women’s fic with no villains, so guessing they’d have been a heavy lift as a trad sale – and they fit into a genre that has avid readers willing to give new authors a chance (good scenario for indies). But I have another trilogy that is more straight women’s/contemp fiction – and that’s a really hard nut to crack as an indie. I can do it because I already have a base – but if that had been my first book, a trad deal might have given it more steam.

              And if you and your book might be a fit for indie publishing, I say go that route first. I think that the environment continues to get tougher for new indie authors – ereader owner demographics are changing, amazon algorithms are changing, venues to gain visibility are losing effectiveness. My first series book launched just in time to be one of the very last that got 90 days on Amazon’s Hot New Releases list – now you get 30. The growth in my sales those extra 60 days was a bit deal – and it’s gone now. The Select free days gave some authors a fabulous ride Dec-Mar, and now they’ve changed and gotten much less effective for most. So there are opportunities that can be lost by waiting as well. I’m not trying to rush anyone into something they aren’t ready to do – there will always be books that succeed, no matter when they release – but I think there is an element of “seize the day” to factor in as well :).

            • All good points, Debora. And it’s great that your book is doing so well!

            • True. I released my first book December 28, 2011. And I did complete the survey. Obviously 3 days of sales for one book aren’t going to generate much in the way of sales!

            • I should note that my viewpoint is also biased by my own experience. I’m under contract for a YA fantasy right now. So the interesting thing about my situation is that I had actually intended to go directly to self publishing with that novel, and my reasoning was very similar to what many people have said. The average advance was $5000, contracts were bad, the industry was unstable, etc.. It was my critique group who convinced me to send out a few queries just to see what would happen, and I agreed to do it while my manuscript was with the second round of beta readers. I figured I would have about six months while I prepared the book for publication anyways.

              In my case, the stars aligned. I spent about 9 weeks combined on querying agents and submitting to editors w/ my agent. When the offer came, it was much higher than $5000, and my publisher was willing to work with me on the contract terms. Not that everything is rainbows and butterflies, but I did realize from my experience that my initial perspective was perhaps a bit narrow. My experience is not typical, but I’m not one of the superstars either. Publishers weekly reports every week on debut authors with much better deals than me.

              I guess the problem with averages is that it’s just an average and everybody’s experience is different. For me, the take home message is not that one method is better than the other, but to experiment, be open minded, and make decisions according to your own specific situation.

            • Congrats on the sale, Livia. There’s just so many things that can’t be known. Every author has to take the path that seems best for them at the time, weighing the factors and available data. I hope the traditional publishing process continues to go well for you! 🙂

              In my case, I am self publishing my cross-genre YA fantasy/sci-fi/romance that got full reads and raves from top kidlit agents in the field… but no offers, after shopping the MS around for most of a year. I think my books were going to be very hard to place, because of the disparate elements and the fact that it’s not a pigeonhole-able series(plus, no vampires/werewolves/angels).

              After a certain point, I decided to get off the query-go-round and do it myself. So far, I haven’t made the average debut author advance… but it’s early days yet. What I have done is connected with a lot of readers who *love* the story. I’m willing to give it time. 🙂

            • Thanks, Anthea! Cross genre is one of those areas where indie publishing really shines. Best of luck with your YA. What’s it called?

            • Debora made all the points I would make and did it extremely well.

              I would add one thing though, and it’s the thing that made me pull back from traditional publishing even before self-publishing became available:

              Contracts Suck.

              Because of that, the situation is reversed from what it was even five years ago: In the old days, the consequences of self-publishing would cut your work off from any shot at traditional publishing, so you would want to do everything you could to get a traditional deal first.

              Now days, contracts can inhibit or even cut off your ability to self-publish. Sign it and you are stuck with it.

              So I would advise young writers to hold off on traditional publishing until this defensive reaction by publishers has shaken out. Don’t jump in until you can retain your rights. (I’m thinking contracts such as DWS recently described, with a time limit and no “non-compete” language, and things like that.)

              I wouldn’t necessarily advise a young writer to jump at self-publishing any quicker — but that has fewer negative consequences these days.

              The thing a young writer should be doing, though, is writing up a storm, and getting their writing in front of people. Whether it’s mentors and teachers or a slush pile, or an audience, you’ve got to get it out there — and then KEEP WRITING.

            • From among my trad pub friends, I’ve heard of cases where publishers were willing to defang the non-compete (seems to vary from publisher to publisher). I haven’t heard of cases where they’ve agreed to a time limit though (except for Stephen King, who leases his rights for a set timeperiod.), so yeah, you’re looking at up to 35 years, though you can get your rights back sooner if you have a good out-of-print threshold. Hopefully contracts will get more writer-friendly as the industry develops…

            • That’s the thing that has changed: there is no such thing as a “good out of print threshold.”

              This isn’t to say that you can’t get publishers to ever agree to appropriate terms, but that right now, every contract is a minefield. And an awful lot of those lovely changes that publishers make at the author’s request are meaningless theses days (not defanging, but rather just hiding the fangs).

              I suspect things will get better — purely because writers can quite realistically say no. The more writers we have saying no, the easier it will be for those who come along next to get reasonable terms.

            • Thanks for asking, Livia! Feyland: The Dark Realm by Anthea Sharp. Faries + Computer Gaming~ 🙂

      • These were all published ‘print’ authors.

        The point is that the vast majority of authors were making £4,000 in 2008. It was the earnings of a relative few high fliers that bumped up the average to £16,000.

  26. “Debora made all the points I would make and did it extremely well.”

    That’s because Debora was paraphrasing things she’s heard Camille saying often and well :D.

    And I will agree that contracts suck. I’ve recently had the opportunity to contemplate several of them, and I’m very glad I had Passive Guy in my camp.

    • Thanks!

      And yeah, Passive Guy is doing a great service to the writing world by shining his magic lamp all around and revealing all the nasty little critters in the dark.

      And also the funny ones.

  27. I found the data interesting but also know how data can be manipulated to show what you are expected to find. 🙂 I don’t have any personal experience to analyze it against (although I am hoping to soon), so I really appreciated all the informed comments by so many here! (Camille, Deborah, Anthea and Livia to name a few – Thanks!)

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