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Women fare better than men at making money from self-publishing

11 September 2012

From romance author Katherine Lowry Logan:

 The recently-published Taleist Survey of self-published writers gives a fascinating insight into the brave new world of self-publishing.

. . . .

So what are the factors that make the difference between the Top Earners (the respondents who said they could live off their royalties) and the others?

1. Two-thirds of the Top Earners are women, so success in self-publishing is definitely not gender neutral.

2. The average Top Earner spent 69% more time writing than the average author outside of the Top Earners group. They write on average a third more words than their non-Top Earning counterparts, but they also spend an average of 24% more time on those words.

. . . .

7. The Top Earners group spent more time writing than they did marketing, and those in the group who spent the least time marketing were making the most money. Out of all respondents, those who spent the most time marketing earned the least.

Link to the rest at Katherine Lowry Logan


29 Comments to “Women fare better than men at making money from self-publishing”

  1. What a great article! Thank you for finding it PG. I would never have seen it.

    I interviewed a publicist who had an undeniable track record in non-fiction. He kept talking about “getting the author out from behind the book” and “build a platform based on you”. I didn’t hire him because, after looking at authors like John Sandford and Lee Child, I came to believe that in fiction the three most important factors are: story, story, story. This article confirms it. You can sell anything once, but a good story sells itself.

    Peace, Seeley

  2. Fascinating article. I really appreciate that she took the time to calculate and present the numbers.

    I have been wondering more and more about social media, and this data supports the idea that spending most of your time writing is of the most benefit.

    It’s also not surprising that females are more successful because of the Romance genre. Makes you really think about Harlequin and where the money is going, doesn’t it?

    Although, I will add that data like this should always be taken with a grain of salt, of course, because surveys are not the most reliable form of data collection. It’s also tricky to assert casuality, because you never know if one thing actually causes another. But it’s still very interesting!

    • Quick addition: One area I’d especially question causality is the data regarding agents and their impact. Many of these authors may have been agented prior to self-publishing, or it may just be those writer who sell well are also those writers who might attract an agent. Or agents may contribute, but it’s hard to know from this data.

      I still think the data is interesting, though, and good to discuss.

  3. Good for the women! Based on this article, it seems that quantity, as in books, is better than hype, as in marketing. Interesting. I better dust off the old typewriter and get cranking.

  4. “Help, help! I’m being oppressed!” cried the male author. lol

    Anectdotal observation leads me to believe that:

    Most new self pubbed authors are female


    They support one another

    Hey, it’s been great for me because I have been accepted as the token male into some circles. I am just saying that male authors tend to be lone wolves while the women seem to form little support groups and share information, assistance, etc.. There is probably value in that type of cooperative method where books are concerned.

    No wonder we lag behind. We, as individuals, keep re-inventing the wheel.

    Off to my cave…


  5. I agree that you can’t necessarily infer causality out of numbers like this. The fact that more women are earning more money in self publishing could simply mean that more women are doing it. Does the survey give any info about the ratio of women to men in self publishing?

    The statistics about the amount of income being inversely proportional to time spent marketing is interesting. I’m not sure it really means much, though. If you are earning lots of money, you don’t NEED to spend as much time marketing. The extra income makes you more free to spend time writing. I would be interested to see how much time these people spend marketing early in their self publishing careers versus later when they are making more money. Turn time spent marketing into a career-long variable and then compare it to income over time.

    • There are causality issues with many of the correlations here (e.g. do book trailers sell more books or do people who sell more books have the money to make book trailers?), but the results are still interesting.

      Based on my experience on the web I think more women are self-publishing then men and they’re likely to write in more lucrative genres like romance. Plus I’ve seen various claims that the majority of readers these days are women so books by women are likely to be more popular.

      So that all makes perfect sense to me. Maybe I should start a female ‘nym and write romance novels :).

      • I’ve wondered about pen names. Are there any men writing chicklit or romance under their real names? And would there be a stigma for the man who does this? Would it work in his favor? Would it be a wash?

      • I did read a study that was done a few years ago (and posted a link to it on this blog in the past…somewhere). Women purchase about 80% of fiction. Even “traditionally male” genres are purchased by a majority of women (like 51%).

        Women control fiction when you look at it that way. Still, it amazes me that most “best sellers” are written by men. I think that will change over the next few years but the good news is that women, as a group, have VAST tolerances in what they read.

        People tend to stereotype female readers and point to romance and such, but they read nearly everything. It might be true that romance dominates but women have tastes that go beyond that. Speaking of them as a group, mind you, which is NEVER fraught with peril.


        • This is good to know and what I suspected. I just pitched a new story idea to a Very Big agent (not my agent) at a conference just for the hell of it. She stopped me and said, “no, don’t have a male protagonist in a YA book because guys don’t read fiction.” She missed the point that girls are allowed to by law and DO read stories with male protagonists. How many writers’ careers are derailed by expert advice like this.

          • On a similar point, there are probably a number of female writers who were told ‘no, people don’t read books in this genre by female writers’ and are now happily selling them.

          • Larry, that’s not much different than the American comic book publishers publishing only superhero books because “girls don’t read comics.” It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy–if you don’t produce something X wants to read, of course X won’t read it!

            And as a mother of a preteen boy, I hope you go ahead and write the story anyway. I’m always on the look-out for good YA books with a male protag!

          • My protagonist is a “mannish” man who likes food, sex, and things that go bang. 90% of my audience is female. Go figure. Women like “typical” men as long as they have a soul.

            Who knew?

            I always find stereotypical findings a bit suspect even if there is usually some truth in them.


    • That’s what I wondered as well – of course we all want to hear “No marketing necessary!” and this survey seems to support that notion, But as you mentioned, we don’t know if this is from already established authors who don’t need to market because the snowball’s already starting rolling downhill, and if they had to market heavily at the beginning.

      • I’m going to say… Marketing isn’t necessary if you get on the Also-Boughts of reasonably popular books, at Amazon.[*] Once you’re there, put away the advertising nigh-entirely and finish up that Next Book you’ve been working on instead. If your book is any good in content and presentation[**], and the Also-Boughts are in a good correlation for “if someone likes Master of Crows, they’ll also like my book,” momentum should carry you at least a few months.

        [* Insert Beth’s Standard Rant #2 about other epublishers having anemic Also-Bought lists, or even downright erroneous ones. A list of up to nearly 100 Also-Boughts is far more valuable to authors — and browsers! — than 5, 10, or even 15 Also-Boughts…]

        [** Presentation = Cover and teaser-copy. (What I call a backblurb, personally…) ]

  6. I’ll try not to take this as permission to stop marketing. 🙂

  7. More interesting than which gender is making the money is that writing more and marketing less is working. Confirming what Dean Wesley Smith has been saying for some time now. Focus on writing the next book rather than marketing as the route to “making it.”

  8. I’m also seeing a correlation vs. causality issue here. Do we know what percentage of self-pubbed authors are women, vs. the total? And what about genres? Genres that sell very well (chick lit, YA, fantasy, romance/erotica are dominated by women). Add more women writing in other traditionally male genres like true crime and scifi, and I can see how the lion’s share of $$ in self pubbing would go to women.

    • When I see statistics ‘all around the internet’ that 40% of books sold are in the Romance category which is primarily women readers and writers than no surprises that women dominate the dollar sales.

  9. The article is based on the data from the Taleist survey. For those interested, 60% of the respondents were women. Of the respondents who were full time writers (my description of their category of those spending 75%-100% of their work week writing), 76% were women. There is a strong correlation between writing full-time and being a top earner. Imagine that, hard work pays off.

    • The Taleist survey doesn’t tell you about the situation of writers. It tells you about the stated situation of those who responded.

      Unless you know who chose to not respond to the survey, you can’t draw generalizations from the results.

    • Any survey that relies on the group being surveyed self-selecting (Click here to take our survey!) is not necessarily going to be an accurate reflection of the entire population. As just one concern, it doesn’t represent indie authors who don’t visit the Taleist site.

      If you wanted a representative picture of indie authors, you would start off with a long list of self-published authors, perhaps pulled from Amazon’s book listings, then either question everyone or randomly select a large enough subgroup to be representative of the whole.

      It’s this targeted outreach via phone or email that creates a more reliable picture of the whole. You might also make certain that your respondents accurately reflected the entire population – similar male/female ratio, fiction/non-fiction, % of self-pubbed books that were romances vs. % of respondents who wrote romances, etc., etc.

      Sample validity measures are expensive, however.

      This isn’t to say the Taleist data isn’t useful, but the probability of it accurately representing the universe of indie authors isn’t high.

    • Well, just pointing out that it might be more likely that women are full-time writers (and consequently, more successful) because men tend to earn more in traditional jobs and it’s harder for men (for many reasons, including societal pressure) to give up a job to be a full-time writer.

      I don’t know for sure that’s true, but I think that must weigh in at least to a degree, however small.

  10. While we can’t consider these stats absolute because of the limitations of the group that responded, I think they fall under the heading of “Duh, you think?”

    As was mentioned above: female writers are predominant in romance, YA, the genre ocean that is now paranormal and related fantasy, a healthy chunk of the thriller landscape and let us not forgot super hot seller du jour, erotica.

    Also, and I don’t know if this generalization helps at all, but my wife always stops in the mall to do surveys, gets wrangled into doing them over the phone, etc. I never have and never will. Just sayin’.

    The marketing issue is always a good one, but what one break out indie admits to in terms of marketing strategy (or lack therof) is always radically different than what we hear from another.

    We can look at PINES right now from B. Crouch. Sure, he’s known. Sure, he has print past. But I hadn’t heard a PEEP about this book before seeing it. I’m sure no one else did either. I thought it was one of his older books I’d missed!

    Regardless, hundreds of “known” authors release e-books every day. Hell, every hour I’d bet. But PINES, as the young kids say, “is owning!”

    I think that’s because it was a fantastic story and people are starting to talk about it.

  11. Before you draw any conclusions, you must read Kris Rusch’s view on this “survey”:


    tl;dr : The survey was highly unscientifc. They made a lot of assumptions, and threw away data that did not match their assumptions. They had a pro-trad publishing bias – just look at the title, “Not a gold rush”, implying everyone in self-pub is a gold digger.

    • The sad thing is, even though Kris has done such a good job of discontructing this “survey”, I still people drawing whatever conclusions they want from it. Every other week there is a blog that basically says, “Hey, I was right, and this survey proves it!”

  12. The inverse relationship between writing and marketing makes perfect sense in a world of social media.

    Social media accelerates word of mouth. If someone likes your book today, they tell 300 Facebook friends. If some liked your book 10 years ago, they maybe told 2 people verbally offline.

    Therefore, the most important factor to selling well is not spending time bombarding people with marketing, but instead spending time writing such a great book that people decide to tell their 300 Facebook friends about it.

  13. Don’t count too much into word of mouth via social media … Back from my Automotive days the rule was if someone likes the product they tell three to five friends. But if they have a bad experience, from product to dealer service, they go on a campaign to warn sixteen or more of their friends, neighbors, and any stray individual who accidentally fell within their daily routines. Social media magnifies that trend because it’s easy to ‘click’ but the balance of good/bad will hold.

  14. Number 7… why would people who are selling well do marketing? That time spent writing earns more. And of course people who aren’t selling do more marketing. They need it more. Using this to prove “write, don’t market” is a bit like saying that an object is traveling faster at the bottom of a fall, so don’t waste your time dropping from higher if you want speed. Maybe marketing is a waste, but this doesn’t prove it.

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