Home » Amazon, Self-Publishing » 40 Authors Selling More than a Million Ebooks on Amazon

40 Authors Selling More than a Million Ebooks on Amazon

10 February 2016

The somewhat strange article in The New York Times that PG posted about a few days ago included the following quote:

Over the last five years, close to 40 independent authors have sold more than a million copies of their e-books on Amazon, the company said.

Does anyone know where this information came from?

If it was information that the article’s author obtained directly from Amazon, best journalistic practices would call for the name of the Amazon employee who provided the information. There is no link in the online article pointing to another online source for this data.

PG follows Amazon’s announcements closely and he doesn’t remember a press release to this effect. Neither does he remember reading this data point or anything close to it anywhere else online.

A little bit of Googling did not disclose an online source for this factoid. (To be fair, PG did not do OCD Googling, just a five-minute job).

Does anyone know of a source for the 5 years/almost 40 indies/selling more than a million copies of their books statistic?

Amazon, Self-Publishing

61 Comments to “40 Authors Selling More than a Million Ebooks on Amazon”

  1. We’ve seen them make up things out of whole cloth before …

    (or it’s the same trad-pub sales drone that told Lee that DG was missing the magical Tuesday ‘pulse’ that proved trad-pub ebooks are doing better than AE showed …)

    ETA or maybe they’re hoping Amazon will ‘correct’ them with the real numbers …

    • @ Allen

      “We’ve seen them make up things out of whole cloth before…”

      Yeah. Cheesecloth.

      • Heh, like that Batman/Robin gag from the movie …

        “Holy cheesecloth, Batman!”


        Holy — it’s full of holes …”


    • “… best journalistic practices would call for the name of the Amazon employee who provided the information.” Um… what does that have to do with it? Aren’t we talking about the NY Times?

  2. A million copies across all of an author’s titles? If so, there have to be way more than 40 indies who have done that. I’m not there yet, but I’m at least half way, and I write steampunk, so ya know. No time in Amazon Top 100s for me. I’d be shocked if there weren’t piles of romance-writing indies who had crossed that mark.

    If it’s for *one* book, then that would, of course, be a much higher benchmark.

  3. I will go ask Amazon, but I am almost certain that this references the Kindle Millions club.

    This hasn’t made the press in a really long time, but it used to be headline news and Amazon could still be tracking authors who join the club.

    I’ll ping Amazon.

  4. I’m sure I’m not the only one to challenge this number as the only way to get an accurate count would be to have all authors self-report and that’s just not going to happen.

    So yes, this magical ’40’ number should be seen with much bias. I’m confident it’s way under reporting.

  5. Maybe they were getting biblical – “THE BIBLE is a unique book. One famous writer called it, “the strangest publishing project of all time”. And he said, “it was responsible to oversee 40 independent authors, representing 20 occupations, living in 10 countries during a 1,500 year span, working in three languages, with a cast of 2,930 characters in 1,551 places”.”

    Search for “40 independent authors” – results are entertaining…

  6. I wonder if this is like the “only 286 authors earn a living writing” figure that was bandied about for DECADES before people started challenging it and figuring out it was complete BS.

  7. It’s obvious to me…it’s whale math.

  8. I read the Wild article in the NYT several days ago and I don’t remember them citing a source there, either.

  9. The Kindle Million Club has 14 authors as of November 19, 2011.


    Doesn’t seem to have been updated since then. 40 authors in it five years later is highly probable.

    • I would have expected it to be higher, honestly.

      • 40 doesn’t seem too far off to me considering JA Konrath just hit a million in the last year or so and he’s reasonably big.

        On the other hand I wonder how well Amazon counts single author publishers that use pen names. Like XYZ Publishing has published ABC, DEF, and GHI, but all 3 are pen names of the author owning the house.

      • A million ebook sales is tough. What I’d be interested in knowing, for comparison, is how many trad-pubbed authors have sold over a million ebooks. Then we’d know if 40 is a lot or not.

        I’d also like to know how many from both camps have sold 100,000 ebooks. And how many have sold 50,000. Across all retailers and territories, of course.

        I’d be shocked if much more than 100 trad-pubbed authors have sold over 1 million ebooks. The authors who sell a million of each release are the same names every year. A few dozen of them. It peters off quickly.

        • Also, for a fair comparison it would be important to know how many trad-pubbed authors sold over a million after having had their first book published in the last five or six years, since the indy Kindle movement started.

          I think it’s quite possible there have been more indy million book sellers than newly launched trad ones.

          • Of that, I have absolutely no doubt. No doubt at all.

            The million+ club on the trad side is mostly the established household names that got their start over 5 years ago. We did an AE report that looked specifically into this.

            • The data on this is very hard to come by, because there is not set record on numbers.

              KBoards has their best seller list, but it isn’t current. Still, I took some data on it to compile a post on changes in the ebook marketplace over the last 5 years (http://robmcclellan.thirdscribe.com/2016/01/29/book-marketing-in-2016-understanding-the-game/) but I would call our data much more anecdotal instead of comprehensive — just because sales-by-author data is limited. Still, it was one of the only places I could find that had sales volume information.

              I can say that in researching another article on actually making money (i.e. earning more than the poverty line), I went line by line through the top kindle bestsellers and ran their book’s sales rank through a rank-sales calculator to try and generate what their earnings are.

              Bella Forest is easily selling a million books at this point, and is on track to earn upwards of $18M this year if her books hold. She has 7 books in the Kindle Top 100 and is currently averaging 21,736 copies/day if the algorithms are remotely accurate.

              But, another great selling author, Joshua Dalzelle, is not moving that kind of volume (though his earnings are great and he is a success by any measure), selling 388 copies/day.

              I’m willing to go out on a limb and say more than 40 self publishing (or former self publishing) authors have sold more than a million copies — but I’ll bet it’s well under 100. Heck, probably under 75.

              But, the idea that you need to be in the million+ club to be “making money” at kindle is a bit of a sham. If all of your books are 99 cents, that may be true (you have to sell 58,000 copies/year just to make the poverty line at that price), but those who price in the $2.99-$3.99 range can be doing very well financially at 100,000 copies/year.

  10. We could go process-of-elimination.

    I’ll start by admitting that I’m not one of them.

  11. We could probably come up with 40 in a couple minutes.
    Joe Konrath, Barry Eisler, Bella Andre, Tina Folsom, Holly Ward.

  12. I asked, and I was told it did come from Amazon.

  13. I do not know where the figure came from. We can do a back of the envelope fact check using the data from Author Earning’s report Individual author earnings tracked across 7 quarters, Feb. 2014 – Sept. 2015.

    1 million unit sales over five years is 200,000 sales per year. We’re only interested in authors who consistently sell at that level for a least five years. If we set our cutoff at 300,000 units per year to eliminate those who might have had one or two good years but not five, we get:

    124 authors selling over 300,000 of whom 33 (26.6%) are identified indies. (And 18 Amazon imprint published and 69 traditionally published.)

    If we take 200,000 as our cutoff, we get:

    220 authors selling over 200,000 of whom 68 (30.9%) are identified indies. (And 33 Amazon imprint published and 110 traditionally published.)

    We now know the old AE model overestimated sales at some levels by up to 20%. So these numbers might be high.

    Some of the authors selling well may not have been publishing for five years. So these numbers might be high.

    If Amazon imprints are indie these numbers are low.

    The data only includes titles that appeared on Amazon best-seller lists. Titles that sold very well in competitive genres (romance) are missing. Titles that didn’t sell amazingly well are missing but still count towards their author’s total sales figures. Both factors mean these numbers are low.

    Our pessimistic lower bound is 33. As the factors that suggest this is a underestimate are stronger than those that suggest it’s an overestimate, the “close to forty” claim seems shaky beyond being unattributed. It really depends if Amazon imprints are indie or not.

    ETA: Saw Nate’s claim that the info does come from Amazon. That surprises me. It suggests the lack of time in market (authors publishing for less than five years) outweighs the titles not counted because they didn’t appear on a best-seller list.

  14. Honestly, I think focusing on the 40 in the million plus club is wrong. That club is going to grow, but it’s a distraction IMO.

    What I’d like to know is how many traditionally published authors are selling, say 50 to 100K (or more) a year. I’m reasonably sure if graphed the Indie side would be much bigger, and with the pay differential being what it is, an indie who sells 100K over the course of a year is going to make more than most traditionally published authors.

  15. Would there be anything on Snopes?

  16. I’m sure J Konrath reached that number not long ago. He and many others have built a big following and they put out books like GM or Ford produce vehicles. All one has to do is check out their blogs.

    All one has to do is go to http://www.amazon.com/best-sellers-books-Amazon/zgbs/books to see what’s selling.

    How many books have YOU written – and published?

  17. Maybe the number should have been 42.

  18. I suppose it’s better than the “sh*t volcano” but it seems really odd that this “only 40 have sold a million” meme is being tossed around as if it should dash the unreasonable hopes and dreams of indy writers. It’s an oddly high watermark for a new market that the same kind of people were predicting would disappear. (And particularly odd that Lee Child even threw it out as a na-na-na.)

    But, more importantly, it once again misses the big picture that most indy writers aren’t in this for the big bucks but simply like writing and expressing ourselves. And most would be insanely happy with sales much much lower than that.

    Yet there’s nothing wrong with having big dreams. So let’s play along with the “only” 40 indies are succeeding implication. Raw ebook sales are not how most indies are going to get “rich.” Leaving aside other areas of income, like audio books and speaking engagements, the real money in all this is the creation of long lasting intellectual property. Particularly to sell to television and film.

    About 500 films are distributed each year by Hollywood studios. Almost half of those films are based on source material, mostly books. How long before there are 10, 20, even 100 films a year based on indy books? Even in the short history of self-publishing, we already have a big budget, smash hit produced film nominated for a best picture Oscar (The Martian). Obviously, once these films get produced they will bump up the writer’s ebooks sales, probably pushing them into the million dollar club. But long before that, writers will be getting options, and sales, not only for films that get produced, but for many that don’t. It will be a very big source of income. Add into that a few TV series and that’s where the real money will be.

    It’s also important to note indy writers write exactly the kind of stuff (genre) that makes for hit movies. Hollywood is already drowning in “serious” movies based on traditionally published “literary” fiction that make no money. It’s quite possible indy writers will dominate Hollywood big box office genre films in the same way that Stan Lee is dominating comic book movies. (The Martian is a big hint in that direction. So is Fifty Shades of Grey. And wait until all the indy romances start getting produced.)

  19. I saw this stat years ago too, but it may have been X Indie Authors have Y unit sales where Y was way under 1M.

    Amazon does a terrible job selling eBooks.

    In fact they have to steal KENP page reads and unit sales royalties from Authors.

    I’m suing them in an international court over theft of my royalties.

    When I publicly criticized Bezos for creating an unfair playing field with his monopoly publishing power estimated by the DOJ to be over 90% of all eBook unit sales now move through Amazon, my average KENP read pages per day PER TITLE fell from 1300 pages per title a day in KENP reads to often as low as 8 pages a day and no more than 30 or 40 pages some days now.

    So how did I get hit with a 99% loss of royalties in KENP?

    Easy I publicly criticized Amazon for their sweetheart deals with the Big 5 publishers that created a 2 tier landscape on Amazon for publishers.

    In fact there are 10 ways that Amazon is STEALING Authors Royalties.


    • “I’m suing them in an international court over theft of my royalties.”

      So I’m assuming you’ve pulled all your e/books from Amazon so they can’t steal any more of your royalties — right?

      I also see you missed the memo(s) that the DoJ didn’t consider Amazon a monopoly?

      And of course your drop in page reads can’t have anything to do with all the new content being added every day …

      “In fact there are 10 ways that Amazon is STEALING Authors Royalties.”

      Sell your e/books through apple/google and others if Amazon is being so mean to you …

      For others that don’t wish to click the link:

      10 Amazon Frauds & Scams

      Amazon discounts Titles and steals from Royalties = bullst**ing as we’ve seen on these pages before Amazon paid full price to the publishers …

      Amazon under reports sales and page reads = proof?

      Amazon has reduced KENP Royalties 25% – too bad you won’t tell us who is paying better …

      Amazon has Monopoly control of Prices on eBooks – agency shoots this one down = go blame your publisher …

      Amazon allows returns of digital items – yup, are your ebooks so bad people return them?

      Amazon steals affiliate commissions – proof please?

      Amazon has no 3rd Party audits in place – neither do the publishers, your point?

      Amazon refuses to pay authors in 10 Days – you’d rather wait 6 months with a publisher? or are you hoping to keep the money from all those returns?

      Amazon reduces Royalties if not exclusive – nope, if out of the price window

      Amazon Libels Authors by allow attack fake reviews – as does everyone else as it’s hard to clean up – though Amazon does try to keep the gamers out of their system …

  20. I think this number is incredibly low. I probably know at least 25 authors personally who have sold more than a million books. And I’m sure I don’t know every author, so that’s a limited pool.

    • Across all outlets. This is just the ones who have sold a million on Amazon.com. In five years. That’s insane.

      How many have sold 600,000 on Amazon and another 400,000 between print, audio, and all other retailers? My guess is at least another 50 authors. Maybe more.

      But any way you cut it, this is crazy. A market that didn’t exist 5 years ago, which relies on consumers spending $3 here, $4 there, have made a hundred or so artists into millionaires. Trad-pub has never had a record like that.

  21. Never mind, same link.

    More coffee needed. 🙂

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