Only 40 Self-Published Authors are a Success, says Amazon

The cat is out of the bag, finally we know exactly how many self-published authors make it big: 40.

Yes, that’s not a typo.

40 self-published authors “make money”, all the others, and they number in the hundreds of thousands, don’t. This interesting statistic, recently revealed in a New York Times article, applies to the Kindle Store, but since Amazon is in fact the largest digital publishing platform in the world, it is a safe bet that self-published authors are not doing much better anywhere else.

“Making money” here means selling more than one million e-book copies in the last five years. Yes, 40 authors have managed that, and have even gone on to establishing their own publishing house, like Meredith Wild. Her story is fully reported in the New York Times, here, and well worth pondering over. And wondering what “making money” really means.

That story reveals some further nuggets about the current fluctuating state of the publishing industry: it seems that last year, a third of the 100 best-selling Kindle books were self-published titles on average each week. Conversely, that means legacy publishers only raked in two-thirds. Perhaps this is not such a surprising result, given their habit of pricing e-books at stratospheric levels, from $12 to $16 or more compared to self-published authors who deem that $3 to $5 is the “right” price…One has to wonder why publishers do this, even at times pricing e-books more than their own printed versions of the title. Perhaps they are afraid of digital?

The digital market is indeed scary, primarily because of its dimension: over 4 million titles today in the Kindle Store, compared with 600,000 six years ago (again, the data is from the same article). This means “book discovery” has become the number one problem. How can your book stand out in such a vast crowd?

There are many answers in the industry (and savvy marketing certainly has big role), but some of the more ground-breaking solutions come from the successful self-published authors themselves, like Meredith Wild and a few others that have (more or less) followed her example, like Bella Andre, Barbara Freethy, H.M.Ward, C.J.Lyons. They have struck deals with Ingram Content Group, a major book printer and distributor, thus getting their novels in bookstores, big-box stores and airports. Because,let’s face it, when you’re selling big in the digital market, you don’t want to lose out in the printed one: 36% of book buyers still read only print books (according to a 2015 Codex Group survey – for more about how print books hold their own, see this article).

What does this mean in terms of the future of the industry?  According to David Montgomery of Publishing Technology:

“There isn’t one book market anymore: there are two, and they exist in parallel. One continues to be dominated by major publishers, and increasingly uses agency pricing as a strategy to support print book sales. The second publishing market is almost exclusively made up of e-books, and is driven by Amazon-published and KDP content sold at a substantial discount to the product produced by traditional publishers.”

And he foresees a growing divide in 2016 between the two markets. Yet the success of Meredith Wild and the other authors like her suggests that something else might be happening: self-publishing could be encroaching in a territory that used to be seen as exclusive to legacy publishers.

Time to celebrate? Not yet. There is a caveat and it’s a big one: only 40 such authors are likely to bridge the divide. In fact, writing is a poor man’s occupation. As Publisher’s Weekly noted in an article published last year: the majority of authors earn below the poverty line. The statistics are grim:

Given that a single person earning less than $11,670 annually sits below the poverty line, 56% of respondents would qualify, if they relied solely on income from their writing. The survey also indicated that not only are many authors earning little, they are, since 2009, also earning less. Overall, the median writing-related income among respondents dropped from $10,500 in 2009 to $8,000 2014 in 2014, a decline of 24%. (highlight added).

That’s way below the poverty line! Small wonder that most authors depend on another job to survive…

So if you’re not selling your books, take heart, you’re not the only one. If you’re considering becoming a writer, think twice, it won’t make you rich. To be honest, if I could do my life over, I wouldn’t go into writing (though I love story-telling), I’d go into…film making! That is the art of the future, people don’t read books, they go to the movies, they binge on TV series, they play video-games. And in all these – movies, TV, games –  good story-tellers are more needed than ever

No, the art of writing is not dead, it is just undergoing a change of venue!

 

NOTE: This was published over a year ago and has garnered more comments than any of my blog posts has ever done before and I warmly thank my commentators including those who didn’t agree with my reading of the data – no doubt this avalanche of comments is a testimony to the (high) number of writers (self-published and non) wondering where they stand and what they can expect from a writing career. Bottom line: if you enjoy writing, just do it and don’t worry whether it’s going to bring in the bacon or not. One thing is will do for sure: it will make you happy. And that’s worth far more than any money you might ever make…Happy writing!

 

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176 Comments

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176 responses to “Only 40 Self-Published Authors are a Success, says Amazon

  1. Hmm…interesting.

    Partially, it is discouraging. When you see a low number like 40, why bother?

    Partially, it is validating. I always beat myself up for not fully going for it as a writer – i.e. I tell myself “If you’d of just thrown caution to the wind and gave writing your all instead of playing itself and getting a day job…”

    Then another part of me asks what is the definition of success? If I can take in an extra $10,000 in income, that’d probably be enough to motivate me to write in my spare time into perpetuity.

    I hope there will be a rise in middle class writers – i.e. people who are able to take in 50,000 a year with their writing. They won’t get rich but they won’t be in the poorhouse either. Writing seems like a rich or poorhouse proposition without much middle in between. Hopefully that changes.

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  2. Reblogged this on Bookshelf Battle and commented:
    Hmm…interesting.

    Partially, it is discouraging. When you see a low number like 40, why bother?

    Partially, it is validating. I always beat myself up for not fully going for it as a writer – i.e. I tell myself “If you’d of just thrown caution to the wind and gave writing your all instead of playing itself and getting a day job…”

    Then another part of me asks what is the definition of success? If I can take in an extra $10,000 in income, that’d probably be enough to motivate me to write in my spare time into perpetuity.

    I hope there will be a rise in middle class writers – i.e. people who are able to take in 50,000 a year with their writing. They won’t get rich but they won’t be in the poorhouse either. Writing seems like a rich or poorhouse proposition without much middle in between. Hopefully that changes.

    Liked by 3 people

    • $50,000/year with one’s writing? Wow, that would be great! Alas, it’s not like that at all. Writers in the UK take less than £4000/year on average…As to self-published writers, nobody knows, but I bet the “median” writer (not the average, mind you, I’m speaking of median: the guys who’s standing on the bell curve with 50% of the people above him and 50% below) takes in something like $1,000 or $2,000 a year…Just guessing!

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      • The median is irrelevant when it comes to indie writers, since self-publishing runs the gamut from someone uploading their eight year olds first book through books as professionally produced as any NYC press. It’s like comparing YouTube with Hollywood – many youtubers have incomes which exceed that of the average Hollywood actor, but the mean is impossible to calculate and meaningless, since most of the work is not attempting to be professional. Ditto publishing.

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      • I beg to disagree. But honestly, we are not going to get into a discussion about statistics, are we? Median and mean are not the same thing. And all this has nothing to do with Hollywood and YouTube…

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      • I’m not really quibbling about which statistical term you used. The one you used was fine. 🙂

        What I was saying was that an analysis of average/mean/median self-publishing success is poorly informative if one is looking for information about how one might expect to earn as a *professional* indie writer.

        Right now about 100k new ebooks are uploaded to Amazon every month. Of those about 30k are trad pub (which earn their writers an average of about $4k each). The remaining 70k or so are self published.

        Of those 70k, a few thousand are professionally written, edited, and produced, and MOST of those will earn out better than the average trad pub book. Most of the remainder will earn out much worse than the average trad pub book, because they have poor editing, novice writing, bad cover/blurb, or some combination of the above.

        On average an indie writer who is producing professional quality work will significantly out-earn a writer whose work is being published by someone else.

        But *either* route requires a LOT of work. People unwilling to put in the work will likely earn little if anything through either path.

        Liked by 4 people

  3. Reblogged this on Charlotte Howard – Romance Author and commented:
    Having tried self-publishing before going into erotic romance and finding a publisher, and then re-considering self-publishing, I found this rather interesting to read.

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  4. Pingback: Only 40 Self-Published Authors are a Success, says Amazon – Kawanee's Korner

  5. Reblogged this on The GUNDERSTONE review and commented:
    Wow…

    “40 self-published authors “make money”, all the others, and they number in the hundreds of thousands, don’t.”

    ““Making money” here means selling more than one million e-book copies in the last five years. Yes, 40 authors have managed that…”

    Not that I would sneeze at “selling more than one million e-book copies” over five years but for me, selling 100,000 over the same period would be “a success” to me.

    Could I “retire” and write professionally? No, not at that level, but it beats where I am today (at 1,000 copies sold in 2015).

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  6. “I’d go into…film making!”

    Yeah, ’cause film-making is SUCH an easy industry to break into…

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  7. So, the definition of success is now that you have to have sold over a million books to have ‘made it’ as a writer?? I don’t think so. 40 may not have been a typo, but it IS a gross negligence of in depth, accurate research disguised as ‘fact.’

    Amazon doesn’t define my success. *I* define it. No one else. I haven’t sold a million copies of my books, but I am making enough money as a full time writer to pay bills each month and help support my family, and even save a little. It’s more than I made in the job before I switched to writing full-time. It’s equal to my husband’s salary, and sometimes more, so no one can say he’s ‘supporting’ my ‘hobby.’

    I, and MANY other authors like me, are a success by our own definitions.

    I do agree with “good storytellers are needed more than ever,” however this is completely false: “People don’t read books.” I’m people, and I read books. Lots of them. And I’d read a lot more if I wasn’t writing my own. The people who buy my books that enable me to earn a paycheck read–some of them 100’s of books a year. TV shows, movies, and even games, are created by…writers.

    So be a writer if you want to be. As with any job–work your butt off and you can be a success however you choose to define it.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I’m just curious. Maybe I missed it. But where is the source for this information about 40 self-pubbed authors? I even did a simple search and couldn’t find a source or even a quote from Amazon.

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  9. That’s nonsense and an arbitrary number to determine “success.” To be conservative, if an author gets $1.00 for each sale, that’s a million for the supposed success rate. Over five years, that’s $200K/year. A more reasonable living wage of $50K/year shows great success. $25K/year is still damned successful.

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  10. So I’m not “making money” unless I sell 1 million copies? Haha. Still seems like money to me.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Claude,
    I read that Times article, but one must consider the source. They applaud Wild because she’s creating her own traditional publishing firm–the Times is a traditional publisher, and they have always been biased in support of the NYC publishing houses, as many articles attacking Amazon and supporting Authors Guild have shown. (It was so bad that Streitfeld’s editor slapped his hand, yet he still continued–I guess that editor’s bosses came to Streitfeld’s defense and overruled her.)
    Wild’s erotic romances are…well, wildly…popular. Not my glass of Jameson whiskey, you can imagine. I find more encouraging Weir’s enormous success with The Martian. Some indies win the lottery, but maybe not the grand prize. In fact, I’m sure a million books in five years isn’t the right threshold. Maybe the Times just wants to give away part of their secret formula on how to determine a “bestseller” in their weekly book magazine? (Amazon doesn’t do much better in giving away stats either.) Maybe my threshold is too small, but I’d say that any ebook that sells more than 1000 copies nowadays is a success–that author has name recognition and her or his book has achieved recognition too.
    You make the (mostly implicit) claim that these 40 authors are PR and marketing geniuses. I’ll make a counterclaim: they have won in a lottery we all play in. It’s always been that way (read King’s On Writing). Most writers aren’t successful by corporate America’s definition. And I dare say Sturgeon’s law applies to the whole group, including traditionally published authors. But I also say that if I entertain just one reader with each book I write, that book is a success. So pox on Amazon, the Times, and Wild, for that matter.
    r/Steve
    PS. I’m a full-time writer who writes because I can’t imagine anything that’s more fun–I love to spin a good yarn, and I love to read one.

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  12. Linda Lee

    Reblogged this on The Write Stuff and commented:
    #Self-publishing – And I thought the “Top 40” only applied to radio hits!

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  13. Linda Lee

    Thanks! Couldn’t help chuckling… 🙂

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  14. You are very misguided and sending the wrong message when you say, “If you’re considering becoming a writer, think twice, it won’t make you rich.”

    While only 40 indie authors may be raking in seven-figure incomes, that’s a far cry from saying only 40 are a “success.” In fact, there are tons of indie authors who succeed at what they do, bringing in more than $4K or $5K a month consistently, which for many people is sufficient income to “quit their day jobs.” Maybe they aren’t rich, and maybe that isn’t what you consider “successful,” but I think they’re quite happy with the outcome.

    Furthermore, if you’re good at what you do and work hard, it’s not at all difficult to make a living as a writer. I’m a professional freelance writer as well as an author, and I’m doing fine earning 100% of my living through writing.

    Telling people that you can’t be successful as a writer is irresponsible. I heard that message over and over again throughout my life and believed it, and only now in my late 40s have I discovered that it’s a complete lie. It may not be as easy as going to work in a cube farm doing mind-numbingly boring tasks for a corporation, but it’s far more rewarding and can be considerably more lucrative.

    You and your readers might want to check out Honoree Corder’s book Prosperity for Writers, http://amzn.to/1RjigAi, to change your mindset so you can be successful – however that’s defined.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. I’d like to see some data to back up the fact that only 40 self-published authors make money. I’m a nobody. Not a household name. What you would call a ‘mid-list’ author.
    I made 6 figures last year.
    Nice scare tactic though to get indies to drop out thinking they won’t make a dime.

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  16. I’d like to see some data to back up the fact that only 40 self-published authors make money. I’m a nobody. Not a household name. What you would call a ‘mid-list’ author.
    I made 6 figures last year.
    Nice scare tactic though to get indies to drop out thinking they won’t make a dime.

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  17. “One third of the bestseller list is self-pubs.” Means exactly. Nothing. The lists are manipulated to boost a few books and then let them fall. “Bestseller” can mean your book sold a measly 100 copies. As a publisher who is very familiar with Amazon’s lists, I promise you that being a “bestseller” means very very little in the big picture–unless the author is a consistent bestseller reaching the top ten on the list routinely. On any given day, dozens of authors can claim their books are bestsellers, but most of those books will never be seen on the bestseller list again. Or authors can claim to be a bestseller because their books make it onto the top 100 of a minor sub-list. It’s a game and it does not reflect actual revenue and profits. Also, major publishers count Amazon sales as one part of a much broader distribution picture, while self-pubs rarely have any other viable sales outlet besides Amazon. Last but not least, Amazon sales skew heavily to a few genres, such as erotic romance. The real publishing world sells a much broader spectrum of books.
    s

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  18. Reblogged this on So, I Read This Book Today and commented:
    What a terrific article! I met with author Michael Angel over the weekend we discussed this very issue. The publishing legacy has become so unmovable on their book pricing that, IMO, they are pushing people away from “their” authors and encouraging them to move to self-published authors instead. Honestly? I have found that some of the self-published authors write more interesting, stronger books than the “name” authors. Stephen King and Dean Koontz seem to be writing the same books over and over again, much like a machine stamping out the same thing over and over again. And as much as I get frustrated with self published authors who are sloppy with their editing, the fact that I am finding so many editorial errors in legacy books means that it really doesn’t “pay to pay” for legacy book authors any longer. I download a ton of self-published books and, while I am often disappointed, especially with editorial issue, I am often thrilled to find SP authors who are absolutely amazing writers who I then begin to follow and read consistently.

    I find it interesting that they consider ““Making money” here means selling more than one million e-book copies in the last five years.” to be the line. As this article points out extremely well, there are hundreds of thousands of authors out there, publishing on Amazon. That problem, getting your book out there and getting it noticed, is to me the most difficult issue with self-publishing. The “40 author” phenomenon will be hard to break until SP authors are able to learn, and take advantage of, all the marketing possibilities in a consistent manner.

    I look forward to watching what happens in the coming years!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Interesting information. My threshold for success is a bit lower than Amazon’s measure. If an author manages to sell 50k digital books a year (as opposed to the 200k copies that a “Success” is selling on average) they could easily be pulling in over 100,000 dollars a year, which is a very good wage.

    I’m curious how many self-published authors fall into the category of selling more than 50k books a year.

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  20. Umm, I made enough money writing last year to quit my day job and go at it full-time. Yeah, I’m making less money now than I did as a consultant, but I like this more and don’t have to travel, or even commute.
    Now, yes, I’m not making a million sales in 4 years, but I did sell about 30K copies last year and hope to do better this year.
    I think someone needs to define ‘successful’ a bit more realistically.

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  21. John Doppler

    What a terribly misleading and inflammatory headline.

    Here’s the relevant quote:
    “For decades, the literary world dismissed self-published authors as amateurs and hacks who lacked the talent to land a book deal. But that attitude gradually began to change with the rise of e-books and the arrival of Kindle from Amazon, which gave authors direct access to millions of readers. 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.”

    Nowhere in the article does a source declare that one million books sold is the threshold for success. That’s a ridiculously arbitrary and unrealistic criterion. Although your article singles out indie publishers, the overwhelming majority of traditionally published authors would fail to meet to that requirement as well.

    Indie publishing has empowered more authors to seek a full-time career in writing than ever before. Are they all rivaling Amanda Hocking’s sales? Of course not. Are they thriving and profiting from their work? Yes, they are. Between the blockbusters at the top of the charts and the amateurs at the end of the long tail, there is ample room for success. That’s where most professional authors reside.

    With that in mind, I pose the following question to you: Would you honestly confront a mid-list author — traditional or indie — and declare that they are a failure because they haven’t sold one million copies on Amazon?

    Liked by 2 people

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  23. Thank you, Claude Forthomme-Nougat. Interesting article with useful info. But allow me to take issue with a few matters.

    First, you define making money, and therefore success, as selling at least a million e-book copies in the last five years. I’m sorry, that’s too narrow. I don’t define success that way. Few of the writers and editors I know would. No, better make that more likely none of them.

    Second, you assume writers do what they do in order to get rich. I don’t. Never have. How many of you writers have ever labored under this delusion?

    I don’t believe all writers share the same expectations. Not to mention values, goals, motivations. And standards of success. A writer should be very wary of assigning his or her own expectations, et cetera, to other writers, as individuals and in general.

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  24. Hmmm…interesting. The thing is…”making money” doesn’t always mean making “a lot” of money or selling a million copies of your book/books. All I know is that after 32 years with legacy publishers (during which I sold thousands of books but made pennies on them at 4-18% royalties…and was always treated shabbily) I started self-publishing in 2012 and, though I don’t make a huge amount of money every year or sell millions of books- I still make a heck of a lot more,at 70% royalties, than I ever did with legacy publishers. I’m not rich; not one of the big sellers…but I sure am grateful every month when I get money from Amazon and other venues directly deposited into my bank account. A lot more money than I’ve ever made before. And I have complete control of my book empire. So I’m content and happy..

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  25. Reblogged this on Don Massenzio's Blog and commented:
    How do indie authors feel about this? Is Amazon’s definition of success a bit too high?

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  26. T.J. Thomas

    However, non-self published authors selling more than a million books in the last five years are pretty thin on the ground, too.

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  27. Mikki

    This is misleading. The NYT article says, “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.” You say, only forty make money and are successful. That’s a far cry from what the actual NYT article says. And that doesn’t present the full picture. The NYT article doesn’t say the actual number of successful indie authors. It also doesn’t account for the number of authors who have gone wide and who have other income streams outside of Amazon.

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  28. Alex

    I’ve been doing great with my first book out, but since I recently released my 2nd title, things have skyrocketed for me. So much that I could afford to quit my well-paying, but frankly dull and unfulfilling day job, that I never wanted to have in the first place, but paid the bills and provided for my family so I did what I had to do as long as I could have. Now my writing does an even better job with that. So better, that I managed to cover full-term expenses for my 2nd university enrollment (already have one degree behind me), and affording to go to college in this day and age is anything but affordable, for most people. Especially in the creative arts. I’m studying film production. It’s as expensive as it gets where I come from. All that by deliberately working behind the media spotlight threshold in order to remain more or less anonymous.

    I’m sure with a media avalanche pouring over me as it did on people like Andy Weir and Hugh Howey, I could even afford a yacht or two. But because I’m not them, I’m unsuccessful? Am I “below the poverty line” as you said there? According to some interesting statistics concerning the traditionally published authors, and I won’t even be general about it, I’ll go ahead and count “bestsellers”, I earn more money than they do. And I’m self-published. Not even indie, but self-published. Do I count as #41? And I dwell often on virtual forums that deal with self-publishing and I’m far from an uncommon population of self-pubbers. Many are doing twice as good as I do. I think the number of successful self-published authors is far greater than your presentation here, and the only reason I commented is to spoil the false image you are trying to project.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    I always knew the numbers were low…

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  30. Reblogged this on Lise McClendon and commented:
    What’s happening in self publishing in 2016? A lot if you are one of the 40 successful indie writers. Read on

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  31. Thanks for sharing this. Very interesting. I do believe that there are many writers out there making a “decent” income from their books even if they aren’t making millions. At least we are all given a chance to try for the brass ring, and that is more than we had before Amazon opened up their self-publishing platform. I’ll run over and vote for your book cover right now! 🙂

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  32. Reblogged this on Ica's World and commented:
    Excellent article

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  33. janerossdale

    It all depends on your definition of success (and ‘making money)’ Even if only sold at 99c these $1m books raked in $198,000, but the average price is $3.99. Most of us would settle for far less.

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  34. janerossdale

    Sorry, that should have been $198,000 per year! (Against average author earnings in the UK of £11,000.)

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  35. That is a ridiculous definition of “make money”, especially when you go on to point out that very few traditionally published authors are “making money” by that definition either. I know plenty of self-published authors making enough to live on, and I know plenty of traditionally-published authors with day jobs. The comparison made here is terribly flawed.

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  36. I think you need to do a lot more research. Kindle sales are not what you think they are, and are, in fact, a tiny part of the market, anyway. There is no such thing as “legacy” publishers, and using that term discredits you. Traditional or mainstream publishers outsell self-published writers in e-books on a twenty to one margin, they just don’t do it through Kindle. And, of course, mainstream writers sell paper books by the millions, so there’s less of a market for their e-books. One of the problems with self-published writers making money is that they give their books away. You can’t make money at the silly prices they charge. There’s also the justifiable notion that you get what you pay for.

    You might also look to see just who those forty writers are, and exactly what it is they write. I suspect this will discourage you more than anything else possibly could.

    But, really, what do you expect? Ninety-nine percent of the self-published books out there are semi-literate, at best. They’re the same unreadable crap that shows up in slush piles, and gets rejected before an editor reaches page two. When you don’t have to go through gatekeepers, you are not going to have quality. That’s just how it is, and nothing can change this. Crud remains crud, modern technology or not, and self-published fiction is almost all crud of the nastiest, smelliest sort.

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  37. Pingback: Only 40 Self-Published Authors are a Success, says Amazon | geraldfreeman

  38. Do you have a link to the original NYT article?

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  39. If by “make money” you mean “earn over $500,000 a year”, you’re right. The 40 number quoted is the smallest number of people possibly making that income – just from Amazon – not counting income from Kindle Unlimited or from other retailers or pen names or non-bestseller/slower selling books.

    The number making over $50k a year – or about the median US household income – is at least 420. Again, not counting all of the above.

    The actual numbers being bandied about are that it’s probably more like twice that. So almost a thousand writers making a living. And almost a hundred making $500k+.

    Also worth keeping in mind that the data pool tracked seven growth where indie growth has been strong – but that growth continues rapidly. That data is six months out of date now. If you tracked it over the last seven quarters NOW, the numbers would be higher.

    It’s still a long shot, but it’s a far better shot than writers have had for nearly a century. 😉

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  40. Strange then that I would actually have had the pleasure of reading the works of several of these authors that seems to do rather well being self published? Not only that but these authors that I refer to write in a rather specific (narrow?) field of Military Science Fiction and Fantasy.

    I cannot help but feel this “statistics” from Amazon is not entirely accurate.

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  41. Claude, thank you for a very revealing article, I’ve tried to track down the NY Times article concerning the 40 self-published authors who sold one million+ e-books. I’d be very grateful if you could point me to that, if at all possible…

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  42. Fi

    Unfortunately, migrating to script writing is not the Holy Grail. If anything, the statistics are even worse. 100,000 scripts are uploaded to the WGA (West) each year, adding to the millions already up there. Most of these will never see the light of day, and of this annual figure, only 80 will get as far as “the means of production.”

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  43. Pingback: Only 40 Self-Published Authors are a Success, says Amazon – Kade Cook – Author

  44. The question is, how many trad-published authors are presently ‘making money?’ And did you count those who started out self-publishing, but are now signed with a trad publisher, in a separate group? How about those who started out with a trad publisher, but are now self-publishing? (An increasingly large group).

    Also important to note in an article like this is that self-published authors make, on average, more money than traditionally published authors.

    Note that 1 million copies of self-published books amounts to CONSIDERABLY more money for the author than 1 million copies of traditionally published books Are you sure you’re calculating this fairly? Some traditional publishing companies offer a royalty of only 15% after the advance is ‘paid back.’ Publishing platforms like Amazon, on the other hand, offer 35% – or a whopping 70% if you sell through them exclusively.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that about $700,000.00 if you sold a million copies… if you only made $1 in royalties per book? (Assume a 15% royalty on a $6.99 book). But of course, most self-published authors make more than $1. For an ebook priced ideally at $2.99 per copy, it’s closer to $2. They make TWICE AS MUCH as traditionally published authors, for the same amount of sales – and with books priced 1/3 or less the cost of traditionally published ebooks.

    For 1 million books, that’s about $1,400,000.00.

    Don’t you think your criteria for ‘making money’ is a bit excessive? I didn’t realize one had to be a millionaire to be considered to ‘make money’ as an author.

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  45. Michael Mancarella

    I’d say it depends on your definition of “success.” According to these statistics, the top 40 have sold at least 1 million copies over 5 years. That’s an average of 200,000 copies a year. At, say, $4 profit per book, this would mean they make $800,000 per year. To set this as the bar to assess if a writer is “making money” doesn’t seem like a good way to go. A writer could make 1/16th that (by selling 12,500 copies at the same $4 profit), and still make $50,000 a year – a good living wage in most parts of the country. Sure, only 40 writers are getting rich this way, but there has to be many more that can pay their bills and write full-time – which is a really great thing. And even those that are making around $8,000 (the median) per year – that’s a whole lot of groceries and probably some rent. And if they stick with it, there is always the possibility of increased earnings in the future if their books start to take off. I’d guess the picture is not as bleak as it might seem – especially when these people are doing something creative that they love.

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  46. Hi Claude – really interesting post, but I have a question, where did Amazon reveal that number? Just hoping for source data. Thanks!

    Like

  47. Seems a little odd to judge success as a self-publisher as selling more than a million books. 950,000 isn’t successful? How about someone who sells 100,000 of ten books?

    Various figures say that the average traditionally published book only sells about 3,000 copies. Just heard from a publisher that boosted their average was a terrific 6,000 copies. The goal of most writers used to be a traditional publishing deal. Seems like any indy writer who can sell over 5,000 copies is doing better than they would have going the traditional route. Plenty of indy writers make a good living with a catalogue of books that make small but steady sales.

    As for movies and television, those worlds are just as closed off as traditional publishing and hard to break into. There are thousands and thousands of wanna be screenwriters. Probably close to as many wanna be novelists (or maybe more). Given that almost 50% of movies produced are based on source material (usually novels or short stories) a writer wanting to break into that world would probably be better served starting out by self-publishing fiction. It worked for the writer of The Martian.

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  48. There are some great statistics here, but the title is misleading. $1,000,000 divided by five years is $200,000 a year. So any authors making $199,999 a year, or even $75,000 a year, are not considered a “success”? Nonsense.

    Perhaps it is the NY Times article that is at fault, just saying.

    I do agree with the overall points made in the post, and have been trying to counsel my clients for years to remember that everything about self-publishing is easy…except selling books. There are plenty of sites for promoting e-books, but they are almost all complete junk, driven by advertising. Until there is a reliable ranking system to sort the good from the bad, self-publishing will be an uphill battle.

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  49. I wonder why financial success is only equated to selling a million copies over five years. Selling a only hundred thousand copies would place the author’s income in a very nice place.

    Like

  50. There are a lot of awesome authors out there right now that aren’t getting the exposure they deserve. It’s only going to get worse as more and more books are added. This was a great article about a very real issue. Thanks for sharing!

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  54. The article of this title is pure clickbait. The actual statement that Amazon made according to the NYT article is the following:

    “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.”

    YOU perverted that statement into your blog title. It does not help elevate the repuration of bloggers.

    Like

  55. You roasted the writer, very well done.

    Like

  56. Shouldn’t we change the title to:
    FORTY SELF-PUBLISHED AUTHORS HAVE SOLD OVER A MILLION COPIES!

    Its funny how the word “only” makes 40 seem like a small number when — being honest and given this measuring stick for success — its about 30 authors more than I would have guessed.

    Makes you wonder a lot of things, like why 1 million copies over 5 years? When looking at the metrics did that criteria report the smallest number of success cases before the word ‘only’ would have seemed ridiculous in the title?

    I’d honestly like to know how many Indie Authors sold 35,000 copies in a year. Given an eBook priced at $3.99 and Amazon’s royalty rate of 70% that author would take in nearly $100K in royalties before taxes.

    Note: ~ 10% of US citizens make that much or more in a year. That writer’s income would be in the top 10%.

    My completely un-researched suspicion is that the answer would tell a different story. I would humbly admit to being in error if the number proved me wrong.

    I don’t mean for this to sound like I’m attacking your article , but I found myself frowning a lot as I read: Success = 1 million copies? By that math, the same indie author selling that book at $3.99 would bring in ~$55 million a year before taxes. Is that how much a person has to make before they are considered a success?

    Liked by 1 person

    • *Sorry spread sheet error, accidentally calculated yearly total for 10 million sales over 5 years. The author would make 550k, not million… Huge difference admittedly, yet hardly changes the point. The question would now be are you unsuccessful making less then 550K a year?

      Like

      • Hey Claude,

        My email inbox just filled with ~50 updates saying there are new comments your blog post. My comment still being in moderation is, well… kind of leading me to believe I hit the nail on the head and you’re purposely trying to miss lead people. If that is the case, I’m curious why? (no really I’m curious… what would motivate a person to miss lead folks who want to go indie in their publishing?) If I’m way off… I’d still be curious why the post is in moderation? After all, I didn’t say anything offensive.

        Like

  57. tzepke

    Excellent article with useful stats that include sources. I’ve read so many blogs whereby the bloggers are telling folks how wonderful indie publishing is and how well indie authors are doing (including a recent post from Hugh Howey who didn’t include where he got his statistics from) and it is about time someone got real and shared some real statistics to let wanna be writers know that you don’t just put book on Amazon and tweet about it and wait for the money to pour in. If only! I’ve been in this business for 17 years and have written 28 books. I love being an author but it is hard work, especially these days when we have to wear so many hats and for indie authors this includes writer, publisher, and publicist. This means you need to know how about BISAC codes, DRM, aggregators, distributors, ISBNs, paid promotions, worldwide and territory rights, fringe marketing, etc.

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  60. Interesting article, however is it truly fair to say that no-one makes money other than these forty (which I couldn’t find corroborated)? If you sold 500,000 ebooks at $2.99 over five years, that’s $209,300 a year before taxes. $104,650 a year if you sold 250,000 copies. I think it’s fair to say such an author is making money. So why focus on the ones selling a million?

    Like

  61. It depends how you define, making money. Here its selling over 1 million e-books in five years so yes, according to that criteria.
    The real problem here is that publishing is made too easy and this ease of publishing lets authors take this step without considering what all mainstream publishers consider before publication, the market. What is the market for this book? Where will it sell? What format will achieve the greatest sales? And more. It’s all about selling and depending on the answers, choosing a method and cost of publishing that will achieve a profit.
    Oh yes, and every other book out there is competition for sales of your own book. The easier it is to publish, so anyone can do it, the more competition you face. Nobody makes any money, except Amazon and all those others who run around saying they’ll publish you book – for a fee. Publishers that make their money from publishing books instead of from selling books are Vanity Publishers. No ifs, no buts!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Bookmanpete, you’re absolutely right! Publishing is indeed made too easy (one million new titles/year in the Kindle Store!)and so it boils down to a marketing question. It’s not: how good a writer are you? But how good a book promoter are you?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m going to suggest it’s actually both – and that’s not really new. 🙂

        A good promoter who can’t write isn’t going to sell many copies. But an excellent writer with no idea how to promote is *very* unlikely to sell many either. That’s not new – that’s been true for centuries. History is filled with superb writers who died in poverty because they couldn’t get their work in front of an audience.

        Liked by 2 people

  62. Reblogged this on The Quill Pen Writes and commented:
    Sounds about right. But ask most of the hundreds of thousands why they write and they’ll likely tell you that it’s love, not money, that keeps them at it.

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  63. I have to question your math here.

    You say that only 40 self-published authors “make money” and define “make money” as selling more than a million books in the past five years.

    Let’s examine this at the three common price points among indie authors—$2.99, $3.99, and $4.99. Some are higher, some are lower, but the vast majority call within that $2.99-$4.99 range. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to lowball it and go with a million copies over five years.

    A million books over five years comes out to 200,000 books per year. At the 70% royalty used by pretty much every ebook retailer, the $2.99 ebook price point earns indie authors approximately $2 per copy. $3.99 is about $2.80 and $4.99 is about $3.50. If you’re selling 200,000 books a year at $2.99 per book, that’s $400,000 a year. Obviously if you’re at the $3.99 price point that’s $560,000 per year and if you’re selling at $4.99, now you’re up to $700,000.

    So this belief that you don’t “make money” unless you’re making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year seems like a slight exaggeration.

    Why are we defining success by such a ridiculous margin? By this logic, there aren’t only a lot of authors who aren’t successful, but there are a lot of people who aren’t successful.

    I’m going to define success as making a full-time living from your writing. Median income in the United States is around $50,000 per year. To achieve that as a self-published writer, you need to sell 25,000 books a year at $2.99 (less books if you’re selling at .

    If you publish one book a year, that’s a tall order. But if you publish more than one, that’s fewer copies of each title. Let’s say you publish five books a year—not an uncommon number for most indies. That’s only 5,000 copies per title per year to make $50,000.

    And as you continue publishing, you’re adding more and more titles to your backlist. So if your first year you publish five titles, each one of those titles has to sell 5,000 copies to earn a full-time living.

    But in year two you add five new titles. That means you now have ten titles you can make money off of, so now you only need to sell 2,500 copies of each title.

    Year three is five more titles. Now it’s only around 1,700 copies per title.

    And so on.

    So why do we define success as more than a million books sold over five years?

    Like

  64. Gary Thaller

    It depends on how you define success. If it weren’t for my eBooks, I’d have lost my home.

    Like

  65. Brian

    One-million books? At first I thought I was reading a piece in the Onion. The yardstick by which indie and hybrid writers measure their success is by their earnings. There are thousands of indie writers earning six figures. The idea that volume trumps income is precisely the sort of antiquated, narrow thinking that has the large publishers on their heels.
    Of course there are still those out there who think the world is as it was prior to 2010. Indie writers craved recognition and acceptance. We wanted the same respect given to traditional writers. But then something remarkable happened. Our royalties came in. It wasn’t long after that we realized we were making more money than the people whose approval we desired. They were the ones struggling, not us. They were the ones constantly seeking validation from the corporate branch of the literary world. We found that the approval of our fans was all we had ever needed.
    My point in this response is not to insult you. It is to enlighten you. The literary world has changed. And though there are thousands of indie writers unable to make a living, there are thousands who do very well.
    To put this into perspective, I am part of a discussion group of fifty indies and hybrids. The mean income is $150,000-$250,000 per year. Very few of us have reached one-million copies – though some have. Our group is intentionally kept small, but we could easily swell the ranks. However, it would defeat the purpose of the group.
    In the time I have been a writer, I have provided my family with a home, and security for the future. I’m not what you would consider wealthy, but I want for nothing. If that’s not success, then I need to reevaluate my choice of profession.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’re part of a very special group…AND you started when the going was good, back in 2010! I’m part of a group too and NOBODY is making that kind of money…Also, “hybrids” are very special people, able to make it in both worlds, traditional publishing AND self-publishing. They’re the best of the best. Small wonder they make all that dough!

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  67. Thanks for sharing the info about Amazon’s report on self-published writers who “make money.” One million e-books is a high bar, and far from my definition of success. I think if you are able to support yourself from book sales, that is success. I’ve read inspirational articles of people who have been able to quit their day jobs and become writers. And they’ve been able to do that on fewer than one million book sales.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Of course, you’re right, it is a high bar and certainly not one I use for myself :)! But I do think we are coming up against a myth here, and it needs to be revealed and dispelled. Self-publishing, alas, for most people is a mirage – and it’s certainly not the road to riches. But if you enjoy writing and want to see your name on a book cover, then why not? Go ahead and have fun!

      Liked by 3 people

  68. One of the things Kindle has done is to give those authors who just wanted their story to be out there without thinking too much about the profit margin, the chance to become a published author. Some good some bad, like most things in life.
    I took up the question of ‘sale numbers’ with a print on demand publisher, going as far as sending an example of a simple statistical format (after all, they must know how many books they print). No joy! Not surprisingly, I ended my relationship with them on account of other issues as well.
    I get so much joy from the process of conceiving an idea to finally getting it into a story of 60,000 words or more, that I don’t worry too much about the return. You wouldn’t think so however, if you see how my eyes light up when I receive a paymrnt or two.

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  70. Cisco

    I’ll be clear cut about this. You are defining “success” as making writing a livable income source.

    That is not how *I*, or a lot of other people define success.

    Pure and simple.

    Like

  71. Good post, I dont agree that writing and publishing eBooks cannot make you an income. I really think if the profession is treated seriously and with respect the sufficient income will be made. Not all doom and gloom.

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  72. Reblogged this on Riley Amos Westbook and commented:
    For those looking to become rich and famous as an author…Don’t write for the money.

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  74. So, the threshold for success is 200K books a year? With a bottom end price of $2.99 (many indies price their work higher) and a 70% royalty (not split with a publisher or agent), that’s nearly half a million bucks a year! To the author! Yeah, that’s successful by anyone’s definition. But, those of us who are considered “mid-listers”, with books selling on average at $4.99 (again with the 70% royalty that we don’t split with a publisher or agent), need only sell 29,000 ebooks a year to have a comfortable six digit income. With ten titles, only eight sales per title per day would do the trick. A six digit income would allow just about any writer to go full time. A lot of traditionally published authors still have day jobs. I don’t.

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  75. Your suggestion to enter filmmaking is a bit funny. I think ALL markets are now very competitive, creative ones more so.

    Writwrs do t need anyone to write. Filmmakers need lots of people. If you want to enter the script world, you have to develop more than just writing.

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  76. I’ve given away 950,000 for free. Does that count? 🙂

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  77. Pingback: Only 40 Self-Published Authors are a Success, says Amazon | Toni Kennedy : A Writing Life

  78. Check with the Society of Authors and you’ll find that apart from a few big names traditionally published authors have never done that well.

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  81. Lynn Everett

    This statistic may not seem so grim if you factor in the number of self-pub authors who don’t set out to make money with their books. A large proportion of self-published titles, for example, are personal memoirs or autobiographies written by elderly people, whose only publishing goal is to share life stories with loved ones. Another large portion of these authors publish to reach a career milestone and put something on their resume. Much more interesting would be a statistic that determined what percentage of self-pub authors whose publishing goal is to make the kind of money mentioned in the article, actually make that amount. Data that showed the actual dollar amounts being made by such authors would also illuminate the big picture much more.

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  82. Would you mind if I shared this on my blog? I have some folks who need to read this! Great job!

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  83. ““Making money” here means selling more than one million e-book copies in the last five years.”

    Sheesh. How many decently successful authors with the big publishing houses sell that much in five years?

    Like

  84. There are actually dozens of markets for books…divided by genre, as well as language. People writing non-fiction have a very different set of challenges from fiction. Fiction writers face much more competition as there are often thousands of books even in narrowly defined genres, such as bi-racial romance or hispanic cosy mysteries. But your article should be very helpful to beginners so that their expectations are somewhat realistic.

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  85. Yeah, you see “selling over a million copies” isn’t “success”. Able to live off your book earnings so you need do nothing but write, is success and only the trad published who sell millions can do that.

    I know seven self-pubbed who live off the money they make from their writing. (I also happen to know one trad published author that has made seven figures and could give up the day job.)

    You know what, the self-published authors haven’t sold over a million copies. They don’t have to sell that many because they get 70% of the sale price from every book, and get it one month after the book is sold.

    They don’t get the pittance the trad publishers offer – and have to wait months/years for. Nor are they limited to the one book per year (at best) that the big five insist on. And neither do they have to wait two years for a book to be published once they finished writing it.

    Just more bollocks from the trad publishing world trying to deny that self-publishing works. It’s pathetic.

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  88. Michelle DeWitt

    Success equalling one million copies seems a rather narrow definition.

    If it were broadened to 100,000, priced at $5 each, generating $500,000 in income, minus $20,000 in initial production and marketing costs (edit, proof, cover, layout, website, online marketing campaigns, etc.), $5,000 in tax deductible overhead (computer, desk, software, memberships, etc.), deduct about 30% for self employment taxes, this leaves around $325,000 net.

    Spend two years full time on it, 40 hrs/wk writing the book then marketing, that’s $80 per hour NET. Or think of it as $160,000 net per year for two years (because presumably you’ll start working on another book after that). In my book that’s really good pay.

    Sure, it will be spaced over five years–but $65,000 per year net is still a nice full time income. And a few years in you would presumably be developing a new revenue stream till eventually there would be no gap and you would then have a steady annual net income of over $150,000!

    I’ll take that kind of success!

    Like

  89. ‘self-publishing could be encroaching in a territory that used to be seen as exclusive to legacy publishers.’

    This is the territory I have my eye on, and I loved your post.

    Big publishers have carried the big books, the literary works, the developed and acclaimed authors (many of whom deserve the position they’ve earned by good writing).

    Indies have gone after the genre work, and have produced good work, adequate work, or competent work – and their pricing structure allows them to succeed.

    But I want to compete on merit with the big guys. I took a long time to get to published. I put in the work, the editing, the development of complex plots. I read all the good books on writing – Albert Zuckerman’s Writing the Blockbuster Novel (with its careful analysis of a Ken Follett book), and the Sol Stein books on writing, and all Donald Maass’ masterful books on writing well.

    It is a little scary: it would have been easier not to, and it is still hard getting going with the marketing.

    But I think we will be going there, we indies, and will be figuring out how to make it work.

    Like

    • Thanks for your nice long comment…Hadn’t realized this post of mine got so many comments and reactions – I haven’t looked at it for…8 months! Mea culpa!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Marketing is slow, Book 2 is coming along slowly, and I still believe every word I wrote above. IF I succeed, I’d like to reap the benefits, not some publisher.

        And I’d like to connect directly to readers, as I do with the ones I have.

        We each have our little fantasy.

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  92. Good report, thanks, but I don’t agree with the metric they’ve used here: ““Making money” here means selling more than one million e-book copies in the last five years.” I would consider £10,000+ a year a more realistic metric: a nice sum but not sufficient income on its own, without day jobs. Or maybe a figure large enough to be able to “give up work”, even if it was a struggle, and write full-time.

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  94. Before people start reposting this as if it’s scripture, do you have a link to Amazon’s million-book statistic? Where they say one needs to sell a million books to “make money.”

    Like

  95. Much of your post is interesting but I’d take issue with:
    self-published authors who deem that $3 to $5 is the “right” price
    As another self-pubber, I want my books to sell at a price that the market will bear. The going rate of $3 is set by Amazon. I prefer not to talk of ‘predatory pricing’ but putting on non-writing hat – Accounting & Business Strategy – I’d say there is a large market distortion which is defined by the 70% royalty band (my take on the market is here: https://tparchie.wordpress.com/2015/04/24/e-pulp/)
    As a minnow I’m sucked whichever way the market bucks – there’s no way i could live on my earnings, but I have come across someone who, though he may have only shifted a six-figure number of units in the time-frame, felt comfortable enough to do away with his day-job.

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  96. Jake

    Who are the 40 self-published successful authors?

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  98. A million copies is the measure of “success?” I think I’d be pretty happy a lot lower than that!

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  101. I write and I have to agree with you on making money as a writer, but I’m also a filmmaker. If you went with filmmaking over writing you’d be in the same boat when it comes to making a living. It’s just as hard, if not harder with the amount of money I’ve invested in my own projects.

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  103. Chelsea

    No one “chooses to go in to writing”. We write because not writing feels like drowning, we need writing to survive. I’d also like to know why having a job besides writing is considered a failure. I love both writing and my day job. I’m considering self-publishing because I just want to share my passion with the world, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

    If you’re writing to become rich, not only are you doing it for the wrong reason, but you will never survive the publishing process, and honestly you’re not very smart (or at least well informed on the industry) if you thought writing would make you rich. We don’t do it for the money.

    Like

    • I totally agree with you Chelsea: we should NEVER do it for the money! All that jazz about self-published authors making tons of money, forget it – it’s not true anyway, the latest data from authorearnings.com show a big drop in sales of self-pubbed titles…Write for your own pleasure, that’s the way to go!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Chelsea, you’re right. Do it if it makes you happy. Don’t do it to make money, that’s all….

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  110. Your headline is blatantly false. By your own admission, Amazon specifically listed people who had sold “more than one million e-book copies in the last five years” on Amazon alone.

    That number of units on Amazon alone is only pertinent for the definition of “success” if you’re only selling on Amazon and if your price point is $0.99 USD.

    The vast majority of authors I know (and, as I’m in the field, I know a lot of pros) define “success” as “making a full-time living”. For the sake of discussion, let’s define that as 6 figures, at least $100k per year, though I know some folks for whom the “success” number would be lower.

    One million units is significantly more than $100k per year at every price point except $0.99. If an author prices their stories at at least $2.99, then they’d need to total <280k units sold in 5 years. If $4.99, <170k units. If $9.99, <84k units.

    Perhaps you meant the headline as tongue-in-cheek, which would fit your redefinition of “making money”, but I’ve seriously seen your article cited to claim that only those 40 authors “made a profit” self-publishing over the past 5 years.

    Like

    • Read the latest news on authorearnings.com – as I explained in another comment here (to Michiko) I know, it’s hard to take. But there it is…When there are so many authors vying for attention in the Kindle Store (one million new titles every year!), you can make it only if you’re truly good at book promotion (not at book writing – marketing is the name of the game!)

      Like

    • Of course we’re speaking of the tip of the iceberg here. But I’m amazed the tip is so narrow: 40 authors only? Wow! Doesn’t it surprise you? But since I wrote that, so many months ago, more information about how self-published authors are doing has come out from Authorsearnings.com and the story is…well, sad. Confirmation of what I feared: self-publishing authors “normally” do not make money (however you define that)

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      • So only forty people have become multi-millionaires through their self published Kindle titles over the last few years?

        THAT is the bar for success? Making seven figures a year?

        That seems like a pretty high bar. And it completely ignores the THOUSANDS of indie writers making five and six figures a year, earning a living wage from their work.

        Don’t get me wrong. It’s still hard work. Most people give up, or won’t put in enough effort to succeed. Most writers today making a living are writing 4+ books a year – EVERY year – in order to make rent. But many thousands of writers are doing just fine that way, either trad pub or indie.

        You don’t have to sell a million copies to make a living. Remember, a million copies means at LEAST $2 million in income for the indie writer! That’s not typical – that’s an outlier. Most of the writers I know who work hard at this are making mid five to mid six figures and are pretty happy.

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  112. Go4theGoal

    I thought Hugh Howey’s data suggested the masses were getting rich off self-publishing. Only 40 in the last 5 years? That’s almost the odds of winning my state lottery.

    Like

  113. Lisa

    Umm… Go into filmmaking because writing is dead? You do realise you need a storyline for film?

    Like

  114. Joe

    Amazon is not the only source of data for self published authors – fan fiction is available on many other sites. 50 Shades of Grey started this way – not on Amazon. Plenty of self published authors make money, albeit perhaps not enough to replace a day job, but they do earn respectable part time wages.

    Like

    • Plenty used to. Not anymore, sorry Joe. See my answer above – to Michiko Tenno. Sad really, very sad. All I can say is this: to self-publish is generally speaking a bad idea unless you’re a whizz at marketing and self-promotion…

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  115. Michiko Tenno

    I imagine more than 40 indies are successful… if we define success as being able to support oneself through writing as successful — in other words, earning >$50k/yr. I’d guess there are several hundred of them. If, ob the other hand, we mean by success earning >$1m/year, the number probably drops to a mere handful, though it’s probably not significantly smaller than the number of successful traditionally published authors. Authorearnings.com probably has some better information on this point.
    http://authorearnings.com
    Misinformation on this point abounds, and leads to an underestimation of the success of indies. For whatever reason, we tend to think a traditionally published author who sells a few thousand books in a year is a success, but an indie who sells ten times that is not. It’s all quite confusing.

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    • By now, I’m sure you’re read the news from Authorearnings.com Yip, the game is up and truth is finally coming out! Self-published authors do. not. make. any. money. Those who do are of 2 kinds:
      1. Those who were very lucky, they made a name for themselves early in the game, before the tsunami of self-published authors drowned everybody’s chances to survive (hey, there are one million new titles in the Kindle Store every year! Who do you think can read all that?)
      2. Authors who made some kind of best-selling list (NYT, USA Today whatever) when they were traditionally published a few years ago: they have a fan base so when they publish their backlist, those titles go like hot cakes…Trouble now, most of them have gone through their back list and so they are in a quandary. They better write something new fast! All of this explains the crash in the earnings of self-published authors!

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      • A better way of putting this would be “writers do not make money”. Usually that’s very true.

        Remember, less than 1% of submissions are accepted, so 99% of trad pub submissions make $0.

        Of the 1% that make ANYTHING, the average advance is about $4000 right now, and 8 out of 9 books don’t earn out their advance.

        So basically, if you’re in the top 1% of all authors submitting work to traditional publishers, you will make an average $4k per book.

        Trad pub writers who make more than that are outliers. They’re people who worked especially hard at their craft, and their marketing, and wrote more books, struggling every day to excel at every aspect of their work.

        Luck doesn’t help. You can get lucky once, but that doesn’t make a career. It just makes a single event.

        Indie writers who make a living are also those who work hard: who strive to excel at their craft, who push, who learn marketing, who keep working and don’t give up.

        Most give up.

        I didn’t.

        Which person you want to be is up to you.

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  116. Alan Millard

    If you were to recommend a publisher which one would it be?

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    • Any of the traditional publishers would be fine – depends on your genre, where you live etc. You need to first get a literary agent to represent you – though some small presses that are perfectly good accept unagented authors’ submissions. To get a list of publishers, go to Anne R. Allen’s blog, she’s full of good advice!

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  117. Kevin, I get your point but my whole article is an ATTACK ON THE AVERAGE! I think that one cannot assume as you write: “On average an indie writer who is producing professional quality work will significantly out-earn a writer whose work is being published by someone else.” How can you say this is true “on average”? On what basis could this ever happen?,

    We now know that ONLY 40 self-pubbed authors were “successful”: the amount they sold (according to Amazon data, not me!) strongly suggests that the distribution of sales is extremely SKEWED. Given the vast number of self-pubbed authors, probably some 500,000 (considering the number of new titles coming out each month) and perhaps even multiples of that number, the number of 40 successful authors seems incredibly small! It suggests that all the others are not selling, at least not anywhere near the “average” you are talking about…

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    • You’re right of course. But I am shocked that out of a minimum 500,000 self-published authors (and perhaps even more – up to a million, who knows – the Kindle Store published one million new titles every year) ONLY 40 made it big! That’s an abysmal % that suggests the sales distribution is probably deeply skewed – not a bell curve at all, more like the Everest climb, with a few on the summit and all of us down on Base One…

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      • Welcome to the world of making a living at the arts. 😉 I say that a little tongue in cheek, not to be deprecating (I was annoyed when all the email alerts about this thread appeared in my inbox, but I’ve begun enjoying this conversation), but to point out this isn’t really new.

        I mentioned YouTube before – because a handful of people are making millions from YouTube (just like Kindle!) but almost nobody is making money there at all (also just like Kindle). On the other hand, thousands of people are making a living from their YouTube accounts (again, just like Kindle).

        Most people who put up any sort of art, be it music, sketches, painting, video, or writing fail to make a living at it. For a variety of reasons – the biggest that it is simply a LOT of work.

        It’s not a bell curve. It’s never going to be. A few people break out very big, huge even. A bunch more make a decent living. A larger group makes some money. Most make nothing.

        Not new though…

        Liked by 2 people

  118. Me

    I make $30,000 a month, and am self published, and I am no one that you have ever heard of. I could start with a new pseudonym tomorrow and have it producing $5,000 a month within 2 years.

    So I disagree heartedly with this article.

    It just comes down to good content, and good marketing. I guarantee that there are FAR more than 40 of us packing in a lot of money off of self publishing.

    Mainly because I keep the royalties, instead of giving most of them to a publisher.

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  119. Pingback: "Self-Published Authors Are Destroying Literature" and Other Opinions | Book Cover Express

  120. Fred

    CLAUDE – Very interesting article. The great thing about digital self-publishing is that it makes it very easy to make novel-writing a hobby. You don’t even need to pay a vanity press anymore to print your work. I’ve got a good job. I don’t need the money. I don’t want the hassle of trying to deal with publishing houses or promoting my work. In fact, I’m not even on facebook. I suspect many others are in the same boat.

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  121. Thanks for the info. I’ve enjoyed reading the article and the comments. I would only like to add that I fell like I am in the middle. I write my own books and only publish on Kindle.

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  122. Don’t you just hate it when you post something only to realize you made a typo and there is no edit button. Geez!

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  123. This is bad, I didn’t know indie writing community was hitting so low.But nevertheless if anyone wants to make money through their passion. It requires lot of hard work and patient.

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  127. 1 million ebooks in 5 years is 20,000/year. If you’re making an average of $3 per sale, that’s $600,000 a year. Do you seriously need $600k a year to “make a living”? A tenth of that is a much more reasonable bar.

    True, most self-published authors make next to nothing, but way, way more than 40 of them are making a living (unless, of course, they need a million bucks a year to get by).

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  128. H. Bentley

    Good article! I’ll be sharing this via the indie ezine I run (with credit and link-back, of course!). Several indies I know struggle with their sales, and this would be a good read for all of us indies. 🙂

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  129. Ahbugger

    It’s a good article but it would be interesting to know what proportion of self-published books are even capable of reaching the (incredibly) high bar of 200k copies per year over five years. I think one of the real strengths of self-publishing is that it allows the publishing of books that are too niche for traditional publishers to handle: I’m currently looking at publishing a book which is aimed at a UK industry containing about 3000 active professionals. I’d hate the fact that it will only sell a handful of copies to end up as some sort of tacit condemnation of the very industry which allowed it to be brought it to market.

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  130. normapadro (Best Selling Author)

    I like this story. I began writing just for the fun of it. I thought this will be a great opportunity to share my work with the world. I didn’t write to become a millionaire at all. It doesn’t matter to me who makes it in selling the most.
    I have readers from all over the world and that’s enough for me. You get what you get when it comes and this is how I see it. I never expect much. It’s a hobby I really enjoy a lot.

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  131. These statistics are a bit jarring. I would love to gauge my success in the number of grimy, little hands are holding my books and laughing out loud. I guess for me, if I work hard and check that box off, the other “traditional” definitions of success will follow to varying degrees. Maybe my name will never be a household name or my writing used to soley support me financially but the platform still gives hope and pride to indie authors who may never see the fruit of their labor in print. I have no other choice but to write, it is ingrained in me and I will not call myself unsuccessful based on income alone. I took the step, put myself out there and should be proud of that.

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  133. Being an indie writer I can tell you its hard and you better not be in for the money. I worked hard writing my book and promoting. Of course I am not the top author, but it is something I enjoy. If you want to be a self publisher keep in mind you most likely won’t be the top author. Do it because you enjoy it.

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