Author Earnings

If you haven’t taken a look at Hugh Howey’s Author Earning Report, do so by clicking here.

I earned a little over $2k last month, with 990 ebooks and 4 paperbacks sold.

Of those 990 ebooks sold, 2 were sold via B&N through Smashwords; 3 were on the Canadian Amazon site, 19 sold through, and 966 sold through I had no ebook sales anywhere else that I’m aware of at this time, since Smashwords’ other partners haven’t all reported through the end of January. Of those that have, B&N was the only one to report any sales. Of those that haven’t, I’ve either never had sales through them, or the number of sales is super tiny.

That $2k+ in sales is 165.42% increase over my Dec. 2013’s total sales, which were a 162.68% increase over my Nov. 2013 sales.

As of yesterday, I’m seeing a 49.47% increase in sales this month. The first 11 days of January, I had 283 sales, versus 423 sales for the first 11 days of February.

Again, my sales this month are mostly from The breakdown is:

Amazon sites

  • US – 13.24%
  • UK- 84.63%
  • DE- 0.71%
  • FR-  0.24%
  • CA- 0.47%
  • AU- 0.47%

Smashwords (direct) – 0.24%

My average royalty rate (all ebook earnings divided by total number of ebooks sold) is $2.07 this year. I’ll note that I used price points of $2.99 to $3.99 in my last post, but in actuality, $2.99 would be the main price I need to sell books at. The reason being that each one earns a slightly different royalty based on the file size delivery charges. The actual royalty varies between $2.09 to $2.03 on my $2.99 titles. Throw in the occasional sale of a higher-priced title, and viola! $2.07 average royalty rate.

Based on those numbers, is my personal “gorilla.” It receives an estimated 3,889,885 daily visitors, or roughly 5% the number does. More importantly, it’s where readers are discovering my work and more of them do so every day. And some email, or like my FB author page, which is pretty awesome. :)

My ultimate goal is to earn a full-time living from writing. I’m not the only breadwinner in the family, but it would be nice to earn the full amount we need every year in case something happened (I’ve been widowed before, which is the sort of “something” I mean. We are also mostly self-employed, so there are the inherent vagaries of that to keep in mind.).

Our cost of living isn’t super high, so that ultimate goal amount is less than $67k per year (before taxes).

To earn half that amount with the average of $2.07 per sale, I need to sell the following number of books:

Yearly 16003
Monthly 1334
Weekly 308
Daily 44


To earn the full amount:

Yearly 32,005
Monthly 2,668
Weekly 616
Daily 88


Note: Those numbers are rounded up because I don’t like having loads of partials hanging out.

Either way you slice it, that’s simply not many books in the grand scheme of things. It’s not enough books to put me on the all books Top 100 bestseller list, or any other “big” bestseller list. I’m relatively certain it’s not enough to put one of my titles on’s all books Top 100 list (Unless, perhaps, all of those sales were on one title. Maybe then, but I have doubts.).

I’m not entirely sure 32k copies per year would even equal mid-list status, yet it would be a solid “earning a living” amount for me. From what I can gather, a single title selling 10k copies per year is currently accepted as mid-list. So I guess if I had one title sell that many, I’d be a mid-list author.

As of Feb. 11th, I’m selling an average of 33.6 copies per day this year.

Let’s guesstimate my total earnings for this year:

33.6 copies per day x $2.07 average royalty x 365 days= $25,385.75 gross earnings and 12,264 copies. That’s 38.32% towards my ultimate sales goal of 32,005 copies per year.

My net pay after taxes would be $21,612.13, or $1,801.01 per month.

Of course, that doesn’t account for potential continued monthly sales growth as more readers discover my books and I release more titles. It also doesn’t account for expenses in producing more titles, which if I manage to release the 5 titles I’ve planned to, will total roughly $3,500 or so this year.

Based on that, I could fall into the graphs from Hugh Howey’s Author Earnings report of the 400+ authors earning $25k per year—without doing so through itself—and also with the lion’s share of my earnings the result of only two titles (my Discord Jones books) at this time.

Now, if I were traditionally published, what would my numbers look like?

The standard ebook royalty traditional publishers offer is 25%. That would cut my average royalty rate from $2.07 to $0.52.

33.6 copies per day x $0.52 average royalty x 365 days = $6,376.55.

Let’s say I don’t have an agent, so won’t have to give another 15% away.

My net earnings would be $5,888.74 for the year, or $490.73 per month.

Indie publishing: $21,612.13

Traditional publishing: $5,888.74

That’s a 72.75% difference, and not in my favor.

That’s a lot for the possibility of having a few paperbacks put into some physical bookstores. Way more than the $3,500 it’ll cost me to have 5 titles edited, create covers for them, and pay for custom ISBNs from Createspace, where extended distribution also offers the possibility of having them in physical bookstores.

I’d probably earn out my advance, since it would be in the low 4 figures with my being a “new” author. Yet my sales likely wouldn’t be enough to satisfy my traditional publisher (who probably didn’t do any marketing beyond adding my titles to their catalog and perhaps a press release somewhere), so I wouldn’t be offered a new contract, which would affect my chances of getting one from another traditional publisher.

It doesn’t take into account a possible 2-year delay in publication, or the advance being split into halves, thirds, or possibly even fourths. Or the fact I might have to deal with a restrictive non-compete clause and never seeing my rights returned.

I’d end up having to turn into an indie anyway, if I wanted to continue striving towards my goal of earning a living as a writer.

While the results of the data collected for Hugh Howey’s report may not provide a broad snapshot of how well indie books are doing compared to traditionally published books, it does provide a snapshot.

We’re doing damn good, considering the amount of denigration piled upon us by the traditional sector.

It also shows that readers don’t care whether there’s a Big 5 name on a book. ;)

I’d like to add that the indies included in the data gathering for that report more than likely aren’t those who just throw unedited crap stories up. Based on my own browsing of Amazon bestseller lists, most of them are going to be fairly competent writers who do have their work edited in some fashion, and do try to make each of their new books better than the last one was. Most of the indies I’ve met in the KDP forums who sell well (hundreds to thousands of copies per month) have their books edited and don’t skimp in their efforts to continually improve their writing skills.

Choosing to go indie doesn’t mean you’ll reach whatever your personal “success” goal is, but you’ll likely have a better chance if you learn and improve than you will if you just toss out book after book, hoping something will hit—or if you go the traditional publishing route.

Keep in mind nothing is guaranteed when you’re a writer.

Your first book may take right off with respectable or mind-blowing sales, or you may struggle along for years, selling less than $100 to right around $700 per year, as I did for 5.75 years before something caught on. Yes, I’ve been indie that long, and it took that long before I began to have anything resembling “notable” sales. :)

Even IF something does catch on, it doesn’t mean you’ll be swimming in champagne while browsing real estate brochures offering private islands. Nor does it mean your sales are guaranteed to continually grow. There are too many variables to count on reaching the point of earning a living as a writer, and staying at that point in the future.

But it appears to be a better chance if you go indie. ;)

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Being Successful as a Writer

There’s a lot going on with Mr. Zacharias responding to blog posts by various authors, and one of the points discussed is earning a living wage writing, which isn’t exactly easy for traditionally published authors, due to the huge chunks traditional publishers take of each sale, regardless of format.

For me, success is earning a living wage, and where I live, the basic cost of living budget for a family our size is $53,220 ( I believe that’s after taxes.

While that’s not the actual number I have set as a goal (my after tax amount’s a bit lower due to living 30 or so miles away from Lubbock, in a much smaller town), I’ll use it for illustration purposes, and skip the tax part.

My electronic titles, of which I have 18 available, range in price from $1.99 to $5.99. My royalty earnings for this year average out to $2.06 per sale.

If I were traditionally published, my average earnings would be $0.52 per sale, since the standard percentage for authors on traditionally published ebooks is 25%.

The apparent current belief among those who do not self/indie publish is that you have to sell 100,000 copies to be successful and earn “significant” money.

I think earning a living, regardless of what that amount is, is “significant” money, since it allows one to support one’s family.

In order to earn that basic amount noted above ($53,220), I would have to sell 25,835 copies per year. That’s just under 26% of 100,000 copies.

It’s 2,153 copies per month, 497 copies per week, and 71 copies per day—those numbers have been rounded up.

So, in order for me, a self-publishing indie author, to earn enough of a living to be able to support my family, I only have to sell 71 copies per day. That’s not very much, is it?

This year, as of yesterday, I’m averaging 33 copies per day in sales.

I’m nearly halfway to my ultimate goal of earning a living writing, with 6 years as an indie under my belt.

Six years, versus the oft-estimated 10 years of trudging along the traditional publishing route, receiving hundreds  of rejection slips, before finally landing an agent and publishing contract.

The only people I have to split my gross sales with are distributors (and it’s mainly Amazon for me, as that’s where the majority of my sales come through), the IRS, the expenses related with preparing each title for publication, and myself.

I receive the lion’s share even so, which is why I have a far better chance of being successful as an indie than I would if I went the traditional publishing route.

The only thing a traditional publisher could possibly offer me that I can’t do on my own would be an advance. More channels are opening up for indies to get their physical books into bookstores, so I don’t need a traditional publisher for that.

  • I pay editors, so I don’t need traditional publishers for that.
  • I take care of cover design—which fits each title—so I don’t need traditional publishers for that.
  • I’m selling books without doing loads of marketing, so I don’t need traditional publishers for that.
  • Returns are handled on a case-by-case basis, instead of through the “reserve system”, so I don’t need traditional publishers guesstimating returns to hold against the sales of my books.

My books are being read by readers around the world NOW, and have been for six years, instead of with that 10-year haul to be traditionally published, and an additional 2-year delay for publication of each title.

Basically, I don’t need a traditional publisher to be a successful author. I’m doing fine in my efforts to reach that goal, working out of my home office, with my tiny team of beta readers and editors, and my small, though growing, number of readers.

The more titles I release, the more sales, and thus, more earnings. No one title will have to become an overall Amazon Top 100 seller, or show up on any other bestsellers list anywhere.

The more readers who discover my titles and enjoy reading them, the more new readers who will discover and take a chance on them, which will result in my readership growing.

Let’s break it down even more simply.

I only need 25, 835 loyal readers who will purchase one $2.99 or $3.99 ebook every year in order to earn a living as a writer. Or, 12,918 readers who will purchase a $2.99 and a $3.99 ebook each year. Or not quite 6,500 readers who will purchase 4 of my titles priced $2.99 to $3.99 each year.

There are over 7 billion people on this planet, and around 78 million of them visit Amazon alone every month.

Before Amazon shut down the HTML in descriptions, I was able to gather a couple months’ worth of data on my titles’ page views versus purchases. At that time, I wasn’t selling many copies per month, but the range of views versus purchases was 1 out of 3 to 1 out of 10.

One out of every 3-10 people who looked at my titles on Amazon ended up buying one, and I’m an unknown, not even at mid-list level.

Without the slow pace of traditional publishing hindering me, I can release anywhere from 3-12 new titles per year, building a back list that will stay “in print” for as long as I want it to. I don’t have to worry about restrictive non-complete clauses or settle for earning $1.23 per hour of work.

  • My hands aren’t tied by anything but how quickly I can write stories.
  • The only people I have to satisfy are my readers and myself (and the IRS!).
  • I don’t have to meet a certain level of sales on each book in six weeks to continue having a writing career.

Again, it all boils down to that I have a far better chance of being a successful author with the route I’ve chosen than I ever would by running the traditional publishing gauntlet.

Note: And I did CHOOSE this route. I have never submitted to agents or traditional publishers. I chose to go directly to those who matter the most to writers: Readers.

Maybe others won’t view me as successful because I’m not selling hundreds of copies per day, or hundreds of thousands per year.

But that’s the cool thing about success: You can tailor it to your own personal needs.

I don’t need to be wealthy to feel successful.

I already am successful, because I’m selling books and growing a readership.

And so are a lot of other indies. :)

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