Survey of self-published authors

Here are some interesting survey results. I’ve only taken a cursory look at this, but I believe these numbers are supposed to apply to self-published authors who are making a serious attempt to succeed at building writing into a career, putting at least half their working hours into writing and related activities.

This is based on a broad survey targeting whomever wanted to answer survey questions on this topic AND spent about 50% of their time on writing and related tasks. I would assume the numbers are biased toward people who are doing well, because those are the people most likely to fill out a survey. But I don’t KNOW that; it just seems likely. Nevertheless, the numbers seem reasonably plausible.

  • The average (mean) income of self-published authors in 2022 was over $80,000.
  • Some 28% earned $50k+ and almost a fifth ran six-figure publishing businesses.
  • Almost half of the respondents (43.8%) reported over $20k revenue.
  • Almost a quarter had not yet started to earn, bringing in between 0 and 1K.
  • The median income of self-published authors was $12,749. 

So something like a fifth below $1000 per year, another fifth above $100,000 per year — very wide spread, which of course we knew. Mean of $80,000, about 40% over $20,000 per year, median about $13,000 per year.

The difference between the mean and the median tells us that a significant number of self-published authors surveyed are making A LOT over $80,000. It’s the “fifth” that are in six figures that must be pulling up the mean, and “running a publishing business” strikes me as something that should be chopped up into pieces. Any writers who are publishing a significant number of works by other people as well as their own ought to be in a different category from authors publishing only their own works. Maybe they are; as I said, I did not look at any of this in detail, just glanced over the linked summary.

The difference between “about 40% earning over $20,000” and “median $13,000” is interesting. The other 60% must be way below $13,000. Of course that includes the quarter of respondents who are not really earning much at all.

  • More than 2,000 authors have surpassed $100,000 in “royalties” from Amazon KDP in 2022. 

That doesn’t surprise me at all. If you have a million people fairly serious to very serious about self-publishing, then 2000 people represents 0.002 or 0.2% of those people. If anything, that sounds low. Maybe only 100,000 people are fairly serious; that would put the percentage of those authors earning above $100,000 at 2%, which seems plausible.

  • Many authors now run thriving businesses on their own websites, through direct sales, crowdfunding, and patronage from readers.

That sounds like a fair bit of trouble. You have to do a good deal of work to run a Kickstarter, and doing weekly or monthly content for Patreon would be worse. I mean, unless you have a knack for writing short stories fast or whatever.

Selling books directly wouldn’t be particularly annoying. I wonder how many readers would like to buy signed copies? Even though I don’t have any particular setup to do that , I’m certainly happy to sign a copy of anything and send it to anybody who asks. I mean, in case you wondered.

  • Author Brandon Sanderson made crowdfunding history publishing by independently publishing four books through Kickstarter, securing a record-breaking $41m (his goal was $1m).

I think we all heard about that.

  • The Pulitzer Prize, the British Book Awards and the Commonwealth Book Prize (amongst other major literary awards) are now all open to self-published authors.

I’m not sure we had all heard about that! I hadn’t.

  • Books by indie authors account for 30-34% of all e-book sales in the largest English-language markets, as reported in Publishers Weekly.

I would be stunned if it were any less. I’m actually surprised it’s not more. If you add in Kindle Unlimited, I bet it’s more — maybe a lot more.

  • A study by FicShelf found that women wrote just 39% of traditionally published titles, but 67% of self-published titles.

Well, of course. That’s the huge emphasis on romances in self-publishing. I mean:

The Smashwords annual ebook survey shows how self-published romance ebooks dominate the ebook market. In short, the romance genre accounts for a staggering 87% of the top 100 bestsellers on Smashwords and their aggregators. Should I repeat that number? Eighty-seven percent! The number must make all romance authors smile. While it is impossible to compare this data with sales of self-published romance novels on Amazon Kindle, one could make a logical assumption that romance probably also dominates Kindle ebook sales.

And here: about 40% of all fiction titles are romances.

I wonder how many guys are writing and self-publishing romance under a female name? I bet quite a few. I would actually really like to know (a) what proportion of “romance authors” are actually scammers with ghostwriters and clickfarms, and (b) whether Amazon is EVER going to slam that loophole shut.

Also, looks like about half of all bestselling romances, SF, and fantasy are now self-published. That doesn’t surprise me either.

Okay! While on the subject of self-publishing:

Have you heard of Publisher Rocket? If you are self-publishing, you probably have; if you’re thinking of self-publishing, it’s an interesting service. It costs about $100 for a lifetime subscription. I have just poked at it a little so far, but I hope it will be useful. It looks like it may be. Among other things, it will take a keyword phrase, such as “space opera” and show you what searches that phrase actually occurs in, such as (among lots of others), “space opera military SF” or “space opera adventure” or “space opera romance free” and it will show you, among other things: (a) how many titles currently use that keyword phrase; (b) the average price of those titles; (c) how many people search on Amazon for that particular phrase per month; (d) how competitive that keyword phrase is — that is, how hard it is to get your book noticed if you use that phrase.

For example:

Space opera –> 38,000 competing titles –> average price $13 –> 5500 people per month search for that phrase –> highly competitive keyword phrase.

Space opera military science fiction –> 18,000 competing titles –> average price $3 –> fewer than 100 people per month search for that phrase –> medium competitive keyword phrase.

Space opera adventure –> 26,000 competitors –> $4 –> fewer than 100 people per month –> highly competitive keyword phrase.

Space opera romance free –> 330 competitors –> free –> 6500 people per month (isn’t that interesting?) –> medium competitive keyword phrase.

Space opera exploration –> 7800 competitors –> $5 –> fewer than 100 people per month –> low competitive keyword phrase

Space opera cherryh foreigner –> 336 competitors –> $9 –> fewer than 100 people per month –> very low competitive keyword phrase

It would never have occurred to me to put author or series names into keyword boxes. But not only can you do that, apparently it can be quite useful to do that. You can put as many words as will fit into each of the seven keyword boxes KDP offers you (this was not obvious to me; someone had to tell me you can fill up those boxes). You do not need to put in keywords that are already chosen as categories, such as “Science fiction.” That means one box can be “space opera adventure exploration military battles” and the next can be “friends family “romance free” “enemies to allies” aliens” and the next can be “piper fuzzy cherryh foreigner chanur” and so on.

I wonder how much difference keywords can make? Not sure, but various people (David Gaughran) suggest they can be very important. You are also, it seems, supposed to make an effort to put useful keywords into the book description. Fine. I added a line at the bottom of the description for NO FOREIGN SKY that uses the terms “space opera” and “adventure.” Can’t hurt, might help. Have I mentioned I dropped the preorder price? It might drop further, not sure, but it won’t go up higher than $4.99 until June, maybe not until the end of June.

Anyway, still gotta poke at Publisher Rocket some more and maybe adjust the category strings for various books.

Meanwhile! I’ve finalized the newsletter that will go out May 1st, including adding the entire first chapter of NO FOREIGN SKY. It doesn’t copy with correct formatting, so I had to go through and add a line between each paragraph and the next. Have I mentioned this is a pretty long first chapter? So that was somewhat tedious. Done now, and scheduled, whew! That’s a nice checkmark on my Stuff to Do list.

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8 thoughts on “Survey of self-published authors”

  1. On the Patreon, I subscribe to Glynn Stewart’s patreon. The way that works is you get a copy of each new book as it comes out, and you’ve got a couple of weeks to download it before it comes out on Amazon, at which point you can’t get it anymore. He still has to use a service to permit the downloads, but I assume he pays much less for it than Amazon takes on kindle. So it’s not separate or in addition to his regular writing, it’s just a different sales channel.

  2. Here’s his blurb on why he does it.
    There are three reasons why I am running this Patreon.

    First, I wanted a way to reward my most loyal fans—you!—with early access to the books you love.

    Second, this model allows me to keep more of the cover price (92% instead of 35-70%) and cuts down my reliance on Amazon. This means you are able to more directly support me instead of paying Amazon for delivering your book.

    Third, there are currently incomparable benefits to the author for participating in Amazon’s exclusivity program. Books enrolled in Kindle Unlimited get extra promotional benefits, but can’t be published anywhere else. Because of this, my all of my ebooks are going to become exclusive to Amazon for the foreseeable future.

    This Patreon is a way for you to get new release ebooks, even if you’re not an Amazon shopper. New releases will go to Patreon backers before they are released to the public and enrolled in the exclusivity program.

  3. Thanks, Allan! That’s a really neat idea!

    To clarify, do you automatically get a chance to download every new book he publishes? His patreon does that and basically that’s what it’s for?

  4. As a consumer, I really like it because I don’t have to worry about ordering books from that author individually. There are a lot of authors where my policy is to just buy everything they write, and I “follow” them on Amazon, but it’s imperfect, with me forgetting to order it after I’ve heard about it, or Amazon forgetting to notify me in the first place (which happens way more than I would have expected), or me getting notifications on different editions of things I already have, etc. With a Patreon, I don’t have to worry about any of that. I’ll just get an e-mail saying book X is now available for download, you’ve got two weeks to download it. Very convenient.

  5. To answer your question, yes, that’s how it works. Every time he comes out with a new book, I get an e-mail with a link to download it, and I’ve got two weeks to do so before it goes onto Kindle. The patreon charge is not contingent on my downloading it. I’ve precommitted to buying, though I could choose not to read it (something I’ve done only once because my father told me not to bother with one).

  6. For those wondering, this survey polled just over 2000 authors, which is a solid number from a “getting people to respond” perspective, but may (as RN notes above) not be a representative sample.

  7. Abigail Hilton (aka AH Lee) and Victoria Goddard both sell their books from their website. Hilton also has a patreon and talks quite a lot on it about the ins and outs of her author work/business. Both writers are very clear that buying from them directly ensures they get a larger proportion of the price.

    I adore both these authors’ work. I think you have read Victoria Goddard. Abigail Hilton is also splendid.

  8. Thanks for the pointer, Nanette — I’, picking up a sample of Hunters Unlucky now.

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