As a traditionally published author, a typical royalty figure is between 10 and 15% on a hardback, and a bit less on a paperback.  If your publisher sells a few thousand into a book club, they cut the price to the book club, and cut your royalty too. 

If you self-publish, you keep the vast majority of any profits. On Amazon for example, if you are selling an e-book, you’ll get either 35% or 70% of the sale price (minus a few small deductions – including a ‘delivery’ charge for transmitting your book …).

It looks like a no-brainer doesn’t it?  Why put up with pitiful royalties when you can get 7 times as much by putting in the work yourself?

So how much money are self-published authors making? 

As this is a relatively new area, there hasn’t been much information on how it’s been going.  Amazon have been reluctant to hand over figures (the Bookseller has only just begun showing e-book charts).  Authors who have been doing very well have been reluctant to talk figures  - it’s their private financial information after all.  Authors who have been doing badly are often embarrassed to reveal the paltry sums they’ve had coming in.

The truth is that writing has never really paid that well. 

The top 20 authors garner an incredible amount of the market, and everyone else is on much much less.  An advance may seem reasonable, a book that earns royalties and sells rights can provide something in the nature of a living wage, but if you worked out the hourly rate an author gets (allowing for drafting, redrafting, musing, editing, re-editing, promoting and doing events) – most would struggle to get anywhere near the minimum wage.

A useful glimpse on how self-published authors are doing can be found in this very informative survey published last year – NOT A GOLD RUSH by Dave Cornford and Steven Lewis.  The authors who responded were a self-selecting group, and were able to define their own level of ‘earning a living from my writing’ but it has some very good information within it. 

10% of the authors who replied to this survey made 75% of the income reported by the group as a whole. As I mentioned above, this is typical of best-selling traditionally published authors too – there’s a top tranch that are doing really well, a largeish middle range that are doing ‘ok’ but can’t give up the day job, and a puddle at the bottom who are making pocket money. 

If you want to emulate the best-selling self-published authors, try these guidelines:

  • Produce a lot of titles, there is no point getting a loyal reader who then has to wait a year for your next book. 
  • Offer a first title free or at a reduced price to hook your readers.
  • Make sure your books come out at key times (such as just after Christmas when people are getting e-readers).
  • Use social media, and concentrate on building relationships with readers

My next blog will be looking at what services are worth paying for, what makes the difference and can lift your book from the mass of titles out there.

If you found this article useful, you might want to take a look at:

A Series on Self-Publishing: Beware of the Wolf in Kindle Clothing

A Series on Self-Publishing: What Does a Publisher Do that You're Going to Do Instead?

A Series on Self-Publishing: Dragging a Dinosaur Digital

A Series on Self-Publishing: The Bad Old Days of Book in a Bag

A Series on Self-Publishing: How Does Self-Publishing Actually Work & Is It For Me?

A Series on Self-Publishing: Suggested Steps For The Self-Published Author