Monday, November 7, 2011

Indie Publishing: Let's Talk Money

If you’re involved in indie publishing, you’ve probably heard the names Amanda Hocking and John Locke bandied about. They’re the super stars in the biz, making a million or more on their self-published books. Every indie author wants that kind of success, but unfortunately only a few will even come close. On the other end of the spectrum, for those of us who belong to RWA, we all know the magic price tag to get into PAN (the Published Authors Network) is $1,000 in advance and/or royalties on a single “eligible” novel or novella. That’s a pitifully low amount but the sad truth is many authors published with “eligible” electronic or small presses don’t even make that. So, let’s talk money. Just how much are indie authors making these days? Below, you’ll find a few authors who’ve graciously posted their sales and earnings on their web sites or blogs.

To the best of my knowledge, none of these numbers include any free downloads.

Norah Wilson
August 2010 – March 2011 (4 books) $1048
April – July 2011 (9 books) $2522
Total for 1 year = $3570

Cate Rowan
Aug 2010-April 2011 (2 books) $8300

D.D. Scott
16,653 sales (8 books) at $0.99 x 35% = $5829*
(*This amount is just a guess on my part since she didn’t post dollar amounts, just sales numbers. Right now, most of Ms. Scott’s books are priced at $0.99. However, one is currently free while 2 are priced at $2.99 so this figure might be a bit off.)

Debra Holland
May (2 books) $377
June (2 books) $2133
July (2 books) $5234
August (4 books) $6272
September (4 books) $5021
Total for 5 months = $19,037

Theresa Ragan is probably the most successful of them all (that I know of). I bow down at this woman’s feet.
Books sold between March and October 2011: 122,611
95,155 books sold at $2.99 x 70% = $198,874
27,456 books sold at $0.99 x 35% = $9,610

If I did the math right, Ms. Ragan has made $208,484 in 8 months with 5 books. Amazing. She has never been traditionally published. She didn’t have a fan base or backlist to help boost her sales, but she’s making more money than most e-pubbed authors I know and I’ll warrant more than many midlist NY pubbed authors. Even though she’s qualified for PAN 300 times over, she isn’t eligible because she self-published. She can’t enter the RITA either. Something’s wrong with that right there. But for me, is being in PAN or eligible to enter the RITA that important? It used to be, but not anymore. Outside of RWA, not many people know or care if an author is in PAN or has won a RITA. Readers just want to read a good book and quite frankly, I’d rather take the money than a shiny gold statue any day.

So, do all indie authors make this kind of money? No. I’m sure Ms. Ragan promoted her booty off to get those sales. And just like many traditionally published authors, most indie authors aren’t going to be able to quit their day jobs. I’ve heard it said more than once: indie publishing is a marathon, not a race. The trick is to not get discouraged when you’re not raking in the big bucks right off the bat. Sales build more sales. Readers follow authors who consistently write good books. Polish your book until it shines, have it professionally edited, design a kick-ass cover, put it up for sale, and then do it all again.

* UPDATE * I found 2 other authors (Trish McCallan and Jolyn Palliata) who are posting details on their indie sales. I won't post the actual numbers here, but you can see them on their blog, Total Transparency Self-Publishing.

* UPDATE #2* I did do the math wrong for both D.D. Scott and Theresa Ragan. I forgot to take into account the Amazon 35% royalty rate for $0.99 books and 70% for $2.99 books and over. The earnings have now been adjusted accordingly.


  1. It's also tough not to get discouraged when not only are big bucks not forthcoming, but you can't even make back what you spent on cover art...after quite some time in the trenches. Unfortunately, current wisdom would have it that if you can't sell like one of these talented ladies, it means you're doing something wrong, but if you can't figure out what that is, you may be lagging behind the pack in this marathon a bit longer than is good for your mental health *laugh*

  2. So true. Out of the hundreds if not thousands of romance authors who've gone into the indie publishing this year, I only found 5 authors who've posted this kind of info for all to see. I'm sure there are many out there who've barely made enough to fill their gas tank. I understand that Brenda Hyatt is gathering indie sales info and will soon be publishing it on her web site SHOW ME THE MONEY. It will be interesting to see what is reported to her.

    Low sales are discouraging. I don't think it's always because the book is dreck, but more a case of it floundering among the huge mass of indie books now being published. The trick is getting your book noticed so that it can steadily climb up the sales ranks. Promotion is the key, but it's a hit or miss situation on what works and what doesn't.

    When I publish my first book in February, I'm hoping for big sales but prepared for the long haul since I am the Idiot Queen of Social Networking.

  3. Oops, make that Brenda Hiatt, not Hyatt

  4. Thank you for this interesting post. You've given me plenty of food for thought.