How Much Money Can you Make Self-Publishing?

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How Much Money Can you Make Self-Publishing?

books5I’m not an expert on this, but I have spent a great deal of time reading articles about how much money you can make on your self-published book. I want to make it clear that I am not writing with any agenda here, but what I see in the articles I have read seems to be an odd “skewing” toward shying people away from self-publishing. I wonder why anyone would want to discourage authors from publishing their own work? Yes, I wonder.

The first article I want to point out is “How Much Money Do Self-Published Authors Make,” that appeared in Forbes in December of 2013. The article states only “1.8% of self-published authors made over $100,000 from their writing last year, compared with 8.8% of traditionally published authors and 13.2% of hybrid authors.” It goes on to say that not many writers are earning enough to make a living. The article also states that it is not a scientific sampling of authors and that the information was taken from a survey from Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest. Weird that Forbes would do a story on a non-scientific survey.

First 1.8% of self-published authors is a much higher number of authors than the 8.8% of traditionally published authors isn’t it? I mean aren’t there many more self-published authors at this point than there are traditionally published authors? I mean 1.8% of a million writers is more than 8.8% of 10,000 writers, right? I understand that the sampling was taken online, but still I think the sampling should go on the size of the groups not the respondents.

Either way, it has become an art form to be vague about the amount of money you can make as a writer. I don’t think it should be, but it is. Other articles around the web talk about tips, surveys and experiments, but none of these give even a little generalization about how well a well organized and motivated self-publishing author can do.

EWR has been following the self-publishing option as far back as 1999. I have looked at this option and seen it go from impossible and a waste of time to a real chance at making a living. I can tell you, something, something, something, is happening. The numbers that are being put out where ebooks make up 50% of sales, just cannot be true. If you are writing about this in a major city you might still have your bookstores but if you live in a smaller town, 50,000 people or less say, there are NO bookstores. The indie bookstores and even the big box bookstores are gone. Everyone still has a book so they many of those people are buying them online, right? It would seem to reason.

There are 2 big indicators that we should look at for how self-published authors are doing or able to do. The first is that some of those authors have hit the bestseller lists. This might not be a big deal to some people, but even if the number of authors on those lists represents 1% we are still talking about a lot of authors making money self-publishing. It stands to reason that if they are making money than other self-publishing authors are making a little less, and a little less money, right? I mean if you take all of publishing and say only 1% of traditional published authors make the bestsellers list, then many other authors are just missing that list. They are competing with someone right? I mean, they are not bestseller in a genre of their own. Are we saying that the top 10 ebook authors are making a million per year, but authors 11-20 can’t make a living? That doesn’t seem right.

Also, in watching this industry for the last 20 years it was apparent that the only books that really sold where those who were backed by big marketing campaigns or that were by authors who were already known. The Ebook authors that are selling so many books are not well-know, so lets knock that off the list. They are also NOT doing BIG marketing campaigns. That fact right there is more important than all the other numbers put together. The fact that these authors would do it with just online and just by word of month tells you that these authors are most-likely picking up a margin of sales. I mean that they are being clicked basically because there are 1 billion clicks and they pick up 100,000 of them. That might be what’s happening. Maybe Amazon is promoting just a few authors to make a point? That doesn’t seem like the case but maybe. Either way, lets say they are doing it just because it’s the environment of publishing right now. If that’s the case then those successes can be recreated. The bestsellers list is again the cream of the crop. They are doing much more than making a living, so why can’t self-published writers make a living but not a million dollars?

We know that in traditional publishing there are many writers who made a run at publishing even with the big 5 but failed. Those writers got a contract, an advance, and then apparently when on to a teaching job. We know that not all books published are bestsellers, and some of those books are by authors who make very little money off their works. All of that is a fact.

So what do we know? We know that self-published books published in one year make up more books than that are published by the publishing industry. This happened in 2012, and it only increased in numbers in 2013. We know that probably close to a million authors have self-published books, look at different numbers, in 2012 it was estimated that well over 300,000 were published. So we are saying that in a given year between 300,000 to 500,000 authors are self publishing. The real numbers are very hard to come by. This is a guess, at best. If these numbers are even close (it’s my guess so I think they are), if 10% are successful that means 50,000 authors are making a living at their writing? That doesn’t seem right. Maybe 1% 5,000? I think it’s somewhere in between, but you get the point that A. lot of writers are publishing and B at least some percentage are making a living at that publishing. I would say that the percentage of successes are going to be much less than it was with traditional publishing houses. Those publishing houses would put up the money to make sure that a book didn’t fail, so it’s a safe bet to say they will have more books doing well.

Either way, the idea that 10, 20, 30 or more could make the bestsellers list, and no other writers are making money seems just crazy. To say that you can’t quit your day job if you are successful is just crazy too.

Remember how I said that the real number to look at was how many writers were making it without the backing of big marketing campaigns? Here’s why: first successful authors who are publishing their own works are making more money than the authors published by traditional publishing houses (per sale). If that’s the case and it is possible to “make it” publishing on your own, then the real thing you have to look at is ratio/chances. Think of it this way, the acceptance rate at a big publishing company is let’s say less than 1%. That is of the number of books they get. What about all the books that are never even mailed. So lets say instead you take all the writers who want to publish with those publishing houses, even the ones who never send in a manuscript, and you say, man now there are (magic numbers here, just spit balling) 2 million writers who want to be published, and only 100,000 are published. Of all the published titles 20,000 of those authors can make a living from their books. This would mean you have about a .01 chance of becoming successful. So if there are 500,000 books being self-published and 1 percent of are successful, you still have a better chance. It gets better if you think about splitting your money with the publishing company, with the agent, with the bookstores. We know that self-published books sell better because they can do it for less.

Either way, if the big 5 publishing houses’ doors are closed, you have another very open door right at your fingertips. We know that some authors are making a living and even getting wealthy off sales. Those numbers are only going to go up. Now I DO NOT KNOW THIS FOR SURE. I am not an expert in this at all, but I will say that if you can’t publish your book with a publishing house you should certainly try self publishing. I would also say that percentage wise, being that the ratio of traditional published authors being successful was so low in the first place, any chance has to rival traditional publishing. It just does.

Traditional publishers don’t want you self-publishing because they have to compete with you. Self-published authors don’t want more competition either. Self-publish your book, and keep it a secret like everyone else. How much money can you make? A lot. How much money WILL YOU MAKE? No on can tell you that. Even if you were sending your manuscript to a publishing house, the agent couldn’t even tell you for certain how much you were going to make.

Or to answer the question more philosophically: How much can you make when you publish your own book…the world may never know. The real question might be can you make more money self-publishing than going with a traditional publisher? Maybe even do you have a better chance of making money self-publishing than you do getting published by one of the big 5>

Richard Edwards has a BFA in Creative Writing and Journalism from Bowling Green State University and an M.S. in Education from the University of Akron. Managing editor of Drunk Duck, poetry editor for Prairie Margins, reporter for Miscellany, Akron Journal, Lorain Journal...check our About Us page for more. Also here is info on our On Classic Articles

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