• Chris OBrien

Tuesdays with Quora: Is it possible to make a living from your self-published books?

There are a lot of great questions being asked on Quora about writing, editing, and the publishing process. Really insightful answers too from a welcoming community that's (for the most part) just trying to help. Kind of reminds me of early days Wikipedia.

Every Tuesday I'll share one of these questions on the Long Overdue blog and show what I hope to be a helpful answer.

Is it possible to make a living from your self-published books?

The best resource for this in terms of raw data is this survey, which was the largest one ever conducted for authors back in 2017 - Six Takeaways from the Authors Guild 2018 Author Income Survey - The Authors Guild

And the results are a little bit tough to stomach, for both self-published, hybrid, and traditionally published authors.

Three stats that stand out:

The respondents reported a median author income of $6,080, continuing a sharp decline over the last decade: $8,000 in 2014 and $10,500 in 2009 (book sales + speaking gigs + other)

Earnings from book income alone fell even more, declining 21 percent to $3,100 in 2017 from $3,900 in 2013 and just over 50 percent from 2009’s median book earnings of $6,250

Roughly 25 percent of all published authors surveyed earned $0 in book-related income in 2017; 18 percent of full-time authors earned $0 in book-related income during the same time period.

The writing world is very similar to the world of professional sports, movies, music, or starting a restaurant. The top 1–2% of that field does extremely well, in the tens of millions of dollars. The other 98% needs to keep a day job/keep writing as an awesome hobby. Tons of extremely talented writers making a few hundred bucks a year, similar to how you can see incredible musicians in Nashville playing for free or an incredible basketball player at an open gym who isn’t going to make the Los Angeles Lakers.

So, looking at self-publishing specifically, top 1–2% make millions or high hundreds of thousands. The rest of the top 10% makes between $20,000 a year and $100,000. The next 90% starts to look like the numbers above, a lot of the authors falling in the $0 - $1,000 range.

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