Reality Check: Half of Self Published Authors Don’t Even Hit the $500 Mark


By Victor Ochieng

DIY authors made $10,000 (£6,375), with some making less than $500 last year, despite the alluring figures reported by some self-publishing success stories like Amanda Hocking – earning $2.5m from sales - and El James - earning up to a six figure advance.

Despite the fact that the writing sector is starting to look like a gold mine to many, the ugly truth remains that most DIY writers are struggling. This unbelievable fact is backed by findings from a survey of 1007 self-publishing writers, revealing that most of the authors earned about $10,000 annually, with a few of them bringing in more than $100,000 in 2011. Top earners have distorted this figure, with about 10% of authors earning about 75% of the reported amount, while others – half of them earning less than $500.

"The majority of the information out there is about the outliers, whose success is inspiring, but as we can now confirm bears scant resemblance to the experience of most authors," said Dave Cornford and Steven Lewis, who carried out the survey, published on Thursday, for the Taleist website.

The findings also came up with some hard to swallow truths about the self-publishing writing sector. With figures showing that Romance authors were better advantaged, earning up to 170% more than others. However, genres like science-fiction did much worse; earning only 38% of the reported $10,000, fantasy writers 32% and literary fiction doing far much worse than others. They earned an average of 20% of the $10,000. The survey also found out that it’s better to be a female in the sector.

Breaking it down, the report stated that the female is only advantaged if she’s educated and in her 40s. The proclamation by Javkie Collins to become a self-published author- who wants to self-publish the revised version of her book, The Bitch - is actually with good reasons. Those who did the same, earned 2.5 more that self-publishing authors or those who went straight to self-publish their work. Evidently "traditional publishers are decent arbiters of quality" and that "the reading public finds, in these authors' work, the same high standard (or marketable writing, at least) that led publishers to choose them in the first place", Cornford said.

Those planning to venture into self-publishing are advised to make sure they have a professional title and an attractive cover.

In 2011, half of the authors earned less than $500 in royalties, plus the production saw them face losses. "Sobering" news, wrote Cornford and Lewis. "Who'd come back for more?"

The good news is that most of the self-publishing authors are not in it for the money; with only 5% of them feeling like “failures”. Others are determined to continue with publishing; with about 695 respondents planning to publish 48 new books between then in 2012, every week.

"It shouldn't have surprised me that 75% of the royalty pie is going to 10% of authors: that's life in many industries. If I'm being honest, though, I'd hoped self-publishing might be a bit more democratic. Someone asked me if I thought this might deter authors from self-publishing, but actors don't stop heading for Hollywood despite the odds against them," Lewis told the Guardian.

He continued by saying, “between earnings and the amount of help, and therefore feedback, that an author is willing to take on board. Authors who engage editors, for instance, end up with more royalties. Readers are excited by having access to new voices, but they've not been waiting for unedited, unproof-read and amateurish books. There's more to being a successful author than finding the 'Save and publish' button on Amazon, but there are a lot of authors who haven't realized that yet. In that sense, the low earnings were not surprising."