The Self-Publishing Debate: A Social Scientist Separates Fact from Fiction (Part 3 of 3)

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Is self-publishing an amateurish endeavor, a means of sharing stories, a strategic move in a writing career, or an entrepreneurial activity? To gain insight into this question, I have been analyzing the responses from the nearly 5,000 authors who responded to the 2013 Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Author Survey in relation to whether an author is aspiring (not yet published), self-published only, traditionally published only, or hybrid (both self-published and traditionally published). In Part 1, I compared the top priorities of these 4 types of authors, and in Part 2, I examined the differences in their stock of published unpublished manuscripts. Now I turn my attention to the differences in their income from their writing. dbweinberg incomeNot surprisingly, most aspiring authors in the sample reported no annual income from their writing. About 19% of self-published authors in the sample also reported no annual income from their writing, compared to 6% of traditionally published authors and only 3% of hybrid authors. While most of the survey respondents clustered at the lower end of the income distribution, some authors did report earning $200,000 or more from their writing, the highest income choice on the survey:  less than one percent (0.6%) of self-published authors, 4.5% of traditionally published authors, and 6.7% of hybrid authors who reported on their income. (In the chart, I have collapsed the top categories to $100,000 or more for better visibility. These aggregated category represents 1.8% of self-published authors, 8.8% of traditionally published authors, and 13.2% of hybrid authors.)

Self-published authors in the sample earned a median income in the range of $1 to $4,999, while traditionally published authors had a median writing income of $5,000 to $9,999, and hybrid authors earned a median income of $15,000 to $19,999. Comparing authors with the same number of manuscripts (analysis not shown), there is a strong similarity in income between hybrid and traditional authors, but hybrid authors outperformed their self-published counterparts on earnings.

Together, what these patterns suggest is that few authors are getting rich off of their writing or even earning enough from their writing to quit their day jobs. As the data for this study come from a non-scientific sample, readers are cautioned in generalizing to the entire author community; the survey responses may not be representative. At the same time, the overall pattern of findings is consistent with other studies that show that few books or few authors or even few artists of any type for that matter actually “make it” and are successful (however one defines the term). The new lesson from this study is that the chances of having a financially viable writing career may be best for hybrid authors and traditionally published authors.

What’s the truth about self-publishing? Is self-publishing an amateurish endeavor, a means of sharing stories, a strategic move in a writing career, or an entrepreneurial activity? This analysis of results from the 2013 Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Author Survey suggest that all of these depictions of self-publishing may be simultaneously true, and they point to a segmented population of self-published authors, ranging from those who are less serious to those who are more serious about writing as a professional endeavor.

On one end of the spectrum, it seems self-publishing has attracted a number of authors who are less serious about their writing as a profession. This group, the majority of self-published authors in the sample, publish work that other authors might hold back or spend more time preparing, have written and published fewer manuscripts than authors who have ever traditionally published, and make little to no money from their publishing endeavors.

The other end of the self-publishing spectrum is represented in large part by the hybrid authors in the survey. These authors have a greater focus on earning income from their writing, have produced more manuscripts than either their self-published or traditionally published counterparts, and are earning higher incomes on average.

The survey results show hybrid authors achieving greater success with their self-publishing efforts than have authors who only self-publish, but they don’t tell us why. Perhaps the greater focus on earning income among hybrid authors or their experience in traditional publishing leads them to make more strategic decisions about what to self-publish, how to bring it to market, and how to promote it. Or perhaps their greater success is the result of little more than the name-recognition boost that comes with having a brand developed in the traditional publishing world. Or maybe their success is a matter of selection: The hybrid authors surveyed were good enough to break into traditional publishing due on average to some greater talent or marketability that also translates well into the world of self-publishing.

For authors deciding how to publish their work, the key question is this: Is there some set of practices that any author might adopt to improve chances of gaining readers and income from self-publishing, or are there advantages related to being a traditionally published author that might remain out of reach for the vast majority of self-published authors?

Some of the questions in the 2014 survey have been designed precisely to address these questions. I’m looking forward to working with the team at Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest to tease the answers out of the 2014 Author Survey.

See more results of the survey presented at Digital Book World 2014, where Weinberg will talk more about the evolving author marketplace. Register today!

115 thoughts on “The Self-Publishing Debate: A Social Scientist Separates Fact from Fiction (Part 3 of 3)

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  2. Louis Shalako

    I’ve never had a book traditionally published, but I have been offered a total of four contracts, arguably some were vanity publishers. I have had short stories pubbed in non-professional magazines but never pro or semi-pro in accepted industry terms. Does that make me a hybird author?

    In those months when I sell a short story, it’s a boost to the income and the ego, it serves as some form of recognizable validation when some other editor likes a story enough to pay money for it.

    Even simple exposure, ‘no pay’ is an indicator of talent, story-telling ability, or just that some person liked the story.

    I have little doubt that I could get a traditional publishing contract if I went about it the right way.

    At some point you have self-published all of your own material and have nothing to submit.

    When I write a new book I have decided ahead of time whether it’s for submission or for my own self-publishing goals.

    1. Dana Beth WeinbergDana Beth Weinberg Post author

      Both the 2013 and 2014 surveys used questions about traditionally publishing or self-publishing books to define who was a hybrid author. The surveys did not ask about short stories, and your question raises issues to consider for future surveys.

        1. Dana Beth WeinbergDana Beth Weinberg Post author

          I’m a professor. There’s no such thing as a stupid question, and I’m glad you asked as others are also wondering. The income reported here is annual income. The exact wording of the questions was: “What is your approximate ANNUAL INCOME from WRITING BOOKS?” The survey then offered a number of response categories that ranged from $0 to $200,000 plus. The charts show the responses for the authors that chose to report their writing income; several opted not to share.

          1. Ross Lampert

            Looks like there might be a contradiction between your chart and text here. The chart shows over 10% of hybrid authors clearing $100K/year but the text says only 6.7% do. Which is correct? Or am I misinterpreting something?

            I also think it’s no surprise hybrids and traditionally published authors make more and have more works unfinished and published than self-publishers do: they’ve been at it longer. True, non-vanity, self-publishing has only been around for a few years. I hope your next survey will try to tease out such distinctions.

  3. Kat

    Maybe I missed it, but was there a question about whether or not the published authors wanted or intended to have an income from their writing? I own a “self-published” book that was written by a second cousin of mine, telling our family history. She was very diligent and exacting in her research, and since she holds a PhD it should come as no surprise it’s well-written, but she didn’t make a penny off it — quite intentionally.

    Other people give their work away on the net because they are happy with their day jobs and just want to be read, or just want to share, or don’t believe information should come at a price (you see this more with non-fiction). That’s going to skew both the income and the number of manuscripts.

    Maybe this is part of what you plan to convert I your 2014 survey?

    1. Dana Beth WeinbergDana Beth Weinberg Post author

      In the 2014 survey there are a number of new questions about authors’ priorities, including how important it is to them to make money from their work, and so we should be able to look at these issues in greater depth. Stay tuned.

      1. Michael J Sullivan

        I took the survey – and I agree with you there were a lot of questions that would make it so the data could be analyzed in a number of interesting ways. What would be great is if the raw data would be released (minus any identifying information such as emails) as there are a few ways I would like to slice and dice it. Is this remotely possible?

  4. Bex

    Does this study take into account the amount of money that self-published authors make from other goods or services? Many of the people I know who have published their own book did so not to make a career as a writer, but to help gain exposure and authority in a career they already have, providing some kind of other services.

  5. Jack

    Are the questions published anywhere? The data here is very interesting, but it’s unclear here whether “income from their writing” means income derived from books or from all writing activities, and whether writers are reporting annual income or lifetime earnings. Given the way all the responses plug up on the left it would be interesting to see more categories on that end; perhaps a $1-$1999 class?

    1. Dana Beth WeinbergDana Beth Weinberg Post author

      I’m not sure if the questions themselves are published anywhere. See my response above to Harold for the exact wording of this question. I agree with you that it would be interesting to see more categories on the lower end of the spectrum given the concentration of authors there, and I’m pleased to report that we did make that change in the 2014 version of the survey.

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  7. Jack W PerryJack W Perry

    Thanks for the data. Fascinating to look at and spurs so many more questions. One that I have is for the ‘traditionally’ published authors, how much of their earnings came from publisher advances? Given approximately 1/2 of them report earnings below $10,000, I wonder if most didn’t earn out. Thanks.

    1. Dana Beth WeinbergDana Beth Weinberg Post author

      Great question. The 2013 survey doesn’t have the information needed to answer it, but the 2014 survey should give us some insight. Do keep in mind that many of the traditionally published authors in the sample had multiple books, and their annual book writing income could reflect royalties (or advances) from more than one project.

      1. Richard Snow

        A good approach might be to separate the question into two:
        “what was your annual income from ADVANCES on published
        or forthcoming books?”
        “what was your income from royalties from books EXCLUDING ADVANCES”.

  8. Karpov Kinrade

    I’m curious about the definition of ‘traditionally published’? Does this include small presses or just the standard big NY publishers? My writing career launched a little over two years ago, and this year we will bring in over 100k from royalties. While the first 10 books I wrote were published with a small press, 90% of that income comes from books self-published this year. My average income on the small press books is about 12-15k a year, with over 80-90k this year coming from the 5 self-published titles I have.

    I think income disparity can happen from a number of factors, from the number of books published, to the genre, to the intention of the author. Not all published authors want to be full time. Many who self-published do so as a part-time or hobby endeavor (though many also are committed professionals working toward full-time career status or have already achieved it.)

    Also, I’m curious what % of the study constituted self-published authors vs. traditionally published vs. hybrid. As it stands, the self-published world is growing fast with fewer gate keepers turning away good books because of limitations in the budget or publishing schedule.

    Regardless, this is a great study and I look forward to more like this in 2014 as the landscape of publishing continues to change under our feet!

    1. Dana Beth WeinbergDana Beth Weinberg Post author

      Congratulations on your publishing success.

      To answer your question, the writers identified themselves as traditionally published or not, and writers who published with small presses likely identified themselves as traditionally published. In terms of the composition of the 2013 sample, almost half were aspiring authors, 17% self-published, 16% traditionally published, and 13% hybrid.

      In terms of the growth of self-publishing, you might enjoy the blog I recently wrote on the number of traditionally published and self-published books ( using data from Bowker’s Books in Print, the catalog of books in North America with ISBN numbers. The findings might surprise you.

      1. Karpov Kinrade

        Thanks. Your other article was interesting, but unless I’m missing something (which is entirely possible in my current un-caffeinated state), it focused on numbers gleaned from print books? I’d argue that indie authors are more likely to publish in ebook, sometimes not bothering with a print edition at all. And in many cases, they use an ASIN vs ISBN as Amazon is the largest money maker for most of us. Do these numbers account for self-published ebooks that don’t have an ISBN?

        Either way, definitely interesting statistics. 🙂 Thank you for sharing.

  9. Joshua Bodwell

    Hi, Is there any data on how much money the self-published author spent in order to earn the money they reported? A self-published author reporting, for instance, earning between $1 to $4,999 would have spent money in advance in order to “earn” any money, unlike the “traditional” authors answering the same question.

    In other words, are the amounts reported by self-published authors net or gross?

    1. Dana Beth WeinbergDana Beth Weinberg Post author

      I would imagine the writing income reported by the self-published authors was gross, although the 2013 survey did not specify. Your question about how much money self-published authors are spending relative to what they are earning is an important one, which the 2014 survey will be able to answer.

    2. Christa

      Joshua — many traditionally published authors now pay someone to edit their book in advance of submitting it to agents or publishing houses. In advance of a book being released by a traditional publisher, many authors will also pay for promotion (some will spend their entire advance on it because without a good showing on their first book, they may never get a second traditional publisher contract — at least not under the same pen name).

  10. Connie Crow

    Your study leaves out the most interesting new group of authors. That would be those of us who are being published by royalty-paying e-book publishers. At one time there were almost 500 of us in the EPIC organization ( The Eletronically published Internet Coalition). I’ve been e-published since 1996. My books are now available in both e-book format and print. I even have one that has just been released as an audio book. My publisher handles all the items a traditional publisher does, but does not pay advances against royalties. The positive side of that is all of my books have been continuously availble since their release and I am still earning royalties on all of them. No I’ve not made as much as a traditionally published author, but I have had much greater creative control over my work, worked on my schedule and been on the “bleeding edge” of a new field that is finally coming to fruition and driving traditional publishers mad. You don’t know anything about authors like me because we don’t fit your model at all.

    1. Dana Beth WeinbergDana Beth Weinberg Post author

      How would you have categorized yourself for this survey given the choice of identifying your work as “self-published” or as “traditionally published”?

      You are indeed right that these non-traditional publishers and contracts are a very interesting and fast-growing part of the publishing market. I have been tracking them in my larger project. There has been a rise in this type of no-advance-higher-royalty-mainly-ebook business model, and we see it in a growing number of new publishing houses as well as within specific imprints of the large publishing houses.

  11. David Gaughran

    Hi Dana,

    Congratulations on all the hard work that has gone into collecting this data, analysing it, and presenting it in such a clear manner.

    I have a couple of quibbles, with an eye on 2014 and getting even more useful results.

    First, as other commenters such as Nate have pointed out, you really need to factor in either how long authors have been writing/publishing and/or how many titles they have published. Without that data, the analysis contains some leaps. For example, in Part II of the survey analysis, you say that \[hybrid authors] are the most productive in the sample.\ However we don’t know how long they have been writing. They may be the least productive – we just don’t know.

    The hybrid author population will contain two distinct kinds of authors – those who tradtionally published for a long time and then switched to self-publishing (and may have a huge backlist written over many years) and those who successfully self-published and sold a book (or three) to a publisher on the back of that. At the very least, the former group will skew those \productivity\ stats.

    You also must consider the fact that \self-published authors\ (which, as defined by the survey won’t include those that either came from trad publishing or since sold something to trad publishing) will have (likely) been writing/publishing for a shorter amount of time, and without factoring in that time, it’s really not useful to state that \self-published authors lag behind the others in terms of the total number of manuscripts published.\ They could be writing 3 books a year, and hybrids could be slower. Without drilling down, we just don’t know.

    I would also suggest being more specific about those unpublished manuscripts, perhaps by tweaking the question. Those could be trunked novels, books on submission, or they could be works in progress. The distinction is important.

    Second, I think there is a phenomenon present which you haven’t accounted for and which may have skewed the results. The sample size of 5,000 is good, but I’m concerned about the make-up of this sample. I’m pretty plugged into the self-publishing community – I run a fairly popular blog, I read all the other popular blogs, I hang out in the biggest self-publishing forum, and chat regularly to lots and lots of self-publishers – and I never heard this survey was happening.

    I would respectfully suggest that readers of Writers Digest may not be the best sample – especially those in your \self-published\ population, and particularly when it comes to comparing income. Writers Digest runs its own vanity imprint (Abbott Press) which is powered by Author Solutions. Author Solutions customers famously sell very few books, and aren’t representative of self-publishers.

    I think if you extend the survey’s reach into the self-publishing community proper, you might get more representative results.

    Finally, I would strongly caution against conclusions like \the survey results show that hybrid achieving greater success with their self-publishing efforts than have authors who only self-publish.\ You state that \these authors have a greater focus on earning income from their writing, have produced more manuscripts than either their self-published or traditionally published counterparts, and are earning higher incomes on average.\ However, there is another (very obvious) reason why hybrid (and, indeed, traditional) authors may have produced more work and earned more money: they’ve been doing it longer.

    I look forward to the 2014 survey.



      1. Dana Beth WeinbergDana Beth Weinberg Post author

        I love that this blog series is provoking such wonderful and thoughtful comments.

        As you rightly point out, the sample is not representative of the larger writing population. You point to concerns about the reach of the invitation to a broader range of writers, but the concern would remain even if the writing community at large knew about the survey. The problem from a social science perspective is that we are not tracking response rates, and we don’t actually know why some people answered and why others didn’t or whether there are important differences between the people answering the survey and others. That said, surveys like this one, especially given its high number of responses, are great for ferreting out patterns of relationships that then lead us to new and even deeper questions.

        The other questions you raised about the number of books produced per year, the length of time in the market, and the order of self-publishing or traditional publishing for hybrid authors are better answered with the other data in my arsenal from Bowker’s Books in Print. Check back here and at for more thoughts and analysis.

        1. Debora Geary

          Chiming in in support of David’s points. I have no idea how representative this sample is. And as an indie author who doesn’t fit your data at all, and also hadn’t heard about your survey, I wonder if people like me are pretty underrepresented. (It’s also possible you’d consider me a hybrid author at this point – I have foreign rights contracts in nine other countries with traditional publishers – but those are entirely a byproduct of a successful indie career.)

          I think this data tells you interesting things about your sample, and the readers of Writers Digest. I don’t believe it warrants statements like this: “Together, what these patterns suggest is that few authors are getting rich off of their writing or even earning enough from their writing to quit their day jobs, but the chances of having a financially viable writing career are best for hybrid authors and traditionally published authors”. For me, for that statement to be correct, in needs to be qualified with an “in my sample, which may not be at all representative” to be true. Which won’t stop plenty of people from quoting your conclusion as if it’s gospel ;-P.

          I’m glad you’re collecting this data, and I hope you continue to do it. But I’d definitely encourage broader outreach to indie authors in particular.

          1. Dana Beth WeinbergDana Beth Weinberg Post author

            The blogging format is a relatively new one for me. There is a disclaimer at the beginning of the series: “Since the survey was open to anyone and is not a scientific sample, we cannot say that the findings represent the population of writers.” And there were also several places throughout when I qualified with “in the sample” or “in the survey.” Perhaps these should have been emphasized even more, but I was also sensitive to my charge to keep things simple and brief and “not too academic” as this is a blog and not a scientific report. I have now gone back into the third part and added back in more of the academic language.

            As you noted, plenty of people will ignore the disclaimers and cite the conclusions as if they’re gospel. I can also say with full conviction based on my experiences in academic publishing that even had this survey met the highest standards of scientific rigor, someone whose own experience did not match the findings or who didn’t like the conclusions would question the study’s scientific authenticity.

            I regularly teach my students that there is no perfect or definitive study. Science, and social science in particular, works incrementally to build knowledge with one study motivating the next to ask questions in a different way or to seek better measures or even to replicate patterns. The lively discussion here and the suggestions for follow-up questions and broader outreach to pursue all suggest that this post has moved us all forward, even if only a baby step.

            Thank you for your encouragement. The work presented here is part of a much larger study that will be ongoing for at least the next few years.

            1. Debora Geary

              I’m very supportive of moving work forward :).

              I know how hard it can be to make clear how far your conclusions can be applied. And I do think this is valuable work. I only worry that when data like this, read in this single blog post, suggests that indie authors don’t make much money, that will discourage real people trying to make real choices. So hopefully they read the comments as well :).

  12. Dana Beth WeinbergDana Beth Weinberg Post author

    Thanks for the suggestion. The simple (x,y) graph is actually a mess as there is quite a lot of variability, and more manuscripts do not necessarily translate to more money for a variety of reasons that likely warrant their own blog. Coming soon.

    1. Kara

      A regression analysis on this would likely be the most telling. It would also make more sense than a graph if there are a lot of data points.

      1. Dana Beth WeinbergDana Beth Weinberg Post author

        A regression analysis was the approach that I took before coming out with the findings here, but I presented the simpler descriptives here to start given that this is generally a less scientific venue and we weren’t sure how people would respond. I will definitely plan a future blog with these more complex analyses.

  13. Lori

    My apologies if this was already mentioned in the comments, but what would be a great follow up article is why the hybrid authors sell more books and make more money.

    It is most likely that a lot of self-published authors know how to write but either don’t know how or aren’t comfortable publicizing and promoting their work once complete.

    What are the other traits and characteristics that make this true beyond just who is actually publishing a particular book.

    1. Michael J Sullivan

      I certainly don’t want to speak for all hybrid authors but as one myself, and one that has been successful both in self and traditional, I’ll give you my take on why this is.

      I think most hybrids are versatile and flexible. They are the opposite of dinosaurs and change quickly and keep up to date on what is going on in the industry. We are experimental, and not set in our ways. We are proactive and not complacent.

      For me, it’s not about ‘the money’ it’s about freedom…but money provides freedom. No day job means I have more hours in the day to produce. If my publishers doesn’t think a book will sell and turns it down, I don’t put it in a drawer, I Kickstart and self-publish it…letting the readers decide. If the offer is too low, I self-publish. If the offer is good, I traditionally publish.

      In short, I think we “work our careers” pretty aggressively and adjust when things aren’t working well and have the luxury of being able to move seamlessly between the two routes.

  14. Pat Chiles

    I have to second David’s comments.
    Publishing is in the midst of a tectonic shift and the Writer’s Digest audience is probably not the most representative population to sample, especially if that excludes the serious indie writer community (in other words, we’re not paying attention to much of what WD says these days other than to run in the opposite direction). I’d think if you put the word out to the Passive Voice blog or Kindle Boards you’d find a pretty good representation of this group. Though purely anecdotal, it appears that the indie wave has led to significantly more writers actually making a living from their work.

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  16. Marti Talbott

    I might be able to help answer a few questions. I published my first book in 2010 and at the time I was looking at living on $800.00 a month Social Security, so I didn’t spend money on anything. I made my own covers and even my website is free. Twenty-seven books and three years later, I now pay for professional cover art (average $75.00 each) and I buy some advertising, but not much. By the way, there are probably 2-300 of us (that I know of) who can boast of making it to 100k a year. About fifty can claim earning over a million a year.

    I think the reason Hybrid authors do better is because they already have a following. Self-published authors have to start at the bottom and work hard to get noticed. I just got lucky.

    1. Dana Beth WeinbergDana Beth Weinberg Post author

      Maybe you got lucky, but you also worked very hard. Twenty-seven books in three years is a lot! I suspect that a critical mass of good books to sell is also a key driver of success.

    2. Michael J Sullivan

      “I think the reason Hybrid authors do better is because they already have a following. Self-published authors have to start at the bottom and work hard to get noticed.”

      But you have to keep in mind that some hybrids start in self then go traditional so they are in exactly the same boat as the self-published. I was one of these. Once you have done both, you have more flexibility. If the traditional offer isn’t high enough…self-publish. If it is a good offer, then take it. Traditional only authors often put projects in the drawer when their current publisher says no. Hybrid authors will find alternative ways for getting the book “out there.”

      1. Amelia Smith

        After some thought, I think it’s obvious why hybrid authors do much better on average. They fall into 2 basic groups, those with an established career in trad publishing (and a fan base), and some of the most successful self publishers, whose success led trad publishers to be interested in them. Also, your survey shows that they have far more titles published than either of the other groups.

  17. Cora Seton

    Wait – there’s a potentially big problem with this survey.

    Everyone who wants to self-publish can simply do so and will therefore show up as a “self-published author”. But every aspiring author who only uses the traditionally published model won’t.

    I.e., if you took 100 authors interested in self-publishing and 100 authors interested only in the traditional model, you’d end up with 100 self-published authors on the chart above and maybe 1 author who was actually traditionally published.

    So unless you include the earnings ($0.00) of all those aspiring authors who are waiting in the slush pile at traditional publishers, comparing the numbers is meaningless. The kind of author who would get chosen by a traditional publisher is far more likely to be the type of author who can make a real go at self-publishing.

    Am I mistaken? Are you including all the slush-pile “traditional authors”?

    1. Dana Beth WeinbergDana Beth Weinberg Post author

      The aspiring authors or not-yet-published authors are on the chart, although I did not talk much about them other than to say that the vast majority do not have writing income. We don’t know whether they will ultimately find traditional publishers, choose to self-publish, or give up and not publish (or even finish a manuscript), and so we do not include them in the averages for the other types of authors.

      1. Michael J Sullivan

        While it is true that we don’t yet know what will become of the aspiring authors I don’t think you can just take them off the table. There are those tho have not finished anything…fine let’s remove them. But the survey asked if you have finished a book (iirc) and those that have and indicate they are pursuing traditional can be counted in the $0 for the traditional route. To remove them completely highly skews the traditional to “just the cream” while leaving the self-published as the raw milk taken from the cow.

  18. Michael J Sullivan

    I really like seeing data on the four writer types and predict we will see a lot more hybrids as time goes on. I keep fluctuating.

    When I first started out I was published by a small press so all traditional. Then they ran into financial problems and rights reverted and I was all self-published. Then I knocked on New York’s door and they answered. I removed my self-published works and returned to all traditional. I submitted my next novel as part of an option clause and it was turned down, so I intended to move to hybrid by self-publishing it. Then I got a nice five-figure advance for it, so thought I would be staying all traditional…but, I really hated giving up the potential of hybrid so I turned it down…and had a crazy idea. Could I sell the audio & print rights and keep the ebook (even though I don’t have sales like Hugh Howey, Bella Andre, and Coleen Hoover?) The answer was yes. So starting in April I will by hybrid by self-publishing the ebook of Hollow World but having traditional distribution for the print (Tachyon Publication) and audio (Recorded Books). This will allow me to do out of the box things like offering signed ebooks and giving away ebooks to those who buy the print or audio editions.

    What this goes to show is just as the publishing landscape is changing, so to is the author in order to take advantage of all that is available to them now. I’m anxiously waiting to hear what the results of the 2014 data will show.

    1. Dana Beth WeinbergDana Beth Weinberg Post author

      Your own publishing story is full of twists and turns, and it will be so interesting to see how many of our fellow authors are embracing all of these different modes of publishing. Good luck to you!

      1. Michael J Sullivan

        Thank you. To me I think we will see a lot more hybrid authors…especially if traditional publishing doesn’t adjust their profit sharing. The ebook royalty gap between 17.5% of list (traditional) and 70% of list (self) is a huge divide. If traditional publishing doesn’t adjust this then more and more 100% traditional will start dipping their toes in the self-publishing waters.

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  20. Christine M. Fairchild

    UH, your “analysis” of this data is rather creative: “the chances of having a financially viable writing career are best for hybrid authors and traditionally published authors”

    First of all, though “self-publishing” has been around for decades, the “indie author” movement only took real hold 2 years ago. So you are comparing two very growth patterns in the middle of their crossover. Frankly, income for indie authors rises over time, while the majority (like 90%) of trad published authors get paid a lump sum upfront (the advance) which takes years for them to earn off from sales. If I got my indie income upfront, I would look wealthier too. But my money is getting drawn out over years. I’ve already surpassed most of the advances paid to my cohorts. Also, contacts are few and far between the last few years. So it’s not like these trad publishing contracts are in abundance let alone lucrative. They average $2500-$5000 in genre fiction. Not much to live on.

    You are correct that hybrid is the way to go, for those who manage/secure that matchup. But with non-compete clauses and trad publishers trying to own your name/brand, so that you can’t indie publish at all, that path isn’t as open as implied here.

    Data is not always as clear-cut as it seems, especially when you’re comparing apples to oranges.

  21. Laura

    It seems that time is a factor in these stats. Anyone in traditional publishing has been at it longer, if for nothing else than because of lead times required just to get there. On the other hand, most self-published authors would have been doing it only very recently. So we’re comparing people with potentially decades of publishing experience through traditional channels with people who have at most a few years of self-publishing. (I’m excluding the pre-ebook self-publishing routes as outliers, which admittedly may be a mistaken assumption.) So of course hybrid and traditional writers are making more money. It takes a while to get any career underway, yes?

  22. Pingback: » The OutRamp Guide to Self-Publishing: Episode #6 - The OutRamp

  23. Elizabeth Lang

    Thanks for this. Informative.

    Not a big surprise at all and tallies well with my own stats of the Amazon bestseller lists across several genre for the last year and a half. This is the 2nd comprehensive stats taken from a mass study of ALL authors that I’ve seen, not just conjecture based on a specific bias, self-pub or traditional, or the rosy-tinted, ‘the exception proves the rule’ theories which make me wary.

    Of course, I would like to see more studies like these with real numbers. Biding my time for the truth to unfold.

      1. Debora Geary

        They might be if that list’s methodology was based on actual sales numbers 🙂

        (Like the NYT and USA Today bestseller lists, this list has a methodology, not entirely revealed, that isn’t based on actual sales data. And that approach is, among other problems, biased against those of us who sell on a single platform – which, just like the NYT and USA Today lists, excludes indies in Amazon Select and appears to also exclude hybrid authors signed with Amazon imprints).

        I’d love to see how these lists would fall out using something like Neilson bookscan data, which is the closest thing we have to total sales (and I think for ebooks, it’s pretty comprehensive, since the list of significant retailers is small).

        I do know that about 1/3 of the books in the top 300 at Amazon on any given day are indie, and that percentage has been quite consistent over the last two years that I’ve been watching it. This is easily tracked on the link below, which shows the top 100 Kindle Indie books (in this case, indie could include small presses who use KDP, but I very rarely see them in the top 100). Today, the 100th book on that list is ranked #188 in all of Kindle ebooks. In other words, 100 of the top 188 kindle books on Amazon today are indie.

        1. Dana Beth WeinbergDana Beth Weinberg Post author

          I can’t speak to the bestseller determinations, but I agree about the desirability of examining sales data. Very soon I will be analyzing the Bowker/Nielsen consumer surveys to look at what books a representative sample of American buyers bought. I’m hoping to present some of those findings at DBW 2014.

          1. David Gaughran

            The method used to calculate the list is flawed on many levels which, by accident or design, keeps self-publishers from hitting the list in greater numbers. Just so you know…

            1. David Gaughran

              In case I wasn’t clear: you can’t make claims about the relative success of self-published books versus those from NYC publishers based on a list which by the very method used to calculate that list, excludes large numbers of self-published titles (some of which have sold hundreds of thousands of copies).

              Just like you can’t make claims about the relative income levels of self-publishers versus hybrid authors or traditionally published authors if you are (mostly) sending the survey to victims of vanity press scams. Successful self-publishers don’t use dodgy outfits like Abbot Press, Xlibris, Author House, iUniverse, or Trafford. If you want to get an accurate picture of how we are doing you need to reach beyond that.

              Otherwise it’s kinda pointless…

        2. Michael J Sullivan

          I love bookscan (even if it only gets 65%- 75% of actual print sales). I can’t wait for the day that Amazon, B&N, and ibookstore provide their data to this independnt third party and then we can start to see a real picture for indie sales which are so under reported at the moment. I think it will be very eye opening. For the real holy grail…if the ebook data would report both #sold and income produced – man we could get a lot of insight from that!

  24. Carolyn Clink

    I think there’s a problem with the labeling of your bar chart. The chart says the lowest line is for 10%. But your commentary seems to imply it’s 5%. Looking at the authors making over $100,000: you say in the text that 6.7% of Hybrid authors and 4.5% of Traditionally Published authors make over $100,000. BUT the chart implies that over 10% of Hybrid authors and close to 10% of Traditionally Published authors make over $100,000…

    1. Dana Beth WeinbergDana Beth Weinberg Post author

      Great catch, Carolyn. The problem was a typo in the text, which should have referred to authors making $200,000 or more. For better readability, I had collapsed the top categories in the chart. I have now made the corrections in the blog to reflect both categories.

  25. Carol Buchanan

    Pardon me if one of the other people mention the time factor, but it seems the survey could use some narrowing to be more valuable.

    I believe your results may be skewed in that it takes years to write enough of a backlog of books to have the early ones sustain or contribute to the current efforts. Authors in the $100,000 category, from what I’ve observed, have worked at writing for 10 – 20 years. Their names are well known and they have developed an audience receptive to or hungry for their books. Authors in the bottom three tiers may well be in the first 5 years of their careers and have few if any books out there, whether self-published or traditionally published.

    We cannot conclude from the two factors (earned income and type of publishing) that hybrid or traditionally published authors make more money than self-published authors without knowing how long they have been working at writing as a career or business. Did your survey ask about net or gross income? That would be an important distinction for the entrepreneurial author and the career author. (Some high-earning books may be a flash in the pan, like 50 Shades of Grey.

    Self-publishing itself is just coming into its own as a career or business path for writers. While authors have been self-publishing (or “vanity” publishing) for years, it only in the past 5 – 7 years that it has been a viable alternative to traditional publishing.

    Another factor to consider is the writer’s genre. Writers in very popular genres such as romance or thriller or sci-fi/horror/fantasy have a better chance of making more money than in other genres such as literary fiction or westerns even though those genres are also crowded with writers.

    I’d suggest in the future limiting your survey questions to fiction writers or nonfiction writers also.

    Carol Buchanan, PhD

    1. Dana Beth WeinbergDana Beth Weinberg Post author

      Assuming we believe the numbers reported by respondents in 2013, we can conclude that the hybrid authors are earning more money annually from their writing than the other types of authors who answered the survey. What we don’t know is why. You raise several great avenues for investigation: reputation, years in the business, long-tail earnings or flashes in the pan, and number of books (which the survey results here strongly suggest is at least one key factor).

      Your comments beautifully anticipate a number of the changes to the 2014 survey, including questions about when books were published and genres. We hope to be able to do more sophisticated comparisons in this next round.

  26. JoAnn Ross

    I’m finding the survey, which I think I responded to, and the comments very interesting. I may have missed it in your responses to the comments, but I suspect the reasons hybrid authors are making more is 1) from advances (and since publishers start making profits before a book earns out, there’s an old saying that if you earn out, your agent didn’t negotiate a high enough advance), 2) name recognition and an already strong fan base waiting for the next book however it’s published, and 3) backlist royalties.So far this year, I’ve earned at the top level of the chart from books going back to the ’80s, before new release income is even factored in. I used to be annoyed that after around 100 books over 32 years I could only get a handful back, if all those former publishers keep them (and my name) out there earning money, that’s not such the worst deal.

    After turning down a mutli-book offer from one of the big five for personal reasons. encouraged by writer friend Barbara Freethy and Bella Andre, as well as other former traditionally pubbed friends who’ve self published, I’m going indie in early 2014, and here’s a surprising thing: next year a former publisher, again one of that big five group, is repackaging a novel (print and ebook) from one of my ’90s trilogies and to cross promote it with my self-pubbed series set in that same Irish town, they invited me to include an excerpt from my upcoming book in the back of theirs. That certainly wouldn’t have happened a couple years ago! And they’ve even branded the backlist book on the front cover as a Castlelough Series novel.

    The times, they are a changing, which is looking rosy for writers and those traditional publishers who figure out how to adapt and co-exist.

  27. Kelly McClymer

    Very interesting results. I think the points others have raised about the initial data are certainly valid and useful for any future survey, but what I find most interesting is that hybrid authors (I am one) are owning most of the categories (except for the lower earning ones). That bears out my experience. What would be even more interesting would be to see what percentage of self/trad makes up a hybrid annual income.

  28. Theresa M. Moore

    I have read about your survey, but it leaves out several significant factors in laying out the annual incomes and frequency of publishing. One of which is how likely one is to be able to sell consistently over the publishing life of the book. As an indie author, I have self-published 16 books, 3 of which are now out of print, and began to enjoy an increase in income for all in the last five years, until 2012, when in a server glitch in Amazon’s web site blocked out sales. After that, the sales dropped to zero or very little money over the rest of the year until I closed the account in November. This year, I tried again to garner sales on the site and discovered that things had not changed or improved. A look at KDP’s community told me that returning to Amazon was a waste of time and effort, when Amazon is actively developing imprints which would force me out of the ebook market entirely. Since my experience with Amazon has been largely negative overall, I would not consider taking a contract with them.

    Getting a contract to publish or self-publishing does not appear to improve one’s income in this highly competitive and overflooded market, so the likelihood of earning as much per book as others is basically a guessing game. The information you have presented suggests that I would fare better in some other profession than to pursue my chosen one, and the constant pressure downward in book prices ensures no improvement.

    I would point out that the traditional publishers are not the best samples of success either. They are struggling to maintain dominance in the book market as well, as they begin to lose to the wave of self-publishers bypassing them. Remember that Benjamin Franklin self-published long before the corporations were established; therefore you should not rely on them for leadership in the book world. As with all things, the cream will rise to the top.

  29. Dianna Love

    Thanks for all your work on this survey, Dana. It’s an interesting article, but I have to admit that I never heard a word about it either (I’m a hybrid) and I follow DBW and other news lines closely.

    You might be interested in another survey that SP authors participated in this year. There weren’t 5000, but it does have a balanced look at authors from the top to the bottom.

    NYT bestselling self published author Marie Force (who 2 years ago started what is probably one of the larger Self Pub loops) asked for information from SP authors and compiled it into this post that shows individual number of books and incomes of NYT bestsellers to beginning authors –

    I’ll watch for your next survey. Will you publicize it in DBW?

    1. Dana Beth WeinbergDana Beth Weinberg Post author

      It used to be that the publishing houses and booksellers were the only ones with access to industry data. Authors are hungry for good information and looking for ways to get it, and this is a key reason I started to look seriously at what data might be available in this field. I’m always pleased to see people like Marie and others working to collect and share information. Another person who has been working in this area is Brenda Hiatt

      The results in the blog are from the DBW and Writer’s Digest 2013 survey. They just ran their 2014 survey, which closed on December 1st.

  30. John F. Harnish

    Mercy sake, there sure is a huge amount of wordage on this topic, and making much ado about what kind of authors are being published in what manner and what constitutes financial success.

    The fact is, the consumer purchasing the content doesn’t give a rat’s ass how the work was published because their primary interest is in the benefits the content will provide as entertainment and/or information. The secondary consideration by the consumer is the price. If it’s a novel frugal readers wait for the mass market paperback to be released or the hardcover to be discounted. For nonfiction, it is a matter of the perceived value of the content and how they will benefit from the proprietary information. If it’s an ebook it’s already at an affordable price—unless “agency pricing” is involved to cover the publisher’s overhead.

    Some will be quick to point out the content produced by the mainstream houses is better because they have professional editors, copyeditors, and proofreaders to tweak and tune manuscripts to the point where they sing to the readers. This was true a decade or so ago, but with all the layoffs caused by mergers and downsizing in the publishing industry there are lots of damn fine professionals available for freelance assignments and are eager to work directly with the author.

    In the Digital Age, authors are discovering they can enter into a publishing agreement to have their digitally printed book published and distributed into the marketplace in a few weeks—digital printing can be done at anytime in quantities required to fill book orders. The digitally printed pages look just as good as the long offset pressruns contracted by mainstream houses. Traditional publishers needed the books from big print orders to stock the shelves of all the bookstores. The big publishers employed a distribution plan based on X number of books shipped to X number of bookstores equals X number of books sold less the X number of returns.

    Traditional publishers successfully used this formula for decades to hype their quarterly offerings of new titles into the marketplace. They could project how many copies of an A-list book would sell, and how many copies of mid-list and first book authors might sell. They did the math and worked the numbers to their profitable advantage. The big publishers used the 90:10 factors: the profits from their 10% top selling titles carried the freight of the other 90%–if one of those titles by a less known author hit the bestseller list all the more profit.

    In the mid-1990s technological advancements produced two new elements that change the marketplace forever: Amazon and digital printing.

    Amazon’s mission was to be the world’s largest Internet bookstore with the greatest numbers of titles ever assembled for purchase by consumers. Every author’s book was accepted by Amazon regardless of how or by whom the book was published. Digital printing made it possible for writers to have their manuscripts published and sold by Amazon directly to consumers—no distributor or wholesaler required. For the first time in the history of publishing authors didn’t have to pay several thousand dollars for an offset pressrun of a 10,000 books. They only had to pay a few hundred dollars to a Print-On-Demand (POD) publishing service and then quicker than quick their digitally printed book would be available for sale on Amazon and elsewhere.

    Many authors publishing books through a POD company mistakenly thought they were ‘self-published.’ Not true!!! The book’s ISBN identified the POD company as the publisher of record, and the company’s imprint was on the title page.

    Some of the early digitally printed books had production problems: specifically pages would fall out from the perfect bound books that were not so perfect. The problem was the glue holding the guts of the book together—this problem was solved when the glue manufacturer improved the glue formula. Another problem was filling bookstore orders—customers got frustrated waiting for special order POD books to arrive in the store. Amazon avoided this frustration by maintaining an inventory of POD books on their warehouse shelves. Jeff wanted to keep Amazon customers very happy—happy customers order more books from Amazon.

    Slowly POD books were making their way into bookstores. The big publishers became concerned because POD books were taking up valuable shelf space—brick and mortar stores had limited shelf space, unlike Amazon with endless space to display every new title in their rapidly expanding inventory of books of sale 24/7. At the Chicago BEA early in the 2000s, B&N representatives, in front of a packed room of authors and digital publishers, dropped the bombshell with the disheartening details of their convoluted process through which POD books would be considered for acceptance into B&N bookstores.

    What was somewhat ironic, had no problem accepting POD books for sale in their Internet store. Authors were frustrated when they were enjoying increasing sales at, but B&N wouldn’t add their POD books to the chain’s inventory. There was a method to their madness that would soon be implemented to suppress the sale of POD books throughout all of the bookstore chains—yes, the same national bookstore chains that caused many independent bookstores to go out of business.

    The mainstream publishers were becoming upset with those damn POD books beginning to capture an increasing share of the marketplace. Granted it was a small share, but to the greedy big publishers it was something that had to be stopped or the blossoming POD market share could mushroom. Thusly it came to pass that the giant publishers created a “Catch-22” to cut-off the evolving digital publishing branch of the publishing industry. It was a nasty cut, and impossible to prove that they actually conspired, but here’s what happened behind closed doors.

    The big houses put it on the line to the national chains that if they wanted to continue to receive sweetheart book deals and special promotional consideration, like A-list authors doing in store events, then the chains better stop carrying POD books—and don’t even make them available for special order. Then the mainstream advertising VPs put the bite on the major newspapers and trade publications that if they wanted their big bucks in advertising revenue then don’t review POD books—their vanity trash isn’t worth a column inch of ink.

    The bookstore chains could now tell POD authors, “We can’t put your books in our stores because there aren’t any reviews by major reviewers.” The major reviews could explain they only review books that are available for purchase through the national bookstore chains. Indeed it was the perfect “Catch-22” to suppress the sale of POD books through the chains. Although POD books were readily available from and of course from the mighty Amazon, and independent bookstores ordered POD books because they could offer titles not stocked by the chain stores. Indy bookstores loved POD books by regional authors and/or a local connection—they were steady sellers.

    Now it’s a sure bet the publishing giants approached Amazon regarding their many listings of POD books—their sales were steadily increasing to significant numbers every month. However, the tables were turned because the big publishers needed Amazon far more than Amazon needed them. Once upon a time mainstream authors wanted to know when their books would be on sale in bookstores, now their burning question: how soon will their books be up on Amazon???!!!

    Say what you will about Amazon, but ever since the dawning of the Digital Age, Amazon has created and maintained an open Internet marketplace for all authors. They don’t have the need to put authors in a defined category; their primary interest is the value of the content to their customers. Reader reviews on Amazon directly influenced the clicking of the “BUY” far more than reviews by the once powerful major reviewers—some newspapers reduced or dropped book review sections when advertising and subscribers dwindled.

    More books were being sold in greater numbers on the Internet than were being sold in the remaining brick and mortar stores. National chains went the way of so many independent bookstores and closed their doors, and only B&N remain as a national bookstore chain. Those once huge pressruns necessary to stock shelves with books were greatly reduced. The mainstay of the big publishers’ distribution system was eroding away with each bookstore going belly up.

    When B&N eventually closes their chain of bookstores because of declining sales the big publishers will lose their retail windows in the shrinking marketplace. There was a news report that B&N is under investigation by the SEC for serious accounting errors. It was recently reported the second largest bookstore chain in France will crease doing business the end of 2013. There’s an obvious trend occurring.

    In the mid-2000s, the first gathering of POD publishing services and digital printers was held in Valley Forge, PA, to freely exchange ideas and discuss future trends in this evolving branch of the publishing industry. This was when the term “hybrid-publishing” was introduced to identify a digital publishing method for authors that’s in between the high cost and assumed risk of “self-publishing” and the imposed control of “traditional publishing.”

    It’s ironic that while suppressing the sales of POD books, the major houses were using the digital technology to keep their traditionally published back-list books in-print so the rights wouldn’t revert back to the authors—the Authors’ Guild loudly screamed foul and put an end to that. Agents and mainstream acquisition editors were trolling the waves of POD books for popular titles producing significant sales, and then approaching the author with a publishing deal. Surprisingly many POD authors declined—they wanted to maintain creative control of their content. Control of the content and the marketplace was slipping away from once powerful publishers. Authors create and control their content and that makes them king of the hill!!!

    The popularity of Amazon’s Kindle and B&N’s Nook must be credited with solidifying the previously rather nebulous ebook publishing branch of the industry. They made it easy for authors to publish their manuscripts through their direct publishing programs. In a few hours the uploaded content is available of sale on their websites. Customers can peruse an endless selection of ebooks and with the click of the “BUY” button their purchased ebook is downloaded in seconds to their ebook reader. The author is in control of the entire ebook publishing process, including establishing the retail price and the amount of royalty earned on each download sold. A milestone was passed when the total sales of ebooks sold surpassed the sales of printed on paper books. Like it or not, the future of publishing became the ebooks.

    Now more than ever before, consumers didn’t give a damn about the identity of the publisher—they were buying the ebook content created and published directly by the author. The posted reader reviews influenced their buying decision far more than publishers’ hype. Ebooks published by mainstream houses were easy to spot by their higher prices that weren’t customer friendly. Nor was the publishers’ pricing author-friends thanks to the convoluted “agency pricing” giving the publisher a generous slice of the profit pie with a smaller royalty for the publisher’s author.

    Many people in the industry saw this ebook pricing scheme as nothing more than the big publishers attempting to regulate ebook pricing in such away to maintain a favorable profit margin similar to their printed on paper books. They needed to do something to offset the losses incurred by the eroding bookstore market—manipulating ebook pricing was their way to cover the make-ready cost of printed books that weren’t selling in the profitable numbers like they were before the marketplace shifted to the shopping ease of the Internet.

    Their latest ploy was announcing some traditional publishers would only be contracting with some authors to publish their manuscripts as ebooks—if sales reached sufficient numbers then they would consider releasing a print edition. Golly gee, that’s what smart ebook authors were doing for the last several years—testing the water with an ebook and if it floats then consider entering into a publishing agreement with a digital printer to produce and distribute a print edition while keeping an eye on the critical breakeven point. This is also a good reason to avoid buying a bundle of services offered by a few publishing services that include hardcover, soft-cover, audio book, and ebooks in assorted formats all for one overpriced priced.

    Authors are wising up and asking if they give up part of the ebook royalties what is the publisher going to do to promotion and market the ebook on the Internet where sales are primarily the direct result from the social networking skills of the author spreading the word about their ebook. What will the big publisher or smaller publishing service bring to the table besides a high overhead???

    Professional cover art and formatting can be done as work-for-hire more cost-effectively than signing away author’s rights and a chunk of the ebook royalties to a publisher. Promotional and marketing services can be contracted for with industry pros familiar with successful techniques to generate ebook sales. The successful method for selling ebooks is in doing direct sales to individuals—traditional publishers are entrenched in the concept of making bulk sales to the dwindling number of bookstores. So when it comes to ebooks there’s not much they have to offer authors expect higher prices and lower royalties.

    Perhaps the lure is the prestige of being published by a big name house—but it’s rather difficult to see prestige on deposit in the author’s checking account. Eventually being traditionally published will become a vanity arrangement with the author giving up more than what will be gained. The put-downs of “too bad you couldn’t be published by a traditional house and you had to ‘self-publish’ your book” will switch to “too bad you couldn’t figure out how to publish your ebook through a direct publishing program and you had to sign your rights and royalties over to a mainstream house.”

    Yes indeed this was a long one, but the survey regarding commercial success by authors was seriously skewed because their efforts were hampered by the conspired actions to keep POD books out of the bookstore chains and preventing reviews in the mainstream media. Most likely many authors didn’t have a clue what was happening behind the scenes. It’s difficult to score on a tilted playing field.

    I have been involved in some aspect of writing, publishing and marketing for well over half a century. I watched the transition from letterpress to offset printing and now the unbelievable achievements of digital printing and absolutely energized ebooks. I started freelancing magazine articles and lead features in the 1960s. Early in the 1970s I established a publishing venture to publish and distribute my work—back then it wasn’t referred to as “self-publishing” or “vanity publishing.” There’s no vanity in engaging in a commercial enterprise to make money. I captured the attention of an agent and was published by mainstream houses several years until I returned to work as a marketing consultant—I loved the creative challenges. For nearly a decade and a half I was employed by one of more innovative mid-size digital publishing companies. I was Vice President of author services until my retirement late in 2011. Now I write and publish ebooks—no publisher required.

    My employer was one of the first digital publishers to extend credit to Amazon. I attended the BEA in Chicago when B&N dropped their restrictive bombshell on POB published books. I questioned a panel of major newspaper reviewers at the Virginia Festival of the Book regarding their part in the scheme to keep POD books out of the national chains. I helped to develop and implement a workable return policy for bookstores at no cost to our authors. I was persistent in my fruitless efforts to get our books on the shelves of the national bookstore chains. I directed and produced ten annual “Express yourself…” author conferences at Valley Forge, PA, and I’m most grateful for the many publishing visionaries and industry leaders who made the trek to Valley Forge to present at these conferences. For almost a dozen years I was the editor of the monthly “Authors’ Advocate” newsletter.

    My one regret is this need by the media and certain segments of the publishing industry to continue to use the term “self-published author.” An author is one who creates content that’s made available for sale to the public. It’s the publishing aspect that makes it available for sale, but it is the created content provided by the author that matters far more than the publishing method.

    Enjoy often… John

  31. John F. Harnish

    Hello Dana… I wrote one of the first books about POD that was published May 24, 2002—in time for BEA— titled, “Everything You Wanted to Know about Print-On-Demand Publishing but Didn’t Know Who to Ask!!!” (Although outdated, it’s still on sale from Amazon.) More copies were given away by my publisher than actually sold—my publisher and employer was very generous with free copies that were printed in-house. The publisher owned several high-speed digital printers and, at the time, did all book production in house. The digitally printed 606 page book included comments, remarks, and experiences by hundreds of POD authors, digital publishers, and industry luminaries. Each contributor received a free copy.

    In the mid-2000s I published an account in the “Author’s Advocate” of the suspected efforts within the publishing industry to suppress POD books. The director of Small Vendor Sales for B&N was unhappy but didn’t counter the points raised in my article written to inform our authors about why the chains refused to sell their books. The closest I came to an admission by the major reviewers that “outside influences” determined the selection of books reviewed was during the panel discussion held on the campus of the University of Virginia as part of the Virginia Festival of the Book—my employer was a proud sponsor of the festival for almost a decade.

    My ebook series about publishing ebooks and digitally printed books has a more expanded account of the suspected conspiracy to keep digitally published books out of the chain stores. “An Affordable Ebook about Writing and Publishing Ebooks and Digitally Published Books” is available from and

    I didn’t feel it was right to post a brief sound bite about how an uneven playing field had an adverse impact on the sales of digitally published books and therefore lower incomes for authors. I felt the history of what happened in the publishing industry was necessary to provide a foundation explaining the influences in play that reduced totaled earning for this segment of authors. Many of the authors had written excellent books, but without positive exposure in the marketplace they ain’t gonna sale in significant number!!!

    Enjoy often… John

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  34. David Wisehart

    What does “income” mean in the context of this survey?

    If I sell 30 copes of a Kindle ebook for 99 cents each, and Amazon pays me $10 in royalties, that means I earned $10 income.

    However, if I deduct the $10 I spent to license an image for my ebook cover, I would report $0 in taxable income to the IRS.

    In this survey, are people reporting actual income or taxable income?

    If the term “income” was not clearly defined in the survey, then it is likely that some authors reported actual income (royalties earned) and others reported taxable income (after deductions).

    I find it difficult to believe that more than a handful of self-published authors had actual incomes of $0. Can’t they even sell their books to their own mothers? Or is it perhaps that they published their first book within a month or two of the survey and haven’t yet received their royalties?

    If some authors are reporting one kind of income and others are reporting another kind of income, then the results of this survey are worthless.


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  38. CD Reiss

    Here’s the problem with the analysis of this data.

    Many people write one book, put it up on Amazon, promote it, get tired, and complain about their failure. Many, many fewer treat this as a profession. Of those who published more than one book, and published in multiple genres, what are the success rates?

    I bet you’ll find they are much higher once the dilettantes are weeded out.

    I just quit my job to write full time, FYI.

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  40. Destination Infinity

    Great survey and results that gives us some insight into authors earnings. I would like to see another survey that includes marketing expenses that resulted in all these sales. If the marketing expenses are more than the profits authors earn, there is no point in earning anything!

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  43. Michael W. Perry

    As a hybrid author, I can suggest one reason why hybrid incomes are a bit higher. I generally publish myself rather than go to the bother and delay of going through a traditional publisher. The three books that came out through traditional publishers are a result of them contacting me and asking for the right to do a translation. That meant they came to me offering money and, kind as I am, I didn’t turn them down. In each case that mean getting paid for doing little more than signing a contract. Nice!

    I suspect some of the other hybrids either have publishing industry connections that made success come more easily or had publishers approach them, offering to do a print version of an already-out digital book.

    And finally, having someone else take the risk of publishing you may be a measure of being a bit more appealing as author. It also may be an indication of having been writing longer, and thus having more sources of income.

    –Michael W. Perry, author of My Nights with Leukemia: Caring for Children with Cancer

  44. Michael W. Perry

    Quote: \Say what you will about Amazon, but ever since the dawning of the Digital Age, Amazon has created and maintained an open Internet marketplace for all authors.\

    Not quite true. There was a time when Amazon began to yank the Buy Now button from POD publishers who provided publishing services for authors and weren’t printing through CreateSpace. That meant a weeks-long-delay as readers who bought through Amazon had to go through third-party sellers.

    That only came to an end when a Maine POD publisher I knew took Amazon to court and it only definitely ended, when Amazon realized it was going to lose that dispute and settled out of court with a large payment.

    Amazon has no higher principles, least of all that of an open marketplace. It could easily take a feed of ebooks from Smashwords like virtually every other major ebook retailer does. It actually does take feeds of the more popular Smashwords titles. But it won’t open up to the great bulk of them because it wants authors to go directly to it and accept the convoluted, price-based royal terms it dictates as well as pay a hefty download fee.

    I suspect Smashword’s marvelous Mark Croker has told Amazon that if it wants all Smashword’s authors, it’ll have to pay industry standard rates–70% at every retail price level and no download fees. Otherwise, Smashwords authors will find that Amazon is often paying half or a third less than other ebook retailers.

    Amazon is always and ever only for Amazon. It wants growth, domination, and eventually an ability to dictate both wholesale and retail prices. That’s why through the DOJ it’s gone after its most powerful suppliers, the major publishers, and its chief competitor, Apple.

    The only upside is that, faced with legal action (as with that Buy Now lawsuit), it will back down rather than plunge foolishly ahead like Microsoft did in the 1990s. For those who know their European history, it’s like Germany’s power-hungry Bismarck rather than the egomaniac Kaiser of WWI.

    1. William-Stephen Taylor

      Never, in the history of story-telling has so much been written about what most people don’t know about; namely Amazon’s amateurish sales techniques.

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