Piece of the Pie Chart: Statistics of Success in Indie Publishing

It’s the cherished fantasy of every aspiring author: your debut novel, beautifully bound with the stamp of a respected publishing house branded on its spine, shiny new copies stacked and gleaming on a bookstore display table like doubloons in a pirate’s hoard. Royalties roll in and, with the handsome advance on your next till,  you tell your boss to stick it, quit your day job, and live the bestselling dream.

Unrealistic? Probably, but perhaps not for the reason you think. My recent cyberspace sojourns turned up a report from AuthorEarnings.com, comparing the incomes of new authors who publish through traditional methods and those who choose the indie route. Whether you’re a writer or a statistics geek, it’s well worth reading. Candy-colored graphs and pie charts—who doesn’t love a good pie chart?—reveal startling insights into the mathematical reality of today’s publishing world. At the time the report posted in 2014:

  • E-book sales accounted for about one third of a traditionally published author’s income.
  • More new indie authors were making a living from e-books than their traditionally published counterparts, especially writers of genre fiction (like yours truly).
  • Almost two-thirds of major publishing house profits came from established authors, not newcomers or “debut” authors.
Indie authors might never enjoy massive book launch parties or lines around the block for their next tile, but if you could live comfortably on proceeds from your writing, would you really mind?

All these numbers add up to a surprising conclusion: your chances of becoming a financially successful author are better as an indie.

“Of the 500 or so Big-5 debut authors in 2013, only 245 (fewer than half) are today earning $10,000 or more from their Kindle e-books…By contrast, we see over 700 Indie-published authors who debuted in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 who are today earning more than $25,000/year from their Kindle e-books alone.”

Granted, 700 is still not many. However,  the e-book trend has only increased since the time of the AuthorEarnings report, shattering the old publishing paradigm and putting more power in the hands of authors and the readers who support them. The odds may still not be in our favor, literary rebels, but in the arena of book sales, self-publishing gives us a fighting chance at victory.

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