Can a “Normal” Author Make a Living E-publishing?

| Posted in E-publishing |


While I was wondering what to blog about today, someone (thanks, Kevin Tross!) sent me an email asking how well I’m doing with my ebooks and if there’s hope for normal authors (not the Amanda Hockings, JA Konraths, Brian S Pratts, and other folks who, some feel, are doing so well in part because they got in early and/or brought a big back-list of books to the table so they could dump 17 ebooks into the marketplace from the get-go). What if you’re coming into the game now, when there’s a lot more competition than there was even a year ago, and what if you’re publishing your first novel or two?

I guess I’ll put myself out there as a “normal” author (which is funny since I’m a big geek and people don’t call me normal very often!) and talk about how I’m doing so far.

My results may even be sub-normal, since I write cross-genre stories (a little urban fantasy, a little science fiction, a little steampunk, a little high fantasy, a little romance…you get the picture), which aren’t the easiest things to categorize and promote. Even with straight-up science fiction or high fantasy, you’re not looking at popular genres. I also don’t know squat about art, so getting cover art done that people actually find appealing has been an ongoing challenge.

Before I ‘fess up my sales numbers (I’m nowhere close to making a living at this), let me point out that I published my first ebook in December 2010–a year from now, I’ll have more books out, and higher numbers, I hope!

I’ll also point out that, back in 2004, it took me six months before I started making any money (and that was less than $200) with my websites and blogs (my day job for the last six years). So, I come into e-publishing with the perspective of this being a long-term game and not something you get into if you’re hoping to make a living overnight. My sales numbers have consistently grown each month since I started, and I can tell already April will be better than March. I’m grateful to the folks who have purchased my work thus far, and I hope many more will find me in the future!

Okay, enough hemming and hawing. Here are the numbers:

My sales numbers for March, 2011

Amazon: ~ $390 (they haven’t come out with the March report yet, so this is an estimate–they show $600 for the last six weeks)

Barnes & Noble: $254

Smashwords & Partners: $80 (also an estimate, since they report quarterly, and I’m too lazy to go add up individual sales for March).

Total: $724

Hey, it’s better than a paper route! πŸ˜€

Hope for the mid-list ebook author

While my numbers aren’t going to blow anyone out of the water, I can see the potential for growth, and I think it’s heartening to know you can make some money as a “mid-list” ebook author (I’m not on any bestsellers lists anywhere, and I haven’t dropped the price of my novels to $0.99 to see if I can sell piles of them at a next-to-no-barrier-to-entry point).

On the Kindleboards and on a few author blogs, I see people doing better than me, so you may very well out-perform me. I’m a little lazy when it comes to marketing (I do some things regularly, such as guest posting and blogging here, but I’m honestly not very social online, so I’m not out there networking with the important people, racking up a thousand posts on the big e-publishing forums, or schmoozing everyone with a Goodreads account).

A final point on “making a living” as an indie ebook author

The initial question that spurred this post was, “Can you make a living at this?” One of the tough things about answering that question is that everyone has a different notion of how much money it takes to make a living. Where you live, how many incomes contribute to your household, and your lifestyle all factor into what you consider a decent income.

I remember someone claiming to make a living writing articles for eHow once, and I later saw she was making $800 a month. Hey, great for her, but in the Seattle area, you’d be lucky if that covered half a house payment. In New York, that’s probably what it costs to take the family out to eat.

That said, sure, I can see the potential for normal authors to make a living via e-publishing. The biggest thing you can probably do for yourself is get a lot of work out there. More ebooks mean more chances for people to find you, and once you turn someone into a fan, they’ll go on to buy more of your work.

Final notes:

If you are eager to make more, sooner, non-fiction is historically more profitable. If you can teach someone how to solve a problem, you can make a lot. If that’s something you’d be interested in, check out “Kate Harper on Making Money Publishing Kindle Articles

I make a little extra from this blog (and my Kindle Geeks one) by sticking in affiliate links to ebooks when appropriate (including my own!). For more information on that, check out my series on How to Make Money as a Book Blogger.

Update (Sept. 7th, 2011): I made $3,000 in August. I had three novels, two novellas, and some short stories out at that point. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with the next release, later this fall!

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Comments (29)

Lindsay – can you let us know what advertising you’ve done that came out before March? Seems like that may be part of the equation as well.

Also – last post you mentioned better royalties by uploading to B&N through Smashwords. Are you considering switching any of your books over?

Thanks, this is super useful and inspiring!

Hi, Corie!

I started playing with advertising in January, and it’s been a losing proposition in most cases. Kindle Nation Daily is the only thing that’s sold noticeable numbers of ebooks, and, even there, Emperor’s Edge is the only one that came close to selling enough copies to cover the ad (which wouldn’t be the case now that they’ve raised their rates).

Goodreads is the one exception (where I believe I spend less than I make, though I know from the clicks not many sales come from there overall). Here’s the blog post I did on advertising there:

Overall, I’m spending less on advertising now (though I have a couple that have come out in March and April that I paid for back in January) and, aside from letting the GR campaign run, probably won’t advertise again. (I checked, out of curiosity, and spent about $75 for advertising in March. I am also running Encrypted through an ebook tour right now that was a $60 expense in March.)

I think getting out there in the blogosphere and publishing more ebooks (even if they’re long short stories/novellas, like Flash Gold) is what’s helping things grow from month to month.


Thank you so much for the shout-out and the intense details. I think I’ll be in a similar situation publishing wise, I don’t really WANT to focus fire a specific type of published book. (Sci-fi, fantasy, romance, satire, contemporary fic, etc.) I’d much rather write the stories I WANT to write. πŸ™‚

I appreciate it very much that you would take the time to give us a bit of insight into what ‘regular’ people experience. I have nothing but respect and admiration for those above author’s and I’m very glad (as I’ve mentioned elsewhere) about their good fortune. It’s not a competition, it’s a collaboration and it’s nice to see someone give us insight into what the ‘normal’ author can expect to experience.

Lindsay – thanks. I’ve been trying to think about a marketing plan, and knowing your numbers is very helpful! Sounds like the blog tour/guest posting would be the way to go!

(and I re-read the smashwords piece, and figured out my own question there.- reading comprehension failure in 3, 2, 1…)

Wonderful post. I tried paid advertising also and received similar results. Some advertising is more effective than others, but the slight boost in sales for a day or two doesn’t seem to justify the cost. Next time around, any paid advertising I do will be through Goodreads.

Thanks for bearing all Lindsay.

I think you are too modest – it looks like you’ve done a great job in promoting yourself. Those figures are bound to grow each month, especially if you get some new material up.

It does, however, highlight that my dream of quitting my day job within the next two years is just that – a dream! Especially since I haven’t chosen a publisher yet πŸ™

For the sake of my ego, I’m going to post anonymously, but this is more than I make per month as a traditionally published author with multiple titles out. I don’t make bestseller listings either. Most of us don’t. We write because we love it.

Though with ebook publishing it looks like you can make more simply because the royalties are better. I am looking at creating an ebook for a novel where the rights have reverted back to me.

Lindsay, I started publishing in Oct 2010, so I’m a few months ahead of you. I haven’t had explosive sales. Just steady increases month to month. I had my first 1000 sales month in March (after 6 months). I have a novel, an anthology, and a DIY on Amazon. If my sales maintain March levels for the rest of the year, I’ll net around $9,000 on those three books in 2011.

If I can maintain such net royalties ($3000 per book per year), and write 2 more books each year, then in 5 years when I have 13 books out, I should be making a minimum of around $40k. If sales continue to increase, then I’ll be making much more than this.

So, I’d say that normal authors do have a chance to make a living at epublishing, but only after a few years of building up several titles to sell.

You can check out my sales charts on my blog, BTW.

Personally, I think it’s awesome that you’re doing so well in such a short amount of time. *waves pom poms* I’ve certainly enjoyed following along.

Sadly, your take isn’t far from what Hubby makes substitute teaching. πŸ™ Maybe I should encourage him to write something. No, wait. He likes dull nonfiction things like economics and civics…and I’d be forced to proof read it. *shiver* Think I’ll go work on my own stuff instead.

Thanks for letting us know what it’s like to be a “normal” author. πŸ˜‰

Make a living e-publishing? How about: does a β€œnormal” author even want to try e-publishing?

This is what I got hit with earlier today:

Hi Lindsay, I like the real-world feel of your perspective. And you have inspired me to take my kindle book back to $2.99 from $.99. I’m doing it next week as soon as I upload the second book which I’m putting up at $2.99.

I’m selling in trickles and I don’t believe advertising converts to appreciable and lasting sales so I subscribe to your tenet of getting more books out there, whether short stories or novella. I’m going to do just that.

Thanks a lot.

Thank you for this post! I greatly appreciate your honesty about your e-book career so far. I’ve decided to go the indie route with my first novel, and although everyone wishes Amanda Hocking success, I have more realistic expectations. Heck, just earning $100 would be a step in the right direction for me. Thanks for the marketing advice! I’m off to check out your books.

I think it is possible, if you supplement your book sales with regular writing gigs, as I do. I do not make enough to live solely off the earnings yet, but I am closer today than I was last year. So long as eBook reader sales rise and the interest grows, I have an audience.

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Thanks for putting the real numbers out there. I hear writers saying how well they’re doing on the self-pub road, but none of them ever give $$amounts and I’ve noticed they haven’t quit their day jobs yet.

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I have been self-publishing my books for about three years. I currently have four books in Ebook publication, and am grossing about $2,500 per month. I spend approximately $800 per month on various advertising, so I’m netting $1,700 per month, which is more than my social security income. So, to answer the question: Yes, I am earning a living. I hope you’ll take a look at my books, especially my two Matt Davis Mysteries, As The Twig Is
Bent, and Opening Day, which are my best sellers. Incidentally, I offer reasonably-priced help for those interested in self-publishing.

Good morning Lindsay. Great post this morning.
I think it all depends on what we want to achieve. Yes, if we want to make a living out of it, we have to do the same things as we would for any business, promote our product, advertise and promote ourselves, even if we have an agent or a publisher, this is our work and everything reflects back onto us. Good luck! I think you are doing great!

Thank you, Karen!

[…] Salah satu posting Lindsay yang menarik untuk anda baca berjudul Β Can a β€œNormal” Author Make a Living E-publishing ? […]

[…] was inspired to write my first e-article after reading a great post on fantasy author Lindsay Burocker’s blog. Subsequently, I read e-article guru Kate […]

Where you live makes a big difference. $800 would be more than a doctor earns where I live. Good point!

[…] Can A “Normal” Author Make A Living Indie Publishing? […]

Interesting. I’ve just put 5 of my non fiction books on the kindle. They’re not making much (Β£200/$300 for the last month). Although , I’m not too bothered as my own site makes a good amount (Β£10K per month) I’ve just had the first one printed by CS and its for sale as a paperback. Current royalties this week of Β£40. I’ll keep you updated with how the royalties progress.

[…] Can a Normal Author Make a Living E-Publishing […]

I imagine it’s a lot like adding energy to something before it can start rolling down a hill. While you push it up the hill it is slow and takes a lot of energy for the distance you’re getting out of it. Once you get it over the hill it will start to roll, and not every slope is the same. Some writers are lucky and get steeper slopes, but most are dealing with a bunny slope. As long as the writer keeps writing the momentum once they reach the point of gathering fans should increase. Most people like certain writing styles, and as more people read, more get attached to that writing style and want to read more about it, as well as tell the people they know about it. As long as the quality of work doesn’t deteriorate, or reach a maximum output for the genre, the money should continue to increase. Obviously this is given a set number of books at regular intervals, and there’s a lot more that goes into it than that, but the general idea still seems effective.

Sorry if I was rambling, just had to write down what was going on inside my head.

Hi, Lindsay πŸ™‚

I’ve just found this blog post — very inspirational! In your last paragraph you mentioned your earnings for March 2011 and your enthusiasm for what the future would bring. If you have time, I’d love to hear how things have been going since then. πŸ˜€

Hi, Sarah. I’ve stopped posting my earnings. They’re above six figures though.

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