Saturday, 10 January 2015

Author Economics- Book Sales

For those of us who want to pursue dreams of writing as a viable long-term financial career path, being an author is about more than just building a backlist of high-quality, well-edited books--it's about SELLING books. As many of you know, the vast majority of authors are forced to have a second job in order to pay their bills. Most people who write a book will make little more than some extra spending money in royalties. It's sad, but it's the truth. Even those who pursue their passion for writing, publishing, and selling with enthusiasm will likely struggle each and every month on the unpredictable rollercoaster of book sales. I know when I was starting out, I was wondering what it would take to allow me to quit my day job and write fulltime. Selling 500 books a month? 1,000? 2,000? "Give me a number and I'll get there!" I told myself. That's what this post is about, the sheer numbers of being a fulltime Indie author and trying to provide for yourself/your family.
(NOTE: I can obviously only explore my own sales numbers and royalties, so that's what I'll focus on here, as one author's example.)

Although I quit my six-figure job as an Operational Risk Manager for a large investment company in May 2012 (a month before The Moon Dwellers was released), it wasn't until July of 2013 that I considered myself a fulltime author. And even then, I was (and still am) making less than a quarter of what I used to make in my boring office job. So what did that mean in the period between May 2012 and July 2013? My wife and I decided to take a major risk, which was to pursue my writing career on a fulltime basis while living off of our savings. Essentially we assumed we'd make ZERO dollars from my book sales, and we budgeted accordingly. I'll reiterate, it was a MAJOR RISK, but in the end it's worked out so far :) So what changed in July 2013? I had my first month of more than 1,000 total book sales! HOORAY! That was a major breakthrough, both financially and emotionally, and it was the start of a very strong period of sales that have carried through to 2015 and allowed me to hide from the whole "getting a real job" discussion.

But despite the happy ending (again, so far), that doesn't mean the road was easy. It's been the exact opposite. I'll use a timeline of monthly book sales to illustrate:

Month Monthly Sales Sales to Date
Oct-11 14 14
Nov-11 86 100
Dec-11 67 167
Jan-12 63 230
Feb-12 67 297
Mar-12 60 357
Apr-12 88 445
May-12 96 541
Jun-12 133 674
Jul-12 200 874
Aug-12 140 1014
Sep-12 194 1208
Oct-12 161 1369
Nov-12 297 1666
Dec-12 473 2139
Jan-13 378 2517
Feb-13 442 2959
Mar-13 452 3411
Apr-13 794 4205
May-13 600 4805
Jun-13 785 5590
Jul-13 1201 6791
Aug-13 1137 7928
Sep-13 1161 9089
Oct-13 2313 11402
Nov-13 2363 13765
Dec-13 2307 16072
Jan-14 1797 17869
Feb-14 1144 19013
Mar-14 1331 20344
Apr-14 2201 22545
May-14 1544 24089
Jun-14 2786 26875
Jul-14 1308 28183
Aug-14 1362 29545
Sep-14 959 30504
Oct-14 1439 31943
Nov-14 2253 34196
Dec-14 2083 36279

Despite the fact that I’ve managed (thanks to my awesome readers!) to consistently exceed 1,000 books sold per month over the last 18 months, sales vary widely. This is what really makes having a career as an Indie author HARD. Not knowing how much you’ll make each month is scary. Most of the time I just have to have faith that my readers will continue to get the word out about my books and support me, which they always seem to do!

Some other things worth noting from the above table:

1) This does NOT include books I’ve given away for FREE, which exceed 100,000! I’ve given away almost 3 times as many books as I’ve sold!

2) This DOES include $0.99 sales, from which I receive very little income ($0.30-$0.40).

3) Months in which there is a significant increase in sales usually correlate with a major promotion that I’ve run. These types of promotions can cost anywhere from $100 to $500, which offsets some of the royalties I receive.

4) It’s also worth mentioning that over the course of my short career, I’ve gone from a single published trilogy, to 18 published works. Part of the growth trajectory is simply due to the fact that I’ve continued to write and publish more books every few months.

Obviously, the raw data I’ve provided above only provides a relative indication of the actual dollar value of royalties that I received. In terms of actual royalties, a typical month usually yields anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000 (before expenses), a huge range when it comes to trying to make a living!
Also, as you can see, the fight isn’t over yet! I sold fewer books in December 2014 than in December 2013, despite having released four new books. Nothing is guaranteed in this business, and in order to keep my career, I have to continue to work hard each and every day to write new books, connect with my readers, and navigate the changing publishing landscape.

I offer insights into my own personal book sales not to scare aspiring Indie authors, but to give you all the facts about what it takes to “make it” in this business. The journey is long and full of ups and downs, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth the sacrifices we make. In fact, I think it’s the opposite—the most rewarding experience of my life. My wife and I are willing to live on a lower budget so we can live the way we want. We don’t care about getting rich, only that we have enough money to provide for the simple life we enjoy. It’s not for everyone, but it’s for us!

Best of luck to all those Indie authors out there trying to scrape out a living, please feel free to comment with any specific questions you have about Author Economics.


  1. This is really insightful. Thanks for sharing! In my experience, the greater the risk, the greater the reward :)

    1. Thanks Jenny!! You are so right, we only live once so sometimes we have to take a leap of faith to pursue the things we love :)

  2. That’s a good news. I think you haven’t done anything wrong by choosing being a writer for full time as long as you keep making money and are satisfied. This is what our professor Aloke Ghosh who taught finance told us.


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