Thursday, 24 May 2012

Self-publishers fail to earn a fortune shock!

The Taleist today published the results of its survey into self-published authors' earnings and their habits. They asked 1007 authors 61 questions, which mkes it undoubtedly an important event. The headline figure is that self-published authors earn $10,000 a year from their books on average (£6375) whilst half earn under $500. The media is already buzzing with the seeming negativity of this - though in reality it's hardly quantum leaps off the mark of the Society of Authors figures for published authors (£16k mean £4k median).

There are some fairly bland observations - people who write romance earn most by genre, people who write literary fiction don't earn much, you do better if you hire an editor, but the report will no doubt go viral, and for me that is worrying because - whilst it can hardly but wear its unscientific colours on its sleeve, it seems to me much more a "how to" guide than a state of play survey, and that means authors are going to jump on it and maybe overlook many of its gaping holes - by not being exhaustive and rigorous, it's impossible to use the information in this report as a definitive how-to, because it fails to analyze what may be other central contributing factors to the bestsellers' success (in addition, that is, to, DUH, how good the book is as a representative of its type, which I've not seen mentioned in anny of teh coverage so far!!!!)

In addition to the survey size, I can't find the original post asking for respondents on the Taliest website, but the fact the actual report being charged-for at £3.30 a pop raises questions - I'd like to know whether it was made clear to participants if they were undertaling the survey as part of a commercial enterprise, for example. The purpose seems to have been mainly to produce a "secrets of bestselling authors" document rather than a state of play one, as I've mentioned. No problem in that, but this angle and the commercial aspect combined (one can't help but compare it to John Locke's "How I sold a million" only "how people sell millions") need to be taken into account before people simply red the results off the page as if they were instructions.

That said, the conclusions seem sound, if somewhat obvious - romance sells best, you sell more when you use an editor and cover designer. As how-to goes, though, authors would probably be better served by the 99 cents for Locke's book. What we really need for a definitive "secrets of success" guide is a survey that goes right into the detail of metadata, for example. At one of the events at London Book Fair, an Amazon representative said the single best piece of advice he'd give an author trying to make sales on Amazon was get their metadata right. It would be great to take some cross sections within genres and see some segmented data based on review stats, metadata, price, inclusion in charts, promotional sites used (one thing authors desperately need research on is just how effective in the long run paid-for promotions on sites like Kindle Nation Daily are, with control groups and longitudinal data over several years cross-compared with the dates of other major promotions such as Amazon newsletters and sales containing books in the same genre so authors can see the effect of timing their promotion).

One thing that sounds very familiar from listening to self-publishing debates but seems to me to be utterly contentless:
It shouldn't have surprised me that 75% of the royalty pie is going to 10% of authors: that's life in many industries. If I'm being honest, though, I'd hoped self-publishing might be a bit more democratic
What is that supposed to mean? That they hoped in a self-publishing world everyone would sell exactly the same amount of books? (never going to happen) That they hoped everyone would appear in the same marketplace? (they do) That they hoped sales would be less affected by variables reflective of a profesisonal attitude like getting in a cover designer and editor? (maybe they hoped it but I'm sure readers didn't) That they hoped sales would be more bunched with less outlier-skewing? (they are but the survey is too small and self-selecting to reflect that)

This report is interesting and I would advise athors to read the coverage with interest. Worth £3.30? Maybe, but only if you go in with eyes wide open about what you can and can't expect to get out of it.

And a note of scepticism - many of the questions I want to ask, even ones I've raised here, would no doubt be answered by thereport's authors with the line if you buy the report, you'll find out" - and that most definitely is not the mark of research done for the sake of information.


  1. The questionaire was so badly put together I gave up halfway; it was skewed towards the US, in every way. The questions were also poorly thought out, (I showed my OH, who writes questionaires for DEFRA etc, and he was appalled at the sloppiness of it all)to such an extent as to be unanswerable.
    Overall, I felt it was a disappointing exercise and tells us very little. Most self-publishers do not expect to be making enough to give up the day job, especially people like me who write literary fiction and poetry and whatnot. But then even if I were with a publisher (as I came close to being) I probably would earn LESS than I do now.

  2. Yes, I think I filled it in but didn't think much of it - it's a shame because there's great potential for some really useful analysis. I think you're right about most people I know - we don't expect to give up the day job, we write because we love too, and anything that comes of it is very welcome in such hard times.

  3. Let me get this straight... The sample was simply the author's who saw the posting and responded? That's absurd. Thanks Dan, for another well done piece on publishing.

  4. I think so, Marion, but I'm not going to pay £3.30 to find out!

  5. Excellent piece of analysis yourself though! I won't be paying to find out either. I bought Locke's book and very much liked his cheerful, honest tone - but I think he probably has more sales skills than your average author. I'm going to have to ask somebody all about metadata.

  6. Thank you for this article! I just did a post on this today on my own blog, and as a Social Media Strategist and SEO Copywriter, I know first-hand how much effort is needed to execute a kick-butt author campaign, and it isn't for the faint of heart!

  7. Thanks, Jeff - I particularly enjoyed your piece about depression - so so true that we need to keep reinforcing that it's OK to ask for help.

    Catherine - yes, I would dearly love to see some clear advice on that!

  8. I'm going to annoy all of you by being cheerful about this, because I took part in the survey and I recall it well.

    These were the first people to ASK those questions. They never claimed to be professional at survey taking. They did say that as it was going to bear collecting and interpeting the data they would likely charge for it.

    Since they've broken the ice - I'm sure that others will come out with better questions and better samples. I think it would be great for the UK to have a their own survey.

    I took the survey in January, knowing there would be issues, when the thread appeared on Kindleboards.

    All your points are valid - I won't say otherwise - however, this was the first study, conducted by amatures, on a shoestring.

    They did a tremendous amount of work.

    And, frankly, I'm VERY glad it exploded the 'write a book and get rich' myth. That should discourage the spammers so those of us who are craftsmen can be found more easily.

  9. I don't think I could disagree with any of that! And the last paragraph - yes, people have been saying get rich quik is a myth for a long time but perhaps this will finally make people listen. Wouldn't it be lovely if the discussion of self-publishing focused more on the craft and content? And in answer to your comment on Goodreads, yes, the similarity with Harry's survey of traditionally published writers is notable

  10. I think, between the two, it is a good snapshot of the Industry.

    It is good news all around, she chirped. A maddening optimist in a sea of realism. LOL

  11. They have published this news towards them so easily that now they can supply this to the every corner of this country.For this they had to take many authorities permission here.


  12. They are making this fortune shock among with they don't get the chance always to be with them and support them as long.So for their betterment they have stepped forward in this matter.