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A Gold Mine but Not a Gold Rush


A Look at How Independent Authors Make It in



Rhea Delgado





February 2014

Copyright Publish Wholesale




The survey at a glance.


The Taleist survey on independent authors yields interesting results that provide insight into the profit- earning aspect of the self-publishing venture. The overall data gathered from more than 1000 respondents highlight the top-earning authors’ experiences and practices that might have contributed to their accomplishments as self-publishers in terms of revenues and sales.

Who are the top earners and how do they do it?


The top earners, as the survey describes, are authors with the highest income generated from their self- published titles and who are able to live off their royalties. Ten percent of 1007 respondents qualified as top earners, whose combined royalties made up 75% of the participating authors’ reported total earnings in 2011.


Delving deeper into their publishing practices, it is revealed that the top earners’ similarities go beyond their financial stability as self-published authors. Although the practices of the top earners are not much different from the rest of the respondents, it is the slight differences that set them apart from their peers.


Seeking outside help. The Taleist survey report shows one obvious trend—authors who sought outside professional help, whether paid or unpaid, experienced a boost in their earnings. Editing, e-formatting, and cover design are essential parts of the book production process, and according to the survey report, the respondents who opted for outside professional help in these areas experienced book revenue that was a whopping 3.52 times higher than respondents choosing to do their own work in these three areas.


Although not all authors who responded spent money on outside help, paid publishing services are preferred more by the top earners.

“Top Earners were more likely to pay for help. This doesn’t necessarily mean they were getting more professional help, as we received responses to the effect that unpaid help sometimes included a professional friend doing a favor. It does, however, seem likely that paying for help led to a higher standard of assistance.”


Not a gold rush but a business venture.


Catherine Ryan Howard, a self-published author and one of the survey respondents, attests that “spending money” on self-publishing does help rake in profits.

“Every self-publisher needs to hire professional help, especially in areas such as cover design and copyediting/proofreading…. Here [Taleist Survey result] is proof that in doing so, you not only help the self-publishing side as a whole, but you actually help yourself as well, because you’ll sell more books and so earn more money from them.”

Not all authors strive to make a living on writing books, to be sure. But there are a sizable number of those whose goal is to be in the top earners’ position. Based on the survey report, spending money to publish your book, among other things, results in more than just investment returns—just as a business person invests first before earning revenues.


An article titled “I’m a Self-Publishing Failure” was posted in Salon, and the author, John Winters, shares his story of how he miserably failed in his attempt to be “the next indie success story.”

“So how did I go from this moment of such promise to becoming the black hole of publishing? Let’s just say this is where my ego began to rear its ugly head. At first I was content to simply put my work out there and just forget about it. My feeling being that if it found an audience, great. If not, I could at least say I’d written a book and could then proceed to check one major item off my bucket list…. However, somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind … I envisioned a world of book signings, ‘How-I-did-it’ lectures, and advances large enough to make my accountant do back flips. The ego won out, and I decided to promote my book for all I was worth, with the website, postings around the Web, social media, you name it. The result? I didn’t sell a single book.”

Although Winters eventually managed to sell more than 10 copies of the paperback version, he gave almost 1000 copies of the ebook away as his final resort to promote his first self-published work.


In an article by Hugh Howey, author of the best-selling self-published series Wool, he explained why John Winters failed in his first attempt despite how hard he [Winters] worked. According to Howey:

How you publish will not significantly affect the quality of your story. If it needs a ton of work, it’s not going to make it out of the slush pile anyway. These days, manuscripts need to be perfect before they’re submitted to agents or before you self-publish, so don’t fool yourself into thinking a rough draft can become a great novel with the help of an agent or editor.”

The fact that it was Winters's first attempt at self-publishing might also have played a significant role in his failure to achieve the success he wanted.


While there are those who have a similar unfortunate experience as Winters, Howey also shares that being able to pay the bills through self-publishing is “a feat growing more and more common by the day.” In his article, he introduces fellow authors whom most readers probably never heard of but are earning four to five figures a month.

“Perhaps the transition from near-minimum-wage bookseller to New York Times bestseller was too surreal for me to embrace, but my reaction to these entreaties was that I couldn’t possibly be the real story. For every outlier like myself or Bella Andre or Amanda Hocking, there must be hundreds of people doing well enough with their writing to pay a few bills…. The hundreds appeared to be thousands. And this could only be a fraction of the actual number.”



“There’s a silent mob out there making hundreds of dollars a month while doing something they love, and this should be celebrated.


None of this is meant to say that everyone who self-publishes—even those who study the craft, take their work seriously, and produce a constant stream of material—will find material success. There is also luck involved and the fickle tastes of readers. But what is becoming more apparent with every passing day is that you have a better chance of paying a bill or two through self-publishing than you do through any other means of publication.”

Success is measured on different scales, and for authors who venture down the route of self- publishing, not everyone aims for fame. There are authors who just wish to have their name on a book, regardless of the sales. Nevertheless, there are also those who write and self-publish for financial gain. In this article, we will also try to help self-publishers realize that it is not uncommon for authors to earn enough—if not more than enough—to pay the bills and live off their earnings.


If you would like to further discuss matching your book production and promotion practices to those of the top earners, leave us a note here and we’ll set up an interview, advise you, and do everything we can to help.


Publish Wholesale is a publishing services firm dedicated to help independent authors by not only offering prepress production and promotion services but also by providing them with significant information about self-publishing and publishing industry in general. Publish Wholesale is currently ranked #1 in North America for author client satisfaction and enjoys the status of being the lowest priced provider of any quality author services firms worldwide.


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