How much money can you make by self-publishing?

I really have no clue, but as I’m thinking about self-publishing (as soon as I get rejected by every publisher in Australia) I’ve been reading article after article trying to figure out if I have any chance of making a living. And yeah, it’s very possible. But making a fortune? Not so much. The chances of that happening would probably be the same as scoring a Big Five Publishing deal (or winning the lotto).

But it could happen. Steve Henn over at npr.org recounts the story of Michael Bunker and how his novel Pennsylvania Omnibus, became an instant online hit. At one point he was approached by an agent who offered him a $5,000 advance – but Bunker had actually made more than that just the day before. So my guess is he didn’t take the offer.

Reading stories like this makes you think, why not at least give it a go? What do you have to lose?

It’s always been my dream to become a published author. Sorry, CORRECTION. It’s always been my dream to become a traditionally published author one day.

So far I’ve written and completed three novels – the first was so tragically bad I still refuse to let anyone read it (except my mum, God bless her), but when I wrote my second novel, I thought finally this is it! This has to be at least half-good!

Um, yeah no.

Everyone always goes on and on about how aspiring authors can be really naïve at first, and yep, everyone would be right. The rejection stings like hell (especially when you have no clue it’s coming) and it takes a lot of willpower and constant ‘affirmations of positivity’ to steer yourself away from sinking.

With the rejections trickling in (if at all) I decided to write a third novel in a completely different genre that I interpreted as being ‘commercially friendly’. This was also rejected by every agent, editor and publisher I sent it too. I did get a few requests for partial submissions, but nothing ever eventuated. The silence was deafening.

Do I still want to be offered a traditional publishing contract one day? Hell yes, I do! But seeing as that’s a very far off dream (perhaps forever), I’ve decided self-publishing may be the way to go for me, especially as I don’t believe that the Big Five are the sole gatekeepers to success anymore. Even traditional publishing is a game of luck nowadays. You could get an amazing publishing deal only to have your book bomb badly.

A very successful author (let’s call her Annie) once told me that when I’m starting out, ‘I should have at least 3-4 books ready to go before I even publish the first’ and that I should ‘attempt to publish one book every 2-3 months if I want to have any chance of being successful.’

When I asked her about the money issue, she said (for the average Jane) it takes ‘roughly 8 books and 2 years before you can make even a modest living from self-publishing.’

And where did she get this idea from?

Annie told me the story of one of her friends, let’s call her Jane, who was able to quit her day job after she had published 8 books over a 2 year period. Annie also told me that Jane ‘started making more money than her accountant husband after 5 years.’

They seem like pretty good numbers to me. But you know what? Even if I only end up selling 2-3 copies per book a month, I think it will be worth it.

Milly out.

57 thoughts on “How much money can you make by self-publishing?

  1. How much money can you make self-publishing? It depends on your genre and how much you’re willing to learn the business side of self-publishing. Writing is the easy part. You have to get your book visible in an ocean of new releases and everything else and this is where many self-publishers fail because sometimes it just gets overwhelming and a lot of advice will run counter to one another. You won’t know what will really work unless you try it.

    I’m publishing my 7th book in November. I self-published my first book in 11/2014, unpublished it in 1/15 before publishing it again in 3/15 and then my second on 6/15 and the third on 12/15. Neither of them made a lot of money although I did make back my investment. It wasn’t until I wrote/published my 4th book in 10/16 that I started seeing sales and that included the previous 3 books I published. I think the marketing things I learned finally kicked in and I was able to practice them without thinking I was a hack for “selling” my own book. I quit one of my side jobs (teaching massage) summer of 2016 so I could focus on writing and this year I “retired” from my private practice so I can focus on my writing. My goal was to make more money than I was making doing massage therapy (private practice) which, after 20 years, was getting hard on my body and since I went into massage to compliment my writing back when I was writing for a weekly newspaper schedule-wise, it seemed fitting. to go back to my first love. I’ve surpassed that goal as of March 2017.

    It will seem daunting at first and I definitely agree with the advice about waiting until you have at least three books finished in a series before publishing, maybe releasing every month and then bundle it so you have a 4th product, the bundled trilogy. I didn’t start making money until I released book 2 of a series I started a year earlier. Although my books run 75K and up, the books don’t have to be long. The trend now is shorter books, about 50K and I’ve seen people hit $150K a year writing 10 novellas (just under 40K words) but in a series. The sell-through potential is huge in series sales. It’s going to take time, but the key is to write those stories first, have them edited and then hire out the cover design. Have a marketing plan before you launch, have an ARC team so you have reviews on your book, set up a mailing list. The list is long in the marketing/business side of things but first you have to write down the stories.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Wow, that sounds like (one of) my dream job(s)! I’d like to be a fiction author, but at the same time, I’d also like to do something related to my field of academic study someday. Perhaps I can do both!

    I wish you all the best with your publishing, Milly!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Stick with your writing and your goals. You will improve and things will work out. Publishing a book is a great business card and stepping stone to do other things like Speaking Engagements, Consulting, or starting your own Publishing company, etc. (I’ve did all of the above). I’d like to read some of your work if you don’t mind.

    Best Wishes

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ll be headed this route soon on a series of interactive children’s books on hard to discuss topics. I have 25 topics lined up, and lucky for me my hubs is an artist among other things. It’s a niche for my field I decided on after having to make a book for a child patient… since I could find one. Inspiration can strike anytime!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I never said a word about self-publishing because I had been to shy!
    I self-published a recipe book in my home language, Afrikaans. It was two years ago. I already sold more than 2 000 books and I am very proud. Book 2 hopefully get printed next week.
    I don’t think that I shall ever use a ‘real’ publisher.
    Everything around self-publishing is really hard word and big risk. You have do do your marketing every day, but for me it was worth while.
    Don’t wait. Publish that first 2 books that are ready. Good luck!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I had to laugh at your comment that aspiring writers are naive at first. Yup! Aint that the truth 😂 At least it was in my case…
    But to continue despite rejection after rejection shows a passion and tenacity that will hopefully get us there one day.
    Good luck in pursuing the self-publishing route. I’ve been listening to lots of podcasts re indy publishing lately just in case… It seems like there’s lots of help and advice out there available to you.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I hear you. After receiving 28 rejections, I decided to self publish. Still working through figuring that out, finding an artist etc.

    My work is a little outside the norm with fantasy romance, but I love writing it.

    I think that’s key. Write for you, and do some research to find your market. Even if you did get in with a Big 5, I’ve heard from people published with them that they don’t do a lot to help you market your work. Then, they drop you if your stuff isn’t selling.

    Try it. What’s the worst thing that happens? It doesn’t sell? It’s not selling now 🙂

    Liked by 7 people

    1. 28 rejections! Oh wow you sound just like me. I LOVE writing paranormal romance! I wish I was into more commercial stuff (like contemporary romance) but I can’t help it. Like you said, the key is to ‘write for you!’ A publisher once told me that paranormal romance novels have no chance of ever been published by one of the big Aussie publishers, then she told me that they are crying out for ‘sweet contemporary romances’ – so what did I do? I wrote the darkest psychological thriller I could muster hahaha. It made me feel SO MUCH better hahaha.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I love fantasy romance, so I get it. I want Knights and dragons and magic, but I want steamy scenes and a happily-ever-after.

        I keep hoping they’re wrong and there’s a market they haven’t tapped. How many of us watched LotR and GoT? Gotta be some of those that would like that in romance. I can’t be all alone, can I?!?

        Like

      2. Paranormal Romance IS commercial, the romance genre writ large sells well. Loads of whale readers there, go for it! And plenty of decent covers that are pre-made to get you started on a budget. I would suggest you start shifting your blog to your brand as a romance AUTHOR instead of aspiring writer. Envision yourself a success and make it happen. You CAN do this! I mean, I write around my brain damage and STILL have three novels published, a novella, a novelette and two short stories with anthologies. And a fourth novel with the copy editor as we speak. Type? Anyway, I say that NOT to brag but to show you it’s all in your approach.

        Truthfully, it’s easier than you think, and Indie’s make more money often times. Average royalties for TradPub seem to be around 33-40% royalties. Small presses can be upwards of 50% and Indies get 100% of their income. Plenty of indy authors making 5 figures, though some genre’s sell better than others.

        The key for you is to start networking now with authors in your genre. Start a mailing list now from people who like your blogs. Write a short story to give away as a perk for joining your mailing list, edited with a decent cover. And just be out there. In the world of digital sales, you can write from everywhere. Australia is NOT your only market, so spread your wings and soar Millie!

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Thank you! I’m going to try hard to envision myself as a succcess – or at least as a romance author! I really just need to take the plunge and go out and do it (self-publishing) – I don’t know what’s stopping me. (Actually the biggest thing stopping me if I’m going to be honest, is the financial side, I can’t afford an editor just yet)

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Try finding a small press, you share your royalties but don’t bear the expense of editing and covers. You’ll still need to do things for marketing, but you can do that without breaking the bank!

            Liked by 1 person

          2. That’s a great idea! The only problem is that there aren’t many small presses in Aus – I’ve only been able to send my manuscript to 5-6 that are taking unsolicited submissions in my genre. I’m a little to nervous to try the US small publishers as I had a bad experience with one last year (they accepted my novel but went bankrupt and treated me badly etc..) I really should try a few others – ones that are reputable this time lol. I can always check the absolute write forums before I submit too I suppose ☺

            Liked by 1 person

  8. Don’t think that your book is bad just because a trad publisher didn’t pick it up. For them it’s all about ROI – what will return the biggest profit to them. Just because they rejected you doesn’t mean you’re bad, it just means they don’t think there’s enough in it for them.

    Just look at how many big name authors were rejected multiple times (a certain billionaire author for example to say the least) because the trad publisher didn’t think there was a buck in it for them.

    At the end of the day they’re just guessing. Given how many trad published books go nowhere their ability to guess at what will be the next big thing isn’t much to hang your hopes one, and certainly not one to judge if your book is good or bad.

    There’s no rule saying you have to be one or the other. Rejected? So what? Self publish and build your brand. Get people following you who can’t wait for your next book to drop. You may find by the time a trad publisher is willing to pick you up, you don’t need them anymore.

    Liked by 7 people

  9. Good article! I’ve self-published 3 different titles: 2 as ebooks, 1 print only. One of the ebook titles also has a print version. Within less than 2 years I’ve made back the total of my original investment on two of the books and am well in to total profit on them – including the ebook that has a print version too. The 3rd book came out this year – so it has barely gotten started. I’m in love with the self-publishing thing – especially since I create artist books that can be hard to “classify” in the traditional publishing since. Here’s a link about my current titles: https://sueclancy.com/artist-books I think you write well Milly so I encourage you to for it!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. It’s certainly possible to make a very good living self-publishing. I know quite a few who do. I have been self-pubbing since 2013; I’m not one of those people who make money at it, but I’ve at least learned some of the things that I did wrong starting out.

    1. Make sure you can write 2-3 books in the same series per year. At the very least make sure they are all in the same genre. People like consistency.
    2. Choose your cover with great care. An amateurish cover will doom your book from the start. You don’t have to spend a lot, but if you spend, you will get.
    3. Start a mailing list now. Before you publish. Yes, now.

    By the way, 2-3 books per year isn’t so hard if you realize they don’t have to be 90K words each. 60K is perfectly acceptable. After all, you’re the publisher.

    Good luck!

    Liked by 5 people

  11. Thanx for the tpic, Milly!
    I’ve heard rumors for years that we can make money indie publishing, and stories of people who are making a living at it. Personally, I’ve been doing it since 2012, and have made a little money – I attribute my”failure” to make a living at it to a couple of factors:
    1. I can’t market / promote to save my life.
    2. Everything I’ve written and published so far is short fiction. So far I have 69 individual stories ePublished, and then collected in 12 different collections that are both ePubbed and in print (through CreateSpace.) It’s hard to sell short fiction when people can get full-length novels for the same price that I have to charge by Amazon’s (and other markets’) rules.
    3. Scifi/fantasy is not the biggest selling category.
    4. My writing could also be a factor, but I can’t effectively judge that.
    My still unproven theory is that you keep putting books out there, and over time the sales build up. With ePublishing, they stay warm and ready to read on the shelf forever.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Hey Milly, so far I have made about $25 from my first book, self-published on Amazon. I’m writing my second book now, and have 3 more in mind for future self-publishing. We will see how it goes. Whether I eventually earn a living, or stay a “starving artist,” I’m sure enjoying the sense of accomplishment.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Great post, really got me thinking about whether traditional publishing is something I ever want to do. Whatever you decide, best of luck to you!

    Like

  14. It’s definitely great for a learning experience. I’ve learned a lot about writing, publishing, and everything that goes with it. Plus you get decent feedback from strangers with reviews, so if you stink, you will definitely know it!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Like anything in the writing world, self-publishing is a marathon not a sprint. It involves creative marketing and lots of patience. It may take a few years even for your sales to have any meaningful impact. The same can be said about those with a publishing contract too.

    Liked by 4 people

  16. I’ve definitely become a proponent of self-publishing. I still have the dream of landing a ‘traditional’ contract some day, but self-publishing was the start I needed. I’m still not making a living off of writing and am probably a long ways off, but it’s a start.

    I’ve done a lot of research about making a living off of writing, whether traditional or self, and there’s countless differing opinions on the matter. But there’s been one relative constant: the ones who do make enough to quit their day job are usually the ones who put out a lot of books every year. Being a prolific writer seems to be a key factor.

    That’s all fine and dandy, but then it becomes a chicken and the egg type of question. To write as much as seems needed to live off of writing, I’d need to quit my day job….before I’m making enough money to live off of O_o

    Liked by 6 people

  17. Hi Milly, loved the article. Keep faith in your writing. I have published three books for local writing groups and a poet. They write for fun and no-one makes any money. I don’t charge them – simply because they hate it if I try to edit their work. Usually it is only two to three hundred copies which they pay for and give away. Different world.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I’m with you, Milly. The big publishers have been the gods and gatekeepers of writers for so long, and it’s not easy to let go of that aspiration. There’s no reason to not do the best that you can to get your creative work out into the world. Why can’t you be the next successful self-publisher? Why not you? I’d look forward to learning from your journey. Don’t get discouraged and write in a way that doesn’t reflect your best, most passionate self. It may not appeal to everyone, but the ones who get it will be loyal and excited and share your work with others. You’ve got this!

    Liked by 7 people

  19. This and all the comments were definitely helpful. I too have debated the less traditional route with my collection of unfinished/abandoned stories. (My idea was to put them in a big collection appropriately called Cliffhangers hahaha) Pinterest has a lot of ideas/tips for self publishing. I wish you the best and if you do it let me know. I’d love to read it. My goal for 2018 is to actually finish ONE book and self publish

    Liked by 2 people

  20. I’ve been self-published since 2008 – the first three (or four) came out within two years of each other, since then, there’s been a lag and the last one came out almost three years past its predecessor. I’m still not making a living from my work but then, I’m not promoting it. All of that is changing of course for 2018…

    I write that to say this, I think there’s no set formula to success as a writer whether you’re self-published or otherwise. I believe instead, it’s all about how well your writing appeals to the buying public. Find your tribe of readers, promote your work like a mad woman and see where the sales lead you. Meanwhile, write what’s in your mind to write, keep your writing skills sharp.

    :-). Thought provoking post, thanks.

    Liked by 5 people

  21. In ten days time, I’m self-publishing my first book, Our Destiny Is Blood on Amazon. It’s been a long road of rejections from traditional circles but rather than let it get the better of me, I decided to bite the bullet and do it myself. There is only one way to find out whether self-publishing is for me or not and my end goal really is for people to read and hopefully enjoy my book. So I say go for it. There’s costs involved but I’m planning on the long game and a series of books with these characters so hopefully it will pay off!

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Good for you! Unless you are a celebrity, or have a proven track record, publishers in general are not prepared to risk investing in you however, that should not stop anyone from self publishing if they so wish… but it will cost!
      From personal experience, I can only add that having books not only in print, but seeing sales data, is very rewarding. All the very best in your ventures. 🙂

      Liked by 4 people

    2. Clare, I love the inspiration from this and your commitment to the long game. I am sure you are aware that marketing – a full time task -and building a fan base is important.
      I self-published my two books on short stories and pushed them in 2014. I was impressed with some great reviews (only a few) from strangers on Goodreads and Amazon. They were also frequently read in the library. I did not make a lot of money but I felt inflated and realised – yes, I can do this.

      Liked by 3 people

  22. For you own peace of mind and happiness, I would suggest that you write about whatever topic inspires you to write, and as often as you are inspired to write. If you manipulate your own creativity simply to make money, it is likely to show in your end results. Surely you would be more proud having one really good book with your name on it, rather than 4-5 very mediocre productions?

    Liked by 7 people

  23. I’m planning on publishing a short story soon. This will be the first story I’ve ever published. I agree on getting books ready to be published two to three months in advance. I wish you the best of luck.

    Like

  24. It totally depends on your genre. If you write a series of romance novels? Yeah, you’ll be rich. If you write poetry anthologies…not so much. I agree with your friend that you should have books lined up and ready to go so that you develop a rabid following with your readers. Per book, you probably won’t make much money which is why it’s important to build a series. Of course, quality still wins out over quantity. I published two books in 12 months and I wouldn’t say that I’m raking in the dough but it has launched a number of other projects and partnerships that have paid quite nicely. Books can be a great stepping stone if not your end goal.

    Liked by 8 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s