Indie Earnings

I just saw this and felt I MUST share here! (I think I’m rapidly becoming obsolete in my own reporting, but I’m actually fine with that!)


(Updated 5/30/13)

Because I now realize how cumbersome it is for indie authors to separate out their earnings per title (I know, from doing this with my own titles!) I thought I might get a higher response rate (though with less detailed results) by putting out a “quick and dirty” version of my survey, timed right after everyone had done their 2012 taxes, so their earnings figures would still be handy. For this simplified survey, I asked only the following:

1. What were your total INDIE earnings for 2012? (easy to figure by adding up 1099s from the various ebook vendors)

2. At the end of 2012,

a. How many frontlist (never before published) titles did you have available?

b. How many backlist (previously published by a publisher) titles did you have available?

3. What genre do you primarily write in? (If multiple, please list.)

As I’d hoped, making it easy netted me FAR more responses than my more comprehensive indie survey (below). In just a few weeks’ time, I received data from 60 authors, representing nearly 600 independently published titles! And I found the results VERY interesting.

Out of 593 titles (so far), 219 were frontlist and 320 were backlist. (They don’t add up to the total because a few authors didn’t specify, while others had boxed sets including both frontlist and backlist, which counted as additional titles for sale.) The sixty authors responding had an average of nearly ten titles available by the end of 2012. 2012 indie-only earnings per author averaged $137,940 (yes, you read that right) with the median earnings figure at $51,211 per author. Responses ranged from the low three figures to the low seven figures (yes, you read that right, too). The average 2012 earnings per TITLE came to $13,957. I can’t compute a median figure per title, since I didn’t ask for book-specific earnings from my respondents, but it’s probably lower than that. The highest earners are spread across several genres, but romance (various subgenres) and mystery are heavily represented.

I’ll continue collecting data from this survey as well as the more detailed one below, and will periodically post updates here. Everything is kept totally anonymous—I don’t even save names in my own files. So please share and spread the word! Survey answers (to either survey, as well as my regular publisher survey) can be sent to

Detailed Indie Survey:

What I need for each title you’ve self-e-published is:

-Whether you’ve reported this title to me before

-Whether it’s a backlist (reprint) or new/ original title

-E-book release date


-Price (non-discounted)

-Lowest discounted price/for how long

-Total number of titles CURRENTLY available under this pen name (traditional & indie)

-Earnings to date for Kindle:

-for B&N:      (feel free to break down further by vendor, especially for significant sales)

-Total earnings to date:   (if you can only give me one figure, please give me this one!)

-Have you previously print published under this pen name?

-Number of months this title has been available

-Title acronym (first letter of each word in title)

Pease feel free to forward either of the above surveys to any and all indie authors you know. The more the merrier!

July 2012 Indie Earnings Report

I have enough extra data now to justify updating the initial Indie Earnings Report I did back in December, even though the numbers have changed a lot less than I expected over the past seven months. Looking at the data, one big reason is that nearly all of the new data came from new respondents, while very little was updated earnings from the authors who responded the first time around. PLEASE send me updated earnings figures! (See above)

That said, I now have data on a total of 151 titles, 66 of which are backlist/reprint and 85 of which are new, original titles. At this point, the average amount of time a title has been available as a self-published e-book is 7.8 months for backlist and 7 months for original, which is nearly unchanged from the December average. (Obviously, all or nearly all of the books reported last time are still available, but since I don’t have updated earnings for 95% of those, the earnings figures still apply to roughly the same amount of time available. (See above.)

The average non-discounted price is now $3.22 for backlist and $2.82 for original titles, showing a bit more separation than before. (See below for my original December report.) Authors seem to have realized the value of “sales,” since at this point 31% of original and 35% backlist titles have been either free or discounted at some point, substantially more than last time around, especially for backlist.

While I said there hadn’t been a lot of change since my first report, earnings have increased somewhat, even for roughly the same number of months of availability. My current data shows average earnings of $8,200 for backlist titles with a median of $5,400 and an average of $12,750 for original titles with a median of $6,000. Again, this is for an average of 7.8 and 7 months’ availability, respectively. Especially notable is the increase in median earnings, since that controls somewhat for outliers that can skew the average figures. (In December, the median earnings were about $4K for backlist and $5K for original titles, so both increased by about a thousand dollars.) The range is still about the same as before, as no new respondents topped that high of $140,000 total earnings reported last time, but earnings in the five figure range seem to be much more common now. As before, these earnings are across all channels, and Amazon sales still dominate, though several authors this time around reported Apple sales increasing, and in a few cases at least equaling Amazon earnings.

I’m still seeing little evidence that previous traditional publication noticeably increases earnings on new, original titles. At this point, 29 out of 85 original titles (34%) were put up by previously (print) published authors, compared to 11 of 49 (22%) last time around.

In a future report I hope to break out the numbers more thoroughly by categories (genre, price, whether or not a book has been discounted, how many other titles an author has available, etc.) For now, just scrutinizing the data I have, I can say that the MOST influential parameter, as one might expect, is how long a book has been available, as they tend to keep earning over time. (There are exceptions even here, especially if a new book has been part of a special promotion, like Nook First.) The second most influential parameter at this moment appears to be how many total titles an author has available. Promotional pricing (sales), even going free briefly, has less influence on total earnings than I’d have expected, though a few authors have reported that putting one book free has increased sales of their other books, especially if it’s a series. (That’s a parameter I probably should have been tracking from the start, I now realize: whether or not a book is part of a connected series. Ah, well, maybe next time.)

Again, please feel free to post questions about this survey on the “Money Talk” page and I’ll do my best to answer without compromising respondents anonymity. And please, please, please keep sending me data! (See top.)


Preliminary Indie Earnings Report (December 2011)

Okay, I’ve finally got some numbers to report, though they won’t be laid out as neatly as my regular Show Me the Money survey, I’m afraid. I have to confess, if I’d realized just what a slippery beast I’d be wrestling here, I probably would never have taken on this task! But since I did, here’s my promised report, which I hope will become more useful as time passes. For now:

I have data on a total of 82 titles at the moment, 33 backlist/reprint titles and 49 original titles (meaning they’ve only ever been self e-published). The average amount of time a title has been available as an e-book: 7.7 months for backlist, 6 months for original titles. (The longest was 16 months, the shortest 1 month.) This obviously means this survey is in its infancy and that these are VERY preliminary numbers! Please keep that in mind as you look at the rest of this, and emphasize it when you talk about it to others.

The average price people are charging (non-discounted) is: $2.93 for backlist, $3.02 for original. (Let’s just call it “about $3.”) As for discounting, 28% of original titles reported have been discounted, anywhere from a dollar off to free, for periods from a few days to a few months. For backlist, 18% of titles have been discounted at some point.

Now, what everyone’s really interested in: actual earnings.

For backlist, the average total amount earned over a book’s e-lifetime to date is $7,915. The median earned is $4,134. (Keep in mind the average length of time these books have been available is only 7.7 months!)

For original works, available an average of 6 months, total earnings to date average $12,548 with a median of $5,150.

These earnings per title range from just a few dollars to a current maximum of nearly $140,000. (Obviously, these figures are changing daily as more books sell. I emphasize again that this is merely a snapshot, taken very early in the game!) These earnings are across ALL channels, to include Amazon Kindle, B&N, Smashwords (including all channels supplied by Smashwords) and other, lesser-known (so far) vendors. I had hoped to break earnings down by vendor, but while Amazon is clearly the top seller for most (not all!) authors, the figures weren’t complete enough to allow me to do that. Many respondents only listed a total figure and quite a few others only gave me total earnings for all of their titles combined, forcing me to average their figures. A few respondents made a point of telling me that the majority of their sales came from an unexpected source (Apple in one or two cases, AllRomance eBooks in another), and for a handful of authors, B&N sales far surpassed Amazon earnings. No one was able to speculate on reasons, however, and I won’t even attempt to do so.

In case you’re curious, only 11 out of 49 original titles were put up by previously published authors, and earnings don’t appear to be significantly better (or worse) based on prior traditional publication. In fact, the single highest-earning title reported to me was an indie original by a previously unpublished writer with no other books available to date.

I had also hoped to group earnings by genre, and still hope that I’ll be able to do that in the future, but for now, the titles are spread across too many genres to make that doable (or useful). Genres respresented (backlist and original) include Contemporary Romance, Historical Romance, Romantic Suspense, Mystery (of various types, including Historical), Young Adult (again, various types), Thriller, Women’s Fiction, Erotica, Romantic Comedy and Paranormal Romance of various types. I’ve put all the info I was given on my spreadsheet in hopes that eventually I will have enough data to break things down further, making this survey more useful.

Feel free to post questions about this survey on the “Money Talk” page and I’ll do my best to answer (without compromising respondents anonymity, of course). And keep sending me data! (see below) I hope to update this survey periodically just as I do the other one, making it more and more representative and useful as time goes on.


20 thoughts on “Indie Earnings

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  10. Great post, Brenda! I’m quite surprised to see the dollar figures of the average earnings for self-published indie authors. I have a few author friends but never really broached “how much do you make” subject.

    The closest was one author who has been using my services for a while now.. her ebooks were being heavily torrented and pirated overseas. she only let me know how much she WAS making and how much she’s making NOW after I managed to remove those pirated copies. Nice jump in sales. :-)

  11. Good to know, Dan. I confess I haven’t paid a lot of attention to piracy when it comes to my own books because it seems so much like “whack-a-mole” and most pirates seem to be in other countries. I never seem to have enough time in a day to do all the things I need to be doing as a publisher/author, and that’s one of the things I’ve just chosen not to worry about, at least for now. Thanks for sharing that!

  12. Yes, I’ve heard that often.. that it seems like a game of “whack-a-mole” and that it sucks so much of your time to constantly battle the pirates. I can only speak for the authors who I know and who’ve contacted me to use my services but so far it’s been quite a success for these authors. Especially if your ebooks are pirated on their own (instead of grouped together with a large number of author books). In fact, the last couple authors were uncertain if they’d see a higher sales volume by not having their books pirated or not.. so they signed up as a one-time shot just to satisfy their curiosity. So far, they’ve been quite pleased with the results.

    Just thought I’d send you off my rambling reply here Brenda. I’m quite passionate about anti-piracy in general and usually end up talking and talking so here I am shutting up now. Let me know if you’d like a free evaluation of your books or your author’s books. :-)

    Have an awesome weekend!

  13. To do a bit more apples to apples comparison, do you think asking for a production cost per book would be useful and or/marketing costs per book? Just a thought.

    • Ellie, it might be useful, but based on my own experience and talks with other authors, I doubt many people have those figures handy. And I’ve found if I make things too complicated, people simply don’t respond.

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