What Do The Earnings Statistics for Self-Publishers Mean?

statsRecently, a Digital Book World survey has released results showing the current state of publishing and, especially, the earnings of authors. The headline figures are: 54% of Traditionally published authors make less than £600 a year, that figure moves up to 80% for self-publishing.

Wow, you might say. At £50 a month, I reckon I could even sell my arse for more than that each month. It certainly looks bleak when you look at it from this angle (the statistics, not my arse), however, I share Hugh Howey’s optimistic point of view.

He commented, ‘I would say the results of this survey cloud how nearly impossible it is to make a single cent through traditional publishing (because only the top 1% who “make it” are tallied). If you’re trying to compare outcomes for traditional and self-published writers,’ Howey argues, ‘you have to take into account the huge percentage of books that never make it out of the slush pile … Because those are authors and books attempting to go that route.’

He’s right. You can’t compare percentages because you’re comparing apples and pears. There are fewer traditionally published authors and they’ve all been through some kind of publishing filter first. In order to compare like-for-like, you’d have to add in all of the manuscripts that don’t make it to the printers. Millions of sub-standard offerings from people that shouldn’t have bothered in the first place. Self-publishing lets all of these in.

It’s the one problem with self-publishing. There’s no quality control. It’s the one thing that ruins the credibility of self-published authors. The tail of the earnings graph for self-publishers is massive as hundreds of thousands of ‘not very good’ writers earn next to nothing. The only obvious indicator that differentiates a good self-published author from a shit one is how many books they sell.

In traditional publishing, literary awards hail great writing and yet Harry Potter and Fifty Shades will outsell the Man Booker winners every time. But, success as a self-publisher is almost always limited to how many you sell.

The statistics don’t show the fact that the number of writers who can now make a living from writing has increased since the self-publishing revolution. Ignore the percentages because they’re skewed for the reasons above, but the opportunities are greater now.

It may look as though there is a huge gulf developing between the successful authors and the rest, but I don’t think this is the case. There’s just a lot more books out there.

Until next time…

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2 responses to “What Do The Earnings Statistics for Self-Publishers Mean?

  1. Precisely what I was thinking when I saw those percentages. Thank you for pointing this out, Michael.

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