By Indie Authors for Indie Authors.

Only 40 Self-Published Authors Make Money

indie author

Image Courtesy of Tree City Media

I’m sure you’ve seen this news already. We’re not breaking a story here. The goal at Nothing Any Good is not to break news. Not in the least. The goal is to support indie authors. So since we’re not breaking news, let’s instead break down what does this news actually means. What does it mean when Amazon says that only 40 self-published authors are making money.

Well first, let’s go over what was revealed last week. In a New York Times article about Meredith Wild and the 1.4 million ebook copies she has sold of her self-published erotic novels, the article revealed that only 40 authors have managed to sell more than one million ebook copies in the last five years on Amazon.

So the first thing that we should note is that Amazon never actually said “only 40 self-published authors make money.” If they did say that, now that would be news. Amazon earns $5.25 billion (with a B) a year in book sales. At any given point, roughly 30% of that can be allocated to to ebooks. Why in the world would Amazon want to dissuade more and more authors from self-publishing on their platform? They wouldn’t.

Still, for some reason this news of 40 authors has sent some minor shock waves through the world of indie publishing, and I’m not entirely sure why.

It should be no secret to anyone that self-publishing is hard. As revealed by a study by New Guild from the end of last year, the majority of authors earn below the poverty line. For years authors have been struggling to make ends meet, even well before ebooks became a thing. Starving artist doesn’t just apply to painters and photographers.

So then the question in my mind becomes is self-publishing worth it knowing full well that it is difficult and that only 40 self-published authors sold over one million ebook copies in the last five years.

Let’s unpack that some more. The first thing to notice is that this number is strictly limited to ebook sales. This data doesn’t include print numbers at all. Despite projections a few years back that ebook sales would surpass print by 2015, ebook sales still only make up about 20% of the book market.

The second thing to notice is that this number of over “a million” copies is limited to those sold on Amazon. Yes, Amazon is a behemoth in the book market, but a not-so-miniscule number of sales are attained through a lot of other sales channels.

support indie authorsProbably most importantly, however, is that a million copies is A LOT OF COPIES. Yes, it would be wonderful if you sold a million copies of your book, but I’m not sure about your current financial status in life, but for most people that’s get rich money. Let’s say that I sell a million ebook copies of my book Pieces Like Pottery. (From my lips to God’s ears, right?) That would generate $4.99M in earnings. After Amazon takes its cut, I’m sitting with an estimated $3.49M in revenue from ebook sales.

Like I said, I’m not sure what you make each year, but that’s get rich money.

So the fact that only 40 authors have sold over a million ebook copies on Amazon in the last 5 years is not as significant as some have made it sound. Even if your goal is to be an author to make a good living, there is a lot of room to do that with less than a million copies sold.

But this brings us back full circle. Making a good living as an author is rare. The majority of authors earn less that $10,000 a year from their books. I’m not going to lie, making a lot of money from my writing would be great, but it’s not why I do it. I always have to remember why I write in the first place. And you should too. Don’t lose sight of why you wrote that book. Always remember why you started working on that series. If it was purely to make money, I wish you the best of luck, but the statistics are not in your favor.


Find more writing and publishing tips at Nothing Any Good.


  1. Marie Lavender

    I agree, Dan. I’ve said again and again in my blog posts. This is not a get rick quick scheme, but should be a passionate journey for writers. If you wake up each day and your characters or your pen don’t call to you at some point, then you wrote for the wrong reasons. But, if the call is there, nagging in the back of your mind, and often waking you up at odd hours, then this is what you’re born to do. Not to say that every writer must have natural talent; it can be learned, of course. But the drive to write should be there, even if life tries to interfere.

    • danburi777

      It’s so true, Marie. It’s how I realized that I just enjoyed writing regardless of whether it would be a career. I woke up in the middle of the night the other night and couldn’t get a thought out of my head. So I grabbed my computer and wrote from 1am-4am before I went back to sleep for 2 hours.

      I have no idea if anyone will ever see it, but I wanted to write it.

      • Marie Lavender

        Exactly. The point is the muse compelled you to write.

        I mean, believe me, I have days when I think, “Gee, I haven’t written in awhile. I wonder if I’ve lost it.” But, then that spark comes awhile later and I realize that I simply let the world take over the drive to write. It’s always there, hovering in the background, ready to pounce when you least expect it. Some writers can write on a project every day, and I totally admire that. But, I say do what you can when you can. Even if you only write a paragraph or research a topic for your story one day, that’s progress.

        I believe that being a writer and being an author are two different animals, though the drive is similar. And I would never discourage anyone from that dream of getting published. We all deserve to walk the same road, and achieve our goals. As you’ve no doubt realized by now, writing is completely different from taking on the role of “author”.

        The point, however, is that no matter what, we have to keep reminding ourselves of the big reason we started this madness. Was it to sell books or make a ton of money? Or is it, I hope, that freedom of creation, of delving into a character’s life and dreams, and running the course of a plot, letting the story play out on the page, until it’s finished and you feel that wonderful sense of accomplishment? The “Eureka!” moment, as I call it, when you get a new story idea or when the pieces finally fall into place during a struggle with construction, all the way to a story’s inevitable conclusion, and you feel you’ve told the tale to the best of your ability. All of these are some pretty good reasons to keep writing. For me, writing is an addiction, a compulsion that is so much a part of me, I mourn the fact when I am unable to write. But, it goes deeper than a drug-like euphoria.

        It is my heart, who I am, and not writing would be a tragedy. I can only hope we all realize why we’re on this journey, and come back to it time and time again. 🙂

        • danburi777

          Once you find something that you love, regardless of outside definitions of success, you’re bound to feel successful and fulfilled. If it’s in your heart, if it’s who you are (like you say, Marie), then you’re going to love it no matter the result.

  2. Trevor

    A million seems to be the magic number that gets quoted a lot. But it’s only a number and I’m sure if I “only” sold 900,000 (in life, not in my dreams) I’d be pretty happy with that result.

    As you rightly said, there are lots more ways to make money than Kindle – one book I bought recently was effectively a 300 page sales pitch for the author’s online course which was normally $499 but for readers of her ebook was just $249. Not done the precise calculations but my guess is she doesn’t need too many sales to outperform the Kindle million sellers.

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