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Show Me the Money

Continued from page 1         authors who are solely traditionally publishing.

But before you get depressed by the above, let me talk about my other survey, the indie one. Over the past two-plus years, increasing numbers of authors have been putting their books up on Amazon, BN.com, Apple, and elsewhere, either completely on their own or by paying someone to prepare and upload. During the first year or so of this “revolution,” those books were mainly reverted backlist by traditionally published authors or frontlist by never-before-published authors. Now, though, I’m seeing an increasing number of “hybrid” authors who are self-publishing both backlist and frontlist while simultaneously writing for traditional publishers. Also, quite a lot of authors who started indie-pubbing with only their backlist have now begun self-publishing their newer work with apparently no intention of ever signing another traditional contract.

Okay, time for some numbers, which will go a long way toward explaining that last category of authors.

While doing my most recent update of my traditional publisher survey, average and median advances held fairly steady. However, average and median earnouts did not. Except in very few cases (mostly smaller and eonly publishers) those numbers were lower than when I last updated in October, and I’d noticed the same trend during that update. And the one before. I drop out the older data (anything pre-2002 this time around).

If I were to keep only the last five years of data, the downward trend would be even more striking. In other words, the only reason the averages haven’t fallen further is that the numbers are being propped up, to some extent, by older data that predates the e-revolution.

On the indie side, though, I’m seeing exactly the reverse (well, no advance numbers, obviously). One might think that with so many authors jumping on the indie bandwagon the market would be glutted, leading to smaller per-author and per-title earnings. Au contraire! It may happen in the future, but I’m definitely not seeing it just yet. I’ve realized one reason I don’t get more responses to that survey is that coming up with earnings per title is a pain in the behind. (This was driven forcefully home when I separated out my own earnings that way, at which point I was amazed and gratified that anyone was taking the time to send me their figures!) Anyway, because I wanted a snapshot of where things are now, with as representative (and large) a sample as I could get in a hurry, I recently did a “quick and dirty” indie survey with just three questions: total indie earnings for 2012 (figuring people would have that handy right after filing taxes), how many total books they had up by the end of 2012 (broken into frontlist and backlist), and what genre they primarily write in.

Are you ready?

Thirty-one different authors sent info (I only put this call for info out on a couple of loops) representing 367 indie-published titles (about 2/3 backlist). Average 2012 indie-only earnings: a whopping $125,000 per author, averaging out to over $10,000 per title. Median earnings: $88,000 per author. (Without specific pertitle earnings, I can’t calculate a median number there.) Those 2012 earnings ranged from the mid four figures per author to the mid six figures for a couple of respondents.

Draw from this what conclusions you will.

In the next month or so, Novelists, Inc. will be conducting its own author survey, something it does every three years or so anyway. Previously, that survey has only touched on money by asking whether respondents “can make a living” from their writing. This time, however, we are going to attempt to determine (anonymously, of course!) just how much money our members are making from both traditional and indie publishing. Please participate once the survey goes live on the NINC website, since this will be incredibly useful information for all of us. (Again, it will be set up so no names are attached to any figures.) They say knowledge is power. I, for one, have never felt more powerful as an author since selling my very first book back in 1990. I hope many of you are starting to feel the same way.

Brenda Hiatt is the author of 16 novels to date. She is now indie publishing her historical backlist as she continues to write and publish new books, her latest a mystery, Out of Her Depth, from Bell Bridge Books. For the past dozen years, Brenda has also collected data on writers’ earnings, which she shares at her website, http://brendahiatt.com

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