Two years ago, we conducted a survey of authors and wrote about what authors making over $100k per year were doing. We know that many authors use those findings to inform their strategy, so we conducted a similar survey again this year. This article outlines our findings and how to use them to increase your author income.
We break down the results into three segments of authors:
- Emerging Authors – Authors who have never made more than $60k in a year from book sales
- 60kers – Authors who have made over $60k in a year from book sales
- 100kers – Authors who have made over $100k in a year from book sales
In this post, we will dive into the differences between these three groups, and what those differences tell us.
Even if making money from your writing is not a primary goal, these findings can help you focus your efforts. For those authors who are writing as a business, these findings can be invaluable in helping you set your goals and identify what works.
Finding #1: The number of books in your catalog matters to your author income. A lot.
The more books you publish, the more money you make. Looking at the medians, Emerging Authors have 6 books in their catalog, 60kers have 22 books in their catalog and 100kers have 28 books in their catalog.
Each additional book you publish adds to your revenue each month. Authors making over $60,000 aren’t doing so by publishing a few expensive books, they are building a catalog that builds their author income over time.
How to level up:
- Plan to publish more books.
- Set an attainable goal for yourself and once you reach it, set a new one.
- Know that every book published will add incremental revenue to your author income.
To quote one 100ker, “Write. No, seriously: WRITE.”
Publishing more books isn’t easy, and don’t plan on doing it overnight. Just know that when you do publish another book, it is a great thing for your author earnings.
Finding #2: Time spent writing can set you apart
Authors who are able to dedicate significant, consistent time to writing are more likely to have a higher author income. On average, Emerging Authors are spending 18 hours per week writing, 60kers are spending 28 hours per week writing and 100kers are spending 32 hours per week writing (that’s four 8 -hour days!). This finding dovetails with the one above as the more time you spend writing, the more books you will publish.
Our survey found that authors write at all times of the day, but across all groups, early morning was the most popular specific time. Home office and living room were the most popular places to write.
How to level up:
- Develop strong writing habits.
- Treat writing like a job.
- Create a writing schedule and stick to it.
One 100ker offered this sage advice, “Try not to get frustrated with bad reviews or unimpressive book sales in the beginning. You just have to keep writing.”
Finding #3: High earners use professional editors
Higher earning authors use professional editors to edit their books. Yes, they are earning more so they can likely better afford it, but feedback from 100kers suggests that it’s actually the professional edit that allows them to earn more. Readers are becoming less and less forgiving of typos and grammatical errors. A well-edited book results in better read-through and good reviews. A poorly edited book can result in negative reviews and wasted marketing dollars. Making an investment in editing will pay off in the long run.
How much should you budget for editing? Lots of 60kers and 100kers are spending between $250 and $1,000 on editing services. Bear in mind that different types of editing will cost different amounts. Proofreading is less expensive than line-editing, which is less expensive than a developmental edit.
How to level up
- Find a professional to edit your work.
- See editing as a smart investment. It will pay dividends once you start marketing your book.
- Be prepared to spend between $250 and $500 per book.
Many 100kers included advice like this, “Have work professionally edited!” in their advice for aspiring writers.
Finding #4: Professional authors use professional covers
This finding is similar to editing, but the differences are even more dramatic. Why are we seeing such a huge leap in professional cover design for from Emerging Authors to 60kers? Because the cover of your book is one of the most important factors in commercial success. Your book cover is your key marketing asset. You use it in ads, share it on social media, and it’s what the reader looks at before they buy your book. It’s tough to out-market a bad cover. A great cover can have a major impact, and a bad cover can be crippling.
The majority of 60kers and 100kers are spending between $100 and $500 on their book cover design.
How to level up
- Get your cover professionally designed.
- Don’t be afriad to spend $200-$300 per cover. It will pay off over time.
- Make sure your cover is “on genre.” This means that your cover has a similar style to other covers in your genre.
Finding #5: Promo sites are the most effective marketing channel
The one area of agreement in the survey was on which marketing channels were effective. Promo sites (Bookbub, Freebooksy, Bargain Booksy, etc.) were ranked as the most effective marketing tactic by a significant margin. They scored significantly higher (3.4) compared to Amazon Ads (2.6) and Social Media (2.5), the next highest-ranked marketing techniques.
There was also a resounding agreement that marketing is hard and is the one area where all authors wanted the most help.
Above we have plotted the effectiveness of a marketing channel against the time investment required for each marketing channel. Featured deals on Promo sites were ranked as the top two for a reason: they are both time-efficient and effective time-intensive. That is, they get good results without much labor. Plugging your book into a promo site, selecting when you want the promo to run, and logging off is easy. Paid marketing channels (Facebook ads, Amazon ads, Bookbub ads) are highly time-intensive as authors need to spend time learning how to use the platform, then spend time setting up the ads, and spend additional time to monitor the ads every day. All of those tasks take hours away from writing. For many authors, being thoughtful about where to spend their time marketing can be a game-changer.
How to level up
- Set a specific number of hours you will spend marketing.
- Start with the most effective marketing channels first.
- Identify which marketing tactics you have the skill and desire to learn and pick one.
For all authors, it makes sense to spend time in the most efficient way possible. Granted, one technique may work better for one author over another, but our chart above can be a guide on where to start.
Finding #6: Amazon drives sales but exclusivity is not required
Amazon is dominating the self-publishing landscape. 91% of Emerging Authors say they make the most money from books sold on Amazon, while 93% of both 60kers and 100kers also listed Amazon as the top retailer by revenue. Almost everyone is making most of their money from Amazon sales, and those at the top are even more reliant on the giant.
When it comes to Amazon’s exclusive program, KDP Select, Emerging Authors are most likely to have all their books enrolled in the program. 38% of 100kers are in KDP Select, 29% are out and 33% have a mix.
The good news is that there are multiple paths to success when evaluating whether to be exclusive or not. Emerging Authors being more likely to have all their books in KDP Select makes sense. A smaller catalog means fewer books to test different platforms, and KDP Select allows Emerging Authors to plug into an audience of readers and to start making an income from KENP reads right away.
How to level up:
- Don’t agonize over the exclusivity decision. KDP Select isn’t a clear path to higher earnings, but it also isn’t a clear blocker. At this time, it seems that authors are still figuring out if KDP select works for them on a case by case basis.
- Make a decision on exclusivity, and reevaluate every 3-6 months.
- Don’t get side-tracked by thinking the grass is always greener on the other “wide” or exclusive side. Focus on writing.
Finding #7: Price to the Market
A significant number of Emerging Authors have at least one title priced above $10. 100kers just don’t sell books for $10 or more. Only 3% had a book priced $10 or more at the time they took the survey. Of 100kers, 68% list their most expensive book at or between $3.99 and $5.99., with many of them also having titles that are free or priced at 99c.
Half of Emerging Authors think that giving away a book for free is an effective marketing technique. In contrast, 63% of 60kers and 100kers agree that free is an effective marketing technique. This gap between Emerging Authors and the other groups is one of the starkest differences we found in our data.
The theory behind making a book free is simple. It is an efficient way to introduce readers to your work. When you give away a book for free, new readers will download it, and if they like it, they will purchase the other books in an author’s catalog. Additionally, for titles enrolled in KDP Select, a free title will still pay out in KENP readers if Kindle Unlimited readers choose to download and read it.
The value of a reader increases the more books you have published, so it makes sense that authors with larger catalogs like to leverage free as a way to attract readers. However, the economics can work for Emerging Authors too, once they have at least 3-4 books in their catalog. Here’s the math:
If a 100ker gives away a book for free and the reader enjoys that work, that reader can go on to purchase 20 more books by that author. If we assume the author makes on average $2 per title, that reader will be worth $40 to the author over time (20 books x $2 in royalties per book).
If an Emerging Author gives away a book for free and the reader enjoys that work, that reader can go on to purchase 3 more books by that author. If we assume the author makes on average $2 per title, that reader will be worth $6 to the author over time (3 books x $2 in royalties per book).
Understanding and taking the long view on the value of a reader can be a game-changer in how you choose to price and market your books.
How to level up:
- Don’t try to reinvent the market.
- Price your books between $0.99 and $4.99
- Run free promotions on one or more of your titles to attract readers and drive read-through of your other titles.
There you have it! Our most interesting findings from our 2019 author survey. If you are looking to jump to the next level, use these findings as a guide when making your plan. Keep in mind that achieving success is not an overnight process. 69% of 60kers published their first book five or more years ago. The takeaway is clear: If you keep writing, you will publish more books and make more money. Additionally, 74% of 100kers were exclusively self-published. There are multiple paths to success. You don’t need to score a book deal to make it big.
A big thanks to all our survey respondents, without whom this post would not have been possible.
Author Income Survey Methodology
This article is based on self-reported data from over 1,000 Authors. Authors are, on the whole, an honest group and we are trusting their input for these results. If you are a market research professional or statistics professional, take a deep breath. We are drawing conclusions based on survey data, not doing heavy statistical analysis. Some of the findings run into the causation vs. correlation challenge, and in those cases, we do our best to tease out the relevant takeaways.
Many findings will also be subject to a “chicken or the egg” debate. Our advice here is to take the findings and apply them to your experiences. Focus on what you are doing, why you are doing it, and if learning what other authors are doing helps you reach your goals.
We got lots of great follow-up questions about this blog post, and we’ve done a second analysis of the data to answer what we could. Read our bonus takeaways here!