Authors now have a choice in how they publish and get their books into the hands of readers. Traditional publishing refers to the established system of getting a book deal, which involves submission to agents over a period of time, usually a number of rejections and then (hopefully) being accepted. Self-publishing is the publication of media by its author without the involvement of an established publisher.

Whether we like it or not, self-publishing for most authors who want to make money or even break even is not working. We all know about the success stories like Amanda Hocking, John Locke and E.J. James (author of 50 Shades of Grey) who have made millions, and how this has spawned a cottage industry of companies and individuals promising to do the same for other authors. Conversely, a published online book about revolution campervans may sell very few copies.

So let’s put this into real perspective by looking at the average revenues most indie authors really make. At first glance the latest “Author Earnings Report” looks promising with self-published authors making up an impressive 34% of all eBook sales in the USA, and similar high percentages in the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. However, their earlier report, “May 2016 Author Earnings Report”, is a bit more sobering showing that only 4,600 authors of those surveyed earned $25,000 or above. Now, when you think of the hundreds of thousands of authors self-publishing today, this number earning $25,000 is tiny, but naturally it would be nice to be one of those 4,600 authors doing well. But how much does the average author really make? That’s a little harder to find out since most reports focus on the top tier of authors making money, but a survey conducted by the Guardian puts this in a clearer perspective. While the report is a little dated and covers the UK more than the USA, most would concur with its basic findings even today.

In this report, it states that just 10 percent of authors earn 58% of the whole revenue made from self-publishing, and the top 5% earn 42.3%. So only a very small elite of authors are making very good money. Additionally, several of these authors are already established names or already traditionally published by the big publishing houses. If we look at the bottom 50%, then these authors just earn 7% of the whole revenue, and (to put it in an even harder perspective) 17% of authors earn nothing at all.

Can you relate to these figures? I’m sure many self-published authors can.