On the Author Earnings Report

This has been causing a significant stir this week. Compiled by author Hugh Howey and a sadly unspecified data guru, it’s a report on the present and future of publishing and, in particular, author earnings.

It’s a fascinating read and I encourage you to take a look. In the end, it makes a pretty compelling case for indie publishing as a route to sustainable income as an author. In that sense, this excerpt struck a chord:

Our fear is that authors are selling themselves short and making poor decisions based on poor data. That is the main purpose for fighting for earnings transparency: helping aspiring writers choose the path that’s best for them. A secondary goal is to pressure publishers to more fairly distribute a new and lucrative source of income. Operating in lockstep in offering authors only 25% of net is not just unfair but unsustainable, as more and more authors are going to jump to self-publishing.

But there are some caveats.

Though the data is interesting and important, I’d like to know a little more about the way it was collected. I’m not saying it’s inaccurate, but if you’re going to create something that influences the thoughts and actions of many writers, it’s surely worth sharing as much of the research process as possible.

The second thing worth noting is that the data focuses exclusively on three types of genre fiction – mystery/thriller, sci-fi/fantasy, and romance. What are authors of literary fiction supposed to do with this data? Or any other genre that doesn’t fall into the chosen three?

Howey says he picked these genres for analysis because they are the three most popular. But on a personal level, as an author who writes outside of those genres, the results are next to useless. Could I have earned more by self-publishing A is for Angelica? I’ve got no idea and never will.

Maybe I’m being a little churlish. Clearly there has been a huge amount of effort gone into this research and the findings really should make all authors think about the decisions they take when it comes to their work. I think it’s fair to say that times they are no longer changing. They have changed.

Update: A longer, more comprehensive version of the report has now been published, which answers some of my questions.

  1. Hi Iain,
    I have to agree with you about the note of caution in drawing any conclusions from the report. It’s really just a very small snapshot from Amazon data. If you have more of a maths brain than me, you might be able to make sense of Courtney Milan’s excellent post about the report: http://www.courtneymilan.com/ramblings/2014/02/16/some-thoughts-on-author-earnings/

    I have a terrible maths brain so a lot went over my head!

    I don’t think this is the last report Howey will be running, and I think it’s great that there is someone out there at least having a bash at trying to make sense of sales data. Amazon are notoriously quiet when it comes to releasing sales information.

    About the literary thing. I’ve been self-publishing for over a year now, and I hang out at Kboards a lot. From what I’ve seen there, literary fiction doesn’t usually sell well for self-published authors. The authors who sell enough to earn a living (myself included) tend to write in a popular genre (I write in YA for instance) and write a series of books. The speed we can put books out, and the lower price, and the larger royalties (and hopefully also the writing!) means it’s possible to make more money from fewer sales.

    Also, 99% of my sales are in the US. The UK hardly buy my books at all.

    Anyway, congratulations on your book! I’ve been meaning to read it for ages. 🙂

    Good luck with your future writing!

    Sarah

    1. I definitely do not have a maths brain! I agree it’s great that someone is looking at this data and it’s definitely better to have something rather than nothing, I think. A second, longer report has now been published, which I’ve included a link to in an update to my commentary here.
      And let me know what you think of A is for Angelica when you get chance to read it…

  2. Hi Iaian,
    I’m sure you had this in your reading and response queue before the 50,000 report came out a couple of days ago, with much better explanation of methodology and limitation. And top literary fiction titles in the mix.

    Thanks for all you do, and have done as part of my writing journey. Indie pubbing is imminent.

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