SFFMP 144: Breaking Six Figures as an Author – What Does It Take?

It’s a long show today, but we covered a lot of ground, so hopefully you’ll find it interesting. We discussed last year’s Author Earnings report that showed how many authors were making over $100,000 a year at Amazon.com, and we also talked about the findings of a survey by Written Word Media that came out a couple of months ago, giving the lowdown on habits of six-figures authors (i.e. how many books out, how long it took to get there, how much they’re paying for editors and cover art, etc.)

Here are some specifics from the crib sheet (click the links to the reports to read them in far more detail):

May 2016 Author Earnings Report (http://authorearnings.com/report/may-2016-report/):

Based on print, audio, and ebook of the Amazon US store only:

  • 1,340 authors are earning $100,000/year or more from Amazon sales. But half of them are indies and Amazon-imprint authors. The majority of the remainder? They come from traditional publishing’s longest-tenured “old guard.”
  • Fewer than 115 Big Five-published authorsand 45 small- or medium-publisher authors who debuted in the past five years are currently earning $100K/year from Amazon sales. Among indie authors of the same tenure, more than 425 of them are now at a six-figure run rate.
  • More than 50% of all traditionally published book sales of any format in the US now happen on Amazon.com.
  • 85% of all non-traditionally published book sales of any format in the US also happen on Amazon.com.


Written Word Media’s June 2017 Survey: What Makes a $100K Author (https://www.writtenwordmedia.com/2017/06/07/100k-author/):

  • 88% of 100kers have been writing more than 3 years.
  • None of their survey responders making 100K were trad published.
  • There were hybrid authors, who either got a contract due to their indie success or decided to make the higher royalties as an indie for some of their stuff.
  • You don’t have to be exclusive with Amazon, there was a mix.
  • Rates for editors varied, as well as cover art, but none of the 100Kers were paying more than $1000 a cover.
  • The 100Kers try paid marketing and handle it themselves (nobody’s hiring a PR person here or handing off their FB ads)
  • 20% of 100Kers still had day jobs, but they averaged 30 hours a week of writing as a group.
  • The 100Kers had an average of 30.3 books in their catalog (the most an author had was 63 and the minimum was 7)

Busting/discussing some myths:

  • You have to network tons and/or get a lucky break.
  • You have to write in romance or another huge, hot genre. (Big fish/small pond)
  • You have to be in KU/exclusive with Amazon.
  • You have to do everything right from Day 1.
  • You have to sell non-fiction or courses on the side.

Listener questions we answered in the show:

Ashley: I’d like to know the general time split (ex. 40/60) for marketing/creating time. I find myself liking marketing but not making time for it.

Ashley: Also how much of income comes from paid ads vs organic/networking?

Jesse: When should we spend money on advertising? After 1 book? A full series?

Kristy: Do you need to have audio and foreign translations to hit 6 figures?

Madeleine: What was the tipping point for number of books? What advice isn’t relevant any more e.g. landscape has changed?

Hannah: From a new author perspective: is it worth putting in a lot of money up front? Or starting with the essentials editing/cover design first.

Dale: I’m probably channeling Jeff: “What’s the single most effective thing you can do in to help become a six figure author?”

Dale: “What’s the least effective thing that will help you become a six-figure author.”

Ryan: Is it worth trying a new pen name when switching from fantasy to space adventure when you currently have a small fanbase?


If you want to support the hosts, or just check out their fiction, Jeff has a new Book 1 out in his Lentari fantasy world, May the Fang Be with You.

Jo has a fun summer project out, Structophis, and the first book in his popular steampunk series is free everywhere (fourth book coming in September).

Lindsay has taken her Fallen Empire series wide, and you can pick up the first one, Star Nomad, for free in all the major stores right now.


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  • Scott B

    Super helpful, love these shows where the hosts talk it out. Guests are sometimes really helpful, sometimes not, but you three are what keeps us listening to this excellent show.

  • This was a great show! I really liked how the breakdown highlighted that consistency, a big backlist, and knowing your genre were really key to success in this market.

  • Loved the masterclass. Thanks so much for listening to your readers (not many podcasters do that).
    I appreciate the honesty and the frankness and the humbleness in giving excellent advice.

  • Thank you so much for this one. Sharing it in my writing group on FB because I learned so much. (Most of all that I need to be more patient and put more books out. Whee!)

    Wishing you all the best!
    Greetings from Germany,

    • SFFpodcast

      Thanks for sharing, Hannah! Yeah, when you’re getting started, 30 books seems like a ZILLION. I remember being so bummed that I didn’t come into self-publishing with a bunch of trunk novels ready to go, like some people did.