SFFMP 68: How Much Are Indie Authors *Really* Making with Author Earnings Report’s Data Guy

Tonight’s discussion was with the anonymous Data Guy, curator for the famous (or perhaps infamous!) Author Earnings Report. If you haven’t been by the site, make sure to visit and check out some of the reports (you can also grab the raw data if you’re a data person!).

Here are some of the questions we asked Data Guy:

  • What exactly is the Author Earnings Report, and how do you get your information?
  • How are you able to look at a book’s Amazon sales ranking and figure out how many books are selling each day?
  • How are indie authors doing compared to small press, Amazon imprints, and traditionally published authors?
  • Which genres are indie authors doing best in?
  • What’s the reception been from the industry? Has Amazon stepped forward to confirm or deny the accuracy of your reports?
  • Does the data show that authors need to release frequently (i.e. every few months) to stay on the radar and continue selling well?
  • Are there any correlations between basic stats and overall income? i.e. total number of books, number in series, number of reviews, etc.
  • How is sales ranking figured? Is it true that it takes more sales to make it to a certain ranking than it does to stick once you get there? How are past sales weighed in to the current ranking?
  • How does Kindle Unlimited play into your rankings and income reports?
  • What do you think is the best route for authors starting out today?

Some recent reports from Author Earnings:


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  • Thanks for another great show!

    I was listening while chopping up vegetables for dinner (veggie and chicken pot pies) and dropped what I was doing to jot down a few things. First, it was interesting to hear that there was a small bump in income (per book, right? or was it overall?) for authors who averaged 4-5 months between releases. When I was looking at the self-reported survey last summer, I found that in at least one group (people who first self-published in 2011), those writing about two books a year did better than those who published more (or less, obviously). Of course this is just on average, and everyone writes a bit differently, so if you’re Lindsay, fire ahead!

    A thought on reviews: You mentioned that the indie published books had better average customer reviews than trad published books, and looking at my own behavior as a reader I can think of a couple more potential reasons for this, beyond the cheap price card.
    The most popular trad pub books are often the ones that get a lot of trad pub press, NYT book reviews, etc. They’re the ones that people talk about, and are often controversial in some way. Therefore, they’re going to get people reading them who aren’t part of their core audience and are less likely to enjoy the book. Secondly, trad pub books are chosen by trad pub agents and acquisitions editors, people who are probably bored of seeing the same tired old tropes trotted out again and again. So they’re going to go for “Same but Different” with more stress on the different, which may generate the controversy that fuels their publicity.
    In contrast, the most successful indie authors stay more in tune with their readers’ preferences, and seem to be better at targeting their core audience, not to mention satisfying them with a solid emotional arc. The most successful indies often write in closely defined genres (like the many sub-genres of romance), and are not shy about sticking to what readers want, even if it would bore a New York agent… that said, of course indies can also take creative risks.

    More to say, but have to go get those pies in the oven…. and get another book out within the year!

    • SFFpodcast

      Thanks for commenting, Amelia! I hope the pot pies turned out well. 🙂

      I was in that 4-5 months per novel range when I got started with my Emperor’s Edge series. I think as long as you’re putting out books regularly, your fans won’t riot. More than a year between releases, and they might forget about you, but you certainly don’t have to publish every month.

      • Good to know, and yes, the pot pies turned out fine! Husband went back for seconds and the kids made a good show of eating at least the crust part of theirs.

  • I wanted to comment on the Amazon imprints. Authors David Wright and Sean Platt write horror and have a book published 310 the Amazon imprint, and they say it is their worst selling title.

    • *published through one of the Amazon imprints.
      That’s what I get for trying to multitask.

    • I also know someone whose Amazon imprint book tanked, but there were a bunch of reasons for it and she’s not really upset about it falling into nothingness (also she had to do it under a pen name for a variety of reasons).

    • SFFpodcast

      I’ve heard it depends a bit on the imprint too. The Montlake (romance) titles really seem to rock it. I remember chatting with an author who only had two titles out with them and was making a full time living. But I do see 47north now and then with high ranking fantasy.

  • Scott

    Great substance in this episode, thanks for getting Data Guy on the show. He didn’t seem too up tight about his alter ego (dropping info about his genres and where he lives etc.); is his true identity known to those interested enough to look for it?

    • SFFpodcast

      I’m not sure, Scott, but it may come out when he talks at the Digital Book World conference. 🙂