SFFMP 44: How Many Books Does It Take to Make a Living as an Author with Amelia Smith

On this week’s show, we chatted with fantasy author Amelia Smith about a bunch of data that she crunched based on the Author Earnings Survey over at Hugh Howey’s Author Earnings Report website. The survey and the raw data have been online for a while, but nobody seemed to have tackled putting it together into useful information until Amelia came along. We asked her a bunch of questions about what she found in regard to author income, books on sale, and whether indie or trad publishing is more likely to get a person to a living wage (which she defined as the U.S. average of $32,000 a year).

Here’s some of what we covered:

  • What is the Author Earnings site and where does this survey come in?
  • Who responded (indie, trad published, hybrid, small press, etc.) and how many authors were interviewed?
  • How many books do people have out on average before they reach that living wage?
  • As Amelia says in her analysis, “The majority of authors will never make a living at this, but chances increase both with number of books written and with years in the game. They get as good as 50/50.”
  • Were authors of certain genres more likely to make a living than others (not surprisingly, lots of romance authors of all kinds are doing well, and very few short story, poetry, memoir, etc. folks are making significant money)?
  • What was the common theme with the failure stories (authors with a lot of books out but a low income)?
  • Did it matter what year people started publishing in, or could they put out a lot of books in their first year and get to that living wage quickly?
  • Were slower writers penalized because of the 30/90-cliff and the way the Amazon algorithms work?
  • Were small presses helpful or were most indie authors better off on their own?
  • Amelia’s own experience with Netgalley (she mentioned the Patchwork Press Co-Op as a way to buy into Netgalley, a big company that assists with getting book reviews, for less than an individual membership)

Check out Amelia’s first epic fantasy book for free through the end of September, and visit her website for updates on other projects.

Read the results of the survey and see her graphs over at An Analysis of the Author Earnings Survey Data.


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