I stumbled upon the most amazing study. Actually, there are a lot of studies on this site, but this most recent one is so huge and comprehensive, you’ll probably be too exhausted after reading it to bother looking at the rest: May 2016 Author Earnings Report: the definitive million-title study of US author earnings
It’s daunting, so I’ll give you a quick sketch of what they did: They took a one-day snapshot of everything happening in the book business on Amazon.com. Everything. And from that, they extrapolated to make a lot of really interesting conclusions. These are serious data scientists, and they have plenty of evidence that extrapolating from a single day is a legit approach.
Here are some of the things I found most interesting:
- There are only about 1000 authors making a professional salary writing books.
The odds of making into the NFL are almost twice as good as your odds of being able to make a professional salary as a book author.
- Almost all book authors who make a professional salary are independent.
Your chances of making a professional salary as an independent are really bad, but your chances writing for the traditional or small presses are basically nil.
- There are only about 2500 authors making enough writing books that their spouse might not insist they get a second job.
- Big 5 publishers make 40% of the revenue, vs 24% going to indies; but
Big 5 authors make 22% of the royalties, vs 47% going to indies.
You already knew that the traditional publishing industry screws the authors, but now you have proof.
I asked the authors of the study a few questions in the comments section, and they got right back to me. Check out this chart they produced:
You may recall that I mentioned Kindle “15 Minute Reads” in the piece about my short story. There are a lot of really short books with inflated prices, and I was wondering if they might skew the numbers. He gave me this chart to prove that it doesn’t matter, because nobody is buying those or borrowing them.
For those of you who aren’t so good with charts, let me explain this one to you. It says that 60% of the books people buy (including reading on KU) are novels (200+ pages). But 75% of the books people write are novellas and short stories (less than 200 pages). People have no interest in your lazy-ass novellas, people. They want novels.
Makes me glad I happen to write novels. Another fortunate turn of events for me is that I write romance novels. It turns out that romance accounts for about a third of all royalties earned. Other genres account for about 10% each.
There is a lot more stuff in that study. I encourage you to read it, including the comments section. Fascinating stuff.