An Analysis of the Author Earnings Survey Data
by Amelia Smith
I took a survey about half a year ago and promptly forgot about it. Then I wondered, why doesn’t anyone do those big surveys lately. All the talk seems to be about Author Earnings report, which collects and interprets sales from Amazon, focusing on top sellers and leaving out a lot of the not-so-successful authors like me. Then I found this, a huge collection of not-yet-summarized data. When I grabbed the spreadsheet from Hugh Howey’s author earnings survey, I wanted to find out what it takes to win at this game, and what my chances are of making a living writing books. I also wound up chasing a few side collections along the way. Here’s some of what I learned. The TLDR version? 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.
I didn’t pay much attention to the merits of self-publishing vs “trad,” or to whether the authors in question used professional editors and/or cover designers.1 Instead, I compared median numbers of books published versus median income for a variety of groups, mostly divided by number of years in the game. Through this, we can see if there’s any relationship between earnings and number of books published per year (there is, but it’s not straightforward), and whether there’s any point at which an author can be reasonably assured of making a living (there isn’t). I also disregarded author’s response to the question of “Are you making a full time living?” because some said that they were at $12,000 a year, while others thought they weren’t, even at over $100,000/year. I wound up using $32,000 a year as my “Making a Living” threshold, because that’s an Average Joe earns in the US, according to Google.