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As a part-time indie author with a full-time day job, I wanted to share my year-end wrap-up. If you're new to indie publishing, I thought my experience could be helpful to you. I've written seven year-end wrap-ups from 2013 through this year and I'm as transparent as I can be on what worked and what didn't.

Here is my report for 2020.

I hope my wrap-up helps you as you move forward in your career.

Thank you and happy holidays!
 

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Quite informative, and looks like you have a very logical way of going about this.
 

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@Ron - thank you for sharing your story - found it very informative (I'm a big fan of logical, graph-driven articles :) ). Also shows how tough it is to pull a profit. It does look, though, that in 2020, you've upped your sales and also reduced your loss (2017... ouch?!) --and hopefully in a year or two you'll come out the other way by leveraging your backlist and reducing one-off larger expenses.

Wish you the best,
j
 

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Thank you, Ron. A clear and concise take on our indie-writing world today. I've had enough LIFE problems that I've put my writing on hold since 2018. I'm looking forward to writing again in 2021, so I found your words a perfect nudge for me to take the first step.

May next year be good to us all!  :D
 

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It looks like you put a lot of effort into tracking your expenses and sales. As a former accountant, I wonder why you keep going in the hole and not making a profit. The simplest reason is you spend too much money and don't have enough sales.

I look at things differently. I do all the work myself and only have a few expenses. So I have a profit every month. I have never lost money on any book and I have published over a 100 books. I have kept most of the money in a saving account so I can admire it. I have spent a little of it, but most of it is still there.

I never give books away any longer since it doesn't accomplish anything. When Select first came along, I gave a lot of books away and made money from it. That dried up after a while so I quit giving books away. It was a great way to get bad reviews.

I have talked to a lot of authors and found that many of them never make a profit. Some writers can't publish books since it is too expensive to publish them.

Of course I am fortunate that  I can do the work myself so I have sales, but little expenses. Some writers can write well, but can't do the other work needed to publish a book.

I had two members in my family that wrote books. Neither of them actually made a profit. I tried to help them, but I was the youngest in the family so they ignored my advice.

Good luck and try to turn your business around and start making a profit. Do as much of the work as you can and keep your expenses as low as possible.

It is easy to make a profit off of every book if you work hard and do the work yourself. Profit is not everything, but I prefer it over having a loss.
 

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I enjoyed your post, Ron. Thanks for sharing your details with us.
 

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Thank you for sharing your details with us, Ron. I think it shows what a lot of indies deal with, when trying to make it in indie publishing.
 

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Thanks, Ron.

I checked out your catalog, your reviews, and your website. You seem to be doing everything right. You have a professional web presence and covers. You have a mailing list. Your reviews are positive. You have 17 books out, that seem to be more or less related.

And you're still in the red. I think many, many indies are in this same boat.

What you aren't doing is spending 4 figures per month on advertising. I'm a part of a Facebook group for authors (I won't mention the name, but everyone here would recognize it.) The primary feature of the group is authors posting their high *gross numbers*.

Then when you dig a bit deeper, though, you discover that they're spending hundreds of dollars per day on FB and Amazon ads.

I'm not saying that no authors are making real money that way. Some of the big names are. But when the author is Amazon exclusive, their books are ranked at 300,000 in the Amazon store, and they're spending $100 per day in advertising, they simply aren't in the black. (I know how many daily sales/page reads a 300K rank equals.)

There is not a single person in this group who would run a plumbing business or a bakery at a loss, year after year. But the sad fact of the matter is: Many authors are so anxious to be read, that they'll do this for next to nothing, or even (as in the case of those with exorbitant ad spend), pay dearly for people to read their books.

Your modest expectations are probably more reasonable. You are treating your writing business like what it actually is, for most authors: a hobby that might make a little money, but which probably won't put the kids through college. This is probably a more sensible approach than what is advocated in some of the other groups, and by some of the gurus (many of whom sell expensive ad courses).

Thanks again for your openness.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Patrick1980 said:
Thanks, Ron.

Your modest expectations are probably more reasonable. You are treating your writing business like what it actually is, for most authors: a hobby that might make a little money, but which probably won't put the kids through college. This is probably a more sensible approach than what is advocated in some of the other groups, and by some of the gurus (many of whom sell expensive ad courses).

Thanks again for your openness.
Patrick, you are welcome. I've had similar thoughts myself. I am curious as to what people's profits are because I've also heard of 4-figure ad runs each month. Advertising has become more expensive and I've noticed how many successful authors are diversifying (selling courses, running affiliate programs, offering services, etc.) because it's become harder and harder to make a profit.

I expect that in the future the book business will move more to an "all you can read" model a la Netflix, Spotify, etc. With traditional publishing going through a rough year, it'll be interesting to see what changes will be coming over the next 5-10 years.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Wonder` said:
It is easy to make a profit off of every book if you work hard and do the work yourself. Profit is not everything, but I prefer it over having a loss.
Sam, I appreciate your feedback. I had gambled to spend money on the services that I'm not good at (cover making, etc.). My plan was to have the best quality books I could have so that I have a solid backlist as the years went by. With working full-time and raising a family, there are only so many free hours each day. I chose to outsource covers, but you're right, they cost me a lot over time. For 2020, I spent $0 on covers as my wife helped me. I'm continuing to cut my costs. It's the marketing nut that I'm finding hardest to crack. Thanks again.
 

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Thank you for sharing. Over the years I've noticed an imbalance. Authors seem less likely to share data when their great achievements aren't also great financial successes. Your transparency helps fill in the gaps. I'm publishing this year, and I think I have a good idea of what to expect thanks to data like yours.
 

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For some reason people seem to think that authors are rich. People are always telling me that I am rich so I tell them that it is not true. I doubt they believe me though.

I remember reading about Larry McMurtry saying he never made any money off of his books. In case you don't know who he is he wrote Lonesome Dove. He ran an antique book store in New York City for his income. He made a lot of money though from writing screen plays so ended up rich.

Some writers do make a good living from selling their books, but most don't. Usually they write in their spare time and have a full time job. Others are retired and write for a hobby. Others have spouses that have a full time job.

Most writers write since they enjoy writing. If they make some money, it is an extra treat.
 

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When I tell people I'm an author, they either think I'm Stephen King rich or totally broke. Most people don't seem too aware of the midlist.

Thanks for sharing, OP!
 

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this isn't midlist

this is year after year spinning wheels & losing money

i honestly don't know how we're supposed to react to this

 

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I'm not sure Ron wants us to "react" in any particular way. But I do think Ron's experiences are mirrored by many authors, only the numbers are usually bigger.

Here is a concrete example from the very upbeat Facebook group I mentioned (a group that most of you will know):

Expenses:

Author spending $35 per day on ads = 30 x $35 = $1,050/month

Revenue:

Author generating sales of $3K per month.
Except...the author is actually earning 70% of that = $2,100

So, author is earning $1,050 per month, or $12,600 per year.

Not horrible, I know. Still technically a profit. But you could earn a lot more money with any number of part-time jobs.

Moreover, this got lots of rah-rah-rahs in the other group. I understand the reason: to encourage each other. But the fact remains: The above author is giving Amazon and FB half her earnings in ad outlays.

Far more common, I think, is the author who spends $12,000 annually in ads, and makes $11,000 annually in sales. I suspect that a lot of those authors who tout their large numbers in the other group are running at a loss, albeit a manageable one. They're in the same boat as Ron---but with bigger numbers.

***​

As I mentioned in my previous response: Ron may or may not be the next George RR Martin. But he's been doing this for 7 years, he has 17 books, and good reviews. His covers and his website are professional.

And he still isn't making money. This would be highly unlikely if Ron were running almost any other kind of small/side business. I know people who make thousands of dollars per month (in profit) selling produce from modest backyard gardens.

The reality check isn't all doom and gloom. But it brings home a point that is often neglected by the gurus selling expensive courses and tickets to indie writer conventions.

That point is: It has always been difficult to make real money by writing fiction.

I don't think Ron is looking for either high-fives or advice. He is simply being open about how difficult it really is to make money doing this (as opposed to just getting readers, or good reviews).

While this will doubtless discourage some, it may also convince others to redirect their energies to endeavors that are more remunerative for them. My friends make an awful lot of money each summer with their sunflowers and tomatoes.

nightwork said:
this isn't midlist

this is year after year spinning wheels & losing money

i honestly don't know how we're supposed to react to this
 

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That's the way I took it - I'm not sure it was posted as a boast or even a reality check; it's just an appraisal of each year. I find it encouraging and discouraging as indeed all such examples tend to be. Ultimately, I'm having too much fun writing my next book which is just as well as it'll never sell many copies. That's not defeatist or fatalistic, but a reminder not to delude myself.
 

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Discussion Starter #18
Patrick1980 said:
I don't think Ron is looking for either high-fives or advice. He is simply being open about how difficult it really is to make money doing this (as opposed to just getting readers, or good reviews).

While this will doubtless discourage some, it may also convince others to redirect their energies to endeavors that are more remunerative for them. My friends make an awful lot of money each summer with their sunflowers and tomatoes.
Patrick, I appreciate your feedback. And to clarify: I am not looking for advice and am also not looking for high-fives. My intentions are to shine a light on my experience. I so happen to think that there are many authors in the same boat as me, and I believe the example you shared of an author making $12K a year is also more the norm. Since we don't have a lot of insight into how much money authors are truly making, we gravitate toward the ones making six figures and point to them as the gold standard. Still, there's a difference between a gross-six figures and then the actual profit. When you do all the reckoning of expenses, I'd be curious to hear how much those authors are clearing in profit (how much do they spend on advertising, services, virtual assistants, email services, covers, editing, proofreading, etc.?)

I can't speak for other authors but I did want to show my expenses since 2011 because I'm pretty certain I'm not alone in struggling with make a profit. I can't say for sure, but you're right: I have decent covers, positive reviews, but the sales aren't there.

I have a full-time day job that covers all my expenses. I'd love for my books to help supplement that income, but I'm not there yet--and it's been 9 years.

That doesn't mean I'm giving up, but if I wanted to make extra money quickly, I could go get a part-time job. My teenage son just got his first job and he cleared in profit a lot more money than I did just in the 9 months that he started working and he was only putting in 10-15 hours a week.

I love to write and I'll keep working at it. My goal is to eventually break a profit. If I'm lucky enough to retire from my day job, then I'll be able to put more time and effort into my indie author career (write more books and faster!), but I also think it's important to diversify one's income. Maybe I'll teach classes, or build websites for other authors, use more affiliate programs, etc. The successful indie authors that I know are doing that.

I'm hoping a new indie author coming in can see the numbers I've shared and they can learn from it so that the reality of the challenge ahead is clear. Again, I can't prove it, but I expect that indie authors taking home six figures in profit is a heck of a lot less than the authors making $12K or less a year. (Here's a Forbes article from 7 years ago that has some data.) https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeremygreenfield/2013/12/09/how-much-money-do-self-published-authors-make/?sh=7814bea565bc
 

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That's the way I took it - I'm not sure it was posted as a boast or even a reality check; it's just an appraisal of each year. I find it encouraging and discouraging as indeed all such examples tend to be. Ultimately, I'm having too much fun writing my next book which is just as well as it'll never sell many copies. That's not defeatist or fatalistic, but a reminder not to delude myself.
You book is competing against millions of other books. If a few copes are sold, it is an accomplishment.
 

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A lot of authors making six or seven figures of profit are giving Amazon and FB half their revenue. There's nothing wrong with spending money on advertising or spending a lot of money on advertising or spending 50% of your earnings on advertising.
 
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