There have been all kinds of survey results circulating recently about how indie/self-published authors are "really" faring in comparison to their traditionally published counterparts. Mainstream media reports that self-publishing isn't all it's cracked up to be - the majority of indie authors earn less than $1,000 or $500 a year (depending on the source survey). The funny thing is that no authors in the many groups I'm a part of - including big names and not-so-well-known ones - were ever a part of these surveys. The most common question has been, "Who did they ask????"
You see, we're doing a lot better than they want to make out (and "they," most likely, is comprised of the legacy system - the Big 5 publishers, agents who cling to the old ways, their avid supporters, and mainstream media). They're correct in saying that only a small handful of indies have made the NYT Best-Sellers and USA Today lists or have made millions a year, but the same can be said of traditionally published authors. There are only a few superstars, but many thousands of midlist authors - those of us who sell well, but haven't hit the "big" lists. Here's what they're getting wrong, though: midlist indies make MUCH MORE income than midlist trad-pubbed.
Finally, someone surveyed indies and hybrids who are professionals, rather than hobbyists. Who are working their asses off, offering new products on a regular basis, and, well, making this a business. And who are earning a very good living. My hat goes off to Beverley Kendall who created the survey, collected and analyzed the results and compiled them into this informative report. If you're a writer, I highly recommend you read it. Wait, I take that back. I insist you read it. You deserve to know the real story.
In the interest of transparency, I'll share my numbers below. This is not to brag or to make anyone feel superior or inferior. It's to show that you don't have to be a NYT Best-Seller to make a nice living at self-publishing. In fact, I haven't even had a book on Amazon's Top 100 Kindle Paid list since 2011 (although in 2013 I made the Nook, iBooks and Kobo Top 100 lists - for iBooks, the Top 20 list). I started from scratch; I was never published by New York.
You'll see that I fall in the second highest group in the survey for income in 2013. I also have fewer titles out than everyone else in that group, but I'm working on that this year. As is consistent with the survey, income and unit sales increased in correlation with both number of books given away (the first book in my series has been perma-free since mid-2012) and number of titles available (note that although I added 5 titles in 2013, 3 of those were the holiday short story collections released at the end of the year).
One last thing I need to share: I have what many indies call a "vested partner." For most authors who are lucky enough to have such a partner, this is usually their spouse. However, I could never work like this with The Man, so I have Chrissi. This means that I don't personally earn every bit of what I'm showing here. As most indies do, we have an LLC, and this is what the LLC brings in. We don't publish any other authors and don't offer any services (at this time), so this is all based on my books' sales. We also had no capital going into this. Our arrangement is no different than a husband-and-wife team who created an LLC to publish her/his/their books - we're just not married. Just thought I should share that.
Okay, finally, the numbers:
Self-publishing is not a bubble that's going to burst, although it will likely level off. Most importantly, though, the hype surrounding it is not a lie. It's not a get-rich-quick scheme that will make anyone off the street tons of money within months. But as you can see, putting in your time, working your ass off and taking calculated risks - just like for any business - pays off.
Bottom line: It's a great time to be a writer. Whether you go traditional, indie or hybrid, you have more viable opportunities than ever.