author earnings in 2016

Author Earnings in 2016

Chapter twelve in a series on Book and Art Business 101 wherein I show how the solid logic of art business sold me on self-publishing. If you’re too busy for the whole series, download your copy of my Cheat Sheet for Book and Art Business 101. 

In Any Money Makes a Pro, I took an example of brokenness — Faulkner’s brothel — and turned it into an example of goodness — passive income for the artist that hopes to make a better world. Passive income will enable you to have a lifelong career as an artist. The examples I gave were being a landlord, dividend-paying stocks, and intellectual property.

To intellectual property we now turn:


Your backlist is your career, in aggregate.

When I said in Draconian Contracts that you shouldn’t sell your birthright for a bowl of soup, I meant that $2,500 in intellectual property today will be worth $25,000 ten years from now (or $2.5 million by the time you die). This principle undergirds the earlier maxim of “reinvest your profits.” It includes reinvesting your intellectual property.

Do you know that Cold Brewed is worth exponentially more now than it was when Mark and I released it in 2012? Cold Brewed, our hackneyed joke project starring baristas that somehow became something significant for a lot of people, is worth more now than it was in 2012. Think about that.

If that’s the case with Cold Brewed, it’s the case with anything.

This website? It’s worth more now than it was five years ago simply because of the compound interest of clicks on the internet. Imagine if I hadn’t stopped and restarted several times either through starting a new blog seven times or deleting over 1,000 posts!

My poetry? Just by piddling away on poetry through this and seven other sites over the years, I now have over 60,000 words, much of which will be released in a compilation later this year.

It does not matter what it is because if you’re improving constantly and if you’re consistently creating, then time is on your side. The trajectory of the artist? It’s the exact opposite trajectory of the professional football career. The professional football player gets drafted from highschool by a college, gets drafted from college to NFL, tears his ACL at 28 after making his millions and, if he’s lucky, gets to be a coach or an announcer on ESPN. The author? The painter? You seldom meet has-been authors, has-been painters. Oh you’ll meet has-been football players and has-been politicians.

But the artist?

The artist can only be a might-have-been or a could-become.

That’s why (1) constant improvement and (2) consistent creation are so crucial for the career of the working author, the working artist. Over time, the reinvestment of effort and money into your work will create a backlist that exponentially gains value over time. The better you get, the more people will pay for your work — and that includes stuff you’ve already created.

So when you sign a contract, you’re not selling a book.

You’re selling momentum.

You’re selling a career.

Your backlist becomes your passive income. And when that happens, you should by all means quit your day job. It would be financially stupid to do otherwise.

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Especially in an age when nothing goes out of print — things these days stay in print forever.

There’s a site called Author Earnings.


If you haven’t heard of them, you need to look into their work. The guy created a data crawler that pulls from Amazon’s daily sales of every single book on the list, then compiles that into one great big set of beautiful charts. For the dataheads among you, it’ll be great fun. But even for the super right-brained author, it’s necessary. Here’s a list of revelations Data Guy has proven over the years (everything that follows is a direct quote):

FINALLY — 13 out of the 20 authors who debuted in the last five years, and 8 of the 10 authors who debuted in the last 3 years, and who are now consistently earning $1,000,000+/year from just their Kindle ebook best sellers are indie authors.

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I could go on for weeks, but my site is not Author Earnings, no matter how much I quote Data Guy. After twelve articles in this series I want to make a clean and simple point:

For years I wanted to become an author who made a living off of his writing. I had been conditioned by the books I read, the teachers I had, the conferences I attended, and the advice I sought from other authors to take a path that worked thirty years ago but doesn’t really work anymore.

When you add to this the uptick in agents and paperback publishers who keep picking up books like The Martian, Fifty Shades of Grey, and Wool from this deep bench of indie authors, you start to realize that we’ve been sold a quack remedy for our need to make a sustainable career. And as I said in the first post, this isn’t the case for everybody — many agents out there are advocating for authors, pushing the rights back into the author’s court.  But these are also the same people who pick up authors from the top of the self-publishing list. So it’s a wash.

By the way, this same dataset is mirrored in the art world, the game development world, the list goes on — pick your craft and apply it.

But what about an agent?

Surely you need one of those.

Well… it kind of depends… tune in tomorrow.

Don’t have time for the whole series?

That’s okay, I made you a…


Here’s our outline for upcoming posts:

  1. Intro
  2. The Gateway Drug: Poetry
  3. Does Fiction Lie? — The Liar’s Club
  4. Where and How to Sell What You Write
  5. From Daydreams to Written Dreams
  6. Rejection Slips
  7. Any Money Makes a Professional Writer
  8. Regular Writing Assignments
  9. Making Good Money… in a shadow career
  10. Kinfolk and Advocates or “How to Build a Platform”
  11. Draconian Contracts
  12. Author Earnings
  13. Succeeding for Others
  14. Blaze a Trail All Your Own

lancelot tobias mearcstapa schaubert monogram

cover image from William Warby

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