Can I make a living as an indie author?

Wouldn’t it be great to make a living as a writer? You know, no more day job, relaxing days spent at the coffee shop or the beach with pen and notepad in hand, writing exactly what you want?

Is this dream attainable? Or is it just a fantasy?

The good news is plenty of indie authors are able to live from their book earnings and are free from doing the nine-to-five routine. Getting there requires a lot of work, though, and you may not lead the lifestyle of the rich and famous (at least at first!).

In June 2016, the website Author Earnings analyzed bestseller lists to determine the state of the self-publishing market, as most indie authors rely on the Internet seller to sell and distribute their books. While Amazon doesn’t release sales figures, we have a good idea as to how many books are needed to reach certain spots on the bestsellers list as well as how much can be earned from a book sale. Track titles on bestsellers list by paying attention to the information for a long period of time, and you can give a fairly accurate picture of author earnings.

According to their analysis, about 4600 authors earn at least $25,000 annually from sales. About 40 percent of those authors are indie writers who’ve self-published. Another 35 percent are Big Five authors and 22 percent authors whose titles were handled by small- or medium-sized publishers.

Of those 4600 authors, only 1,340 make more than $100,000 a year from book sales, the analysis found.

Meanwhile, another 3000 authors earn just $10,000 a year from book sales. This may not be enough to live on, but it makes a heavy dent into the mortgage or car payments.

These numbers, of course, are only from sales. Many authors, even those who self-publish, sell their titles at bookstores and through other avenues, such as book fairs and at readings or presentations. So actual earnings from book sales are somewhat higher than given in the report. When taking that into account, more than 4600 authors likely earn above $25,000 annually.

Another element to consider is that some authors actually have written books to support their businesses – for example, a financial planner might write about the topic to sell at presentations on how to prepare for retirement. The book helps give the financial planner credentials and attracts people to his presentations that require a fee to attend. In this sense, the book sales aren’t as important as the presence of a book, which brings in other earnings.

There’s one caveat to the report: The majority of the self-published authors earning above $10,000 annually have been writing and publishing for a minimum of five years. A beginning author clearly needs to develop readership through an author’s platform and have a number of books published to get into the top brackets.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.