Authors Guild Author Salary Survey: What Do the Results Mean for Self-Published Authors?

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Earlier this month, The Authors Guild shared the results from their 2018 Authors' Income Survey, leading to buzz around dwindling author salaries. With over 5,000 writers participating in the survey, including some IngramSpark authors, we saw the largest U.S. survey of published authors to date. The findings have created conversations in the book publishing industry. The good news? Self-published author incomes are on the rise! Here are some of our key takeaways from the survey, and some tips to help you maximize your self-publishing author salary today.

When starting out in the publishing business, it can be difficult to predict what your salary as an author will be. We often discuss the costs of publishing a book, but some other common questions we receive are: "How much money can you make writing a book?" and "How much does a first-time author make?" We know it can be challenging to figure out how to make a career as a writer, and we're here to help you understand what to expect. In this article, we’ll be referencing data from this post about author incomes, shared originally on January 5, 2019. 

More People Are Trying Self-Publishing

First, let's look at the demographics of the survey. Of the respondents, 46% were traditionally published, 27% were self-published, and 26% participated in both. Looking more closely, you'll see that 53% of the respondents have participated in some form of self-publishing—that’s more than half! With innovations in print-on-demand technology and increasing professionalism within self-publishing, we’ve seen the self-publishing bias decrease in countries around the world. It's clear that traditional publishing no longer reigns as the only legitimate form of book publishing, and we expect the number of self-published authors in future reports to continue to rise.

Get more self-publishing tips in How to Self-Publish a Book: The Complete Guide to Publish Like a Pro

Don’t Quit Your Day Job

The median income for traditionally published authors who participated in the survey—based solely on book-related activities—was $12,400. Think about that for a moment. While many writers struggle to let go of the traditional publishing dream, it’s important to remember that a traditional publishing deal doesn’t always equate to financial success. According to the survey, even authors that have previously made a living as full-time writers—with a history of successful books—are now having to supplement their income with additional work to pay the bills. So, consider your publishing goals and ask yourself how hard you’re willing to work to make your book a success. 

Traditional Publishing: All That Glitters Isn't Necessarily Gold

These days, unless you’re a household name, it’s becoming more and more difficult to be picked up by a traditional publisher. In traditional publishing, many authors cannot receive a significant advance for a book—if they’re lucky enough to receive one at all. With marketing budgets shrinking, as well as royalties, and fewer resources for mid-list writers, more than a few authors are leaving traditional publishing in pursuit of self-publishing instead. 

While self-published author incomes are the only incomes on the rise from those surveyed, self-published authors still earn less than their traditionally published counterparts. Of course, without the traditional support and with a low barrier to entry, this makes sense. Remember, even if you’ve decided to self-publish, you have to do all the things that a traditional publisher does to put a professional and compelling book into the marketplace. This includes investing in editing, book design, and marketing. 

Having a realistic outlook on a traditional publishing author salary versus a self-publishing author salary, as well as an understanding of the pros/cons of each, is important as you consider all of your online book publishing services options. 

Specific > General

The top earning genres in self-publishing were comprised of romance, romantic suspense, mysteries, and thrillers. Meanwhile, the survey reported the biggest decline in earnings for literary writers and general nonfiction. What can we take away from this? Whether you’re traditionally or self-published, you have to be specific. Try not to choose a “general” BISAC when there are specific categories and subjects that define your book. You're more likely to find the right readers if you first start by categorizing your book to the best of your ability. The more specific you get, the more opportunity your book has to stand out in its category versus being lost in a sea of generalized fiction, for example. To maximize your author salary, you must know your audience, and then write and market to that audience specifically. The sooner you realize your book isn't for "everyone" and hone in on your most likely audience, the more successful you'll be.

Selling Expertise Helps Sell Books

Only 21% of full-time published authors surveyed derived their income from books alone. We can’t emphasize enough the value of selling your expertise to supplement your income. When you write a book, you are instantly considered an expert on that subject—so it’s time to act like one. If you’ve written a cookbook, set up some cooking classes and charge admission. If your writing is geared toward businesses, seek out professional speaking engagements. This doesn't just apply to nonfiction; even if you’re writing fiction, this applies to you! Romance writers—how about a class on maintaining the spark in your relationship? Get creative and start making plans to sell yourself as an author expert.

Authors Are Spending More Time on Strategic, Targeted Book Marketing

On average, authors surveyed are spending roughly 7.5 hours each week on marketing and promoting their books. Does this number surprise you? While new authors tend to bemoan the fact that they have to become marketing savvy (“I’m a writer, not a marketer!”), at the end of the day, if you want to become a successful author, you have to do your research. Narrow down your target audience, and then research why they buy books, where they buy books, and what social media platforms they spend their time on. IngramSpark even offers free self-publishing courses to help you make the most of your book marketing efforts: 

We’re excited to see that self-publishing incomes are rising, but self-publishing takes dedication to succeed as far as book sales are concerned. Whether you're a novice writer looking for insight into the publishing industry or a seasoned author ready to launch your next book into the world, there are key lessons in this author income survey that can empower you to take your career (and your author salary!) to the next level. At IngramSpark, we're here to help, connecting you with experts in the industry at discounted rates, offering you global book distribution, lending the Ingram name to your credibility and professionalism in the industry, and providing free publisher education in the form of our blog, podcast, and online courses. If you're interested in taking your self-publishing to the next level, we look forward to helping!


Read the Complete Guide: How to Self-Publish a Book

Regan Rusnak

Regan Rusnak is a Marketing Specialist for IngramSpark. She holds a degree in marketing from Belmont University and gained industry experience with both traditional and hybrid publishing houses before joining the Spark team. A bibliophile to her core, Regan enjoys educating and empowering authors to get their books into the hands of more readers.