Wednesday, April 17, 2019


As a published author, one question I get asked frequently is “How many books have you sold?”
That question is like asking a man how big his paycheck is. It’s rude — for several reasons.

First, authors don’t like that question because we often don’t know how many books we’ve sold. Most of us don’t keep specific numbers, and when we do, they are never as high as we’d like them to be.

Second, the question is really a sneaky attempt to find out if we are actually making any money at what we do. And unfortunately, for the majority of us authors, the answer is — not really.

I recently attended a writing conference where the guest speaker spoke about his award-winning self-published book. Then he opened it up for questions from the audience. One person asked how much it cost to produce the book. The answer was in the realm of $10,000 (which is a huge amount). The next question was whether the author had earned that back in sales. The answer was no, not even close.

The discouraging truth about self-published and even the majority of traditionally published books is that most authors don’t earn a profit on their books. Most self-published books earn less than what it costs to produce and market them.

I’m being flat out honest here. I was first published in 2012. I currently have 15 titles on my list. Several have won awards. While I do sell consistently, I earn an average of $30 – $50 a month on royalties. I spend hundreds each month on editing, design, publication, and promotion. The only real profit I’ve ever earned is when my traditional publisher wrote me a check for $2,000 for the rights to my first book. I make the bulk of my income from teaching and from editing other people’s books. Other authors earn money from offering online courses.

That’s not to say all authors live like this. There are plenty who make a decent living at writing, but they tend to be the leaders in their genres, the best-sellers who either get the lion’s share of their publishing houses’ marketing or cut new ground in the self-publishing market. But they represent a small percentage of all published authors, most of whom are lucky if they just break even.

Should this discourage you from pursuing your dream? Yes, if your dream is to be the next J.K. Rowling. Chances of that happening are about 1 in a billion.

But if your dream is to write and see your name in print, to have a small but loyal following who love your books, then go for it.

When you look at the dollar signs, or lack thereof, it’s easy to feel like a failure. I know. I’ve been there often. But then I remind myself why I’m a writer. I didn’t write my first novel because I wanted to make a million bucks or become world famous. I wrote because I love to write. When kids tell me my books inspire them or when adults thank me for writing stories that make them cry, I am the happiest author in the world.

And in the end, that’s what matters the most.

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