Hugh Howey has been busy. He and a few friends have done some in-depth analysis on the top 7,000 genre fiction titles selling on Amazon and have come to some startling conclusions. Before you read the rest of this, go look at the full report HERE or HERE. Is that the sweet, sweet taste of vindication? I think so. Here are my top takeaways:

  • Indie authors are keeping 47% of author revenue vs 36% for those authors published by the Big 5. This means for every $1 an indie author makes, their Big 5 published contemporaries are only making $0.77
  • 86% of the top 2,500 titles are ebooks 92% of the top 100 titles are ebooks
  • 39% of sales in the top 7,000 titles are from independent authors, vs 34% published with the Big 5
  • A little over 1,000 indie authors in this sample are earning MORE than $10,000 per year compared to only around 150 authors published with the Big 5
  • Around 230 indie authors in this sample are earning MORE than $50,000 per year, compared with just 50 or so authors published with the Big 5

Even more punchy:

  • Indie authors earn 30% more overall than Big 5 authors
  • Indie authors sell more books overall than Big 5 authors
  • Indie authors are 4 times more likely to earn a living wage from their craft

Kinda flies in the face of “accepted” wisdom, doesn’t it? Now, I’ve never been through the rigmarole of querying agents or publishers, mainly because I always assumed the above was true. There wasn’t any actual data out there, but the idea that independently publishing would earn me 70% royalties and would give me control over marketing was a no-brainer. So it’s nice that somebody’s gone and done all the hard work to prove it, once and for all.

But I think this study only paints part of the picture. As Hugh Howey himself is keen on saying, it’s not the outliers in this game that provide the most exciting data – it’s all those people hovering around the midlist, earning enough money from their work to pay a few bills, or maybe even provide them with a replacement income – enough to do away with their day jobs. Those people, I reckon, are far more likely to be found in the top 10,000 – 40,000 charts. Those authors with multiple titles, each selling a handful of copies per day. Those all add up. How do I know? Because I’m one of them.

While I won’t feature much, if at all, in the titles examined for this data survey, my results certainly support the overall hypothesis – namely, that I’m much, much, much better off publishing independently than I would be spending my time sending out query letters. This year, for example, if sales keep steady, I will earn close to $40,000 from ebook sales alone. With several more titles due out this year, it’s likely that sales will actually improve beyond that limit – assuming the indie angels are smiling upon me, of course.

And, to me, that is just completely INSANE. Utterly incredible. Mad. Bonkers. The idea that I can earn close to the average US annual wage just from making stuff up and writing it down still boggles my mind, even after a year of scribbling away. This fact becomes even more coma-inducing when you consider that independent publishing wasn’t even a viable option until just four or five years ago. I’m still gobsmacked. But, more than that, I’m eternally grateful to all the readers who took a chance on my work – without them, none of this would be possible.

So, Hugh, if you’re reading, this is also a big THANK YOU to you for pulling all this information together. We can only hope the Big 5 are watching closely… or, maybe they’ll just follow your advice, and install you as CEO. And, if you want to dig even deeper to find just how many authors out there are earning a living wage, paying off their mortgages, or even just funding a holiday or two, perhaps your anonymous programmer can find some even more telling information a little further down the ranks – the numbers are there, I can say from personal experience.

What are your thoughts? Is chasing a publishing contract still a good idea? Or will it take a very special kind of deal to lure you away from independence? Leave a comment below!

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