Alright, let’s talk about the ALLI Indie Author Survey (https://selfpublishingadvice.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/The-Independent-Author-Income-Survey-updated-FINAL-17-04-23.pdf). I did a quick and dirty review of the actual survey as I was reading it, but it wasn’t so much an analysis as a breakdown (https://twitter.com/tr_wong/status/1648072736579756037).
I also missed stuff.
Data Collection and Sample
Let’s start with something you NEED to know when you’re analysing any survey. How did the data get collected?
In the ALLI survey case, this went out to their membership and all the major writing groups (and social media of course). Respondents were self-selected. This biases the survey heavily towards those who have:
– are already tapped into existing information networks
– are somewhat serious about the business (i.e. learning from these information networks)
– and who
The results were further filtered by the first question which asks if:
“I have self-published at least one book and I spend at least 50% of my working time on writing and publishing activities“
You can see how this makes a big difference, since a writer could be part-time, writing for fun and/or building their backlist and thus would not qualify. Heck, for my first 2 years publishing, I would not qualify since I was working on writing part-time.
By the time I went full-time as per the above, I was earning a full-time income and then some.
This portion, about who they considered to be self-published authors skews the data analysis a lot and is something I missed. It’s worth noting, that many trad pub authors – as reported in various surveys – would not even be considered ‘authors’ if we took this same kind of time requirement. So many authors are part-time, because of real life commitment.
Breakdown of the Survey
Let me repeat my point above, for those who skipped here. Because self-published authors as defined by the survey are those who spend 50% or more time working on writing and publishing activities, comparing this survey results with any traditionally published (or indie author) surveys would be wrong.
Written Word Media’s author survey for example doesn’t break things up in that way and certainly focuses more on different stages of an (indie) author’s career.
That being said, it’s a fascinating survey; but as others have said, it’s not necessarily reflective of the industry.
Mean and Median
You should not use it as a guide to say ‘this is what authors earn on average or as a median’.
Obviously, the mean and median ($83k and $12k respectively) are nice numbers to throw around and the ones you will see the most. But they’re not realistic. While they tried to be fair by removing ‘outliers’ of no income (25% of the respondents) and those making over a million (1.2%); you can see by those numbers, that’s not a particularly useful ‘removal of outliers’ since it’s not by the same proportion. It’d have been better if they removed the same % (1.2%) from both sides to showcase a ‘true’ average. I’d assume, however, that the amount is significantly lower than the $65k they quoted when they did it their way.
I do like that they asked people for comparison between their previous year and this year. That’s really good, because it means the indication that 60% saw an increase was really good. That’s in contrast to tradpub that saw a normalising (and sometimes fall) in 2022 for their industry wide revenue.
That being said… remember the part where this is the ‘cream’ of the crop. I wonder if we took the same data for tradpub full-time authors if we’d see similar numbers.
Missed opportunity – analysis according to demographic lines, genre lines or number of books releases or even the number of years an author has been in business.
I would be there’s some good data in there if they tracked it properly.
I’m not going to discuss genres much, they’re rather obvious – romance, crime and murder and thrillers and scifi/fantasy are the top three. Nothing new there. If you’re curious about your genres, you should go poke within.
Over half have published more than 10 works, over 20% more than 30. I’d love to see an analysis on this along the lines of written word media’s own, but I’d assume the data would be similar – more books you write, on average, the higher the total income.
Wide vs KU
The question of whether people self-published exclusively saw 44.58% indicate so, which means mostly Amazon and possibly ACX (depending on how they took the question to mean).
That’s a pretty clear dominance of Amazon, though also – there’s a majority who are doing the non-Amazon exclusive route too.
I do wonder what the breakdown / split would be in the higher income ranges, again. I will say, being ‘wide’ is much more expensive than just staying KU / ACX exclusive, so you generally have to make more wide just to justify the increased cost (multiple ebook formats, cover sizes, uploading and updates across myriad places, etc.).
The real interesting bit is seeing if there’s a shift in both the books published and the exclusivity question from year-to-year. If there’s a shift next year if this survey happens, that (could) be telling.
Gross Profit vs Net Profit Analysis
One of the biggest things to note is that the revenue quoted here is gross not net. While trad pub authors income is often much closer to net, since they don’t have selfpub/indie author expenses. What those expenses are can also vary significantly between individuals. I know people who spend less than 5% of their income on expenses (heck, that was me); to those spending over 80% of their income just on advertising.
Since cost was not asked about, we have to make a lot of guesstimates. And, obviously, the cost of creating a book varies a lot, from as cheap as $50 to as much as $5000. Realistically, I’d say that most authors end up spending around $1-2k per book released.
If you went higher, and used their breakdown amounts of $2.5k per annum revenue generated, then 31.8% were either losing money or breaking even at best. If you figured their cost was minimum $5k/$10k, that’s 39.9% and 48% who are either breaking even or losing money being selfpub.
The biggest surprise here is how few people have translations. 9.5% only. I can understand that translations are expensive, but I’d lean towards this being an untapped market.
Not just in translations, but in also marketing those translations. From our own experience, it’s hard to market work in languages you don’t speak. Having companies willing and able to do that and do that well could be a major boon.
I mentioned licensing in TV and radio and plays to look low, but really – who knows. The only people who might have an idea are agents, and even then… they probably don’t actually have a % idea.
The demographic breakdown is probably the most interesting to me.
Over 90% are over 35. I guess that makes sense, since a lot of selfpub is expensive. It also takes a while for people to learn the intricacies and, often, younger authors are headed for tradpub trenches to try.
I do wonder, with the burgeoning webnovel market, how these % numbers are going to change. Certainly, a lot of the webnovel writers I know are in the younger age brackets.
Majority have a postgraduate degree of some sort. Probably not surprising, especially considering half the respondents were from the US. You do need a minimum level in language proficiency to make money doing this.
86% Caucasian. 3.25% Black. 1.87% Asian. Considering the ratio of respondents, this is heavily predisposed to Caucasians. I’m not sure if its because of the way the survey was sent out and responded to or because of the industry.
66% female, 10% LGBTQ+, 11% with disabilities.
So, I’m going to say that if you look at the above; you can see that the entire selfpub career leans towards privileged individuals. That’s not surprising considering the minimum cost involved in publishing a book, the privilege of finding time and space to write and to practise and edit it, and frankly, to keep doing it regularly.
The higher % of those with disabilities and LGBTQ+ representation isn’t too surprising, as many are turned away from tradpub or get tired of banging their heads there, and the lack of gatekeepers here make it easier. To at least publish, if not necessarily make a living.
On a personal level, I’d love to see questions (and analysis) based off family responsibilities (dependents) and income levels and release speed. I know, for many of us with children, that it definitely affects things. How it plays out in terms of income would be interesting to see, in raw numbers.
I skipped some of the sections because I didn’t think them too relevant. A lot of this survey wasn’t too surprising if you watch and/or listen within the various groups. Again, it’s worth looking at the survey results as generally from the ‘cream’ of the crop.
People who have the time, money and resources to work at writing full-time. Who have been doing this for a few years at least mostly, and who generally have the education.
And yet… nearly 50% of them are barely breaking even at best.
Self-publishing isn’t easy. It can be financially rewarding, but only for a small number of individuals. And, again, this survey doesn’t really tell us how many (remember, gross!).
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