Do Authors Make Money? Here’s The Truth


I’m in the mood to write something controversial that may get me in trouble, but as you know, my theme is being “Gutsy” so I’ve decided to be honest and say what’s on my mind.

Before I do, let me tell you that I’ve been re-evaluating my goals; where I’m heading with “Gutsy Living” and my coaching business.

As many of you have told me, I’m all over the place trying to promote not only my stuff, but also other people’s books, posts, videos, articles. It takes time, and for me, it’s a 7-day-a-week job. If I were doing this for a successful company, I should be making a six-figure income, easily,  BUT NO!

As an indie author, I choose to spend money on book covers, formatting, hiring a business coach, subscriptions to magazines and organizations, applying for book Awards, attending conferences, flights, hotels (when I cannot stay for free at a friend’s house) printing, business cards, posters, once in a while on a local PR person (for the “My Gutsy Story®” Anthology, book launch)

Now perhaps I’m taking the wrong approach. I cannot sacrifice the quality of my product (books) for a cheaper version of DIY. So far, I have hired professional editors (4 of them) book designers (1106 Design), a film company to film the book launch (perhaps a BIG mistake),  rented a movie theater with a keynote speaker and a panel to of indie authors to entertain our audience.

It’s time for a reality check 

My recent presentation at the #SBWC2014 Santa Barbara Writers Conference

As I’ve heard over and over at conferences:

  • Don’t quit your day job

We can’t all be like Elizabeth Gilbert who sold 9 million copies of her book, Eat, Pray, Love,  worldwide, generating an estimated $135 million in sales, nor like John Grisham who sold 645,000 copies of one of his books.

Amy Collins, with New Shelves distribution, mentioned during her presentation at PWSD (Publishers Writers San Diego) that published authors selling 25,000 copies, need to keep their day job.

I don’t know of any indie author friends of mine who have sold 25,000 copies in one year. If you have, please e-mail me at: sonia@soniamarsh.

In fact, many indie authors claim they don’t receive Amazon royalty checks each month.

According to  (The Book Industry Study Group)

  • 78% of all books are sold online
  • 98% of all books sold online are through Amazon  
  • Less than 4% of Americans visited a bookstore in the last year.
  • (These are my notes from the lecture, so as far as I know they are accurate.)

When I make presentations to writers’ groups and at writers’ conferences, I explain how:

  • This is the best time to be an author, but it is also the worst time. WHY?

It’s the best time because authors have so many options today to market themselves online. If we have a great idea for Oprah’s audience, heck, we can even Tweet @Oprah, and maybe, just maybe, one of her producers will read our Tweet, you never know. Oprah has 5 great summer reads which her Oprah magazine book editor, Leigh Haber, recommends. Why not our books? There are all genres.

It’s also the worst time as there is so much competition today. In 2013, Bowker announced that 391,000 books were self-published in 2012. A 59% increase from 2011.

I started my own publishing company in 2012, called, “Gutsy Publications.” I did this after studying the pros and cons of using CreateSpace as my POD printer, vs. being a publisher and the benefits of using LSI (Lightning Source Ingram) as a printer and Ingram as a wholesaler. If you want to get a local book signing at Costco, or B&N, then starting your own publishing company is the way to go. My author friend, Linda Austin, explains the pros and cons of CreateSpace and LSI, which is now called Ingram Spark, on her site.

Hopefully we all know by now the importance of seeing ourselves as a brand, and our books as a product, but truthfully, why do you think most indie authors need to start a coaching business or a speaking career, in order to hopefully make a living?

Because most authors cannot make a living from book sales alone. That’s the honest truth my dear friends. You have 7 choices:

  • You keep your day job
  • You’re independently wealthy and have enough funds to support your hobby (Oops! Did I use the H word?)
  • You keep writing more books and hope that by the 6th one you can make a full-time living
  • You start a successful coaching-editing-writing coach or other related business to your writing
  • You get paid $100,000,000 as a public speaker like Anthony Robbins
  • You get your book turned into a movie and Hollywood makes you famous
  • You’re happy being an underpaid author who has a book out in the world


So as I wrap up my post where I tell you the truth, I am forced to charge $79/writer who wants to get published in our 3rd Award-winning Anthology.

Please see what you get for this fee, and I hope you agree that you’re getting a wonderful opportunity for publication and promotion by agreeing to join our Gutsy Indie Tribe .

Please note that it’s free to submit to my website and get promoted. To get published in our print version will now have a $79 fee.

Accepting story submissions now.  READ MORE HERE

So please let me know if you’re making a full-time living with your book sales. I’d like to share some successful ““My Gutsy Story®” book stories.



Comments (29)

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  1. Barbara says:

    BRAVA! How brave of you, and I would expect nothing less, to tell it like it is!

    Most authors aren’t as comfortable in the spotlight, like speaking before a crowded room, as you are. I’ve done public speaking and enjoy it. But, it takes time to have something to talk about that people will want to come and see/ learn from.

    I’ve never thought publishing my book would make much $$, which is why I’m still thinking about the traditional route. A solid agent, or a reputable publishing company, is my choice.

    I published my children’s book, The Duffy Chronicles, through a small publishing company, but had to buy my own books. I’ve donated many to shelters, and take the write-off. I knew from that experience, there was no $$ in it!

    Thank you for being so honest! I so admire you, Sonia!
    Barbara recently posted..It’s Father’s Day…I’ve Had a FewMy Profile

  2. Linda Austin says:

    Thanks for linking to my website articles, Sonia. It’s been fun watching you learn and grow into what I would call a successful author. Success doesn’t always equate to monetary riches, as we know. Enjoy the riches of your accomplishments and personal fulfillment – and hopefully you can buy a decent dinner or at least a froufrou coffee every month from author business proceeds!
    Linda Austin recently posted..A family’s stories turn into a novel of love and Vietnam War perspectivesMy Profile

    • Sonia Marsh says:


      Thanks for the compliment, and yes, it takes years to realize where you’re going. At least that’s my case. I’m glad you admit that success is not always monetary, however so many writers starting out, truly hope they will sell a million copies. I’ve heard this from other speakers at various conferences.
      Sonia Marsh recently posted..Do Authors Make Money? Here’s The Truth My Profile

  3. I imagine this was not easy to write Sonia, but may I say that I’m so impressed at your honestly and willing to share openly. A truly gutsy person!

  4. Sonia,I agree that none of us will get rich on book sales – at least monetarily. The connections with readers, however, are rich in so many ways, as you know. It was through our books, you and I met. Just recently, I met a woman who told me her friend, Annette, who attended your author entrepreneur workshop through the Women’s Writing Circle, “loved it.” Those were her exact words. You’re doing good things for others.

    As for charging for the “Gutsy” anthology – absolutely you should! What a bargain for $79! We charged $100 to the women whose stories appeared in our WWC anthology, “Slants of Light.” That included critiquing, editing, holding a beautiful book in hand at the end of the process.

    Long ago, I realized that a plumber, a lawyer, a doctor, would not give away his or her work for free, so why should I edit for free, organize a writing group for free, give away copies of my books for free, unless I want to? We must value ourselves, our expertise as much as any other craftsman or professional. So onward and upward! In my book, you’re already a huge success. Best wishes, Susan

    • Sonia Marsh says:


      I have made some incredible friends, like you, online, and I am grateful for that. I think speaking at the Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference recently, made me realize how “hungry” all writers are to get published and share their work with the world. It brought me back to 2008, when I attended this conference as a novice writer, and how intimidated I was by the whole process. Now I understand the reality of the business.
      Sonia Marsh recently posted..Do Authors Make Money? Here’s The Truth My Profile

  5. A truly honest and brave post Sonia. It deals with the unmentionables; the things that writers need to know but have to dig to find out. I read recently that a famous author sold 640,000 copies of one of his books and still keeps the day job; that on average an indie author sells 200 copies per annum. I think that is 200 per title. That made me feel better!
    Everyone assumes that ALL authors make a lot of money. As someone in her later years,I am not fully dependant on royalty income to live – although it would be nice to make my fortune. I am fortunate that I can do much of the marketing, video/presentation, book and jacket design myself with third-party input and am able to plough back in to cover this.
    But there is still that so-called taboo of booksellers being reluctant to stock POD books from indie authors/publishers and having to convince buyers. When powered by LSI who are at the cutting edge, they match any traditional printed book. I had confirmation from a local book store that ‘the quality is there’. As POD they even come up on some booksellers databases as ‘out of stock’ as that is their procedure – they are reluctant to buy in; some tell me that POD is a special order and is non-returnable even though all ours are. However since most books, as your figures show Sonia, are purchased on-line – does this matter as long as they are listed on-line? It is just the ‘not in stock’ which is a barrier. Yes,I set up the imprint Christal Publishing under my known name in order to overcome publishing hurdles. It has worked but it is hard work.
    It is also enjoyable, satisfying, especially when you see your book in Apple iBooks.
    One thing that I would advise, especially with regard to e-books, is to cover as many formats and distribution avenues as possible. Smashwords
    have come up trumps here for ePub. Being in the UK I thought for a long time about using Smashwords. It was an unknown quantity and in the USA, but am so glad that I did especially with their expanding markets for library and subscription services.
    LSI – now Ingram Spark for small publishers – provide global distribution for print and eBook (pdf & ePub) and of course there is KDP.
    As Sonia has done, it is good to Take Stock and re-focus. This is part of and at the heart of a whole life plan and whether writing is small part of our life (where Continuing Professional development or CPD is a requirement) or the whole, it is essential to set targets, keep a focus on what we need to do and, at times, make some hard decisions. Sorry – On my soap box again!
    Sonia, I actually found your brave and ‘gutsy’ article encouraging and probably opens a window to let in fresh air for many new or aspiring writer.
    Thank you. x:)

  6. Sonia Marsh says:


    WOW, this is a blog post in itself.
    “Everyone assumes that ALL authors make a lot of money.”
    So true, and I see that when I speak to people at my local gym. They think that authors selling books at a book signing make all the profit and that it’s an easy way to make money.
    It sounds like things are the same in the UK as they are in the US. Just keep going, is what I say to myself, however this time, I’m considering other ideas. All the best Rosalie.
    Sonia Marsh recently posted..Do Authors Make Money? Here’s The Truth My Profile

  7. I felt so bad breaking this news to a class of writers wanting to be authors. They were so depressed.
    And there you have it, I teach because my book sales are not consistent enough for me to quit my day job or my night job but I am dreaming…
    Doreen McGettigan recently posted..DISNEY’S ‘CINDERELLA’ …My Profile

  8. Sonia — My hat is off to YOU!

  9. Sonia, we all need to know these realities and “when Sonia talks, people listen”. You have mapped out a very clear picture of what to expect and as a result have generated many interesting comments. The publishing world is changing so rapidly and we depend on one another for advice and direction. I think it’s important to be prepared for the realities and learn how to make the the most of what is under our control. I’m not in it for the money but at some point, I’d like to receive compensation for the hours of hard work. It’s a good thing I love what I do ,and like Susan, appreciate the wonderful connections we have made. Thanks for an informative and candid post and for all you do to help us.
    Kathleen Pooler recently posted..What Goes Into a Successful Pubslush Crowdfunding Campaign?My Profile

    • Sonia Marsh says:


      I wish my kids listened when Sonia talks. 🙂
      Anyway, I know you’ve put in so many years of social media and blogging yourself Kathy, and helped numerous authors, including me.
      I have also enjoyed all the friends I’ve made online and new connections. All the best with your memoir, Kathy.
      Sonia Marsh recently posted..Do Authors Make Money? Here’s The Truth My Profile

  10. Amy Collins says:

    Way to GO Sonia. We have to get the truth out there. Publishers make money when they have a number of books to balance the risk and share the load. It IS possible to quit your day job, but books are only a PART of the income that comes from being a writer.

    Just to clarify. The stat about fewer than 5% of Americans being in a bookstore in the last year came from NPR last Nov. 2014.

    Keep on telling the truth lady!

    • Sonia Marsh says:


      Thanks for the encouragement to keep going and sharing the truth. I work my butt off, and fortunately enjoy sharing and helping others, but I am also honest about how tough it is to make a living as an author. Multiple books is the way to go. I’m so glad I heard you speak at PWSD last month.
      Sonia Marsh recently posted..Do Authors Make Money? Here’s The Truth My Profile

  11. Sonia, I salute the truth in this gutsy post. I’m so happy not to be the only voice in the wilderness pointing out the imbalance between the 59% increase in titles and maybe 1% increase in readers. I often feel like the lad who commented on the emperor’s clothes when I caution people not to spend more on production and promotion than they can afford to spend on a hobby. Yes, I do use that H word, not because we should think of our writing as a hobby, but as you point out, the chances of snagging the golden ring are remote. For all but a fraction of a percent, writing is not a reliable investment or retirement plan. We should write from passion, with purpose in our message, but not jeopardize our futures.

    I respect, honor and applaud your massive accomplishments in building community among Indie Authors and shining a spotlight on the concept of gutsiness. Now you are injecting a note of realism into the mix, and bravo for that. I earnestly hope your efforts will yet turn a profit. You’ve certainly laid the groundwork!
    Sharon Lippincott recently posted..Writing on a Hamster WheelMy Profile

  12. This is a good reminder–there’s so much hype that it’s hard to know what to expect in publishing. Like other businesses, people will probably need to spend a few years and money getting things off the ground. I think many authors are making money, and some are making enough to live on, depending on what their needs are. It usually takes quite a few books in the right genre, great covers and descriptions, marketing know how, and poking the box with different books and marketing tactics.

    I’m a hybrid author, mainly self published, and I sold 19,000 my first year (a half year) and then close to 40,000 the next two years. I’ve seen posts in the last three years citing lists of authors selling over 50k and 100k books in a year, I think on a site called book formatting fairies, or something along those lines.

    I think everyone likes to read about and focus on the huge success stories, when the reality is this is a tough business, and most authors will make some money but not millions.
    Kristen James recently posted..My new writing goal (challenge)My Profile

  13. As a first time author, in this entire publishing process (as we speak!), I am here to say that this post rocks. I decided, about 3 months back, that I, too, will be using my voice to explain to others just what indie authors go through, day in and day out, in order to make a book a success. (I realize that the definition of success varies from author to author.) The day I decided to make this proclamation, was the day that I realized how little I would be getting from Amazon sales, versus sales through my own order fulfillment page (~$3 vs. ~$11/book).

    Kudos to you, Sonia for your brave post and using your voice!

  14. Your post is a good reality check, Sonia. When I left the corporate world behind to follow my heart into writing, I knew what I was giving up monetarily. I count myself lucky every day to be able to choose this path.
    Carol Bodensteiner recently posted..Go Away Home – New historical fictionMy Profile

  15. Writing full-time was something I always wanted to do. Therefore, the fact that I have earned only a little money doing it was anticipated and not alarming. Writing is not my job. It is my calling for this stage in my life. In fact, writing gives me an excuse to keep on learning and traveling, two things that cost money. If writing can subsidize my travel (which it usually does), I get to work at my budget by reducing costs instead of increasing income.

    Thanks for telling the truth about the costs. Very, very few writers can earn the equivalent of a Starbucks job, let alone the salary of a doctor, lawyer, executive. Economic advice to writers is the same as to investors in high-risk start ups: don’t wager your nest egg.

    Each writer needs to assess the costs and benefits and to be clear about the goal. Your post, Sonia, will be very helpful especially to starry-eyed newbies and also to discouraged writers who think everyone else must be making a ton of money.
    Shirley Hershey Showalter recently posted..The Tie that Binds: How Mennonite College Friendships Grew from Twig to VineMy Profile

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