Can You Make a Living as an Author ?

When I wrote my book “Amazon Reviews Exposed“, I had to dig a bit into the details of how many books were sold on Amazon and how much money (approximately) authors were making. I publish here this extract which gives a rather good insight what you might expect for income when you start your author career..

From “Amazon Reviews Exposed”:


How many Kindle eBooks are there? About 2,7 million titles. This is easy to look up on the Amazon Kindle store.

Although we don’t know exactly how the Amazon Bestsellers Rank is calculated, by cross checking data from different authors it is possible to recreate an approximate table with sales rank versus daily sales.
I have published one in my book ‘How to Make Money with eBooks’, but you can also look it up on my blog over here. These are the first two columns in the following table.

From that data we can construct the following table:

sales table

Now if we plot the Rank against the cumulative percentage of total sales volume and against cumulative percentage of titles, we get the following chart:

sales rank

What does this chart tell us?

• 50% of the sales volume is made with the top 0,16% of the titles.

• 80% of the sales volume is made with approximately the top 3% of the titles.

• This means that the remaining 20% of sales is distributed over the 97% of the remaining titles.

• These 97% of the titles sell less than 1 book a day. A good part of this 97% sells zero.

This means that the probability of having a book in the top 100 is very small. Believe it or not, a book that sells (on average) 2 copies a day ranks already in the top 2%.

A study on the top 500 list (2013) reveals that only 700 indie authors are earning more than 25.000$ a year. So if your book, which will start as just one of the 2.7 million books on Amazon, ends up in the top 0.025%, you can start make a full-time income from your writing activities. You can find the full report here.

Some people might say that these figures are a bit skewed, because a lot of titles are just ‘dead’ stock. And indeed, of the 2.7 million titles we can assume that only the top 500.000 sell. All the rest are books that sell nothing or maybe a couple of copies a year.

Some of these books were published years ago and never made any sales. Or they may have sold only a few copies. They might have been abandoned by the author. If we ignore everything in the table above but the top 500.000, does that change a lot? The table would now look like this:

sales table 500k

And the chart like this

sales rank 500k

And indeed, the results are slightly better. But not a lot. 83% of the sales still make up 4% of all the titles.

The good news is, that you can publish as many books as you want. But from the above we can conclude that if you have a book that sells 1-2 copies a day (30-60 monthly), you are doing already rather well. So if you want to make a living from writing books, then there is only one solution: write a lot of books.

How many should you write? Let’s say you want to make 6000$/month and you make $2 profit on a book. That corresponds roughly with 100 sales/day. So if you want to make a living with books that sell 2 copies a day, you know how many books you have to write.

Don’t forget that the 6000$ mentioned is gross income. And depending on the country you live in, you may have to pay 20-50% income tax on that. :(


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