E-Publishing Success Stories: Indie Ebook Authors Making Good Money

In ye olden days (five years ago), self-publishing was considered a last resort, a route authors took because they couldn’t get a traditional book contract. Today, many authors are choosing to go straight to self-publishing; they’re turning their works into ebooks (this includes novels, novellas, short story collections, and even short stories) and handling the formatting, editing, and marketing themselves.

Because of lucrative royalties (roughly 70%) for those who upload their work directly to online bookstores, such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble, these “indie” authors can do well for themselves. They can afford to sell their ebooks at $2.99 (sometimes less) and make more per sale than authors with traditional publishing deals, who are often forced to price their work at $8 and up so everyone involved can get a cut.

E-publishing is not a road to riches–you still have to have a quality story and be willing to market, market, market–but there are several indie authors doing well, some making a full time income (some making a very good full time income). Here are a couple of examples:

(All of these authors started out as indies–they weren’t traditionally published authors who turned indie and brought an established fan base with them.)

Amanda Hocking

She’s been in the news lately because she signed a high six-figure publishing contract with a Big 6 House. For two years before that, though, she was independent, and she sold hundreds of thousands of her young adult paranormal fantasy novels and made it to Amazon bestseller lists where she was racking in six figures a year. Indeed, it’s that success as an indie that earned her the big contract.

Thanks to solid stories, frequently published novels (most very successful ebook authors have a large body of work out), and the fact that she got in early, she’ll never have to worry about a day job again.

Her first novel is My Blood Approves.

Brian S. Pratt

This high fantasy author is another one who got in early. After being rejected by agents and publishing houses, he self-published his stories in print first. He didn’t make much money that way (the economics of self-publishing mean print titles are more expensive than their traditionally published counterparts, thus making it hard for self-published print authors to compete–as we’ve already discussed, this isn’t the case with ebooks), but then he learned of ebooks.

According to an interview at Smashwords, he earned $17 his first quarter. Not exactly big bucks, right? That was back in early 2009. In 2010, he made over $200,000–the combined sales of his 17 novels, which are available everywhere from Amazon to Barnes & Noble to the iTunes store (aspiring indie authors, don’t limit yourself by only uploading your book to the Kindle store!).

His secret marketing trick? He gives away the first book in a multi-book series for free to hook readers into buying more.

His first ebook is The Unsuspecting Mage: Book One of The Morcyth Saga

You’re probably thinking that these success stories are flukes. Amanda and Brian both got in early. What about authors just starting out now? It’s true that there aren’t many “overnight successes” in this business (even for the authors we’ve looked at, their sales started out slowly), but there are some up-and-comers making money.

Lindsay Buroker

Indie high fantasy author, Lindsay Buroker, whose first full month as an ebook publisher was in January of 2011 (it’s April of 2011 as I write this article) posted her sales statistics for March on her e-publishing blog in a post called Can a “Normal” Author Make a Living E-publishing?

She self-deprecatingly said her $724 in earnings, though better than a paper route, was a long ways from making a living, but most will agree that’s a pretty good start for a newcomer to the industry, especially when she only has two novels out (compare that to Brian S. Pratt’s 17!). She pointed out that she could definitely see the potential for indie ebook authors to earn a full-time income from their work.

If you want to try her first novel, look up The Emperor’s Edge.

While not everybody is going to become rich and successful as an independent author, it’s exciting to live in an era where it’s possible.

Laura Thornley‘s paranormal romance, Shattered, is due out in ebook form this summer.


  1. says

    i am an author of three poetry books, one of which is a book of short stories with poetry in it. this article is inspiring me to concentrate on ebooks and lower my prices drasstically. i believe in my work and i believe i can make a living with my brand of poetry and short stories. thanks for the advice. thanks for the confidence.


  2. says

    Michael, a good way to market poetry books (the printed kind) is to do readings. Look for opportunities to set up readings at bookstores, libraries, coffee houses and other venues. Many people who hear your reading will want to buy an autographed book or chapbook.