Don’t be separate, become a hybrid
Digital Book World recently released some statistics that compares the income of writers depending on their ‘author type’ in the 2013 Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Author Survey. While some data is unsurprising, I don’t think that the results are a large cause for worry for any categories concerned.
Five thousand authors responded to the survey, who are treated as a sample of the overall market today.The four categories are defined as ‘aspiring’, ‘self-published’, ‘traditionally published’, and ‘hybrid’. This last category, in case you weren’t sure, refers to the author who both publishes work themselves and through the traditional publishing houses. Unsurprisingly, the majority of aspiring authors made no income from their writing – probably because most of them are still waiting at the bottom of the slush pile of literary agents and editors the world over.
We can draw the biggest conclusions from the authors who chose to report on their annual writing income. While a few of the survey respondents reported earning over $200,000 from writing in the previous year, it really is only a smattering – 0.6% of self-published authors, 4.5% of traditional, and 6.7% of hybrid authors. Overall, self-published authors earned a median of between $1 and $1,499, while traditional authors on average earned between $5,000 to $9,999. Hybrid authors came out on top in this category though – they declared a median income of $15,000 to $19,999. According to Dana Beth Weinberg, the social scientist who interpreted and presented these statistics, when she compared authors who produced the same number of manuscripts, hybrid and traditional authors have strong similarities, but hybrid authors consistently outperform self-published authors on earnings.
So why are hybrid authors earning so much more than their counterparts? The problem with this survey is, there are lots of components of data that we are missing that would help to provide a fuller picture. Like the DBW article claims, this is only a representative sample of authors out there. In any case, let’s speculate for a bit. One possible answer is that hybrid authors could be benefitting from both royalties and advances from traditional authors while also pocketing the majority of profit from their self-published titles. Then again, there could be a whole number of reasons at play – maybe these hybrid authors are being clever and immediately self-publishing any work that is rejected by the traditional publishing houses and ensuring that they are consistently pushing work out into the market. Maybe hybrid authors are taking advantage of the multi-platforms available when spread across ebooks, audiobooks and paper books. Again, the survey does not tell us how these authors are making more money than the authors, which is something that I really hope they will fix in next year’s survey.
If we go back to the figures of median incomes for each category of author, it would be safe to conclude that a very large majority of these authors are not making enough money for writing to be their full-time profession – many aren’t even close. This survey and Weinberg’s extrapolations seem to equate making more money with success – and fair enough, since most people do. However, there are some authors out there who purposely aim not to make a profit from their self-published work – they might be happy enough with their current career that their writing is simply a not-for-profit hobby, or they might see worth in publishing non-fiction work for free. Self-published authors also might not be serious about writing as a profession, and not put too much merit on financial profit. Considering these kinds of factors ultimately skew the perspective and overall worth of the results.
So if you are reading this, looking for advice for financial success as an author or a worthy conclusion to these results – I would say to try and give the hybrid approach a go. Those authors seem to have creative control when and where they want to, and perhaps a better understanding of how both publishing models work and how best to utilise them.