Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

Some Numbers on Income

I Got This Question About Numbers of Sales It Takes

Now, I have done this post a bunch, mostly on making a living with your short fiction, so thought I would twist it a little just for fun. And to show some extremes.

But everyone should be doing these numbers for themselves at times.

And, of course, there is no right answer to this. Not a one.

Since the 20Booksto50K conference was here and I did that talk which you can see a few posts back, let’s just use $50,000 for goal number.

Novel Price is $5.99 electronic so you get $4 per sale. (You make extra paper and audio and other rights license, not counting Patreon and bundles other things like that, but let’s just make this simple for now.)

The Math…

1 Book Published (electronic)… You make $50,000 when you sell 12,500 copies of that book.

10 Books Published… You make $50,000 when you sell 1,250 copies of each book.

20 Books Published… You make $50,000 when you sell 625 copies of each book.

50 Books Published… You make $50,000 when you sell 250 copies of each book.

100 Books Published… You make $50,000 when you sell 125 copies of each book.

Notice, there is no time involved at all. You just make that much when you sell that many copies total of each book.

So let’s just say five years as a time frame to start. You want to make $50,000 in five years with your writing.

So with 100 books, you need to sell on average just over 2 copies of each book per month for five years. Pretty dormant sales there.

Again, on average.

If you have only one book, to make $50,000 in five years, you have to sell over 208 books per month of that one book for 60 months. That’s tougher by silly factors.

Of course, if your goal is to make $50,000 in ten years, the numbers get head-shaking low.

But if you want to make $50,000 a year, and if you can get to 100 books total, you don’t have to sell many at all on average in one year. About ten-plus books per month on average over all your titles. 9 books sell one copy, one book sells a hundred and you got it over that many titles. Average…

Fewer titles, the more per title you have to sell on average per book to hit $50,000 in a year.

I can tell you one thing on discoverability, unless you are around twenty titles under one author name, you won’t get much traction in discoverability without being very lucky. So focus on the writing.

And does 100 books sounds impossible? You have goal issues and myth issues if that is the case. I wrote over a hundred different kinds of books in the last six years while doing this silly blog streak here.

WMG Publishing Inc. that is Kris and my publishing company has over 800 titles. Some are short fiction, most are main books. You can do the math if you like for fun.

And remember, we have hundreds and hundreds of cash flows because we know magic bakery thinking. This example was only one cash flow, electronic, per book, just for fun.

Again, everyone should do these numbers for themselves. Don’t ask me to do them very often. I do them for WMG regularly.



  • Philip

    Dean, thanks! This is exactly what I wanted to see because I knew the math had to work. It shows two important things that back up your views on indie publishing:

    1. You don’t have to be a one-in-a-million bestselling author or some sort of 24/7 marketing guru.


    2. These calculations are based on SALES only, so you DON’T NEED KU PAGE READS! Basically, these numbers imply yet again why publishing wide is viable and advisable.

    When I broke into indie writing, I had close to 100 books based on writing a new erotica short each day and bundling the heck out of the them. Because I had such huge production, here is how my first three months in indie went (rounded):

    Month 1 = $35

    Month 2 = $300

    Month 3 = $1,500

    0 marketing, just production and good covers, titles, and blurbs.

  • J.M. Ney-Grimm

    I can tell you one thing on discoverability, unless you are around twenty titles under one author name, you won’t get much traction in discoverability without being very lucky.

    Thanks for that reminder. I think I needed it—I’d been getting impatient with my sales. But I have only 5 novels and 6 short novels out (plus a handful of shorts and collections). My next book will release in February 2019, and I’m in the middle of writing the next one after that. That will get me to 13 novels/short novels. Guess I have another 7 to write and release before I have any grounds for impatience. 😉

  • David


    I’m all about staying away from Trad. And going wide Indie as you pointedly suggest, it makes the most sense for readers to have retail options.

    But here, if the topic of 20 books for dicoverablity is an unfortunate reality one must conquer, lets say you have no real traction at fifteen books.

    Say, hypothetically, you have a five book series A in universe A, a five book series B in universe B, and a five book series of short story compilations C in universe A.

    Would it be a bad business strategy to put a new five book series D in universe B into Kindle select/unlimited as a “product funnel” with all the gimmicky sales/reads this can create, by freebie action, and include in the ebooks advertising links, requests for reviews, calls to action, etcetera in your front and back matter, pointing readers to all four series in varied ways.

    Meanwhile writing series E, of course.

    Then at six months, largely strip the Amazon gimmicks, and go worldwide with this series D.

    Is this a useful or a pointkess idea?


    • dwsmith

      If you have them all under the same name, you are getting close at 15. At this point, besides writing more, start making sure you know how to write a blurb, have a great web site, know how to do covers that fit genre, and so on.

      As for your question, nope, won’t do a lick of good. The readers inside KU are free readers and studies have shown they stay inside that system, and why shouldn’t they since they get all their books for free. So doing anything in there won’t help your larger scale at all, which is why KU authors find it so difficult to leave that free system. Readers don’t follow.

      In old traditional world, this was called the “bargain bin” or “remainder” sales channels. I had a number of books I wrote over the decades that were never intended to be outside the remainder channels, and actually sold pretty well. But readers seldom cross over, if ever. So the answer to your question is nope. But if you can’t withstand the pressure from indie writers to give KU a try, do so quickly before the entire thing shuts down.

      • David

        Great explanation. Not really a plan per se, just “advice” I was stewing over from a different school. Thank you, kind sir.

      • Chong Go

        > I had a number of books I wrote over the decades that were never intended to be outside the remainder channels

        Can you talk more about this? It sounds like a “straight to video” type thing, but I’ve never heard of it. There were (are?) publishing channels that aimed at this market as their first choice? I know of bookstores that live off of remaindered books, but I thought those were all books that simply didn’t sell fast enough through regular channels.

  • J.A. Marlow

    As you said, each person needs to do this for themselves. For me, I don’t have as many long novels. They are mostly medium or short novels, and the price points reflect that. For kicks and grins I created a very simple spreadsheet for this using an average of what my books are sold at. I also did scales of what I would like to make each year, with the first level being the minimum it takes to survive, and then increments going up to the full $50k per year. I also did scales on how many books are available to get the number of books needing to be sold per month.

    It was very interesting and the numbers are doable. Especially once I have more quantity of longer works out. If I ever have time and want to just have fun with it, I might expand it to be more specific to the point of accounting for how much of a percentage is at each price point.

    We’ll see. The WIBBOW thing would definitely come into play there. 😛