One Author’s Debut Year: Indie Income versus Expenses


one million dollarsThe Rest of the Story

Yesterday, I blogged about my sales and income as a traditionally published author versus an indie author for the SAME book in two different years. In 2013, my time-travel romance Wishing for a Highlander was for sale through a small traditional press. In 2014, I got my rights back and published it myself.

Go here for some pretty charts that show my 2013 & 2014 sales and royalties for Wishing.

The take-away message is that as an independently-published book, Wishing earned me a higher royalty per unit sold than it did as a traditionally-published book. Another benefit of indie publishing was that I was able to lower the price of the book for readers. This is probably the biggest fctor contributing to my selling more copies of Wishing in 2014 than in 2013.

Yesterday I reported my sales and income for Wishing as follows:
Total units sold in 2013 (traditional pub): 3,699
Total units sold in 2014 (self pub): 13,929

Total royalty earned in 2013: $5,139.69
Total royalty earned in 2014: $21,827.29


That’s only part of the story. Today, I’ll discuss taxes and writing expenses as well as my earnings on the other 5 releases I celebrated in 2014.

Total Writing Income for 2014

Yesterday, I posted what my bestselling book, Wishing for a Highlander made me in 2014, but that’s just one of several releases I had last year. Here’s the list of what I released and when:

Wishing for a Highlander (Feb 2014)
Reckless (March 2014)
The Wolf and the Highlander (April 2014)
Passionate Kisses Boxed Set (Reckless, June 2014)
Jade’s Spirit (August 2014)
Cole in My Stocking (October 2014)

Whew! I’m tired just looking at that. This production schedule was possible because I had four books already written at the start of 2014. Two had already been published with the small press I was with. The other two were contracted for release with that press when they changed hands and offered authors the chance to take their rights back.

When I got my rights back on Wishing, I got them back for all four books. Therefore, publishing them all was simply a matter of planning out the release schedule and promo, plus edits on the two contracted-but-not-previously-published books.

In the midst of all that, I managed to write one book, my holiday contemporary romance Cole in My Stocking.

There’s no way I can be a wife, mom, and writer and manage to release 5 full length novels plus a boxed set every year. I’m hoping for two books a year, at least while my kids are small.

So, what did 5 books plus a boxed set earn me in 2014?


Obviously, Wishing for a Highlander was by FAR my biggest source of income. It brought in 79% of my total writing income for the year.

It would be cool to look at a pie chart of how much of that income came from the other books, but it would take me a full week to tease that information out of my retailer statements. (It took about a day to do just Wishing!) I would much rather be writing my third Highland Wishes novel!

An easier chart to compile is one that shows units sold. This first one is kind of like my Units Sold chart from yesterday, except it shows units of all my books, including the boxed set. The different colors within each column represent different books.

2014 Units Sold_Column

Clearly, the boxed set was my biggest seller in terms of units. This doesn’t translate into royalties for a couple reasons. First, the boxed set of 10 novels (all contemporary romance) sold for $0.99. Split 10 ways, that’s $0.09 per sale… IF the retailer doesn’t get paid. But they do, and that cut varies by retailer.

Second is the royalty rate per retailer. Amazon is by far the biggest seller of the Passionate Kisses Boxed Set. If you sell any ebook on Amazon for under $2.99, your royalty is only 35% (Pricing your ebook between $2.99 and $9.99 will get you a royalty rate of 70%).

In other words, before the royalty is split 10 ways, Amazon takes their 65% cut. The result is a whopping royalty per author of $0.03. Compare that to the roughly $2.68 per sale I get for Wishing, and you can see why 80,000 boxed set sales netted me a mere fraction of what Wishing netted.

You can’t really infer percentage income from this chart, but it gives you an idea of the kind of exposure a boxed set can give an author. The point of a boxed set is exposure, not to get rich. 🙂

For those of you who like a good pie chart, here’s what those sales look like:

2014 Units Sold_Pie

I wonder how many calories those nearly invisible slices are? LOL!

Yeah, so my contemporaries don’t do nearly as well as the Highlander books. This kind of info helps me prioritize my writing. I have lots of contemporary ideas, but until I release at least two more Highlander books, I’m focusing on kilts and time-travel.

All right, so now we have a more complete financial picture of my debut indie year. But we’re still missing two big things.

Up next…


For those of you who have been around the writing industry, it comes as no surprise that you have to pay taxes on what you earn. Publishers don’t typically withold for taxes. Mine didn’t, when I was with a small press.

For writers coming at this industry from other fields (like me), it might be a shock that first year you have to pay the tax man. Intellectually, I knew I would have to pay taxes, but I was so used to not seeing that happen or not paying attention to it that the size of that number the first year was a bit hard to swallow.

When I first started publishing books, I heard an easy (& depressing) rule of thumb: Put aside a third of what you make for taxes.

Thanks to deductions I made in 2013 for writing expenses, I paid Uncle Sam closer to a fifth of my earnings. What will the percentage be this year? Don’t know yet. Haven’t done my taxes yet. I’m hoping that because of writing expense deductions, it won’t be too painful. I doubt I’ll pay a full third of what I earned in taxes. But just to be safe, I’ve designated a full third toward that end, which brings my roughly $27 k in writing earnings down to 18 k. That’s sobering, no?

On to the topic I had several commenters ask about yesterday…


It gets worse. That 18 k left over after taxes is not all profit. Oh, no. A significant portion went right back into writing expenses.

I begin a new spreadsheet at the start of each year specifically to track writing expenses. This not only makes it easy to do up a chart like the nifty one below, but it also provides a certain amount of comfort going into tax season. In addition to my spreadsheet, I have a folder in my email program for receipts and other documentation of expenses paid. If I get audited, I just open that folder and print everything out.

My total writing expenses for 2014: $5,881.93

Here’s a chart to show the breakdown by category:

2014 Writing Expenses_PieThe largest expense was advertising and marketing. Included in this category: internet ads, ad design, print ads, FB boosts, FB ads, BookBub, and other similar promotions (ebook Soda, ENT, etc.).

Next is cover design. Then editing. Then ISBNs & business license expenses. This category isn’t mandatory. For me, it was what I wanted to do. Then giveaways, copyrights, & website/supplies.

In 2013, I had to purchase a new laptop. A big purchase like that would drastically change a chart like this. From year to year, it’s going to look different.

For example, I’ve learned that print ads don’t have much of an immediate effect. That’s my nice way of putting what happened to me. I won’t mention the magazine here, but I paid $1300 for a print ad in a review publication, and they ran the ad directly below a one-star review for my holiday romance, Cole in My Stocking. A side note, Cole has nothing but 5-star reviews on Amazon. So the reviewer does not seem to have a finger on the pulse of what readers want. ‘Nuff said.

Another thing I learned: In comparison to paid ads, giveaways are an economical way to get your name out there and maybe find some new readers.

I’m glad I’ve spent a good chunk on covers. If you can do covers yourself, awesome. My talents lie elsewhere. Thank you Kim Killion for your beautiful cover art!

The Big Picture

When you take into account taxes & expenses, my $27 k writing income translates to the following take-home amount:

Total earnings: $27,487.18
Minus up to 1/3 for taxes (safe estimate): $27,487.18 – $9,162.39 = $18,324.79
Minus writing expenses: $18,324.79 – $5881.93 = $12,442.86

What Does This Mean for Other Authors?

Hopefully, you find some encouragement/guidance/validation here. Have I done everything the smartest way possible? Probably not. Have I had fun? Yeah.

All in all, I’ve had a good debut year, but I hope this is just the beginning of a profitable writing career. Taking home $12 k doesn’t exactly translate to a liveable wage. Writer earnings is the most discouraging aspect of this business to me. I’ve worked super hard this year, but if I had worked full time at a fast-food restaurant, I would have made more, plus I could have gotten benefits!

But I would have missed out on like 90% of the cute things my little guy at home said while I fetch him snacks, potty train him, and drive all over town looking for ways to entertain him. It’s all about trade-off. Could I make more doing what I went to school for? Heck yeah. But writing is better. For so many reasons, it’s better.

One of the take-home messages I hope to leave you with is: it takes time to build up an audience. Jessi Gage has only been around for 2 years. What will my sales look like after 5? 10? 30? I’m looking forward to finding out!

PK2_cover_full sizeWhat about you? If you’re an indie author, is your experience similar in some respects? Do you think I’m a moron for spending so much on advertising? Did anything in this post surprise you? I love comments!

Thank you for reading! And don’t forget to SHARE using the buttons below!

Also, don’t miss your chance to preorder Passionate Kisses 2 Boxed Set: Love in Bloom for just $0.99! Preorders are open right now! Release date will be Feb 17th!

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About Jessi Gage

USA Today Bestselling Author Jessi Gage is addicted to happy-ever-after endings. She counts herself blessed because she gets to live her own HEA with her husband and children in the Seattle area. Jessi has the attention span of a gnat…unless there is a romance novel in her hands. In that case, you might need a bullhorn to get her to notice you. She writes what she loves to read: stories about love. Leave a comment to introduce yourself! There is no better motivation to finish her latest writing project than a note from a happy reader! Don't forget to sign up for Jessi’s newsletter so you’ll never miss a new release. Thanks for visiting!
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13 Responses to One Author’s Debut Year: Indie Income versus Expenses

  1. Mae Clair says:

    Congrats on all your success, Jessi. Your writing career is off to a wonderful start!

  2. PJ Sharon says:

    Great info, Jessi. Thanks for sharing. Be happy that you’re still in the black, LOL. I made money my first two years indie publishing, but actually lost money this year. Production costs went up for me and I spent a lot less time and money on advertising and promoting while writing two books and producing a box set. It’s a tough balancing act, for sure! Best of luck!

    • Jessi Gage says:

      I’m learning that balancing act, myself, PJ. It seems I can get really into writing or I get really into production, but doing both at the same time is tough. I’m hoping 2015 is a year of being able to focus more on writing! Best of luck to you too!

  3. Carol Scarr says:

    Jessi, thanks for the info, especially regarding the expenses. It’s shocking how much that whittles down the income! One thing I’m confused about, however, is your claim that Wishing earned you $2.68 per unit when you published it yourself. The numbers you gave are:

    Total units sold in 2013 (traditional pub): 3,699
    Total units sold in 2014 (self pub): 13,929

    Total royalty earned in 2013: $5,139.69
    Total royalty earned in 2014: $21,827.29

    When I divide earnings by units, I only come up with $1.57 per unit in 2014, compared to $1.38 for 2013… Taking away your expenses, it would seem you earned LESS per unit publishing yourself than through the small press. What am I missing?

    • Jessi Gage says:

      I should have specified that $2.68 per unit of wishing was my take from Amazon. Other retailers, like B&N & Nook take a higher cut, leaving me with less royalty.

      Then there was the BookBub ad. During that promotion, I only earned $0.30 per unit because (1) wishing was on sale for $0.99 and when your unit price dips below $2.99, Amazon changes the royalty rate on you. You go from a 70% royalty to a 35% royalty. I sold about 5000 books with that promotion, which is a good chunk of my yearly sales. So that affects my average royalty a lot.

      In the end, there are a lot of factors that figure in, so yes, doing a quick division would result in earning less per indie book than a traditionally published book over the course of a year when there is a sale and a BookBub ad if the traditional press didn’t do such promotions/sales for the author. But again, the price was different between small press and indie, so it’s hard to make a completely direct comparison.

      I should have given the caveat that in general, when the book sold at full-price, it made way more per unit as an indie book than as a traditionally published book. Thanks for keeping me honest!

      Sorry for the confusion!

      Thanks for visiting!

  4. I’m a brand new author (my first contemporary romance was published in September with a small epublishing house) and I had to comment. I’ve been discouraged by lackluster sales and the uncertainty of inexperience when it comes to what, if anything, to do about it. Your clear, detailed post (as well as “One Indie Author’s Debut Year Income”) has given me more useful information and suggestions for how to proceed then you can possibly image. Thank you! And much continued success!!!

    • Jessi Gage says:

      Thank you Dawn! Boy. Contemporary is tough right now. Did you see the tiny slices of my pie chart that represent units sold of my contemporaries? Even an author who is a bestseller in one genre cans struggle in another.

      You’ll meet with different advice about dividing your penname and writing in several categories. There are some authors who do it successfully. Personally, I only want to write what I WANT to write. I would hate being on deadline to produce 4 Highlander books a year, which would likely be what I would face as a large-press traditionally published author. It’s nice to be indie and have the time to indulge my contemporary-cum-paranormal side. But knowing they won’t sell like gangbusters helps me keep my contemporary writing in perspective.

      Keep your chin up and keep writing what you love. Think about promotions, but know that BookBub is super selective. After accepting Wishing, they then turned down Wolf (Highland Wishes #2) and Reckless, my first contemporary. I had even said I would make Reckless free for the promotion. They still turned it down.

      BookBub is by far the best marketing tool I’ve used, but it’s so hard to get a spot. Backlist will be key. Giveaways seem economical. You could also think about a boxed set once you have several contemporaries that have a similar theme or series. All those things will help with exposure and get you on the “also boughts.”

      Best of luck to you!

  5. J. C. Conway says:

    Reblogged this on Flash of Romance and commented:
    Part Two of Jessi Gage’s insightful January analysis.

  6. Vivien Reis says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your earnings! It’s so hard to find any numbers like this anywhere. I’m in the process of writing a novel and have been anxiously looking forward to self-publishing it. It’s nice that you broke down your take home from your total royalty…good numbers to stay realistic in my endeavors!

  7. Pingback: What Indie Means to Me | Jessi Gage…A Time to Love

  8. I second what so many have already said. Thank you for the transparent information and your willingness to share! I’m looking to launch my first contemporary in October and I have theorized possible income but it wasn’t the complete picture that I now have. Thank you!!

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