I went to a writers' conference a few months ago, which was very encouraging.
About 8-10 indie authors were there for a discussion. None of the audience of about 100-150 had heard of any of them, but they said things like, I started 5 years ago with one book, we were living on food stamps, now I make enough to pay 3 assistants and my husband quit his job to be my manager. . .
Basically, they said if you produce good books and have a series that pulls people in, you can make a good living.
I'm gonna chime in here. I represent the present. I did publish one small book of analytical poetry back 20 yrs ago but that was then.
I have since published my first scifi novel here on 4/8/13. I haven't made 1200 bucks this year. But I did make 800! I find this shocking because I'm not a great writer. I work really hard at it because my vocabulary is limited and I'm not good with descriptions. I kept at it because I have all these stories in my head. I just published book two of my series and now the income has doubled. And let me say again, I'm not a great writer, but I do like to think my books have a unique storyline. So I'm the chump change you're talking about. But I don't see it that way. In my head, I'm seeing 10 or 20 novels and multiplying the numbers. So here's the really funny part - I'm not a great writer.
I honestly believe that if someone doesn't publish complete crap, they will make money at this. I'm not talking about a short story of 30 pages. My first book was 265 pages. I had to do a lot of editing. But if you have a great story and work your butt off at editing it will sell. It may be chump change to some, but it's currently paying my electric and water bill. I advertised the first month I published but haven't since then.
Is there gold in them thar hills? Yes, yes there is because I feel compelled to write. The story must be written and that is that the gold, for me anyways. Everything else that comes is just a bonus. And I must say that I feel rich!
I'm sure I'll feel differently after I've written ten more that possibly won't sell....lol.
I wrote my first book in 2009, my second in 2010. Neither did much, but I was just happy to have a book in my hands, and I appreciated the feedback. As far as royalties, I was no where close to the $1,200 figure mentioned. I wrote one more book in 2011, and that languished like the other two. Reviews were good, though, and I enjoyed the writing, so I didn't give up. I just didn't focus much effort in it.
Then in May 2012, my first book started gaining traction. Sales jumped up, and I changed the Kindle price from $0.99 to $2.99. In July of 2012, Amazon deposited royalties into my account! Not huge, but in the mid-three figures. Happy day!!!!! Rejuvenated, I got back to writing, doing two more volumes of my first book, making them into a trilogy. By November, I was making into the mid-four figures each month. I wrote another trilogy in the same genre and an historical fiction. The second trilogy is doing quite well, and the historical fiction is doing OK.
The businessman in me is telling me to get another in my genre out where I already have fan base. But I also write for my enjoyment. So I am back now to writing in one of the genres that I tried before that doesn't sell for me. Next in line is a hybrid between the other non-selling genre and my selling one. It will probably be too far out for my current fans, but I have the story bursting to get out.
My point for relating that is to show that for three years, I sold very few books. I wrote because I had to get the stories out, not to make money. It wasn't until after that that by luck I actually started selling and making some money. I let that drive the direction of my writing for the next two years, but now I am reverting back to telling the stories I need to tell, not the ones I necessarily think readers in any great numbers want to read.
Not knowing and not being able to explain, why a book takes off is probably the story of any bestseller. I had a good selling story on here in 2011. It baffled me as to why. I wonder if the algorithm has changed things very much? I'd like to hear from someone who's put a book out in 2013 or this year and say it took off mysteriously.
I released my first book in 2013 and its first month it sold 889 copies. the second month over 3k copies. At my peak I sold 7002 copies in one month. No whenever I publish a book I am almost assured that it will get in the top 1000 in overall ranking. My highest was rank #308 but one day I hope to top that.
You haven't tweaked, twittered, facebooked, or blogged anything? Mark Coker of Smashwords likes to talk about turning levers and dials. Everytime he says that, I imagine a book being in some sort of machine.
i tweet now and have a blog but I didn't make one until around April of 2013. Before I released my book I honestly didn't do anything nor anything for months to follow. I didn't have the money for marketing so I honestly when people ask me why my book sold I answer Luck.
Just chipping in here. I published my first book in August 2013. It was something I thought I might do one day, but after receiving a Kindle I started seriously thinking about it and off I went.
My overall aim was to sell 100 books. Because apparently, your lucky if your an Indie author and you sell 100 books. Lets just say that i'm now in four figures. I did a bit of promoting (twitter, facebook, etc), but I think that got lucky in that my book was linked well to 'books also bought'. I've also had some good reviews. Every little helps.
I'm now 2/3 of the way through book two.
I have nothing to compare my earnings so far to, but all in all I'm pleased with how things have gone. Sales do tend to drop and peak. The borrow rate is good.
I want to say thank you to everyone who replied to my long-winded query. The "chump change" remark on my initial posting was probably a bit out of bounds, especially since many responders seem to have a genuine love of writing. I always found writing to be bloody hard work, so I always looked for a payback commensurate with my sweat. Since I suspect that most Kindle indies would make a lot more money (by far) flipping hamburgers at the local fast food joint, money is obviously not everything for everyone. Also, KDP doesn't charge us anything to publish ourselves, so we at least don't lose money like so many writers did with vanity publishers over the years. Over all, I like what Kindle has done for me, but if I were writing tome after tome for years with little but chump change in return, I would definitely fill out an application at Taco Bell.
I don't promote, myself. It isn't a religion or anything like that, simply laziness on my part.
What I've found, and this will probably hold true for you as well, is that having new material frequently helps a lot. It takes time to build a fan base, and I'm not above the occasional gimmick or nifty trick, but what I've seen help sales most is simply putting out the new material.
Yes, it has to be good. Yes, there is luck involved.
I've also heard that it takes a minimum of five years to develop a real fan base. If that holds true, then I have three more years to go toward that end!
I'll probably get slammed with negatives but I am averaging about $3600 annually in royalties here on KDP. But I'm writing gay erotica so that's probably why I'm doing well. Lots of deeply closeted married men out there reading my smut on their smartphones. Also straight women apparently as well. Who knew?