How Many Books Does an Indie Author Sell?



If you self-publish a book, how many copies should you expect to sell?

To me, this number is much higher than many of the popular numbers floating around. I will try to explain why I believe this.

The most popular estimate to throw around may be 100 books. Not per month. Not per year. Ever.

Other popular estimates are somewhere between 300 and 700.

I believe that any committed author should expect to sell much more than this in the long run, and I also believe that most committed authors either do or will.


There are many ways to estimate the average number of books that an indie author sells by analyzing data that’s available.

You could study Amazon sales ranks, both Kindle and print. Sales rank interpretation, though, isn’t quite as easy as it seems. There are seasonal effects; as the number of books grows, books with higher sales ranks sell more frequently than they used to; Amazon often changes the algorithm, etc. Still, this can give you a general estimate that will be in the ballpark.

Then there comes the issue of which books are indie books? There are various ways to do this, such as that used for the Author Earnings report.

But those are just Amazon sales. Many authors are getting sales from Nook, Kobo, Smashwords, and other online retailers. Many are selling in bookstores. Others sell effectively in person, such as at conferences, readings, signings, etc. These numbers are significant, especially for the many indie authors who effectively market their books through other sales channels.

So the first thing to realize is that there are hidden sales that many of the estimates don’t consider.

There are other ways to go about estimating indie book sales, but no matter what, it’s hard to account for direct sales, which are significant for some authors, so there will always be hidden numbers.

The hidden sales aren’t what I wish to focus on, however.


Let’s look at this word ‘average’ in the context of:

How many copies will the average self-published book sell?

To me, it’s not useful to average ALL self-published books.

Include all self-published books if you wish to pat yourself on the back for beating that number, or if you wish to discourage authors from self-publishing.

If I wish to set a good benchmark to aim for, there are many books that I would exclude from the list:

  • Many book ideas, unfortunately, have very little potential no matter how well they are carried out. There are just some topics that some people don’t want to read. Do you really wish to compare yourself to a genealogy intended for family members, for example? It’s not just genealogy. There are many kinds of books that are popular to write, but can’t be expected to have much audience. (At least the genealogies may sell to family members.)
  • How about those ‘authors’—if you can call them that—who view writing as a get-rich-quick-with-little-effort scheme, publishing pamphlets. Is this a realistic comparison?
  • Even many ‘real’ writers have published experiments, such as short stories and novellas, putting little effort into the book, hoping to learn something from the sales (or probable lack thereof). Surely, this shouldn’t be factored into setting a benchmark.
  • Then there are books with major issues with the storyline, plot, characterization, spelling, punctuation, grammar, flow, writing style, formatting, etc.—I’m thinking of those so drastic as to greatly deter sales.
  • Suppose that you have a fantastic cover. Should you compare your book to those whose covers convey the wrong genre? It seems like other books that clearly signify the content would provide better expectations.
  • Similarly, if you have some great marketing plans or prior marketing experience, should you compare yourself to all the newbie authors who do virtually no marketing, or whose marketing makes very little impact?
  • Are you a committed author, planning to create several quality books? Then don’t look at the one-book wonders (i.e. an author only wrote a single book) for your basis.
  • We can come up with other books that you might wish to remove from the ‘average.’

Do you want to compare your sales to those books? If not, you might also wish to exclude these from the ‘average.’

Think of it this way. Suppose your dream is to be a professional baseball player, and you’re motivated to work so hard that you’ll settle for nothing less than the major leagues. Do you want to know what the average professional baseball player makes, including minor leaguers? Or do you want to know what the average major league player makes?

(For the record, I don’t view traditional publishing as the major leagues and indie publishing as the minor leagues. I see many successful pros in the indie league, and I see many pros playing both leagues.)

If you remove all those books from the ‘average,’ I believe that you’ll find that the average indie author makes MUCH more than $1000.

If you want to look at the cream of the crop, if you want to confine yourself to Amazon, for example, you should be looking at author ranks of about 10,000 or less. I’ll return to this figure later.


There is yet another important point to consider.

Most successful self-published authors write several books.

So if you want to know what an indie author makes, that’s far different from looking at what a typical indie book makes.

First of all, authors who write several similar books sell many more copies of each book than authors who just publish one book.

Then, whatever they make per book, multiply that by the total number of books, which may be 5 or 10, but is often 20, 30, 50, or more.

This opens the door for many authors who only make $500 per book. Publish 20 books and you make $10,000. Plus, every book you publish helps generate sales for your other books.

Multi-book authors tend to do more effective marketing. It’s simple, really. Whatever marketing they do has the potential to bring dozens of sales from a single customer, instead of just one.

Series authors have a marketing advantage, too.


In May of 2014, an author rank fluctuating between 5,000 and 10,000 would have sold 1,000 or more books for that month. I know this from author ranks that I’ve studied firsthand, and I’ve also discussed this figure with other successful authors.

On top of this, there are several authors with mild success writing in two or more names (using pen names). So, for example, an author can have two or more author names with an author rank of 20,000 or better, and may still be selling 1,000 books per month.

At a modest $2 royalty, which many indie authors make, you only need to sell 500 books to make $1,000 per month, which is $10,000 per year if you can do it consistently.

Personally, I think all committed authors should aim for an author rank of 10,000 or less—not just to get there, but to sustain it long-term.

Let me stress the long-term part. It could be several years down the line. I’ll give you another goal to work on first, in the next section.

Of course, the number of published books and authors is growing rapidly. Not too far in the distant future, an author rank of 20,000 or higher will yield sales of 1,000 or more books per month. As the number of books grows, it’s worth adjusting one’s aim to 20,000 or more, as appropriate.


Most authors aren’t going to achieve success right off the bat, and even those who do struggle to maintain that success.

The way to sell 1,000 books per month is to first sell 100 books per month. Set attainable goals first, then increase these goals when you reach them. After 100 per month, aim for 200 per month, then 500 per month, and then you can finally aim for 1,000 per month.

It takes time, thought, research, inspiration, and some talent to produce quality content.

One book usually isn’t enough in modern times. It takes a great deal of time to produce a half dozen or more quality, marketable products.

It takes time to develop a professional online platform. It takes time to learn effective marketing strategies. And the marketing tends to be more effective when you have more books worth marketing.

Plan for long-term success.

Think 100 books when you start out. No, don’t expect this in Month 1. It might take a year, or a few years. But keep working to get to 100 books per month. Then you can start thinking about higher goals. It may take many years to reach long-term success. Think long-term, as it’s within your reach.

If you expect immediate results, you’re likely to be one of the many authors who get discouraged and give up prematurely.

At the same time, you need to get good evaluations of your writing style and storytelling, and you need to research what makes a book marketable. Not every book sells, so if you want to be a successful author, you need to ensure that you’re writing books with good long-term potential.


People like to throw out small numbers for how well the average indie book sells.

As I mentioned, I believe the average committed indie author makes much more than this figure.

But the truth is that the average traditionally published book doesn’t sell much either.

You’d hope to easily sell 10,000. You dream about 50,000, 100,000, or 1,000,000.

But very many don’t sell 1,000. Just being traditionally published doesn’t make the book marketable or in-demand.

However, we could similarly throw out the lowest-selling traditionally published books for various reasons, just as I did for indie books. If you have a large following or great marketing plans—perhaps a killer publicist who will surely book major league interviews and land great reviews—then you wouldn’t compare yourself to the average traditionally published author.

The biggest-name traditionally published books do sell with amazing sales frequencies.

Indie books do take up a large share of the market, especially among e-books, but for the top authors, traditional publishing offers great bookstore potential, and also reaches those customers who still prefer traditionally published books.

Famous traditionally published authors could surely self-publish and still be highly successful, perhaps more so:

  • Already famous, surely much of their fan base would still support them.
  • They can safely invest in professional editing, formatting, and cover design, so these really aren’t issues.
  • They are more likely to get a return on reasonable marketing expenses, too.
  • They can earn upwards of 70% royalties, rather than settling for 10 to 15%.
  • They can price their books lower than many traditional publishers would allow, which may actually improve both sales and royalties, and also allows them to reach a wider audience.
  • Now let me ask you this. Suppose you’re one of the most famous authors on the planet and you choose to self-publish. Are bookstores really going to close their doors to you and force your customers to buy online instead?

In fact, a few prominent traditionally published authors have made the switch.

Some authors also self-publish in pen names in addition to publishing traditionally. Perhaps they write more books than traditional publishers can accommodate. Or perhaps they want to prove to themselves that they could make it as indie authors, too.

I believe that many of the big-name authors from the past who succeeded as traditionally published authors could also thrive in today’s market as indie authors if they had been writers in today’s world instead. Not all would, of course, but those with a unique style and those who could really dazzle readers, wouldn’t they also thrive in today’s world, even as indie authors? Perhaps not all of the classics, especially literary works, but think about the more accessible reads, master storytellers (not literary wonders) that anyone can appreciate. I believe if they were really committed to indie publishing, they would thrive.

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2014 Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.


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35 comments on “How Many Books Does an Indie Author Sell?

  1. It’s interesting that you talk about author rankings Chris, when they are constantly changing, day by day, hour by hour. Currently (today, 08/30/2014) my ranking is at 150,000 and yet my sales remain at the same level they have always been, ensuring I receive a healthy royalty payment each month.
    So you see, unlike you, I don’t hold much store by ‘rankings’ of any kind. Nor do many of the writers I am acquainted with come to that. Sales are what matters Chris, not statistics.🙂

    • Well, I love writing, but I also love statistics, and so I’m dazzled by the mysteries of Amazon.🙂

      It’s interesting that you mention 150,000. That particular sales rank is really fascinating (as you’ve seen).

  2. Great post Chris…
    In the beginning “of writing and publishing” on Earth, I did not realize that poetry was not as appreciated by others as it was myself. Once I realized this fact I begin to write for myself, what moved me emotionally and if they sold, great. Well, my sales in poetry needed to be for self satisfaction as within the past two years I did not make enough to pay for a good bottle of wine. With that being said, you are right about advertising on your blog, no one cares this does not sale books either. So, I have given up publishing any poetry books, although I do occasionally write poetry when the mood hits. I am working a another genre, I will see how it does out there in market land. My thoughts is that if it does not sell as self published on Amazon then there is no need to pay for marketing. I do enjoy your post, they have given me information that I feel is valuable to my writing. Although I still throw an Amazon book at the bottom of many of my post…at the bottom as not to offend those who hate this type of advertising. Good luck to you and have a great weekend. Ann

    • Unfortunately, books of poetry aren’t the easiest to market. There is no shortage of excellent poetry from the past, and since other poetry enthusiasts are likely to be familiar with those, reading such books makes for great discussion potential. It is possible for modern poets to grow a large fan base and also sell their books, but it’s far more challenging than marketing a novel. Another problems is that there are very many styles of poetry, so when customers are looking for poetry, they often seek something specific. From the poetry I read here at WordPress, it’s clear that the number of highly talented poets is very large.

      I’ve actually purchased and read a few poetry collections by WordPress authors. Oddly, sometimes authors post incredible poetry on WordPress, but don’t always make the best decisions about what may be more marketable in a book.

      Price is a factor with poetry, too. Poems inherently read better on printed pages. They’re very challenging to format for readability across all devices. When people read on cell phone, or increase the font size on small screens, lines often get split at strange points, whereas it’s important for a single ‘line’ from a poem to appear as one line. On the other hand, e-books can make poetry so much more affordable, so it’s not such a big risk to try a new author.

      I have seen some authors who have mildly popular novels generate a little sales of poetry from their growing fan base. I myself have purchased poetry collections by authors whose novels I enjoyed. Good luck with your books.🙂

      • Thank you for taking time to give me your opinion as to my work. Yes the great masters of poetry…their works adorn my home. And poets like myself need to know when to give up and people of your persuasion give us reason to do so. Gook luck with your Blog. ajm

    • Of course, my comments were solely on the difficulty of marketing modern poetry, (just about) no matter how good the poetry is. I’ve enjoyed poems on your blog.🙂 It’s just that if I had to market a good novel or amazing poems, the good novel may be the easier task.

      I would advise you to continue writing poetry if you enjoy it, but if you’re looking for sales and a wider audience, a novel (especially, certain genres) may offer better prospects. It might even prove helpful for getting your poems more attention.

      Sales also aren’t the main goal of every writer, and many of the other reasons for writing are quite valuable (even for writing books that aren’t as easy to sell).

  3. Excellent post. Key words – “committed author.” My first two indie-published books sold 10,000 copies each, and I believe my online social media presence and previous publishing credits helped me a great deal – not to many two business partners (one of which is a marketing expert). I definitely believe quality AND quantity of books are the two main ingredients for success as an indie author.

  4. Great post – as usual. I think a big factor playing into the part is the amount of material out there. So much too read and so few people to read it. If you can manage 100 sales then you are probably lucky. I am just now learning about formatting, covers, social media, all of that factors into sales as well.

  5. Found you on Google search, though I’m a fellow WP blogger (very new). I published my first indy book three weeks ago – health, non-fiction – and I had NO idea how many sales to expect. I’ve pushed with Twitter, my new blog and very supportive family and friends but it’s been a slow start, to put it mildly. You article has given me a frame of reference and it’s quite reassuring. I could easily have become an early quitter. Do you think it is possible for anyone to earn their living as a writer these days? It seems like everyone is writing. Are we all just drowning each other out?

    • Congratulations on publishing your first book.🙂 I actually have met several authors who make enough to retire from (and some of them have). Almost all of them have published several books over the course of several months. I come across a rare author who finds early success or much success with a single book.

      Just publishing several books and persisting with writing and marketing doesn’t guarantee success, but not doing so virtually guarantees that an author won’t succeed.

      In part, you need quality content (multiple books) that an audience (it could be a small niche audience) will appreciate, you need to package (cover, blurb) it in such a way that it helps your target audience find it (really, it should attract them), and another important key is a marketing platform that will reach people in your target audience beyond friends, family, and your blog. For example, if you post a little content regularly that will attract your target audience through search engines, while this may be slow to develop, it has much potential in the long run.

      One important stat is that you can net steady sales (even if it’s a fairly low frequency), and that sales aren’t dropping off the map after 90 days. Any frequency that shows signs of lasting long-term is a good sign. Then you’re fairly confident that additional content will improve your long-term potential. Successful nonfiction authors had this in the beginning, often a small frequency, but saw this greatly accelerate after posting multiple books.

      Your most important blog stat for long-term potential is the number of visitors reaching your blog through search engines. If you’re getting any of those, by improving that number of the course of several months, you can eventually have 100+ people per day from your target audience discovering your website through search engines, i.e. people who didn’t know about your book before going there. Only a small percentage may then proceed to buy your book, but this can be substantial traffic in the long run. Think of and research other ways to help your target audience find you. Good luck with your book.

      • Thank you so much for this helpful reply. WP makes it easy to see where the blog traffic is coming from, and it seems to be Twitter at the moment with a few search-engine nibbles. Before reading your post, and reply, I had no frame of reference, so I was probably at risk of getting unduly disheartened. The prospect of writing a second book is a little daunting – but I’ll get over it! Thanks again.

  6. I’m sorry, but I would have to disagree to a certain point. I would have to go with that original estimate that most unknown authors, with no platform or following, will sell less than 100 copies in the life of the book. Now, I am talking unknown authors with no platform or following, not a high profile person. I am getting my opinion from the ranking of sales on Amazon regarding my own books. I have published nine books. Some by traditional means and some self-published. My experience has been, that it doesn’t matter which route, the result in amount of sales is the same. By breaking down a particular genre which gives me my target audience and demographic, I can pretty much see how many other books I am in competition with. For example…; if I type in, “Christian, teen, romance.” This brings up some 800 books in that category. My sales have been on average, two (2) sales per month. This includes both print and eBook. Yet when I look up that category by the “best seller” rank, my books consistently rank within the top 15-20. This tells me that my measly two books per month is doing better than 780 other books in that category. Meaning, everyone else is doing WORSE than me, and selling less than two books per month. Therefore, if the majority is selling on average only one (1) book per month, it would take nearly ten years to get 100 sales. And just to add, most books sales drop-off after the first few years after it’s published.
    I am telling you my experience because I have read many such articles which lists some high number of sales which I think are unrealistic. Of course there will always be the exception and might just write the next 50 Shades of Grey. But I find that so many authors are disappointed in their sales because their expectations are far too high.

    • You don’t need to apologize to disagree.🙂

      One problem I see with that analysis is that many books sell over 100 copies in the first 3 months and then drop off. So many of the books that you see aren’t selling in recent months already got there sales in the past. Similarly, some books that have yet to sell may pick up in the future if those authors learn and develop long-term marketing skills.

      I’ve published over 100 titles in multiple pen names, including unmarketed books, and only have a few that have yet to sell hundreds (if not many, many more) of copies. I myself have a title ranked in the high millions, not selling at all now, which sold over 100 copies in one week years ago.

      But you’re right about expectations, unless the author has done his/her homework, good planning, has sufficient content, learns packaging, and implements an effective long-term platform.

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  8. Thank you Chris. This was a very informative post.🙂
    I’ve just launched my first book a month ago and am a debut author with no social media following, I built it over the past year. I have found properly targeted Facebook ads to be very useful, as well as a well organised blog tour.
    My book The last of the Firedrakes, is #3 in children’s coming of age fantasy and #11 in children’s sword and sorcery. I’ve sold over 1000 books this month, and my sales ranking is 3,800 in the kindle store.
    I am very grateful for the wonderful response and I can hardly believe it. I just hope sales don’t drop, I agree with what you said about sustaining the ranking, it seems to be even more difficult.
    It has taken a lot of hard work, but you are absolutely right that you have to be committed and have a good quality product.
    So I don’t think inde authors should despair at all, it’s possible to do it. You just have to keep working at it.

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