Author rank & realistic earning expectations

I was looking at my Amazon author rank today, not something I encourage anyone to do, but I have a new release out and sales are temporarily good and I had a moment of imagining myself bigger than I am. On my chart, you can see the spikes that represent new releases, but they don’t have as much effect as you’d think. My rank hangs out between 10K and 30K most of the time and right now it’s up close to that 10K mark.

10K sounds awful, like I’m nobody. There are people out there waving around the #1 Bestseller flag and I’m all “hi, I’m number 10,863, battling to make it to 10,700.” And that’s me having my best release ever.

But then I flipped it around. I’m number 10,863 out of how many? Millions, it must be, right? Lots of millions. That out of all authors, living and dead, in the whole world I’m even rankable is amazing. 10,863 has gotta be top 10%. Top 1% even. Maybe higher than that. I’m elite, baby!

Now let’s put my author rank in perspective from an earnings point of view. I remember reading once that only half of writers make more than $10,000 a year. I’m going to go ahead and be transparent about my earnings here—that’s how much I expect to make this year. It’s my goal, and I’m running behind right now, but this will be a good month and I’m hoping October will be too, so I might end the year right at that number. So to be in the “half” of writers who earn $10,000, you need to spend a year ranked between 10K and 30K, closer to 10 than 30.

Something’s wrong with the math, right? If an author rank of 10K puts me in the top 1% of authors Amazon is tracking (and I wish I knew how many there are but I’ve been as low as 300K and was still making more than $0, so I know it goes lower than that), then how am I just barely earning what supposedly half of writers earn?

Mind you, author rank compares sales, not income, so a person could be selling the same number of books I am for $12.99 instead of $2.99 and making a whole lot more, but they could also be spending 80% of what they earn on advertising or splitting their income with a publisher and an agent. So I realize this isn’t a strictly scientific comparison, but I think it’s helpful for setting expectations.

When they say 50% of writers are making more than $10,000 a year, they’re obviously not including all writers. They’re not including the people who wrote one book a few years ago or dead people (bearing in mind that some dead people are making a lot of money despite their deadness). They’re including people who answered a survey , which means that they’re alive and still writing and probably pretty keyed in to the industry and working hard at it.

So the realistic expectation is that if you keep writing and keep publishing (this is year 3 for me, and it’ll end with me having 18 works of various lengths published), then you too can achieve the earnings potential of the average writer. Good luck with that.

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