Business Models for Indie Authors

Great article that defines many of the business models that self pubbed writers are using.


oooh thank you <3

I’d figured I need to go the traditional route if possible, just because I don’t have the time with the day job and general life to devote the time necessary to get really good at the indie game, but the more I learn, the more appealing indie/self-pub is getting.


You’re a queen for sharing this :crown:


Thanks for sharing.

What struck me was that none of the models - except maybe #2 - are really “write such good books that you can make a living income from that alone”. They are all of the the flavor: write books and do something else to make money. It’s not clear which is supplementing which. Maybe it’s a realistic view, but it is not an altogether encouraging one :slight_smile:

Possibly so few indie authors actually do earn a living income just from writing that this blogger dismisses them as “not a model, but a fluke”.

But I think a realistic one is missing from the list: the indie author who (a) puts the effort in to produce a trad-competitive product, and (b) tackles enough of the rest of the process to become, not just an indie author, but an indie publisher. I.e. print, shipping, web site, marketing, social media, reader engagement, getting reviews, etc. Not writing + something different on the side, but writing + independent publishing.

In other words, the model I most expect to see from the organization the blogger writes for is not there.

Her model No. 1: “Authors employing this business model are writing in a popular genre, usually fiction, writing fast and publishing often. Some authors employing this model publish only in ebook, do not own their own ISBNs and focus on publishing in ways deemed favorable to the Amazon algorithm.”

This is interesting in a couple of ways.

  1. I’m not sure fiction is correct. Strikes me that the authors having most success are writing non-fiction, esp. self-help and ‘how to’ books.

  2. This one is also a bit scary because it’s the model most amenable to automation - and Amazon is doesn’t mind.

There’s at least one ‘author’ active on Amazon who had over 100,000 books on the site, all computer-generated. Many have prices like 999.99. And this ‘author’ gets enough sales to make it a lucrative business. There was another who made money selling hundreds of thousands of Wikipedia pages. He got shut down eventually. Others make money re-selling other authors’ novels (without permission), or non-copyright classics, or blogs packaged as books. Some aren’t shut down for years. Some make hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Amazon’s algorithms like them as much as legit authors - so long as they satisfy the only criterion that matters: MAMM (make Amazon the most money).

The automated author: it’s a real business model, and there are people practicing it on Amazon now. Makes you wonder whether in 20 years, there’ll be space on the virtual shelves for books written by mere humans.

I think the number of people who have made any money at this are statistically incredibly low. Yes, they get attention becuase what they are doing is wrong. But I think there may be less than 10 out of hundreds of thousands of legitimate self-publishers who have made anything.

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Yes, no disagreement about the numbers. But history tells us that technological innovations have little impact at the very start, then a ‘vertical exponential’ phase, then a maturity phase. Typical curve below.

AI-authors are at the start. They don’t look “legitimate” today. But the average forecast among AI researchers is that in 30 years or so, novels authored by AIs will be as enjoyable as, and indistinguishable from, novels authored by NYT bestselling authors today - though of course the researchers cannot predict the taste for entertainment on that time scale. For example, it’s possible that what we call a novel today will not be a significant entertainment by then.

Meanwhile, innovating author enterprises will adopt the new tools as they come. So, while a very few novelists are using AI-aided writing today, more and more will. This is no different than the development of ‘factory’ authors who use cheap offshore labor to pump out scads of formula Romances or self-help books. There are more than 10 of them making money on Amazon - maybe hundreds. Or the James Patterson production line, which some in these forums call ‘fake’ but I would call ‘studio production’.

As for Amazon - I know enough Amazon people and innovators of their ilk to say with confidence that they see as legitimate whatever maximizes their $ without breaking the law. If fiction authored with the help of AIs or entirely by AIs begins to push others from the top earner spots, they will consider it 100% legitimate, because earning power is their definition of legitimacy. Nothing special about Amazon in that regard, of course. The same can probably be said for the Big 5 publishers.


Pop back 20 years and substitute self publishers for AI in your argument. “Makes you wonder whether in 20 years, there’ll be space on the virtual shelves for books written by traditional writers.”

The virtual shelves are unlimited. Ultimately, the books that rise to the top are the ones that people have found and want to read. AI is just another type of writer in the bunch.

I see no reason to believe that AI will write better stories than humans. Oh, they may write some we want to read – may even write a lot. But I see no reason that they will force out human writers, especially of novels.

The glut of shelves and difficulty in getting work read is happening NOW, and it certainly won’t be getting any better. That’s the real challenge to human writers, not competition from another sector.

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Yes, I agree. My point was not that AI writers are a threat in some way. My point was that this new business model (AI-assisted or AI-driven creation) is not less legitimate than others.

The only ‘business models’ being practiced by indie authors that are definitely not legitimate are the ones based on theft or fraud. And those guys aren’t authors anyway, so I guess that means there are no ‘illigitimate’ author business models, just successful and unsuccessful ones :wink:

I also agree about the glut on the shelves.

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