The first quarter I sent my writing out into the world as a self-publisher, I earned zero dollars. $0.00.
This did not disturb me, since all my offerings were free, and people rarely chase you down and force you to take money from them.
The second quarter, I added a couple non-free titles. I netted $15.50 (USD).
This does not mean that I only sold that many books. Due to the vagaries of the accounting departments at the various ebook retailers and the distributor I use (Smashwords), I realized it was virtually impossible to tidily put sales into a real-time quarterly perspective (not, at least, until months afterwards) and so I determined to just go by the quarterly statements I am given and not obsess over who bought what when and from where.
The third quarter, just past, saw me earn $63.52.
For those keeping track at home, that's almost exactly a four-fold increase. If my sales increase four-fold every quarter, then this next quarter I can expect about $254.
So far in this, my fourth indie quarter, I'm up to $119 (give or take, exchange rates being what they are), and still have two months to go. And as I've just released a few more titles into the wild, with more to come, I don't see meeting my four-fold target as much of an issue, this quarter at least.
Of course, after that, it all gets a little more dubious. If the four-fold increases held up, I'd be writing this blog from my (undisclosed location) early retirement home in less than 2 years. Somehow I don't see that happening.
So what are some realistic sales targets? I've already talked about The Minimum, the idea of making minimum wage as an indie writer, and what it would take. That's one. But there's another, more easily attained goal, that I like to think of as 'the break point'. Half of the self-published crowd never make more than $500 in their careers, apparently. If you can earn more than $500 with your writing, you're literally more financially successful than half the independent writers out there.
Now, this idea is chock full of problems and issues. Many people don't write for money. Many more haven't earned their $500 yet, but with infinite shelf space and forever to find an audience, this arbitrary $500 mark doesn't actually mean much at all. It's just a snapshot, and not nearly the reality check I believe the writer intended it to be. But it's a goal, arbitrary or otherwise. If you add in my royalties from Random House, I've already passed it, of course- but I don't count Random House, just as I don't bother to count the pittance I have so far earned from Amazon.
Okay, I had to check Amazon. $38.26 from March, 2011 through June, 2012. This doesn't count sales of Thagoth, though, as Random House did the collection for that one (and still hasn't sent me the last royalty statement).
So. Yes. A rambly lunchtime blog post to, I suspect, clarify my own thinking more than inform/amuse you, Dear Reader. Sorry about that.
What to take away from all this? I'm really, really hoping that sales continue to increase four-fold. If they do, I promise I will invite you to my early retirement bash in 2014.