2023 Income Sources

Here’s where my income came from in 2023. (For newcomers, I’ve done these posts for the last few years.)

I’m a writer. My income comes from writing books and making them available. I publish both independently and through publishers. I don’t consult. I don’t seek out speaking fees. I desire to make my living as an author, creating and licensing intellectual property. I make my books available in every channel that offers reasonable terms.

Whenever I share actual dollar figures, people inform me that I can’t possibly be making that much, or that I don’t deserve to make that much, or demand I share “the secret.” The first two are not worth my time, and I’ve been trying to tell everyone the dang secret for years: keep writing, with an attitude of deliberate practice. Nothing productive can come from such discussions, so I don’t say.

How did 2023 look?

My income was flat with 2022 and 2019. While the Great Locked Inside Reading Surge of 2020-2021 supplemented my emergency fund, my income is back at its baseline. I’d like more, sure, but I have achieved Enough. Not bad for a year without many books.

Here’s the detail.

Amazon – 28.87%
Trad Pub – 17.55%
TWP direct sales – 15.29%
TWP sponsorship – 12.00%
TWP patronizer – 7.42%
IngramSpark – 5.54%
Kickstarter – 5.46%
Patreon – 4.56%
Gumroad – 1.53%
Apple – 0.70%
Kobo – 0.50%
Google – 0.37%
Draft2Digital – 0.17%
Aerio – 0.03%
Barnes & Noble – 0.01%

Can I draw any conclusions from this?

My web site (TWP, or Tilted Windmill Press) is again this year’s star. The combination of direct sales, sponsors, and my homebrew Patreon is 34.71% of my income, a couple points over last year. It’s built on Woocommerce with a handful of commercial plugins that total about $600 a year. My business goal is to get folks to buy directly from me rather than retailers, so I’m content but not satisfied.

Amazon is at 28.87%, down a couple points from last year. There’s reasons for that. They don’t have rights to distribute my newest tech book on Kindle. They’ve retaliated by deprioritizing the title in their listings. I’m not crying; I consider Amazon a discovery platform, an entry point to the Reader Acquisition Funnel. I neither love nor hate Amazon. They’re merely a retailer who offers a nonnegotiable take-it-or-leave-it deal. I accept or reject that deal on a case-by-case basis. Losing them as a channel would send me back to the “yellow zone” emergency budget, but we’d survive just fine.

Kickstarter is down, but I only ran campaigns for short story collections. My private Patronizer program grew a point, but that’s a wobble not a trend. Traditional publishing income is up, thanks to a Humble Bundle.

Then there’s the “below two percent” retailers. Gumroad, because they handle VAT for European readers. I want all the readers and Apple, Kobo, and Google serve readers other retailers don’t reach. They’re small, but those nickels spend. Unless things change, this will be the last year I report Barnes & Noble. I spent many happy hours in the 90s and the 00s wandering their aisles and I would like them to be successful for old times’ sake, but they’re just not managing it and their numbers depress me.

Here’s what the last five years have looked like. I have excluded the tiny channels.

It’s hard to call most of these lines “trends.” If you aggregate the various options from my web site, though, you can see a couple things.

Having fewer entities on this graph makes a couple things clear. I dislike that IngramSpark is shrinking year over year. I use IS to fulfill non-Amazon paperback orders and all hardcovers, so this is either an indication that either brick-and-mortar bookstores are struggling, or that I haven’t released a “hit” in a couple years. Which is it?

It also shows that my direct-to-reader business efforts are working. Readers are willing to do business directly with writers. They like supporting individual authors.

What does the swell in trad pub mean? It means that I need multiple sources of income. I have no way to control which business partner will prosper and which will pull a Wile E Coyote. No matter what, I must be able to pay the mortgage.

How much do I make off of sponsorships and Patronizers, as opposed to retailers? Fair question. Let’s see.

After a few years of growth, the non-retail income is down. Sponsorships and Patronizers were up, but Kickstarter was down (again, because I didn’t run a big one). The vital lesson here is:

if I don’t put broadly interesting product in front of people, I don’t get paid.

Now that I’ve shared the secret, it’s time to double-check last year’s expenses. Income is great, but it’s expenses that destroy you.

2022 Income Sources

Here’s where my money came from in 2022. (For those seeing these for the first time, I did similar posts in 2019, 2020, and 2021.)

I’m a writer. My income comes from writing books and making them available. I publish both independently and through publishers. I don’t consult. I don’t seek out speaking fees. I desire to make my living as an author, creating and licensing intellectual property. I make my books available in every channel that offers reasonable terms.

How did 2022 look?

First off, my income is down about 20% since 2021. This is not a surprise. In 2020 and 2021, lots of folks stayed home and read. In 2022, pandemic or not, people sick of the isolation burst out into the world and read less. But the percentages might interest you.

Here’s the detail.

    Amazon – 31.35%
    Direct Sales – 18.57%
    Kickstarter – 10.01%
    Trad Pub – 9.77%
    IngramSpark – 7.60%
    Direct Patronizers – 6.34%
    Sponsorship – 5.33%
    Patreon – 4.53%
    Direct Preorders – 2.38%
    Gumroad – 1.41%
    Apple – 0.87%
    Aerio – 0.66%
    Kobo – 0.63%
    Google – 0.36%
    Draft2Digital – 0.11%
    Barnes & Noble – 0.06%
    Redbubble – 0.01%
    Findaway – 0.01%

Here’s my rough conclusions.

First and foremost, I want to draw attention to income through my web site. Direct sales, 18.57%. Direct Patronizers, 6.34%. Sponsorships, 5.33%, and direct preorders, 2.38%. Taken all together, 32.62% of my income coming from sales through my web site.

Amazon provides 31.35%.

Amazon is no longer my biggest income source. I’m gonna say that again.


My biggest source of income is now my web site. People paying me directly. My goal of disintermediation works.

Yes, they’re only 1.27% apart. It’s a win by a nose. But I’ll take it.

This is personally important right now because I’m cutting Amazon off as a distributor of my new tech ebooks. OpenBSD Mastery: Filesystems will not be available on Amazon’s Kindle store. You can get Kindle copies everywhere but Amazon. Achieving this right now means it’s a fair comparison.

Mind you, it’s not entirely fair.

I have a Patreon, but I also host a Patreon-like program on my web site. To be a sincerely fair comparison, I would have to combine the Amazon and Patreon income. I haven’t done that math, because I have the answer I want. My web site brings in more than Amazon, I’m content.

For the record, I neither hate nor love Amazon. They are a retailer. They offer a variety of no-negotiation deals. I accept some. I reject others. I must not become dependent on, nor vulnerable to, any one business partner. Losing Amazon would hurt. I’d survive.

Kickstarter income for Prohibition Orcs is number three, but that’s deceptive. Kickstarters have fulfillment costs. I’ll post details on those once the campaign closes, but here’s a taste.

Between Kickstarter backers and Patronizers, that’s fifty Orcibuses I must mail. (Which reminds me, I must add the Orcibus to my web site. It’s a backer exclusive and not commercially available, but I should acknowledge it.) They cost over $600 to print, let alone mail. Most of these will get orc-leather covers.

So, yeah. Kickstarter is great, except for the ratio of income to expenses. The discoverability is delightful, though.

Traditional publishing income isn’t very large but to be fair, I haven’t published anything traditionally for a few years. I’m in discussions to do so, however.

IngramSpark is “print paperback sales outside of Amazon, and all hardcovers.” Definitely worth doing. I use Amazon’s print program for paperbacks sold within Amazon.

After that, we have the smaller players. Gumroad, Apple, Kobo, Draft2Digital, and so on are ebook retailers. Are these tiny places worth selling through? Absolutely. Those nickels spend. If you bought the best ereader on the market and shop the Kobo store, I want you to buy my books.

The last item here, Findaway? That’s for audiobooks. Audiobook, really. I only have one. This math has made up my mind, however. Authors have reported problems with audiobook accounting for years now, and I believe I’ve sold more than one audiobook in the last year. I’ll be pulling the Savaged by Systemd audiobook from Audible and all other retail channels and making it an exclusive on my web site.

I’ve done these analyses for four years. That’s a little early to start looking for trends, but graphs are easy to create so let’s try it.

Here are the trends over the last four years. For legibility, I have excluded all the sub-1% channels.

It’s a bit much to call any of these entries “trends.” Kickstarter, direct Patronizers, and direct preorders have squeezed other channels down. But if I aggregate all of the items I offer through my web site, there’s something slightly interesting.

Each year I add options to my web store, like offering bundles of all the tech books and all the novels and collections. I thought nobody would buy either, and that maintaining them would be more work than they were worth. I was wrong. The more different types of stuff I offer for direct sale, the bigger share of my income comes from my web site. Imagine that.

One could argue that Kickstarter and standard Patreon should count as disintermediated. Both offer far better deals than I get from any standard book retailer, and Kickstarter seems great for discovery. Both are external web sites, external dependencies, so they are absolutely not disintermediated.

I could count those as “non-retailer” income, however. (My web site is a retailer from where you sit, but my business does not consider it as such.) Let’s see what that does to the graph.

This looks like… a trend?

Non-retailer income is now 47%. Almost half. And consistently increasing. Yes, these sales cannibalize my retailer sales, but Amazon pays me about 70% of cover price and my store pays me about 95% so I can’t complain.

I am stunned. This is incredibly cool. I can’t walk away from retail, but perhaps one day I can somehow deprioritize it.

The truth is, I can take no credit for this trend. My readers looked at their options and said “Yeah, let’s give him our cash directly.” I built it. You came. Thank you.

Part of me still wants to shout “GAZE UPON MY WORKS, YE BEZOS, AND DESPAIR.” Who am I kidding, though? Amazon does not care. I am not worth an hour of a helpdesk tech’s time.

But I care. A lot. Thank you all.

(PS: Someone always asks, “Why don’t you share actual dollar figures?” Declaring my income inevitably leads to people telling me that I can’t possibly be making that much, other people telling me I don’t deserve to make that much, and still other people trying to get “the secret” out of me. It not only steals my time, it increases my annoyance. Not worth it. I will say that I make less than I would in any tech position, but more than most authors.)

2021 Income Sources

In 2019 and 2020, I published posts on where folks buy my books. People seem interested, so I’m doing it again for 2021. I suspect that covid is skewing the data, but perhaps this is simply the new normal.

My income still comes from writing books. I don’t consult. I don’t generally accept speaking fees. (I did make a couple hundred bucks speaking to a lunchtime crowd at a big tech firm this year, but that was a rare event and I have no particular desire to do it again.) I desire to make my living as an author, creating and licensing intellectual property. For the writers out there, I’m a hybrid wide author. I want my books available in every channel that offers reasonable terms.

How did 2021 look?

  • Amazon – 33.94%
  • Royalties – 17.74%
  • Direct sales – 15.63%
  • Ingramspark – 8.15%
  • Kickstarter – 6.38%
  • Patreon – 4.68%
  • Sponsorships – 4.42%
  • Direct patronizers – 4.24%
  • Gumroad – 1.91%
  • Apple – 1.05%
  • Kobo – 0.61%
  • Aerio – 0.57%
  • Google – 0.32%
  • Draft2Digital – 0.27%
  • tips – 0.13%
  • Barnes & Noble – 0.07%
  • Redbubble – 0.05%

Everything that’s listed here is part of my deliberate publishing strategy. My minuscule affiliate income and other minor streams are excluded. I use them, and every so often someone drops fifty bucks in my bank account, but they are not part of my strategy.

Amazon is still my biggest single distributor. I do not prioritize them, or use their exclusive programs like Kindle Unlimited. Indeed, I want to reduce the amount I sell through Amazon and increase other channels. This percentage is basically unchanged since last year. It appears to be the natural floor. Next year might be different, though. OpenBSD Storage Mastery will be on Amazon in print, but not on Kindle. Kindle users will be able to buy Kindle versions in lots of places, just not on Amazon.

Royalties are traditional publishing income. This is slightly up from last year, thanks to me selling short stories to Fiction River as well as the Absolute books going into Humble Bundles. Can’t knock that.

Direct sales are up a few points over 2020, which was up a few points over 2019. Good. Disintermediation remains my primary goal. Increasing this share makes me happy. I will continue to improve my bookstore to make this easier.

On the other paw, my IngramSpark share is down. IS handles non-Amazon print sales. People are not visiting bookstores, so this is not a surprise.

Kickstarter is a new category for me. It worked. This category is a little weird, though. While the other channels are raw income, this bucket includes the money I must spend to print and ship books. I plan to experiment more with Kickstarter, and perhaps even offer Kickstarter-like functionality on my own store.

At first glance, it looks like income from my Patronizers has plunged since 2020. Look a little further down, though, and you’ll see the share of income from my direct patronage makes up for it. My experiment in offering direct patronage sales hasn’t quite broken even, but it’s been successful enough that I’m willing to give it another year and see if I can grow it. Even if I can’t boost that any further, diversifying patronage sources and disintermediating roughly half of my backers is inherently worthwhile.

My Patronizers get a horrid deal, by the way. I don’t recommend it. But I appreciate every single Patronizer.

Sponsorship income is down, but I only had one book on sponsorship in 2020. If I want more sponsors, I must write more. That’s a goal for 2022. I’ll be using pre-scheduled Internet blocking software to reduce distraction.

I’m not going to go through the other channels one at a time. I will quote Blaze Ward in saying, “them nickles spend.” My comments on all of these are basically unchanged from previous years. I do wish Barnes and Noble would rise from the dead, though. I fondly remember wandering through their shelves, and deciding I would rather read a favorite author’s new book than eat.

So, to sum up:

  • If I lost any one channel, I would endure (yay)!
  • Disintermediate. Sell as directly to your customers as possible.
  • Try new things. Like Kickstarter. Or dropping Amazon Kindle as a distributor for a new book.

What else is coming up in 2022? More books. Print price increases. Gelato. Staying home, making words, and avoiding unclean idiots who choose to not get vaccinated.

2020 Income Sources

My post on where my income came from in 2019 stirred interest, so I’m sharing the same information this year.

I had this bright idea that I could perhaps extract and share other useful information from my business data. I dug and found many strange things–but, while they’re interesting, they’re not actionable. It was all minutae like “Cash Flow for Creators sold five times as many copies on my own e-bookstore as it sold in all other channels combined.”

That’s not just interesting, it’s downright weird. It’s also utterly non-actionable, unless you’re trying to say “A book that doesn’t sell on one platform might sell on another.”

So, forget extra information. Here’s where my money comes from.

Or, if you like percentages, here’s everything including “other” detail. Not quite 100% due to rounding.

  • 36% – Amazon KDP
  • 15.9% – Royalties
  • 14.5% – Direct sales (tiltedwindmillpress.com)
  • 10.6% – Patreon
  • 9.7% – IngramSpark
  • 7.3% – Sponsorships
  • 2.8% – Tip jar
  • 1.6% – Gumroad
  • 1% – Apple
  • 0.6% – Kobo
  • 0.5% – Aerio
  • 0.2% – Draft2Digital
  • 0.05% – Barnes & Noble
  • 0.03% – Audiobook

Minor income sources, like my affiliate income, don’t appear here. Amazon’s affiliate program was once a nice way to get a few hundred bucks a year, but they’ve cut the rates so much I no longer find it worthwhile.

Amazon is still my single biggest distributor, but they aren’t a majority. I don’t prioritize them or advertise to them. They’re in the business of selling books, I let them sell my books.

The royalties are my traditional publishing income. A chunk of this is certainly sold through Amazon. As trad publishers push to diversify distributors at least as much as I do, I’m going to assume that their diversification efforts are at least as effective as mine, and that about a third of this is sold through Amazon. This means Amazon is about 41% of my income, pretty much the same as last year.

Direct sales are slightly up from last year, which is nice. I do steer people to direct sales as much as possible.

IngramSpark handles non-Amazon paperback sales and all hardcover sales. I introduced hardcover books with the second edition of SSH Mastery, and people started snapping them up. Who am I to argue with readers? My best-selling hardcover is, to my surprise, the Networknomicon. Go figure.

I’m going to lump a few things together: Patreon, sponsorships, and the tip jar. Money from “people who want my books to exist” makes up about a fifth of my income. My Patreon was new in 2019, and didn’t run through the entire year, so “up from last year” isn’t a meaningful statement. I’d like to add the folks who buy direct and throw in a tip on top of the purchase price. Sadly, WooCommerce’s Name Your Price plugin doesn’t report on how many folks pay extra for books, but I see a whole bunch of you paying $6 for a $5 book, or even $12 or $15 for a $10 book.

In this year of plague and political upheaval, as our economy grows increasingly K-shaped, I am especially grateful to you folks who back me out of the goodness of your hearts.

Or maybe you just like watching the Lucas Train Wreck. Whichever, I appreciate it.

I didn’t believe my Patreon would work. It did. That’s why I increased my Patronizer benefits this year, and launched direct sales of Patronizer benefits through my bookstore. If I’m going to sell something, I’m going to sell it directly. Disintermediation is the future for creatives.

Gumroad? If I didn’t have my own bookstore, Gumroad would be business-critical. As things stand, though, it’s mostly for folks who want to buy books in PDF but must also pay EU VAT. (I don’t sell enough goods in the EU to make filling out the paperwork worthwhile. Yet.)

Apple, Kobo, and draft2digital? I’m glad that 2% of my users can get their books through the channels most convenient to them. I truly want to support you folks.

Kobo in particular has an interesting sales pattern. Folks don’t buy one of my books on Kobo. They buy a book, and then a day or two later start buying all the rest of my books. Voracious readers are a writer’s best fans. Sadly, sales on Kobo are low enough that I can see this pattern–but those are exactly the readers I want.

My Aerio store lets me sell books directly to you without touching the books. I like that. They’re new as of the middle of this year, so I expect them to be higher next year.

Barnes & Noble? I’ve spent months of my life wandering through your stores. Today, you’re killing me.

Last, audiobook income. Note the singular. I released my best-selling short story in audiobook for April Fools’ Day. It’s the perfect length to listen to on your commute. I am convinced that’s why everyone stopped commuting in March. The good news is, the payback time on this audiobook is a paltry seven years.

In summary:

If I lost any one channel, I would survive.

Disintermediation is the way. Sell direct to customers.

Make your books as widely available as possible.

2019 Income Sources

I occasionally see authors arguing about what channels to sell through and how to structure their business. I frequently say that I don’t consult. I don’t rely on affiliate or speaking fees. My whole career is built on writing books and getting them in front of readers.

Accomplishing that means making the books available in all possible channels.

Here’s where my money comes from.

2019 income sources

For those who want a little more details, here’s the breakdown. (Numbers not exactly 100% due to rounding.)

  • 33.7% – Amazon KDP
  • 29.2% – Traditional Publishing
  • 12.32% – Direct Sales at tiltedwindmillpress.com
  • 7.0% – Patreon
  • 6.6% – Nonfiction Book Sponsorships
  • 5.1% – IngramSpark print distribution
  • 2.5% – Gumroad
  • 1.2% – direct sales at cons
  • 0.9% – Apple iBooks
  • 0.6% – Kobo
  • 0.4% – tip jar
  • 0.3% – draft2digital
  • 0.05% – Barnes & Noble

A couple minor sources of income aren’t included–I made about $200 on Amazon affiliate links from my site, and a whopping $6 on Kobo affiliate links. But here’s some rough conclusions.

Amazon is the Big Beast, but it’s not inviolate. It’s not even the majority.

Trad pub certainly sells a bunch through Amazon. Traditional publishers put even more effort into diversification than I do. I’m going to assume that they’re at least as successful as I am, and roughly one-third of my trad pub income comes through Amazon. This means Amazon backs roughly 42% of my income.

I use both IngramSpark and Amazon for print distribution, because IS reaches places Amazon can’t. Last December, someone in China bought both Prohibition Orcs stories via IS. I sell titles in countries I’d never heard of before, thanks to IS.

Direct ebook sales via my web site, Patreon, and book sponsorships combined make up about a quarter of my income. These are clearly worth continuing.

And yes, if you see me at a con, and you want a book, I’ll sell it to you. The income is negligible, but I use direct contact with folks to help build my readership.

You might look at Apple, Kobo, and draft2digital and say “Why bother?” That’s a fair question. The answer is, I want readers. When a reader is intrigued by an author, they go to their favorite bookstore and check out their titles. I want that reader to find my books when the whim hits them, because thirty seconds later they’ll have forgotten about me.

The tip jar is negligible, but costs me nothing to run, so I’ll keep it. It doesn’t encourage me to set up a kofi account, though.

What’s more effective than the tip jar is the “name your price” feature on tiltedwindmillpress.com, which allows folks to pay more than minimum price for a book. Sadly, the NYP plugin I use doesn’t have a feature to separate out how many buyers include extra, but I can say that I frequently see folks offer an extra few bucks. I appreciate every one of you.

Dear Barnes & Noble: please develop life signs. Thank you.

The general summary is: if I was to lose any one income source, I would survive. Losing a big one would be hard. My family relies on my income to pay bills. (My wife works, but if I don’t bring in real money I need to go find a job.)

I find these numbers reassuring. After five years as a full-time writer, I am completely unsuitable for employment.