A quick check of the website of any author services company's website will find examples of highly successful self-published authors who used the company's services. The mainstream media has stories touting indie authors who bucked the establishment and self-published. Other success stories can be found involving sales with e-books and the fact some mid-list authors are now able to earn a living self-publishing on the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble's Nook. I enjoy reading J.A. Konrath's blog for new authors. Amanda Hocking's success has been covered in USA Today and the story focuses on her use of e-books as her medium to publish. Based on the story it looks like Ms. Hocking will be able to earn a living as a genre writer and a self-published author.
But what does the typical self-published author experience in REAL sales? The real numbers appear to be a bit grim as this story indicates: http://howpublishingreallyworks.blogspot.com/2009/03/sales-statistics.html . I recall reading in a post by Morris Rosenthal, one of the founding fathers of modern self-publishing, stating if a self-published title sells 200 copies, the author has done well. I e-mailed Mr. Rosenthal and asked him where he got this figure and he politely e-mailed back and replied he did not recall but stated based on his years of experience and communicating with self-publishing authors, the number is probably a bit high. In the linked article some grim figures are provided. It appears for many authors the actual number is about 150 sales for a title.
How have my own self-published titles fared? I haven't quit my day job. But, I have recouped the money invested in my website (I probably spent too much), covered my monthly e-newsletter cost, web hosting, bank charges and production costs for my books. The wife and CFO of our tiny publishing empire said we were a few dollars short of breaking even on our enterprise after three years.
I can honestly say some titles in terms of sales are total duds (but have served their purpose well as give-a-ways at coaching clinics). Some sell OK seasonally. Some sell well by my standards as paperbacks and one sells really well as a Kindle book. I have two titles that have sold over one thousand copies in just under two years and I am pretty happy about those titles. I am not getting rich, but at least I have reached the break even point and new titles are paid for out of revenue from earlier titles.
I fully realize as a non-fiction author who writes to a potential audience with a fixed total number of potential readers I will never be a "best-selling author." Nor will I make millions. I do not think it is unrealistic to expect my efforts to result in a decent extra source of income.
In the mean time, I have learned a great deal. I have more to learn, and as it has been said so many times, hope springs eternal.