How to Make Money Writing a Book: More Than Just Sales!
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The dream of writing a book is often much more glamorous than the actual reality.
This is especially true when looking on the money side of the equation. While most people think of names like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, those are the unicorn stories.
They're incredibly rare and the hard truth is that over 70% of books will never even break even. Much less create a lot of money for the author. Learning how to make money writing a book means understanding all the ways a book can open doors, and being creative enough to take advantage of as many as possible.
Making money from books is very hard. This is whether you go with traditional publishers or the self-publishing on Amazon route. The same is true whether a fiction writer or non-fiction author.
The good news is that it can actually be possible to make money writing books. That said, you will have to be prepared for a lot of hard work, creative marketing, and understanding the best monetary benefits might not come directly from the actual book sales.
Direct Book Sales
One of the first things to understand with direct book sales is that there are more full-time fiction writers than non-fiction book writers. In both professions you're going to have to search hard to find the ones making a living.
While the authors that are household names can make serious money in both fiction (Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, George R.R. Martin) and non-fiction (Ryan Holiday, Malcolm Gladwell, Cheryl Strayed) from direct sales, this is going to be hard to pull off for most people.
20 years ago the average advance on a book from a large publisher was $10,000 and smaller publishers (which included most non-fiction) was half that. While those numbers still hold to some extent, the average advance is now in the $4,000-$10,000 range. More and more authors are finding themselves at the bottom of that range.
Even among the authors listed up there, many make more money from opportunities the books create as opposed to the actual books themselves.
The Myth of Royalties
Most advances from publishing companies never get made up so forget royalty checks. There's a minimum of 7 in 10 chance that will be the full payment for your book.
Considering the amount of hours and work that needs to be put in creating a book, that's a pretty miserable payback.
The truth is that unless you are one of the rare books that bucks the trend, you probably won't see royalty checks. Even if you do, most authors who reach that mark get relatively small checks. The allure is obvious – but not all best-sellers reach a million copies sold. Not even close.
Add in the fact that if you comb over many best seller lists they are stacked with famous authors, already famous marketers, or famous people who fired a ghost writer to pen something in their name, and you can start to see how hard a hill that is going to be to climb.
There are much better ways to make money through books.
Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing
The one place where you can flip the royalty myth on its head (to some extent at least) is going the self-publishing route. If you go into self publishing on Amazon, you get a much larger percentage of royalties than through traditional methods.
Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is Amazon's open program that allows writers to create and publish their books as e-books on Amazon Kindle for free. They can set their own price or even offer the book for free.
While percentages can differ depending on the country and other factor, generally Amazon books priced from 99 cents to $2.98 are 35% royalty and any books $2.99 or higher are at a 70% royalty. These are much higher percentages than you're going to get from a traditional publisher, even at the 35% rate.
Advantages of Traditional Publishing
The disadvantages of trying to go the traditional publishing route of print books are obvious. There's high competition, low pay, and limited control over marketing. There is a certain amount of vetting that goes with publishing through traditional methods. Working with a professional editor can also be a major plus, as is getting an actual advance.
For many fiction writers, this might be a big sign of self-confidence. The ability to get published through traditional channels can be a big confidence boost that lets them commit more fully to improving and focusing on a writing career. This isn't a great reason when focusing on how profitable books can be, but it is a common reason among fiction writers.
Finally, there's that potential to have a large publisher behind your book. While it is extremely unlikely unless you're already established if you can make the early printing of a book take off, a large publishing company can put a lot of resources behind it to reach more people, move more books, and get you networking opportunities you might not get on your own!
Advantages of Amazon Self Publishing
Going the self-publishing route has its advantages, as well. We're going to focus on KDP Select publishing through Amazon since that is the most accessible form of self-publishing that gives the potential for big results.
The advantages of KDP publishing are several. One is complete editorial control. You decide what goes into the book or what stays out. You have the final say on how something is worded or what tone to use.
While the responsibility falls to you to hustle and get the word out, you do get a much larger royalty for each book that you sell. If you can push a large number of books or get a large devoted following, then the opportunity is there for you to make a lot more money from direct book sales. Especially compared to the 3-7% royalty average of traditional publishers.
Interested in learning more about how to sell as a self published author on Amazon, try the full Passive Publishing Profits course here.
KDP has been around for over a decade. They're not the new kids on the block anymore. People are used to Kindle and digital readers. This makes Amazon's reach an incredible potential tool for authors of both fiction and non-fiction.
The next few sections are focusing on non-fiction books. There will be another section diving into fiction a bit letter. The strategies can differ a bit based on the type & style of book that you are looking at writing.
Why Direct Book Sales Alone Won't Get It Done
There are always exceptions but even with many of the big name authors there are things worth noting.
Stephen King has made far more off TV and film royalties than his actual book sales despite getting premium contracts and royalties. The bulk of J.K. Rowling's fortune came from movies and merchandise despite the Harry Potter series being an international best seller. This is true of most big name authors.
Even looking at non-fiction, the book is often the tool to a big payday. Not the actual direct cause.
Grant Cardone was already an accomplished salesman but put his brand in front of millions of new people with his best-selling books. This led to many more customers for both his sales training programs and direct consulting services. Gary Vee is another marketer who has expanded his businesses and what he can do because of several successful books.
James Altucher is famous for giving away tens of thousands of copies of his books and just eating the expense. In his own words this has led to a large audience that has helped make him a best seller, opened up consulting & investment opportunities, and paid for itself dozens of times over what any royalties would have.
In other words, the big money from books comes from understanding the direct sale is just a nice little bonus. Not the main point.
Promote Services & Skills
One of the best ways to make money through writing a book comes from using that book to promote your skills and services. This can be done several different ways. Having a good book that you market through readings, podcast interviews, speaking engagements, and other tactics allows you to promote your business, your skills, and your services.
After all, if you're pushing a non-fiction book you need to prove you are someone worth listening to. What are your credentials? Why should the audience listen to you? You get to pitch yourself while pitching the book. The book itself should also make the case for why you're an expert.
This is a powerful way to boost your profile and allow you to promote yourself as an authority in whatever field you are in. That means more opportunities. Many authors can attest to how they make more money on promoting their business or side hustle than the actual book deal itself.
Attracting More (and Better) Customers
Having that credential of a published author helps to attract more customers. In the right situations it leads to a better class of clients, as well. That means the ability to charge more and make more. As long as you can back up your marketing with actually delivering value.
A quality book acts by itself as a way to outreach. Anyone who reads it may be interested in your direct services or the services of your company. This is a great direct way to make money from your book.
You may also find that if you've been struggling at a certain level, a good book can be that “social proof” or “professional proof” that can help you break out to a new level. That is a way that a book can help you to attract more high-end clients. Those are the clients who are happy to pay a higher per-hour or per-project rate.
The demand for good consultants who can deliver results is much higher than many people realize. A book is a great way to demonstrate authority. Potential clients who love the book will see the value of your experience, ideas, and expertise. This can lead to consulting gigs, which can pay very high rates depending on your industry.
A good book can be the doorway to your new consulting career, and the riches that can come with that!
Speaking gigs are another great way you can make cash from writing books. Even very average speakers tend to get really good rates for speaking at events, meetups, or conferences. This is a skill you will need to cultivate, but it is an outstanding one to build up and can serve you in many different areas of life.
Having a book gives you more of the trust and authority that you need to pitch yourself or to appear like a good fit for any local organization. Speaking is a great way to further network and make connections for your business while building awareness of your brand.
Investing & Partnerships
This takes a good outreach effort and is definitely a long-term play from creating a book. Investment options and partnership options can be powerful ways to make money from writing a book. Networking and smart marketing can take a simple book and turn it into connections that open up these types of opportunities.
This won't be the case in every industry, but it's worth keeping in mind. As you're picking up more clients and expanding your network, these are potential options down the line. Some opportunities won't be a good fit. Those you should decline. A good network could brings better opportunities than you can often manage solo.
That is an impressive way that your book can make you money over the long haul.
Building Your Brand
Whether self-employed or an entrepreneur, you are building a brand. The brand of yourself is a powerful thing. That goes whether you build a good reputation for yourself or a bad one. Obviously you want to build the best reputation possible.
A book can be a great way to build your brand. Adding “author” to your name or title is a well-recognized option to further gain positive attention whether it's specifically for you, your company, or both. Wider name recognition is going to give you more opportunities to pick up new clients as well as build a higher level of trust with new potential clients.
Having that book is an authority indicator and shows a deep knowledge of your area of expertise. This can sometimes be a tie breaker between you and the competition when a client is trying to make a decision.
Don't overlook the power of building and selling your own course. A book can give you that extra boost of authority to help people trust that you will deliver with a course, whether this is done as live seminar training or an online course that you sell.
Marketing Your Book
There are many strategies that can be used to promote a book, and creativity is important when figuring out how to get more attention. Paid ads on social media platforms like Facebook which allow super specific (that's the technical term) targeting of a particular audience is a good idea.
The more you can get your book in front of your ideal audience, the better. Paid ads can become costly. This is why it is important to make sure to have a good plan for the type of ads that will actually reach your audience within a reasonable budget. For many people this will be Facebook ads versus most other non-niche types.
The other strategy that some people will want to consider is the strategy of giving away massive numbers of free books. James Altucher is famous for using this method.
The upside is a lot of people get exposure to your book who might not choose to buy it. More readers and more book owners also means more copies floating out there that might be loaned or lent to someone else. This also increases the chance that new potential customers remember hearing of your name because they've seen a copy of the book going around. Leading to even more people trying to track down your website online.
The downside to this strategy is you're basically conceding the “make money with direct sales” approach. However, this can be extremely powerful for both non-fiction writers looking to pull in more business for their company. For fiction writers this strategy works, as well, if you are creating a series of books.
Write an amazing first book you keep giving away for free, and a lot of readers will be more than happy to buy the rest of the series!
Fiction Book Options
So what about the fiction writers? This is a fair question, and for many going the self-publishing route with Kindle fiction publishing is definitely the way to go. You can harness the power of Amazon's distribution while collecting much larger royalties on your books than the traditional route.
While self-publishing might not have an old Ivory Tower, academic feeling of “acceptance,” you remove gatekeepers that prevent you from putting your book out in the world. It used to be many great books just simply were never published. Now that's not an excuse with the KDP platform through Amazon.
Good writing, following the formatting instructions, and a little bit of good graphic design to make an attractive cover and you're good to go.
With publishing fiction it's important to realize that most of the time it's a long road to making a lot of money from selling books, and it takes a lot of work. While there are additional money making options like selling an online creative writing course, or holding paid local classes, actual sales of your book matter a lot more when making money with your book.
Even with those stories of self-published authors whose Kindle book was picked up into a movie, that still started with enough copies being sold to get attention.
Here building a giant social media following, having a quality website so you can build an email list of fans, and being able to reach out online and get your book a lot of attention is critical to long-term success making money as a fiction writer. One or two blog posts isn't going to be enough. You want your target audience to have plenty of content to find you.
Making it as a fiction writer is possible, but it takes a ton of work and dedication. You need to be creative figuring out how to get your work out there. One of the strongest strategies, assuming the fiction is up to snuff, is to spend even more time on the first novel to make it perfect, release it for free, and have the rest of the series up for sale.
The old method of writing a best-seller and cashing in is all but dead. While it's still possible, it's not something to bank your strategy on. Comparing selling a million copies to winning the lottery isn't that far off. That said, writing a book can still be a powerful tool for making money (and check out our guide on how to use ChatGPT to write a book). Especially on the follow up.
Book speaking gigs, create premium consulting services, and continue to build your reputation as a true authority in your field and your book will continue to make you money well beyond what the individual book sales put into your pocket.
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