How to Build a Real Business Around Your Non-Fiction Books

Authors can build a business around their book with products.Most nonfiction writers only think about earning money from their written words. Many think it’s hard to create anything beyond books, articles and blog posts–because writing comes easily to them and other things don’t. Dr. Ellen Britt, an award-winning online marketing strategist and Amazon best-selling author, explains how to change that mindset and monetize what you know. NA

The image of the starving writer… penning her Great Work at a tiny desk in the chilly attic garret overlooking her now dormant garden… may be romantic, but it’s hardly anyone’s idea of a sustainable existence.

You non-fiction writers are probably already scoffing at this outdated image because you’re different, right?

You may be buoyed by the thought that because you write non-fiction, you can make “real” money with your book. After all, you are an excellent writer, you are an expert on your topic and you’ve written (or plan to write) a great non-fiction book that solves a pressing problem or addresses a real need for your readers.

Surely, if anyone can make money in this business, it’s you.

And that’s great. I’m glad to hear you’re so confident, you enjoy what you do and that you’re good at it. Listen, I hate to throw ice water on your party, but you’ve got a ton of competition from folks who are just as good at their craft (or better!) than you and who have managed to wrap the traditional publishing houses around their fingers.

Think Daniel Pink or Malcolm Gladwell, for example.

The cold reality is this: only a handful of non-fiction writers ever make it to the big leagues, even with all the talk of a revolution in digital publishing.

Plus, with the traditional publishing houses scrambling to make sense of a brave new digital world and thousands more would be writers flooding the virtual shelves of Amazon and Barnes and Noble, the idea that you can make a decent full-time living supporting yourself and your family as a non-fiction writer solely from the sales of your books is a bit far-fetched, to say the least.

So what’s a good non-fiction writer like you to do? Should you simply give up?

Absolutely not! All it takes to be a successful non-fiction writer is a simple shift in mindset.

Mindset Shift: Nonfiction Author to Online Entrepreneur

Now before you start rolling your eyes and thinking to yourself that you’ve heard all this mindset stuff before, please hear me out. I’m not talking about any New Age Law of Attraction crystals and potions type of thing, but a radical reversal, a transposition, a sea change, if you will…from a non-fiction writer who believes her potential wealth resides solely in her books to the mindset of an online entrepreneur who knows her books are an invitation for the customer to step much, much further into her world.

Let me explain what I mean. I am an online business consultant and coach. Most of my clients are small business owners—other coaches, consultants, speakers, virtual assistants, or other service professionals who know they need to write a non-fiction book to help them grow their businesses. Unlike you, they don’t consider themselves writers. In fact, most of them are scared to death of putting pen to paper. But they know once it’s completed, their non-fiction book will become one of the most valuable business assets they possess—not because they believe they are going to make money from selling it either.

Make no mistake. Some of these folks do pretty well with their books, depending on their niche and their marketing savvy, but they know better than to think of themselves primarily as authors. They see themselves as online entrepreneurs, and so should you!

When it comes to mindset, I’ve discovered most authors are all too ready to succumb to what I call the “Three Dangerous Non-Fiction Mindset Myths.”

Let’s take a closer look at these three myths that are unfortunately all too common among non-fiction writers. And we’ll also explore what you can do to transform these mindsets to your advantage.

Three Dangerous Non-Fiction Mindset Myths

Mindset Myth One: My books are my work, my only work.

People who are enthralled by this mindset have a conversation in their heads that goes something like this:

I am a writer, not a businessperson. Except for knowing how to use Microsoft Word, I’m totally technophobic. I don’t want to know about websites and all that stuff. I just want to do my work!

Transformation: Yes, I am a writer and I can use this to my advantage. I am smart, resourceful and intelligent and I can learn business skills as well as anyone else!

Plus, unlike most of my clients, you actually like to write, so you already have an advantage!

Mindset Myth Two: I hate marketing, and marketers are sleazy. And besides, my book is so good it well sell itself.

Transformation: Let’s address the second part of this myth first: No product (and that’s what your book is, a product!) is ever so good it will sell itself. An “OK” book with superior marketing will outsell a stellar book with poor marketing any day of the week.

And you only “hate” marketing and sales because you are confusing good marketing with the unfortunate stereotype of the proverbial used car salesman screaming at you to “Buy! Buy! Buy!”

Good marketing has absolutely nothing to do with this type of selling.

Good marketing showcases your book as the perfect solution for someone’s pressing problem. Your customer is happy to purchase from you!

Here’s your interior conversation now: I love being able to present my book and my products in a way that shows how they solve problems. People need my work!

Mindset Myth Three: I don’t have anything else to sell besides my books, so I could never have an online business.

This is the most dangerous mindset of all. Believing you have nothing else to offer the world except your non-fiction books is absolutely wrong and here’s why:

You are an expert in your topic or you wouldn’t have written (or be thinking about writing) a book in this area. That expertise can easily be turned into related information products that can range from an introductory $97 product all the way to live seminars and workshops selling for thousands of dollars.

Transformation: Everyone has something to sell.  Here’s how easy product creation can be: Get on the phone with a friend or colleague and have them interview you for thirty to forth-five minutes on your area of expertise. Have your recorded call transcribed, and voila! Mp3 audio + transcript priced at $27 to $47 = instant product creation.

Your non-fiction books are just the beginning of a whole new business and, yes, possibly a whole new life!

About the Author

Dr. Ellen Britt is an award-winning Online Marketing Strategist, Amazon best-selling author and co-founder of Marketing Qi, where she teaches savvy women entrepreneurs (and a few cool men!) how to take their knowledge and expertise and transform it into authority and influence. Visit us at Marketing Qi and get FREE Business Advice from a Zen Master!


  1. I whole-heartedly agree with the observation: “they know better than to think of themselves primarily as authors. They see themselves as online entrepreneurs, and so should you!”

    Nonfiction writers usually can get on the right mindset quicker than fiction writers, who call their work a “hobby.” (Terrible idea form a business and tax perspective…trust me…I’m a CPA).

    Great observation on how our thinking, both correct and incorrect, can drive our actions.

  2. I think we give the short shrift to OFFLINE business these days. Another thing that nonfiction authors can do is sell training, consulting, or coaching the old-fashioned way.

  3. Thanks Carol and Barbara! And yes, Carol I agree that non-fiction have a built in advantage in terms of accepting the idea of becoming an entrepreneur than the ‘pure’ fiction writer.

    And Barbara, yes, yes, yes…there are so many ways that nonfiction authors can leverage their skills and expertise offline.

  4. Dr. Britt: An interesting blog post, to say the least. Thankfully, I believe I’m on the other end of the totem pole for what you describe as technophobes and afraid or unwilling to do their own marketing. In fact, I think I’m actually pretty confident with a positive mindset of keeping an open mind, learning new things, and being unafraid to experiment with different marketing and business techniques. The paragrapgh that got me the most was the last one, where you stated how easy it is to create one’s own information product (audio call and transcript). Truly fascinating!

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