According to the 2014 Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Author Survey, which was based on responses from more than 9,000 aspiring and seasoned authors, just over 77 percent of self-published writers make $1,000 or less a year, An extremely high 53.9 percent of traditionally-published authors, and 43.6 percent of hybrid authors reported their earnings below that threshold. Only 0.7 percent of self-published writers, 1.3 percent of traditionally-published, and 5.7 percent of hybrid writers reported making more than $100,000 a year from their writing.
So how do, or can, you earn a living as a nonfiction author? Build businesses around your books, or write more nonfiction books. Or do both.
Your Book as a Business Cornerstone
Many nonfiction authors choose to build businesses around their book or books. To do so requires using your published work as the cornerstone of what the products and services you choose to offer.
If this sounds like an appealing solution to you, start with a brainstorming session. Ask yourself:
- What do I write about?
- Am I an expert on a particular topic?
- Am I a thought leader in an industry?
- Are all my books on a particular theme or do they take place in a particular place or time period, thus making me an authority them?
- Have I done any branding around my books so I am now known “for” something or “as” something, like a knitting or travel author or a business expert?
While nonfiction writers may find this exercise easier to complete, it is possible for novelists to build a business around books as well. If you write fiction as well as nonfiction, be creative. Cross over into nonfiction with a topic related to your fiction. In this way, create an area of expertise related to the themes and subjects in your novel. Then offer similar products and services to those provided by nonfiction authors.
Products and Services Authors Can Offer
Next, consider the different types of products or services you might offer that relate both to your books and to your expertise. Here are six ways you can build a business around your book:
- Teleseminars and webinars: Use these online teaching methods to reach potential readers, customers and clients all over the world, and charge people to attend. Or offer them for free (to build your mailing list), and then sell the recordings from your website as products.
- Classes or courses: You can offer to teach in person, but you also can teach online, again expanding your reach. Once you have taught a series of classes online using teleseminars or webinar technology and recorded them, you can then sell these as a home-study program or as a pre-recorded class. You can even add a live coaching option if you like. In all cases, you repurpose your work and earn more money. Additionally, if you plan out the teleseminars or webinars you offer (suggestion #1), you can create an online course out of these and later sell it from your website.
- Coaching or consulting services: If you are an expert or authority on any topic, you can offer group coaching or one-on-one coaching. Many people call this their “rent-my-brain” service.
- Membership sites: Private, members-only sites are one of the best ways to monetize an author’s knowledge. All you need is a blog and a plugin to make it work, and many such plugins and services exist. For instance, if you use WordPress.org for your blog, you can then use Membermouse, Wishlist, Digital Access Pass, or Magic Members to put your content “behind closed doors” for only those who agree to pay a monthly or yearly fee to access it.
- Speeches or talks: Depending upon your subject matter, you may be able to get a sizeable paycheck to speak on your topic. Many authors are speakers and spend a good bit of their time at the lectern.
- Short ebooks, white papers, guides, or reports: If you write fast, you can churn out short works, which are more and more popular these days, and sell them on Amazon. They will build your brand and your expert status as well as your wallet. Couple them with a teleseminars or webinar to increase the price.
Write More Books
Here’s a bonus: If you don’t have a desire to build a business, or you are a novelist, writing more books may be the easiest way to increase yearly income. Over and over again I hear how writing more books helps authors sell more books. Speaking on a panel at IBPA’s Publishing University, Brooke Warner of She Writes Press said, “Profitability happens at book three.”
Profitable hybrid authors, those who choose to use both traditional and indie publishing methods, tend to have about 12 published titles to their names.
However, those 12 books can create a business for an author as well. They can make you an expert on your topic, thus leading to speaking or coaching, for example. Plus, remember that if you choose to self-publish, you start a publishing company for the sole purpose of producing your books. That, in and of itself, is a business built around your books.
Have a Plan
To ensure you have a profitable career as an author, do some early planning. When you decide to write your first book, produce a business plan for your book. As part of that plan, map out the follow-up books you want to write and the business you might build around them. Also consider how you might publish all those books. Then follow your plan. In this way, you can create a profitable career as an author.
If you want more information on how to create a business plan for your book or a career plan for your career as an author, click here.
Susan Stewart says
Thank you, Nina. I’m in the process of building my brand. I’ve had a brand for several years, but I just let it sit there. Your words here help me focus where I need to be going.
Cyd Madsen says
As always, Nina, excellent advice along with a dose of reality.
Traci Freed says
Interesting article about building businesses around your book. I recently read an article that talked about how writing a book can build your personal or professional brand through speaking opportunities, media exposure, new clients, etc. It was pretty interesting and can be found here: https://scribewriting.com/books-build-brand/