How to Make Money as an Author

In this article, I’d like to share a few financial considerations which I believe it’s important for self-publishing authors to think about.

Many self-publishing authors find it difficult to make a substantial income purely from writing, so they seek to combine their book sales income with one or more other revenue streams. In a helpful article on the ALLi self-publishing advice website published in June 2019, ALLi director Orna Ross shared 10 business models for indie authors. You can read Orna’s post directly via this link, but I would just like to add to Orna’s work by making a few comments which expand upon the content of her article.

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate programs are an excellent way for authors to supplement their book sales income, and they can be very lucrative. If you’re not familiar with the concept of affiliate marketing, it’s basically where a retailer rewards you for sending traffic their way which results in the person referred by you making a purchase within a specified timeframe.

If you’re interested in the possibility of earning affiliate income, I highly recommend checking out the GeniusLink website, as they are a very future-facing company that offer many excellent tools to help people get set up with affiliate marketing.

One feature of the GeniusLink offering that I love is their ‘Choice Pages’, which are pages you can set up that feature an image of your book cover (or any other product) alongside retailer links that when clicked automatically redirect to the relevant store in the country where the person who clicked the link is based, thus making any potential sale as a result of your referral relatively easy (you can click here to see a Choice Page I set up for one of my books). Choice pages include an optional affiliate link declaration, which companies with affiliate programs often demand as part of their terms of service, so this is very useful.

GeniusLink pricing scales according to how many people are clicking your links, which is a fair and logical way of doing things. I’m currently signed up to the lowest tier of their paid plans, which costs me around £8.00 a month for up to 5000 clicks, and this feels very reasonable. I don’t personally participate in affiliate marketing for reasons I won’t go into, but for most authors it’s a no brainer and I would highly advise participating.

If all of the above sounds quite complicated, don’t worry, it is a lot to get your head around at first, but once you’ve understood the principle and the way affiliate systems work, they are not too complicated to set up and use at all, and they can generate a significant amount of passive income (that is, income you earn without having to actively do very much).

Author Services

Offering services is another popular way authors make money in addition to book sales income. One example of this working effectively would be a scenario where an author has invested in book formatting software (such as InDesign or Vellum) in order to format the interior of their own books, but having mastered the process can then offer a formatting service to other authors who either don’t have the same software, are less experienced with it, or simply don’t have the time to dedicate to formatting a book themselves.

I’ve given the example of formatting, but authors may also be skilled in a variety of other areas, including editing and proofreading or book cover design, for example. In recent years there has been a rise in the popularity of websites such as Fiverr and UpWork, where freelancers can offer their services to a large number of potential clients. Registering with one or more of these kinds of sites can be a fantastic avenue for undertaking work that supplements an author’s book sales income.

Become a Book Publisher

Something that I’ve considered doing to supplement my book sales income, which I have also seen friends doing, is releasing books by other authors via one’s own publishing imprint. In the digital age, it’s possible for virtually anyone who is committed enough to do the relevant research to handle pretty much every stage of the book publishing process on behalf of another author.

If you’re an author and this possibility is attractive to you, you may want to consider how exactly you will make money by releasing the books of other authors. Will they, for instance, pay you a fee upfront in exchange for releasing their book? Or will you agree a royalty share in relation to money made from future book sales? And who will pay for the promotion and marketing?

When entering into working relationships of this nature I would certainly suggest getting legal advice and signing contracts to help avoid any complications further down the line, especially if one of the books released under your imprint were to become very successful.

By the way, as far as I’m aware, setting up an imprint can be as simple as purchasing a relevant domain name and registering the imprint name with the relevant authority in your country. It is not necessarily complicated to become a publisher and there aren’t necessarily any significant costs involved. It would be advisable to create a website for the imprint, however, if you are looking to attract authors outside of your immediate network of contacts to your imprint.

Other Important Financial Considerations

Benefit entitlement. If you’re self-employed and on a low income, you may be entitled to government support (or ‘benefits’) to supplement your book sales revenue. Check out the relevant government website in your country for further information.

Diversification. In the digital age things move quickly, so it can be helpful to have a number of diverse income streams so that if one fails to be profitable for any reason, you have the others to fall back on. One example of this might be the authorpreneur who writes and sells books, runs a YouTube channel, engages in photography work, and uses affiliate marketing on their website.

Do It Yourself. A great way that authors can save money while learning new skills is by adopting a DIY approach to the different aspects of the book publishing process. One example of this from personal experience is that rather than spending thousands of pounds paying for audiobook versions of some of my titles to be recorded by other professionals, I instead decided to convert the walk-in wardrobe in my home into an audio recording booth! This took quite a lot of research and time to achieve, but in the long run it will save me many thousands of pounds, and with my setup in place I could potentially record audiobooks for other authors, thus providing another substantial source of income.

Some Final Thoughts

When it comes to the publishing industry and how to make money, the only constant is that the industry is always changing and evolving. It’s a good idea to keep up with how trends are emerging and developing, and one way of doing this is to pick your news sources carefully. I personally listen to Joanna Penn’s podcast quite regularly, and I’m signed up to the mailing lists of Mark Dawson and David Gaughran, both of whom often are indie authors who share useful advice for other authors who have chosen to go down the self-publishing route.

When it comes to making money as an author, trial and error is important, and you may find that you have to take a few financial risks somewhere along the line. For instance, trying out an Amazon advertising strategy that doesn’t end up working may lose you some money in the short term, but you will at least have gained some valuable experience that can help you succeed in the future. Conversely, a strategy that you employed only half-heartedly may end up being very lucrative due to something unexpected happening, such as a video or a blog post going viral, for instance.

I once thought it would be a bright idea to get a few hundred business cards printed which had my website address on the front and some details of my book releases on the back, and then go around my neighbourhood posting a card through every letter box that didn’t display a ‘no junk mail’ sign. I even printed out a map of my local area, and highlighted on the map each and every road on which I had delivered the cards.

While the physical exercise probably did me the world of good, I don’t think I generated a single book sale as a result of that strategy, and at best I only got a handful of people to check out my website. With the benefit of hindsight, if I had used the money I spent on those business cards to advertise on Amazon, I would probably have sold quite a lot of books with hardly any effort at all. That said, you never know — maybe one of my neighbours has one of those business cards tucked away in the back of their wallet, and will one day pull it out during a time of crisis, order one of my books, and find the content of the book to be truly transformative. God works in mysterious ways, and I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason.

My final thought is perhaps an obvious one, which is that you don’t need to make loads of money in order to be ‘successful’. I would argue that the number one indicator of success is our happiness levels, and often an abundance of money doesn’t equate with happiness at all. In fact, the more money we have, the more stressful life can become.

It’s important to have one’s basic needs met in life, of course, but beyond that happiness (at least as I see things) is about contributing to society in a meaningful way. We find happiness by making other people happy, and so rather than focusing on accumulating wealth, my advice is to focus on self-improvement. If you take this approach, you may find that financial security and book sales happen incidentally.

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