The traditional publishing process is arduous enough to dash the hopes of many aspiring authors. Don’t let the statistically slim prospects of reliable income scare you! Authors don’t get rich just on book sales. Luckily for today’s writers, more and more strategies are available to help you publish a book and get paid. Here at The Speaker Lab, we love equipping first-time authors with the tools to write great books and put them in the hands of readers who need them.
One of the things that might be weighing on your mind early in the publishing process is how to actually make money by publishing a book.
The “starving artist” stereotype applies to authors after all, and grim statistics reveal how little money most authors–especially first-timers–really make per sale.
So, what’s the magic key to getting paid when you publish a book? How do you make that book you’ve been sitting on for a while launch you toward your dream of being a full-time author?
The answer lies mainly in marketing, plus being strategic and aware of the financial matters at stake in the publishing process. If you’re willing to put in the work and market both your book and yourself, you will be on track to getting paid and getting popular (in the sense that your readers will love you so much they beg for more!)
If you take a look at the stats on how full-time authors make money, only about 20% report their total income as coming from book sales. This means that even the guys who have really made it make their money from other things.
So how do they make money? Keep reading to find out. We’ll take you through the financial matters to keep in mind before you publish, the marketing tactics to use to get your book sold & read, and finally the real action items: how to market your personal brand into a successful author’s career.
1. Before you Publish: Money Matters to Consider
If your first priority with publishing a book is making money, you will have to put in a lot of work beyond writing a book. Authors don’t get rich just on book sales (if anyone does, it’s the publisher).
But publishing a book the right way can start the cash rolling in…if you’re smart about it. This includes making the right choice about whether to pursue traditional vs. self-publishing based on your financial needs and desires. We’ve distilled the most important financial considerations of each publishing method to help inform your decision!
Of course, you need to make sure you’ve written a good book first. Check out our guide to book-writing for beginners for an overview of what has to happen before you publish.
If you’re working with a traditional publisher
Authors who work with a traditional publisher will agree on an advance to be paid before the book goes to print. For a first-time author, you can expect around $5,000 or $10,000–it is effectively a signing bonus. You will not earn any new money until sales earn back the advance for your publisher.
Depending on your niche, your path to becoming a good writer could look very different. The most important advice –I cannot emphasize this enough–is to keep writing. If you are not already a full-time writer (e.g. blogger, copywriter, technical writer), it’s time to start writing as a side gig (a blog, a column, a newsletter).
If you’re self-publishing
If you’re a fast writer, you can theoretically self-publish multiple books a year without any limits. While you will have to discipline yourself and set your own goals, deadlines, and standards, the creative freedom far exceeds that of traditional publishing.
On the other hand, self-publishing requires a few significant up-front expenses. Unless you are blessed with an outrageously comprehensive skill set, you will have to hire an editor, proofreader, graphic designer, and maybe even pay for a book writing or outlining software. (We have a few favorites–read about them here).
Whether you use your personal networks to find people with the requisite skills or use Fiverr or Upwork to find freelancers, you can factor in spending at least $2000.00 during the self-publishing process.
However, the advantage of self-publishing comes in the significantly higher proportion you will make per sale. With a good marketing plan, your sales will pay off your upfront expenses much faster than a traditionally published book might make a profit beyond the advance. Self-published authors can make up to 70% of royalties per sale…so you can easily put together a marketing strategy with a tangible goal based on how many sales you need to be profitable.
Let’s say you publish the same $20.00 book we used as an example above. This time you use Kindle Direct Publishing to list it on Amazon, with 60% royalties. If you spent $2400 on self-publishing services, you only need to sell 200 books to become profitable, and just over 400 to make the equivalent of a $5000.00 advance.
Whether you use traditional or self-publishing, you need an effective marketing plan and a strong connection to your personal brand. Equipped with these, your book can launch you into making money as a speaker, consultant, coach, podcaster–you name it.
2. Marketing your Book
If you are working with a traditional publisher, you will have to have a marketing plan in place already by the time you submit your book proposal. They will not want to work with you if you can’t prove your book will sell!
If you are self-publishing, marketing is the only way your book will get purchased. That can be daunting–after all, wasn’t the point to make money, not spend it on ads? Fortunately, there are some key strategies to have in place when you launch your book that will give you a huge leg up when your book hits the shelves.
An essential piece in this puzzle is doing your research ahead of time. You don’t want to write a book only to find out there’s no demand! As you work on your manuscript, stay attuned to trends in the space of your target market. You want to start building hype for your book before it gets published–even if it means creating a whole new social media presence from scratch.
That’s right, building a community, both in-person and online (via social media, a newsletter, a blog, etc.), is the first step toward guaranteed sales. Start with some classic, affordable Word of Mouth marketing–make sure everyone knows you’re writing a book! Then use what you learned by researching your target market trends to engage with potential readers and build a solid group of subscribers, followers, and fans.
From your community, you will build another essential of the marketing puzzle: the launch team. A launch team is a community of volunteers who will promote your book as soon as it gets published according to your specifications. Depending on your book subject, this could be a close group of friends or coworkers, fans that submit applications from among your social media followers, or authors in your network whose readers are in your target market.
Make sure you provide your launch team with advance copies of your manuscript. This is a great way to reward them and give them the insider scoop to tailor their messages. It will also provide you with the first wave of another essential marketing tool: testimonials.
Of course, you want a few good testimonials to print on the back cover of your book–preferably from authors or experts that your readers will already recognize and respect. But don’t stop there. Testimonials from readers should appear everywhere your book is sold and beyond: Goodreads, Amazon, your author website (more on that in the next section), and Google. Never hesitate to ask for a review…it could tip the scales toward your next sale!
Your launch team and other members of your readership and community will also help you plan book events.
Is there a local bookstore in your hometown that loves showcasing new authors from the area?
Does someone you know work for a company that would like you to come speak about your book to their team?
Can you put together a tour, even if it’s just in your state?
Events are a low-cost way to give your readers the elevator pitch, show them the person behind the book and make in-person sales.
3. Beyond the Book: Marketing You
Now that your launch team has provided your book a solid marketing foundation, it’s time to make the book work for you. A published book is a tool for marketing yourself by building a personal brand around your author status.
If your book is a big hit on Amazon but nobody knows who you are, your career as an author starts and ends with that one book. You want readers, reviewers, and publishing houses to know where to find you–your ideas, your writing talents, and your unique expertise!
We’ve compiled the most essential marketing tactics that every author should at least consider if not try below.
- AUTHOR WEBSITE: A great way to cultivate your authorial brand is to have a website with information about you, your book, and any exciting updates and events your readers might be interested in. Make sure your readers can sign up for your newsletter, buy your products, and read testimonials here.
- WRITING THINGS OTHER THAN BOOKS: Have you educated yourself about the media opportunities in your field? Try pitching guest articles, or even having a regular column! Alternatively, gauge the demand among your readers and consider starting a Substack or other subscription-based newsletter.
- SPEAKING: Speaking is a fantastic way to bring in extra income to allow you to become an author full time! Be open-minded about where you pitch your speaking skills and you’ll be surprised how many new readers and fans you find…and how much you get paid. Find out how much you could be making as a speaker here and get ready for the stage!
- PODCASTING: There are probably dozens of podcasts in the same subject area as your book. Before starting your own, reach out to other podcasters and join as a guest…a fun and free way to promote your work!
- EVENTS: Beyond the book launch events we covered above, you can turn the content of your book into an in-person or online workshop! To really up the ante, gather like–minded authors (you know, the ones you asked to write testimonials for the back cover of your book) for a weekend-long symposium.
- ONLINE COURSES: If workshop events take off, why not create an online course? If your writing has an audience, so will your teaching or coaching skills. Online courses (prominently advertised on your website) are a great source of passive income and a way to build a community of students who will be dying for you to write another book.
Let’s wrap things up.
If you’ve taken away nothing else from this piece, remember marketing is key. Marketing your idea, marketing your book, marketing yourself…it all goes together.
A successful personal brand will serve you well beyond your first book and can be a great asset if you’re trying to shift from self-publishing to traditional publishing. Publishers will take note of writers–even those purely in the self-publishing space–who have throngs of adoring fans. When you are in such high demand that publishing houses start a bidding war over your next book…that’s how you get paid in traditional publishing.
That was a long one, so here are some publishing FAQs to refresh:
How much do you get paid if you publish a book?
Traditionally published authors generally make an advance of about $5,000.00–$15,000.00 dollars plus 10–15% royalties of any additional sales beyond that. Self-published authors generally make 30–70% royalties per sale from day one.
Where can I publish my book and make money?
Kindle Direct Publishing is one of the most affordable self-publishing platforms for both printed and digital books, ensuring you a fixed rate of 60% of the royalties per sale.
How do I sell a book that I wrote?
If you self-publish, you can get your book listed on Amazon within a few days. Boost sales by marketing your book and your personal brand with a launch team, signing events, an up-to-date author website, and pursuing speaking opportunities.
Is self publishing worth it?
Absolutely! While self-publishing requires more upfront investment of time and money, the greater share of royalties will be yours from the start. If you implement a strategic marketing plan when you publish, your book could become profitable after only a few sales.