Writing and publishing a book is a huge undertaking, and it's important for authors to understand how to make money while doing it! Some may think it's as simple as publishing a book, then sitting back and waiting for it to sell—but that's only scratching the surface. It takes hard work and creativity to make a living as an author, but there’s more than one way to do it. In this post, we talk about six different ways to earn author income.
This article is based on a podcast episode with Orna Ross, Director of the Alliance of Independent Authors.
After hearing reports about dwindling author incomes, we know it can be easy for writers to become discouraged. Well, we've got some good news to share: self-published author incomes are on the rise. There are a variety of models that authors can follow to earn a livable wage; today, we'll focus on six of them.
Different Ways to Earn Author Income
- One Single Outlet
- Global Distribution
- Reader Membership Model
- Affiliate Income
1. One Single Outlet
The first model for earning income is publishing one type of book through one single outlet. In this model, you publish one format (typically an ebook), and you make it available through one outlet (typically Amazon exclusively). Selling ebooks that are available with limited distribution means that authors have to write fast and often, to see success.
This model doesn't suit very many authors because most can't write fast enough for it to be sustainable (hello, writer's block). Plus, one of the biggest ways to limit your sales is to limit your distribution to one outlet. A best practice for authors is to diversify, which we'll discuss in the next model.
2. Global Distribution
The second model includes multiple book formats and wide distribution. Instead of just publishing an ebook, authors publish other formats as well—paperback, hardcover, audiobooks, or all of the above. It's important to consider why readers buy books and not limit your readers to one reading experience. Some prefer the comfort of a paperback, the sturdiness of a hardcover, or the convenience of a digital reader; some prefer to just listen. By offering multiple formats, you're giving your book the best chance at widespread success.
In addition to offering multiple formats, you also go wide with your distribution. Rather than selling your books exclusively through one channel, you make your books available to the entire global market. IngramSpark's global distribution network makes your book available to more than 39,000 retailers and libraries worldwide, including Barnes & Noble and your local independent bookstore and reaches major online channels, such as Amazon, Apple, Kobo, and more.
The first two models are the only "book-only" models that we'll discuss in this post. The main reason is simple: making money off of books alone is quite difficult.
Most writers wouldn't classify themselves as extroverts, but you don't have to have a certain personality type to be a great speaker! In the third model, authors pair writing books with speaking. Speaking engagements are great ways to promote your book (or series of books!) and grow your audience. Booking an author event can seem daunting at first, but you can start small and then work your way up to larger crowds. The more you speak, the more opportunities you'll have to book more events and grow your author platform.
There are also higher-margin speaking opportunities, like video courses. Selling a video product is a bit more scalable than in-person speaking. For nonfiction authors, a video course often relates to your book topic. For example, if you're writing a book about a new diet, you might sell exclusive interview content with leading health experts. Or, if you're writing a book about gardening, you might sell some instructional videos for beginner, intermediate, and expert levels. Ideas and opportunities abound for those who take the time to brainstorm, research, and create.
4. Reader Membership Model
Through the reader membership model, authors give their readers access to a monthly subscription where they offer additional resources. This will vary by author and genre, but it allows the reader to get the inside scoop on what's new, participate in monthly chats with the author, and receive exclusive content not available to readers outside the membership.
When looking into a reader membership model, it's important that you've already taken steps to build your author platform. A monthly or annual membership is a commitment from readers; but as we know from popular streaming services, monthly membership models are a great way to create consistent long-term revenue.
Next, let's talk about patronage. This model is similar to the reader membership model in that your fans and readers receive behind-the-scenes access to your chosen content; however, there's an important distinction. Rather than paying a set amount for membership, a reader can pledge an amount that they would like to support you on a regular basis—be it $1 or $1,000. Many indie authors use the popular website Patreon to allow their readers to become true "patrons of the arts" and support their writing through patronage. There's a variety of membership-based business models you can use on Patreon today.
6. Affiliate Income
As you grow your members in the models above, you can partner with businesses that have similar audiences and begin earning income off of sponsorship or advertising on your site, recommending products that you believe your readers will find useful. Think about this the same way you might think of social media influencers. If a brand (such as Home Depot) sees an influencer on Instagram (such as Joanna Gaines) who has a similar audience to theirs, they might reach out to that person and ask them to promote their product. If a business knows that your audience is their target audience as well, they could pay for advertising to your members or perhaps sponsor some of your podcast episodes, webinars, or exclusive member content. By creating affiliate links, you'll be able to track how many of your readers turn into a customer for that business and earn incremental income from each reader that you convert.
At the end of the day, the best way to maximize your author income is to employ various models mentioned above. Rather than putting all of your publishing eggs in one basket, try out a few different options. Then based on your author goals, you can assess the options and decide which are the best fit for you.