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How to Make Money as an Author

I sat at my desk with my phone pressed up against my ear and thought, “You have GOT to be kidding!” I was speaking with my publisher about the details of my soon-to-be-signed first publishing contract and he had just told me that, as a traditionally-published author, I would be getting $2 for every book sold.

Two dollars.

I could buy a cup of coffee with that somewhere.

Or two songs on iTunes.

Or any number of useful items at the Dollar Store.

But I certainly wasn’t going to be getting rich on $2, and forthcoming book sales certainly weren’t going to feature as part of my financial planning for retirement. Or compensate me for the countless hours over 13 years it had taken me to write the darned thing. Even $1,000 month in revenue was going to require me to generate sales of 500 copies of my book in book stores and on Amazon. That’s an awful lot of books!

Somehow I had internalized the idea that becoming a published author was the gateway to wealth. Somehow, I was wrong. A survey by Digital Book World a few years ago found that authors make anywhere between $500 (if they are indie-published) to $5,000 (if they are traditionally-published authors) annually. Ten per cent earn more than $100,000 a year, and 4% earn over $250,000.

How Do Authors Make Money?

So, how does anybody make money as an author? With my fifth book on its way to bookshelves now, I have a few ideas on that, which I’m happy to share today:

  1. Leverage your book to get speaking engagements. There is a lot of credibility involved in becoming a published author and event planners like to see a publication credit when they are considering hiring a speaker. Speaking at events can give you a revenue stream, although most paid speaking engagements for beginners who do not have a “big” name or brand usually start by speaking for free or for small honorariums of $100-$500.
  2. Sell author copies of your book. I typically use my Author’s Advance cheque to purchase copies of my book from my publisher at a wholesale cost. That means that instead of paying $19.95 or $24.95 I buy my several hundred copies of my own copies of my book for $12-$14 each. When I attend speaking events or on other occasions, I sell them for more, which enables me to make a profit of $7-$10 each, depending on the retail price. I might sell 20-40 books, giving me a tidy little profit of a few hundred dollars. Some authors I know negotiate book purchases for every member of the audience as part of their speaking fee.
  3. Hold your own event. Staging your own event allows you to factor the cost of providing a book to each participant into the ticket price, plus it allows you to leverage your credibility as an author to generate more interest.
  4. Create programs around your book’s content. Many authors I know have developed workshops and retreat days around the book they’ve written (or written books about their programs).  A solid revenue can be made through participation fees.
  5. Develop a marketing plan focused on book sales. The bottom line, however, is that you should develop a marketing plan around your book. It should include a web presence, a social media plan, some speaking engagements and book reviews.

Make no mistake – generating revenue from your book is a BIG project and marketing your book is a job in and of itself. It takes a lot of time and energy to do this well, but given the costs of producing your book (the editing and publishing, of course, plus the dollar value of the many hours you spent writing it), you want to generate sales so the project doesn’t become a money pit. Good luck with it all! And, if you have any questions, please feel free to book a free consultation with me to discuss your project!


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