In 1990, my photographer husband and I owner-built a home. It was hard work, and offered a typical university of life learning curve. We’d already collaborated on nine home and do-it-yourself building related books (four of which had been published internationally in the US, UK, and Australia, as well as our native South Africa), so it wasn’t a surprise when the MD of one of the publishing companies we’d been working closely with suggested we create a book about owner building based on our personal experience.
In 1992, The Complete Book of Owner Building in South Africa was launched. It was an instant success. Over the next 17 years, it was reprinted regularly, and I updated it five times. In 2010, we were commissioned to totally revamp the book with new photographs and illustrations, and completely revised text. Two years later, a much more contemporary “new edition” titled simply Owner Building in South Africa was launched – it has already been reprinted once.
So, we knew we had a good selling non-fiction book but not a major source of income. We also knew that digital was the way to go. I’d been writing for a number of Word Press websites owned by clients, and had a good idea of how SEO worked. We decided to launch our own websites that could work hand-in-hand with our books. The first two related directly to our Owner Building title, though the one focused more specifically on building regulations. In May 2014, the building regulations site alone had 90,000 page impressions. Every day, we have dozens of queries from people desperately trying to solve building problems. We answer these as part of our service, and sell our recently produced ebooks off the sites. We also get advertising on the sites, and are expanding ways of monetizing them.
Not all our websites are directly related to books, but our newest is based on both a book on swimming pools and spas we had published in 1992, and a bi-annual magazine we produced for the South African National Swimming Pool Institute (NSPI) until 2009. Our aim is to make it the most comprehensive pool website on the Internet. It’s young and growing, and already drawing interest and income.
The secret is undoubtedly to take something that you know about, and realize has a good market (niche or otherwise), and transform it into a profitable project that will continue to allow you to write and expand your business opportunities.
Penny Swift has been writing about homes, gardens and DIY for decades, both in magazines and books. Author of more than 40 books ranging from coffee table landscaping and interior titles to concrete, bricks and mortar college series, she is currently concentrating on web-based ventures.