Having been a book publisher for almost 25 years, one of the things that continues to strike me is the unique collection of expectations almost every individual author heaps upon their book—and, if these expectations haven’t been clarified and specifically pursued, how the publishing experience can yield as many disappointments and frustrations as rewards.
Let’s be honest. Nearly every author wants to make money on their book. Enough to cover costs. Enough to demonstrate that the book has an audience. Enough to feel the effort was worth it. Enough to validate them as a writer. Enough to be a decent source of a full or partial income. Whatever one’s goalpost for a publishing triumph, financial compensation can provide a stark measure of how close an author is to reaching that mark.
Some charmed authors will have the right combination of natural ability, ideal market timing, wildly popular topic, and good old-fashioned luck to make money easily as authors. For the remaining 99.9%, one reliable, solid alternative route to satisfying monetary returns is making a cottage industry out of your book. By cottage industry, I simply mean a side gig, a side hustle, a part-time business, a full-time business, a DIY source of real income. I like “cottage industry” though because it evokes what’s important here for succeeding: It’s on you. You’re making something and it requires industriousness.You do it from “where you’re at” and it’s a business and needs to be treated as such.
First, it’s important to realize that there are thousands of authors out there building a cottage industry around their book and their author-hood. I know authors who have created profitable side businesses (even full-time businesses) around a single title for 5, 7, and 10+ years.
Second, know that this can look very different for every author and every book—there is not one specific path. Cottage-industry authors I know have garnered their extra income by such varied approaches as leveraging relationships, pursuing publicity, giving public programs, becoming a workshop leader, and/or starting a business related to their book’s topic. Pricey corporate workshops, grade school programs funded by grants, a new career on the speaking circuit, a research business, a historic consultancy, a provider of oral histories, an underground dining club, and a tour company. These are real, exciting, and juicy options developed by authors I have published to keep their book selling, their expertise alive, and the money rolling in.
In getting started on the path to your own cottage industry, keep the following in mind:
Customization for you, your book, your goals, your resources, and your lifestyle is key. See the areas I’ve identified that you as an author can look at when creating a personalized sales and promotion plan that works for you and your book.
The top ways for almost any author to make money from their book are events and volume sales. Period. Begin by exploring what each of these two things can look like / be like for you and your book.
You must approach your cottage industry as a business and not a hobby. It is work—and for most people there’s also quite a learning curve when it comes to both the mindset aspect of business and the skills component. Embrace the learning. Accept failures and setbacks as part of the process. Commit to ongoing development and improvement.
Do not be afraid of quantity. That means that visiting one shop a day to show off your book may not be enough; you may have to visit 10. Calling 5 leads about volume sales every day may not be enough; you may have to call 50. (Yes, that’s really sitting down with the phone and making one call after another, putting all discouragement aside.) Pitching a couple of reporters each day may not be enough; you may have to pitch 20. One thing that happens when you work numbers like these day after day for a couple of weeks it that you eventually hit upon the “right” number. That is, you will discover how many of any specific thing you have to do to yield the results you want. If you get the results you want, you will know approximately what that will cost you in time and effort. Then, you can decide if it’s worth it.
Because…business is continuous testing. It’s trial and error. This works, that doesn’t. Changing this one thing increases sales by 10%. Awesome. What’s the next thing to try for a boost?
And, when you test and continuously improve, you realize the details matter. Momentum builds with every “correct” detail that is added to the mix. Take the example of the standard bookstore signing. You show up, hopefully a few readers show up, you sign and sell some books, and you go home disappointed because it wasn’t more. Now, start attending to the details of every event you do (before, during, and after) and making more and more details standard with every one (hint: start creating checklists for yourself).
Before the event:
- You can promote the event on social media and to your growing email newsletter subscriber list.
- You can contact the local press and have a reporter come out.
- You can set up a radio interview and mention the event on the air.
- And, you can practice and improve your presentation.
During the event:
- You can focus on the crowd and not your anxieties.
- You can personally engage everyone who shows up and the store’s staff.
- You can take names and email addresses for your mailing list.
- You can use the old candy dish ploy to get people to stop and talk.
- You can ask the audience to write Amazon reviews or to share photos of the event on social media.
After the event:
- You can do your own debriefing and make notes on what to change for next time.
- You can send a thank you note to the staff and ask if they have any recommendations for your program.
- Can they refer you to other stores?
- You can do your own social media follow-up.
You get the idea. Whatever your approach, the details matter and they can accumulate to your benefit.
Finally, think in terms of sending out ships. The royalty of yesteryear sent massive, well-funded expeditions out onto the high seas or over vast desserts for years at a time. Sure, many ended in demise—expensive, failed ventures—but the few that succeeded yielded untold treasures, agricultural wonders, new trade routes, and colonies. For the big payoffs and the big leagues, you’re going to have to launch ships from time to time. It takes forethought and proper planning, and an investment of creativity and energy to send out a ship. It also takes guts and deep reserves of self-confidence, patience, and vision to cushion you against long lead times and inevitable failures. Push the boundaries of your comfort zone, stretch, think bigger, and play bigger. How can you sell 100 books at a time? Or 1,000 books? Who can your partner with to gain huge visibility for you, your book, or your book’s topic? And, what can you create to ensure a steady stream of cash?
Sharon Woodhouse is the owner of Everything Goes Media, a publishing company with four imprints and a consulting division, Conspire Creative. She is the author of The Coach Within: 28 Big Ideas for Engaging the Power of Your Own Wisdom, Creativity, and Choices.
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