You probably won’t make money from book sales alone, but you can make money from your book.
Every author has a different reason for writing their book. Some authors want to raise awareness around a topic, like hunger or homelessness. Other want to raise awareness around themselves as an authority on a subject. Books can do that. Many authors want to promote their business or side-hustle with a book. Still others hope their book will connect them to readers, people they desperately want to connect with, help, or instruct. In each of these examples (and there are so many more), the author has something beyond simply writing and selling the book in mind. They want what the book will do for them.
We all hope to have a good Return on Investment (ROI) from our book, but to use book sales alone to calculate ROI is faulty thinking.
BOOK SALES—THE NUMBERS
While the entry point to traditional publishing is virtually free, it is still not without cost. You will likely need to pay for some type of coaching and editing to polish your book proposal to garner the attention of a literary agent. Let’s say that costs you $500-$3000. This is still a risk as you have no guarantee of being signed with a publisher. (Your literary agent is paid on commission when you get a contract with a publisher.) Most publishers give first-time authors a small advance upon signing. In this instance, your advance on royalties would cover your editing investment.
But did that advance check cover the cost of your time—likely the past year or two—on this book? No, it did not. Is $5,000 – $15,000 worth two years of sleepless nights and time missed with family? No, it’s not. Of course, you hope your book becomes a best-seller and you continue to receive royalty checks, but statistically, it’s not likely.
If we continue with the ROI logic, this book was not worth your investment—time being your most valuable commodity.
So you choose to self-publish. You pay upfront for all the services to edit and publish your book, but the moment it begins to sell you receive 100% of the royalties. Self-Publishing costs vary greatly depending on your skills and how much help you need. Let’s say it cost you $2,500 to publish and you plan to sell your book for $15.99 using Amazon Print-On-Demand Services (so you don’t pay for print costs up front). You’ll receive about $11 (after POD services and taxes) for every book you sell. In this scenario, you’ll need sell 228 books before you’ll receive an ROI. This doesn’t sound half bad until you consider that the average self-published book sells 250 copies in its lifetime.
Again, if we only look at ROI as book sales, we would never write a book.
SHOW ME THE MONEY
Books are a tool. They have more value than what’s between the covers or what you can make from book sales alone. A book can establish you as an authority, promote your business, increase awareness around an issue, and generate new leads. The value of a book cannot always be quantified; however a big picture approach can ensure you take advantage of all the value a book can bring.
Here are a few of the different ways you can utilize the power of your book to launch a new career and increase your ROI:
- Speaking Career: Published authors are more likely to be invited to speak at events and paid better than their unpublished counterparts. Use your book’s topic as a launch pad. What are you writing about? What are your areas of expertise (via experience or education)? What are some topics that overlap with your book and things your audience is interested in? While conferences and events are great opportunities, don’t forget about businesses, schools, libraries, and other community events. The pay may not be much, but it’s a great place to start gaining experience as a speaker (don’t forget to ask for referrals and references along the way).
- 1:1 Coaching: If your book is more prescriptive in nature (how-to, self-help), you may be able to set up coaching services to you help others get to where you are. We are not talking about therapy or other professions that require licensing and certification. Think moms helping other moms learn elimination communication, or teaching someone how to set up a new business.
- Workshops: Workshops are a great way to serve your audience and gain new followers. Imagine giving a shorter talk on your message and then providing your audience with takeaways or walking them through a few steps to achieve the desired goal. Look for groups and organizations where your workshop might be a good fit or where your ideal reader is already hanging out. Workshops can additionally be hosted online.
- Online Courses: Can you break down your content into an online course? Companies like SamCart, Teachable, and Kajabi have simplified the process of creating online courses. All you really need is a smart phone to record your videos.
- Consulting Service: For those that have experienced success professionally, sometimes the only way to continue to move up the ladder is by establishing yourself as the authority (through a book) and launch consulting services for other professionals or businesses.
- Professional Services: If you’re in a service-based industry, a book is great way to onboard new clients who may be unsure of your services. The know, like, and trust factor goes a long way.
- Workbooks, Journals, Physical Products, and Collateral Materials: Sometimes your book is a good fit to sell physical products or other collateral materials that pertain to your book.
What will the ROI on your book be? The biggest payout comes when you plan out how you want to use your book (your author goals) BEFORE you start writing and then write the book that will take you to where you want to go.
Looking for more information about the process and cost of self-publishing? I recommend Jane Friedman’s post on how to self-publish which is regularly updated.