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How Authors Earn A Living

Authors tend to want to "luck into" their income.

Lucky calves daring each other to see how close they can get...

Because 1) they are following their passion and 2) Marketing and Promoting isn't as much fun as writing. 

So when a book starts selling, they go: a) What did I write about? and b) How can I write more of these?

There isn't some grand analysis done on the fly to find out what "influencers" or promotional steps found customers and prompted them to buy.

The books that continue to sell for me are 

  • non-fiction, mostly, 
  • written to areas on tiny niche subjects where there is high demand, low supply.
  • published as both ebooks and in print (POD - sometimes both paper and hardback)

What doesn't sell:

  • non-differentiated alsoran books in saturated markets (most fiction and old re-published books
  • both primarily published as ebooks.)

There's the commonalities: 

1) Existing audience I tap into.

2) Paperbacks sell better.

Another factor my non-fiction is that it can be found by search engines and they direct to booksellers, where they get an affiliate payment. Because non-fiction books answer the question or sell the problem they are looking to solve.

Chasing after audience - Nope

The worst advice out there (repeated by Amazon-addicted wannabes) is to "write to market". This means finding what's selling for other people and then write stuff like that yourself, and churn it out like butter on a dairy farm. 

(A short economics lesson: You have to milk those cows daily, and so you have cream to separate and convert into butter daily, or maybe cheese, so it doesn't go bad in a week. You have to sell that milk daily because it goes bad even when refrigerated, and who can drink gallons of milk daily? Butter can be frozen and keeps forever. Hard cheese is like paperbacks - they can sit in a cool basement and sell when people ask for them. Expensive to produce, but higher income and can be promoted to regular customers.)

This means when someone starts talking about including "tropes" in your writing, they are telling you to write to a specific Amazon category of readers who have been trained to solve their entertainment addiction by constantly buying more books that they then delete when they have to have room for more.

That's what Amazon is built on - selling you more stuff. So they constantly churn through authors and their books, shifting what they recommend every 30 days or more frequently. And they sell authors ad space so they can keep their book in the "recommended" areas. (That's called a tax.)

And is why authors on Amazon generally don't make a living at it. Even though they are churning out 50K a month and paying for covers, editing, and promotion at this "hobby".

Authors outside Amazon can generally earn 50% more income and spend less on advertising. Plus, they don't have to release so regularly. Their readers in the non-Amazon markets will pay more for books and prefer quality over quantity. If writing is a passionate hobby for you, then you can make it pay more and be even more satisfying. Think about it.

What does a Writer Really Need?

  • An audience
  • That buys their books

For the author who wants their hobby to pay for itself (and maybe even support them) that translates to:

  • Email list
  • Direct sales outlet (in addition to selling everywhere else you can)

For me, that means:

1) Mailerlite

2) Gumroad (in addition to using an aggregator to publish my books to all major book marketplaces)

Let's fault this: Sure, other places sell your books for you. They have established marketplaces. Gumroad has its own marketplace, but it's not as well known - meaning you have to be sending traffic to it. But guess what - one marketer who found he could make more money selling ebooks than though his affiliate marketing efforts, posted his results monthly for years - and concluded (after noting his book sales slumped on Amazon when he took vacations) that: Amazon works as well as you drive traffic to it. 

So do all marketplaces. Nothing will sell unless people know your product is out there and why it's good for them. Even the world's best mousetrap doesn't get people beating a path to the inventor's door. (Thoreau was wrong. He should have bought a cat for his mouse problem.)

Selling books on other's marketplaces is a crapshoot - and the dice are rigged.

Marketplaces don't give you email addresses. Even though they use them to promote their own top-sellers with. Authors have a workaround - get people links to use to sign up to your own email list. 

Sending to a direct sales outlet gets you email addresses. And you can mail these customers directly when your next book comes out. 

Other advantages of Gumroad for direct book sales

  • Paid memberships - recurring income
  • Courses for your non-fiction
  • Deliver any digital format, not just ebooks. And give a direct link out to places they can buy your paperback.

Non-fiction, particularly, is a vertical market, Meaning people who have the print also want the ebook, also want the course, want a membership to get continuing content about that area.

An Writer's Workflow

1) Get inspired, write your book.

2) Revise, Proof. Add backmatter pages with email list opt-in.

3) Format (Draft2Digital)

4) Publish ebook wide (Draft2Digital)

5) Publish in POD print from ebook (Draft2Digital) yes, it goes wide, too.

6) Publish to Gumroad - ebook, with buy-print link to, perhaps, Barnes&Noble

7) Build a paid membership on Gumroad where your most rabid fans can save money by subscribing and get every new book immediately, plus other insider extras.

8) Build a course for your non-fiction books and offer this on Gumroad (discounts to your Insiders).

But - the Authors Platform - Don't you also need ...

  • A blog? You can do this from Gumroad, and those can now be emailed directly to your customers to keep them in the loop. Blogs are promotion.
  • Social media? See Tim Grahl - social media doesn't result in book sales - they are there to socialize, not buy. 
  • SEO? People who go to search engines are there to find information, not buy books there.
  • Podcasts? People who download podcasts are there to be entertained. If you want to do podcasts, read your blurb and the first chapter - then send them to the buy link. But chances are, they'll forget that link until they get to a computer. So - no, podcasts don't effectively sell books. Sell the audiobook via Gumroad or Findaway (via Draft2Digital).
  • Ads? Go to the email newsletters where the avid readers get their own fix - Bookbub and others. Run ads there and give out your link so they can buy their books wherever they want. Then trust that the interested readers will subscribe through your backmatter opt-in lnk. Paying the Amazon tax will take another 20-25% of your income away.

What I didn't do and now have to...

I've been doing a lot of things backwards. And when I recognize this, I generally "fess up" and then update my advice-books.

Blogging is how I write my non-fiction. But I got snookered into paying nearly a hundred a month (for several years now) for a blogging platform. And yes, it's improved immensely. But I can't prove that it's ever made enough to support it's costs.

Over the last few days, I've been struggling to make a simple paid membership there. I had to count of the steps for each one I wanted to create - over a dozen. 

Then I realized that memberships on Gumroad are a single step. And the "big" upgrade to being able to blog unlimited content was - $10/month.

The bottom line - this blogging platform had to have extra scripts added to it in order to take in money. It's not built to sell things from the beginning. That's why I was using Gumroad to begin with. So everytime I published a book, I'd put it on Gumroad and then come back to my blogging site to load the same data in (except for the digital files) and then send people to Gumroad. 

The more obvious answer is to promote to my email list through Gumroad, where they can buy without leaving that site. (Although, I also would put the link so that they could buy through their book marketplace of choice.)

Much different. 

So now, I'm in the process of figuring out how to extract myself from under the weight of that monster I've been paying to sit on me.  Some tricks to it. But since it has never really resulted in book sales that I can tell - it's not going to be any loss. 

Even the on-side opt-ins come to me through my Mailerlite form. (Their own in-house email system is way too pricey - and the other regular option is Mailchimp (who have begun charging for unsubscribed list-members.)

It's only appropriate that I announce all this on Gumroad, rather than that blog platform. I'll give it a few months to extract myself. (The main problem is their in-house re-direct links... and where to re-direct my domain name to. Oh, that's right, I'm already paying for under-utilized web-hosting on that site. [slaps forehead])

Or - my email provider does websites now...

See you soon. 

Bookmark this page. Or - sign up for my email list...

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