It would be skeazy for me to guarantee that you’ll make a certain amount of income from self-publishing your own books (ex: How to Make $7K Every Month Self-Publishing), but I can say this . . . with a solid non-fiction book idea, and the dedication to work through promotion, I believe you can earn a meaningful yearly income from eBooks and/or printed books.
Hint: skeazy = sketchy and sleazy = not a good look, bruh 🙄
I’m sure you’ve had enough of the online marketers who promise customers they’ll achieve the same results the marketer themselves achieved (or worse . . . had only seen someone else achieve), so I’m not going to be “that guy.”
Since 2014, I’ve been earning a full-time income from a handful of books I published, with one bringing in $100,000 in profit by itself over 5 years.
There are so many misconceptions about how difficult self-publishing is, or how hard it is to earn a living as a writer/teacher/author, and I’m here to bust a few myths and outline the process.
Note: this article was originally published in August of 2015, but I’ve updated it (in 2020) to make it even more helpful, so . . . let’s get started.
Why self-publish? Because it’s a legit business model. Let’s explore.
Traditional publishing looks super glamorous. Book tours. National TV appearances. Lovely and large royalty advances. A publisher going crazy over you and catering to your every whim.
Nothing to do but turn in a manuscript and all the layout, design, promotion, and sales will be taken care of for you. Ballin’. Money rollin’ on in.
Reality? New authors get small advances, have to do a lot of their own promotion, and won’t likely get tours and crazy publicity opportunities set up for them.
Also. The ballin’? Please let me break down advances, royalties, etc. for us.
The reality of profits in self-publishing vs. traditional.
As a new author, if you get a $12,000 royalty advance, you’re doing well. And that’s a beautiful thing, getting $12,000 dollars
all at once for your hard work of writing a book. Yay. Money in the bank 💰.
Note: typically advances aren’t paid out all at once like people think they are. You might get 1/2 on signing and 1/2 on approval of your book. Or, you may get 1/3 when you sign the contract, 1/3 when you submit your book to your publisher, and 1/3 when your book is published.
But. Either way. That $12,000 is a royalty advance. Meaning you won’t make another cent off of your book until you earn that $12,000 back in your royalties (which are a percentage of the book’s price or your publishing company’s profits).
Let’s take for example a soft cover book that sells for $20. If your publishing company gives you the standard 7.5% royalty (and let’s say they give it to you off of the list price of your book, which some company’s will only give you 7.5% of their profits off of each individual book), then you make approximately $1.50 per book.
Though this royalty percentage is somewhat common knowledge in traditional publishing, you can check out this post by one of my favorite bloggers (former literary agent and current author, Nathan Bransford) for this statistic as well as a few other interesting tidbits.
You’ll have to sell 8,000 copies of your book to pay your publishing company back your advance.
Translation: you’ll never see another dollar of profit (after your original advance) until your book has sold over 8,000 copies.
So, selling 8,000 copies of your book, earns you $12,000 in the traditional publishing model.
Do you know how much you would have made on those same 8,000 copies of your book through the self-publishing model I use and teach? Assuming you charged the same $20 per copy and had ~170 pages in your book?
Because you’ll be making over $9 with each sale. And P.S. I’m talking print books. You can sell digital books for a much higher profit margin.
So, selling 8,000 copies can either get you $12,000 or $72,000—which even half of that is enough for most people to live off for a year.
That’s why I present self-publishing as a business model.
If you want the fame and reach that traditional publishing can possibly get you, that’s completely understandable. But this post is for those of you who want to use self-published printed books (pBooks) as a business model and way for you to make part or all of your living.
As I shared earlier, I have one print book that brought in $100,000 in profit over a 5-year period by itself. So . . . $20,000 in profit per year, on average.
I’m saying this to say . . . I know self-publishing can work, and I want to tell you my process for setting it up as a system and a business.
I reveal all my secrets, strategies, and tutorials in an online course I teach on this topic (more on this later), but I have lots of great tips for you in this post. Le trust.
Step 0: Build a Platform
Whether you get your book traditionally published or you self-publish your own book, one thing that will be required, and wildly helpful, is an online platform. Whether you choose to build this through a podcast, a popular YouTube channel, a blog, or even an epic Instagram account, you’ll need a platform.
It doesn’t have to be spectacularly huge. It just has to be targeted. Back when I only had one book published, and only had 80 people to email each week (on my business email list), my book still made me a decent part-time income each month.
The book was very tailored to my audience, and very useful at the live workshops I taught when I was in Austin, Texas.
Whatever size platform and audience you can build (a platform that’s focused and humanized), you’ll be doing yourself a favor when it comes time to sell your book . . . or anything else for that matter.
Step 1: Plan Your Book
If you know me even a little bit, then you’ll likely know that my planning process involves poster boards, index cards, colored markers, and a timer. This has been an obsession for ten years or more now, and I don’t think it’s ever going away.
- Get out your index cards and set your timer for 20 minutes.
- Write down all the steps it will take to teach your book’s topic or write down all the categories of things you want to share for a particular topic or process (each item on a separate card—but you can also just spread them out on a poster board if you don’t have index cards).
Ex: if your book is about taking better photos, you might have category cards such as “choosing the best camera, learn your camera’s setup, type of lenses, framing your photo,” etc.
- Analyze your cards. Can anything be combined? Is anything missing? Does anything need to be eliminated?
- Now, for each remaining card you have, set your timer for 7 minutes and flip the card over to record any sub-steps or sub-topics you’ll want to explain related to the card’s main topic. Ex: if the card was “learn your camera’s setup,” then the sub-points might be “auto vs. manual, changing white balance, where to find f-stop,” etc.
- Now: combine, eliminate, or fill out any further sub-topics.
When you’re done with this process, the front of your cards will likely be your chapters and the back will be the sections of your chapters.
Planning a really solid book that answers your audience’s pressing questions—and of course, the questions they didn’t even know they had—is a great way to build a book that gets talked about and gets sold.
Step 2: Research + Finalize Your Outline
Once you’ve gone through the initial planning process, it’s time to do a little bit of homework before you finalize your outline. Check other books, courses, workshops, and educational materials on the same topic.
Since you’re doing this after you developed a general outline from scratch, your direction won’t be too influenced by others’ works, but you will be reminded of anything you forgot that you feel the expertise and desire to include.
Finalize your outline by putting all of the information in an order that will be logical for your audience, whether newbies, advanced users, or something in between.
Step 3: Write Your Book. Get it edited.
Once you have your outline, you can either do step 4 (so that you’re writing your book directly into its layout), or you can begin writing. I like to set up a separate Google Doc for each chapter if I’m writing in GDocs first, but most of the time, I create directly in my book’s layout software (Apple Pages) so that when I’m done writing, it can go to an editor immediately then be uploaded straight to my printer of choice.
I always recommend hiring an outside editor. You are too close to your book and too used to your book to spot all the errors–and when you self-publish, you want to minimize errors and kill the design and layout so that it won’t look like a not-so-epic attempt at a professional publication.
P.S. You don’t have to write your book in the order it’s outlined in. Skip around to the chapters that are most exciting to you when you meet a slow period. I like to write an exciting section or two, then a not-so-exciting section, and repeat that process until the book is done.
Step 4: Design Your Book’s Interior.
Or get it designed for you.
As you design, keep in mind:
- Readability. Make sure the fonts and font sizes will be easy for your target audience to digest.
- Margins. Make sure you leave enough room on all edges of your pages per your printer’s specifications.
Step 5: Design Your Book’s Cover.
Before you get started in this process, I encourage you to go search Amazon for books with your keywords or topic in the title. Look at the covers. I won’t lie, most self-published books have horrible covers, which means that for almost any search term, the majority of books that pop up will simply not look good.
This means there is so much room for you to come in and slay. A good book cover design will stand out, but a great design and catchy title will be practically impossible to ignore. Great design converts well. Seriously. Even a sub-par book can sell well with great design and a solid description of the contents. So imagine when your great book with great design hits the market.
When it’s time to design your book cover, here are a few tips:
- Don’t create a white cover if you plan to sell primarily online—this will look odd on sites like Amazon.com that don’t put a border around your cover image. People will not be able to tell where your book cover ends and the web page begins. If you want a light cover, try a cream or gray (like the cover below).
- Create your file at the dpi (resolution) your chosen printer requires—typically 300 dpi or more.
Step 6: Create Your Publishing House + Get Legit.
To look and feel the most legit, I recommend setting up your company as a publishing house. You can publish under your current business, or you can set up a separate LLC you own in order to publish books.
Creating your own small press is a great way to obtain the ISBN (which is the number necessary to distinguish your book from others on the market) and bar code you’ll need to sell your book in most marketplaces.
Step 7: Design Your Book’s Promotional Materials.
You will likely want most of the items below to promote your book.
- Cover mockups.
- Interior mockups.
- Sales pages.
- Facebook ads.
- Pinterest pins.
I share a full list of these in my online course (and I’ll show you how to make them!), but remember to think outside of the box, and remember that visuals really help people imagine themselves reading your book and using your work to learn + grow.
Some well laid out promotional materials (in your blog’s sidebar, on social media, on your sales pages, in your blog posts, etc.) will seriously help convert viewers to buyers. Spend a lot of time designing quality images (ask a peer who will be honest with you) or invest money in a designer who can create beautiful, compelling images for you.
Step 8: Get Your ISBN + Official Copyright.
Submit your book to obtain an official copyright from the governing entity where you live. In the U.S., you can head over to Copyright.gov. It’s important to note that the moment you publish an original work in a tangible form, you hold the copyright, but if you really want to enforce the copyright (especially in court), it’s a good idea to file legitimately.
It’s very inexpensive—but I won’t lie, it’s not a quick process. It can take 8 months or more. This shouldn’t prevent you from getting your book to market though, you can still put a serious and nifty copyright statement in your book anyways.
Step 9: Publish Your Book. And Set Up Your Distribution Channels.
You’ll have many choices when it comes to printing and publishing your book. You can:
- Do it the old school way of finding a local printer (or online printer) who will print + ship you a certain number of your books, which you can then sell or distribute yourself.
- Get it done by printing with a company such as IngramSpark, who can either ship the books to you or distribute them to booksellers like Amazon.com for you.
- Publish directly with Amazon.com using their system called KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). This is the method I most often use.
- Go with an “‘assisted publishing” service. There are companies (which you’d pay out of pocket) who will help you publish your book. They typically take care of design for you and set your book up so that it can be sold online. They don’t usually help you with marketing or the actual sales of your book. I recommend against most assisted publishing, because it can be a huge $$ investment and the quality of their work is hit or miss.
Step 10: Launch Your Book + Set Up a “Sales Path” or a Sales Funnel for Your Product.
Once you’ve gotten your book published, or set up with a print + fulfillment company, it’s time to launch. I also consider it a super wise time investment to create ideal paths you want people to take to get to your book’s purchase page. Do you want them to:
- go from a blog post —> a sales page?
- go from a tweet —> a landing page with a free chapter —> an email list that promotes the book along with other tips on the topic?
- go from your sidebar image —> a blog post on the topic —> a sales page?
I have some unique and effective paths to show you in the online course I teach, but if you’re unable to take that class with us, think creatively: What are all the ways a potential reader can come across your book? What will intrigue them? What would cause you to buy if you were a part of your own ideal audience? How can you establish trust? What can you give away for free that will really entice people to buy the full experience?
So, what’s the verdict, might you try publishing a book of your own? Do you think you’d ever pursue it as a business model?
Photo (c): @svqmedia (from Unsplash.com)