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6 Ways to Make Money as an Author (in Addition to Selling Books)

| Posted in New Author Series, Tips and Tricks |

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The “KU Apocalypse,” as some writers have called it, has cut into the bottom line for many independent authors, especially those who have refused to participate in Amazon’s KDP Select program, because they’re not willing to go exclusive with the mega retailer. I’ll be the first to admit that the sales rankings on most of my books have taken a dive since the program launched this summer.

I thought I would write this post to offer some ideas for authors who are feeling the pinch and are staring at their sales reports, wondering what they can do to boost the income a little. I do a couple of these things already, mostly out of habit (as some of you know, I was a professional blogger/content creator for my day job before I could make a living from my fiction, and I watched what a lot of the internet marketing gurus were doing, even if I never fully immersed myself in that world), and because it just makes sense not to leave money on the table.

Before jumping in, I’m assuming that as an author, you already have a mailing list and a blog (and possibly other avenues of putting out content beyond your books). If you don’t, maybe this will give you another reason to rethink the decision not to have those things.

1. Affiliate Income from Mentioning Your Books in Your Newsletter

Every time I send out word of a new release to the readers who subscribe to my newsletter, I put the links to my books in the email, and for the Amazon pages, I use an affiliate link. (Not a member of the program yet? Sign up here.) This means I get 70% of the ebook price from selling a book on Amazon and also that I get another 7% or so (the percentage depends on how many products you sell in any given month) from the affiliate commission.

Now, if you’ve got four people on your mailing list and you’re selling seven books a month, you’re not going to make a big wad of dough doing this. But if you’re determined to become a career author, and you’re succeeding in slowly building up a mailing list and accumulating readers, then this extra money can add up eventually. As some of the ladies pointed out on the recent Mailing List episode of the Self Publishing Podcast, this can end up covering all of the expenses associated with running a newsletter service and then some. (Many newsletters are free to start but then start to cost $XX/month as you acquire more subscribers.)

*Note: I’ve been too lazy to apply for the other stores, but Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Apple, and Kobo all have affiliate programs too.

2. Affiliate Income from Mentioning OTHER People’s Books in Your Newsletter

Even if you’re prolific, there’s a limit to how often you’re going to release a new book, but common newsletter-publishing wisdom suggests that you stay in touch with your subscribers so they don’t forget about you (and then unsubscribe in a huff when they get a random email six months after they’ve signed up).

So what do you send them? If you’re reading widely in your genre and have some books you would be comfortable recommending, you can send them the latest title that rocked your reading world (with the affiliate code of course). You want to be careful here and not just send random books that you haven’t vetted, but readers are always on the lookout for more good books, and chances are, if they like what you write, they’re going to like a lot of the same types of books as you do.

Since I’ve read so little fantasy of late, I haven’t done this much (I’m going to try it with my pen name’s mailing list, because I’ve actually read more in that genre in these last couple of years), but I have done this with some of my beta readers’ books. We all write fantasy and have similarly quirky senses of humor, so I feel comfortable recommending their books.

If there are other independent authors you read and enjoy who write in your genre, you may even look into forming partnerships with them where they promote your new releases and you promote theirs.

I do think you have to be careful with these situations and make sure you’re still primarily giving your readers what they subscribed for — news about you and your works. What you can do when you’re plugging someone else’s book is also include an update about what’s going on with your own works in progress.

3. Affiliate Links on Your Blog/Author Website

I know, I know, you’re sensing a theme here… I’ll change it up after this, but let’s add this section too.

If you’ve been thinking of starting a blog, but you’ve been told it’s not very effective at selling books, what  if you were also making money from other things? At the least, you could have affiliate links for all of your books, but if you’re the kind of person who reads a lot, you can also review other people’s books, the same as with the newsletter.

The difference between your website and a newsletter is that there’s less risk that you’re going to be “bugging” someone by putting something in their inbox that they didn’t ask for. Also, if you’re blogging about things people are interested in, you can get random traffic from the search engines with first-time visitors landing on your site, visitors who might never have heard about you otherwise. They might just check out your books while they’re there. (I don’t sell a lot of books through this blog, , but I do sell some — because of the affiliate links, I can tell where the sales originated.)

So, what do you write about on your site? Product reviews work great with ads and affiliate links. Ebooks aren’t the way to riches, since the affiliate commissions are going to be pretty low unless you’re selling $10 ebooks, but if you’re a tech lover, you might also review some of the latest products related to reading that you’ve purchased or had the chance to play with. I reviewed one of the kindles before the holidays one year and ended up making some nice commissions, since these were $200 products. Before Christmas, you’ll get a lot of people buying extra items on Amazon, too, and you make a commission on anything they buy within the 24 hours that they click on your link.

4. Running Advertising on Your Blog/Site

This is how I made a living when I was a professional blogger (thank you, Google Adsense). I don’t do it on my author page, because I don’t feel the need to and I also don’t want to send people away from my site (and my books), which is what happens when people click on an ad, but the tradeoff is that I don’t make much money from this site, despite putting time into it every week.

If you’re producing content regularly and writing about more than your own writing struggles and book launches (as I mentioned, some people review books or other products), then it can make sense to add advertising to your site. If you’re a non-fiction author, this can be especially effective. Nobody’s out there bidding a lot for placement on ads about “fantasy novels,” but if you cover diet and fitness, home repair, travel, or even self-publishing, there are merchants with related products who want to advertise on your site.

Wet your feet with Google Adsense, and if you don’t mind giving up the real estate on your site and you have the traffic to support it, you can also sell banner or text links directly to interested parties (this takes more work since you have to find interested parties).

5. Setting up a Subscription Model

This is something I toy with every now and then but have never done myself. I’m not sure if I’m ready to take on the pressure of putting something out every month for reader-subscribers. But there is no steadier income than having subscribers who are automatically paying $X every month or quarter. The money is typically withdrawn from their account (Paypal has a subscription option) until they unsubscribe. And if you’re giving them what they want, they might stick around for a while.

So how would this work for an author? The guys over at the Self Publishing Podcast are so prolific that they started a subscription service for their “Story Studio” that allows their dedicated readers to get their newest content every month, often before they release it to the stores. I believe this is a fairly new endeavor for them, but it’s a way to bypass the retailers, sell direct to the customer, and earn more overall on your books.

Don’t think you can put out a new novel a month? Yeah, that’s kind of crazy. But here’s someone else that I interviewed a couple of years ago who uses a subscription model for short fiction.

The ultra prolific Dean Wesley Smith puts out an entire magazine of his own work every month.

A perk to starting a subscription service? The added pressure to produce! Okay, okay, that’s the same thing that has me leery of doing this, but if you need a reason to get your butt in the chair every day, the fact that people are waiting for the next story might just do the job.

6. Get Support Directly from Readers with Patreon

I first heard about this service from Joanna Penn, AKA The Creative Penn, who is using it to help cover the time she puts into publishing her free podcast. The site is called Patreon and its exactly what it sounds like, an opportunity for someone to act as a patron to support your work. There’s a long history of well-off individuals supporting artists and writers, but this brings it into the 21st Century, allowing anyone to support, by donating as little as $1 a month.

As an example, here’s Joanna’s Patreon page, where people pay a dollar or two per podcast that she produces.

Personally, I like this more than the Kickstarter “crowd-funding” model, which is great if you genuinely need the money to make something happen, but can feel a little skeezy (yes, that’s a word) if you’re doing well financially and still trying to get people to back something.

I browsed through the writing category, and it looks like a lot of people are finding support for their web comics, but I bet someone publishing a novel to the web could find some supporters too. If the KU Apocalypse continues, maybe I’ll even give it a try!

That’s all I have for today. If you’re doing any of these things, or doing something else, we would love to hear about it. Please comment!

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Comments (20)

Skeezy is totally a word. : )

I haven’t had as much luck with the affiliate links, but it does bring in a little surprise cash, which is always nice.

Haha, glad to hear my words are legit. I think it’s nice even if an author can just make enough to cover the expenses of having a mailing list. Have you tried plugging other books in your genre or mostly your own stuff?

I’m intrigued by the idea of setting up a subscription service for stories, but it does sound like a lot of work, and what happens if something happens and you’re not able to deliver for a couple of months?

I also know authors who make money from consulting. It’s mostly for non-fiction, but I often get asked about self-publishing and have thought about charging a small fee to talk to people about how to do it.

Lindsay,

You wrote that your sales rankings have gone down because of Amazon’s KDP Select program. Have your sales income/revenue gone down? Do they traditionally go up or down during these months? Have your marketing expenditures stayed the same?

Thank you again for the informative posts.

Hey M-S,

Sales and income per book are down (especially for older titles, which were pretty stable with their monthly sales before), with the exception of books released in the last couple of months. Marketing is about the same, though it’s hard to get Bookbub ads these days, so I haven’t had one of those in a while. I’m seeing fewer people downloading permafree titles (especially ones that have been permafree for a while), presumably because they can now borrow un-free books for free (or as part of their $10/mo).

I looked at my Oct 2013 earnings, and I did make more this year, and will make more overall in 2014 than 2013 (from Amazon at least — I’ve dropped off some at Kobo and Apple), but I have several more novels out now, so I’m actually earning less per book. Part of it, KU? Sure, a little, I believe. Part of it, just more ebooks out there from other authors? Probably some of that too. And then just on a personal level, I’ve been more scattered with my publishing in this last year, starting lots of new series instead of really focusing on one, so I blame that a little too. For example, I had a nice run with 1, 2, and 3 in the Dragon Blood series when I released them back to back, about two months apart, but then when I shifted the focus to write and publish the next Rust & Relics book, DB sales dropped off quite a bit. It’s always a challenge to find the balance between what’s best from a publishing perspective and what you’re inspired to work on as an artist. :)

I keep meaning to sort out the associates stuff (I do have an account) but never quite get round to it.

Though definitely not on a DWA scale, I’m pretty prolific for someone who also has a day job – and I’ve been looking at Patreon as serious option.

I know I can generate a novella a month and I already have a following, so it could work for me.

The affiliate thing can be quite good.

I haven’t seen a drop in income at all, but then again, I sell a lot on other platforms and the Amazon recommendation engine doesn’t work for me at all.My sales are too scattered for my books to show up in a lot of alsobots.

In fact, I’ve been releasing books on all sites except on Amazon.

Lindsay,

Unfortunately it’s a violation of the Amazon Affiliates agreement to use the affilliate links anywhere but on your website or blog.

https://affiliate-program.amazon.com/gp/associates/agreement/

You might get away with it until/unless you get a surge in affiliate income as a result…and then they nail you. I know from personal experience.

Lee

Hi Lee,

It shouldn’t be a problem using your affiliate links in your own newsletter announcements (if you subscribe to any of the big ebook sponsorship sites, you’ve probably seen that those guys all use affiliate links — and some of them make piles of affiliate money!), which is arguably an extensive of your website anyway. If your experience is different and you’d like to explain in more detail, I would be interested to hear it. I don’t see newsletters or mailing lists mentioned at all in the ToS, but again think the problem would be if you were posting your link on someone else’s site or using it in search engine advertisements.

Thanks!

Even at 7%, the commission for selling eBooks is low. Affiliate marketing works for high-value & frequently bought online products.

I’m just talking about it using it as an adjunct to all the things you’re already doing as an author. I used to make nice $$$ selling home security products from a consumer site, but not many authors are going to start talking about those kinds of things. 😛 There is editing software and some other programs that pay a decent cut, for those who talk about writing/publish.

Thanks for all the info! I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. I use affiliate links on my site and so far I’ve earned a total of… I think it’s 40 cents? Still, I think it could get better and am planning a complete redesign of the blog. I just did a hack of my free design yesterday to make it into more of a “mom blog” than a “author blog.” We’ll see… it does mean I haven’t had time for writing lately, although I’ve also been working on print versions of my books and when you learn everything yourself it takes time!

I think the Amazon algorithm does “pays attention” to my books more when I’m in Kindle select. You might find it interesting that my Kindle did have an advertisement for one of your Emporer’s Edge books last week! Probably one that I got a free copy from your Kickstarter campaign (can’t remember exactly how I got free copies from you) since I have other titles from you on my Kindle.

Your affiliate advice is great, unless you live in a state where Amazon forbids it. Sorta like I do. :)

I read Joanna’s Patreon post with some interest when she first talked about it, but at the time I wasn’t ready for that level of commitment where I felt comfortable taking other people’s hard-earned money. As I get closer to publication this might be an avenue to revisit.

Yeah, then you have to decide if you care enough (could earn enough) to work around that. If you’re getting a PO Box anyway for privacy (good idea for an author, since mailing lists request your address), you might consider signing up for a mail forwarding service that has an address in another state. Not that you heard that here or anything….

I’m in the same boat as Wilson Geiger, wherein Amazon is in tax dispute with our state and therefore forbids affiliate marketing. I’d have to make a heck of a lot of sales from the affiliate link to justify the price of the mail forward service.

I’ve signed up for the affiliate program of other retailers of my books, but I’m an unknown author with two science fiction books, and my blog is young and has vanishingly few readers. I’ll be astonished if I make $5 in the next year from all sources.

On a more general note, I think the publishing industry changing so rapidly that there is no surefire way to predict what will work 6 months or a year from now.

P.S. I agree with Kendra — “skeezy” is a fine word.

Yes, until you’ve got a decent-sized list and have the potential to make some money with your affiliate links, then it’s probably not worth trying to find a work-around.

I’m experimenting with Patreon! Though as of right now, it’s more experiment-fun than useful-fun. Patreon itself isn’t really designed for easy browsing or discovering new projects to back. It’s more useful to those creators who already have a large following, rather than to those like me who are starting from scratch and trying to BUILD a following.

But I’m learning techniques in how to be more visible, such as making sure some of your “creations” are open to the public and use keywords that define what it is you’re offering.

Anyway, here’s to experiments? I’m at:

http://www.patreon.com/littletranslator for the curious.

Hi Lindsay,

Interesting tips! Though I’m curious, have you ever considered merchandising some of your popular titles? Like creating t-shirts, bags, or prints with your book covers (especially the updated ones) or other artwork? They could possibly work as resell items or nice “rewards” for Paetreon sponsors. What’s your opinion on doing that?

Thanks!

I haven’t, but I’ve heard from other authors that it’s tough to make any money doing this. It’s cool if you want to have some things to give away from fans, but there’s not much of a profit margin, and then you’re also then getting into the business of shipping & handling and customer service, which I can say just from having mailed out signed paperbacks is time-consuming.

You really want to weigh the pros and cons before implementing Adsense on your site. You need to think about the primary goal of your site? Do you want to sell books or do you want to make money from ads? Ads are going to send traffic away from your site and sites that contain too many ads (especially above the fold) aren’t viewed favorably by Google.

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