How Do Authors Make Money? Thinking Beyond the Book

It’s a commonly held misperception that authors are rich. Yes there are some authors who are well off, and yes some of them sell thousands of books, but here’s the real reason those authors are making money—they’re thinking beyond the book.

The truth is that quality books are costly to develop and produce and they must sell through several reprints to become profitable. As such, much of the money authors make doesn’t come from the sale of the book itself but from the opportunities the book gives the author.

As an author, a book gives you instant credibility and opens doors to other streams of income previously unavailable to you. For nonfiction authors, the book is often an extension of your business or expertise. It’s a marketing tool, demonstrating your philosophy and unique approach to potential clients, media outlets, and speaking opportunities. For fiction authors, a book demonstrates your ability to perceive and recreate the world, and opens up opportunities to teach, speak, and educate other authors.

Here is a sample list of the many ways you can make money as an author:

  1. Speaking: Authors are sought after speakers for seminars, conferences, charities, and other events. Speaking gigs are also great opportunities for back-of-room sales, which often yield a higher return than selling through retail channels.
  2. Teaching: Authors often teach their subjects at workshops, conferences, universities, continuing education classes, online, and in other venues (again, you can roll the cost of the book into the cost of the workshop or sell directly to students—just be sure to teach them and not sell to them!).
  3. Ancillary Materials: Books can be repurposed into teacher’s guides, workbooks, pamphlets, e-books, and other products.
  4. Merchandise and spin offs: T-shirts, posters, DVDs, and other merchandise either based on the book or related to it offer additional streams of revenue.
  5. Endorsements/Packaging: Outlets like Open Sky let authors package and/or promote their books with related merchandise for a commission. Does your lead character have a penchant for coffee? Sell coffee, coffee mugs, and related merchandise as you promote your book. Did you write a cookbook? Create a culinary store where you sell the tools used to create the dishes in your book.
  6. Articles: A book gives you the credibility to write and publish articles on your topic. Magazines pay anywhere from $25 to $2,000 for well-written, expert-supported articles.
  7. Resident Expert/Correspondent: A book also gives you the credibility to serve as an expert or correspondent to media and organizations.
  8. Consulting/Clients: Nonfiction authors can build a consulting business or add to their client list. Fiction authors can coach other authors through the process.

The list goes on and on and is only limited by your creativity, topic, and ability to recognize and chase down opportunities presented by your book. The key is to think beyond the book and look for ways you can leverage your new position as a published author to find ways to generate income, grow your platform, and identify new outlets for your talents (and your book).