How to earn good money from writing

Let’s look at some basic math on the money in writing. Imagine that your goal is to earn at least a modest $40,000 a year from your writing. What paths can lead to that amount of money?

  1. Sell a lot of books.
  2. Build a base of fans.
  3. Use writing to promote another business.

The first method is the showiest. Rocketing up the bestseller list is a jackpot, especially for a first book, whether fiction or non-fiction. How does it happen? A book first catches the attention of a publisher, then receives good marketing, and then it catches fire with readers, and all of a sudden, we have a new hot author. From my observations, the books most likely to hit this sweet spot are both well-written and meaningful. They have a voice that appeals to many people and a message that resonates.

Imagine that your first book comes out as a trade paperback — the ones new literature tends to arrive in — at $16 per book. If you receive a common 15% royalties on it, that’s $2.40 per book sold — to reach $40,000, you will need to sell 16,667 copies. A few books rise much above this, and the sky is the limit for those. From anecdotal evidence, it appears that many, perhaps most first books, never sell enough copies to earn out their $5000 advance against royalties. In other words, they sell fewer than 2000 copies.

A second path to reaching $40,000 is to have 1000 raving fans. Kevin Kelly develops this idea here:

http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2008/03/1000_true_fans.php

and talks about some further research into it here:

http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2008/04/the_case_agains.php

For a writer, earning $40 per fan per year probably means completing three books per year, self-publishing them and selling them through a website so that the profit per book is $10 to $15. This could work, with some sales outside the fan base. The critical concept here is to tend those fans well, communicating frequently with them and offering something that they are passionate about, so that they purchase everything you put out. Include some special editions, some upgrades, a tip jar, and some additional merchandise such as t-shirts, and this begins to look very promising — as long as you enjoy cultivating the fans.

I have seen a third option work well. These are the business owners who write a book and use it to create the platform for their business. A book establishes the author as an expert. It adds an instant level of credibility, and introduces you to a potential customer in a much more in-depth way than the most comprehensive website. Coaching, consulting, and public speaking are natural complements to a book. However, I’ve read of a plumber, and a cleaning specialist who’ve expanded their business significantly with a book.

For this path, imagine that you sell 1000 copies of the book on the self-publishing model at $10 profit each, then 1% of those who buy it go on to hire you for a $3000 other service, whether it is a speaking engagement, six months of coaching, or remodeling their kitchen. There’s your $40,000.

Are there other alternatives? Of course. The first one that comes to mind is selling very many articles. These three interest me the most.

And all of them benefit by following the principles of Bridge of Words. If you can write in a way to connect to readers, all of these will be easier.

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