Most writers start out wanting to write the best book possible, but once it's published, they often wonder why they are not making any money.
10 years ago, I wrote my first book, and these are some of the lessons around mindset that I've learned on my way to making a multi-six-figure living with my writing.
You can read the article, watch the video below or here on YouTube.
(1) Think of yourself as an entrepreneur
I know the word entrepreneur has some sort of Silicon Valley connotations and implies that you need to create this mega business. But that's not true.
The essence of an entrepreneur is someone who creates value from ideas. They take what's in their head and turn those ideas into value in the world.
When we write a book and put it out there, whether that's non-fiction or fiction, we're creating value in two ways. We're creating value for the readers because they're going to, hopefully, have their lives changed or be entertained and have some time away from their miserable lives, which is certainly why I used to read a lot of thrillers.
And we're also creating value for ourselves because we're selling the books and we're making money from our writing, or at least that's the intention for some of us. It would depend on your definition of success.
Absolutely, authors create value from ideas. We can say, “I made this. I turned what was in my head into this.” And we can turn that into lots of different products, which I'll come to in a minute.
By thinking about being an entrepreneur, we're taking a forward step. We're taking a proactive attitude to creating new things in the world that give value to our customers, our readers, and to ourselves.
Once you reframe your own identity as an author-entrepreneur, you will find it much easier to take control of things like marketing or understanding the financials behind some of what being a writer is.
Making this initial mindset shift just means that you're much more in control.
(2) Focus on creating scalable income
What do I mean by scalable? Back in the day, I used to implement accounts payable into large corporates. Yes, I was a cubicle slave and spent my days typing on computer systems and working in companies. I was paid for the hours that I worked. I was an employee for a while, then I was a contractor, but I was always paid for the hours I was there.
Of course, there's some sick pay, sometimes holiday pay, but you pretty much can't scale you beyond you. And then if you die that's it, or if you get sick, that's it. Non-scalable income is exchanging money for time.
These days, I do still have some non-scalable income, for example, doing professional speaking. When you get paid to do a professional speaking event, you're being paid for your time. Non-scalable income can also involve marketing and administration.
But, my main income these days is scalable. That means you create something once, and then you get money for it over and over again.
When we write a book once, we can sell it over and over and over again. Even 70 years after we die, for the life of copyright.
Scalable also means that this is not limited. For example, this book, How to Make a Living With Your Writing exists as a digital file. It exists as an e-book, which one person can buy, or millions of people can buy.
It exists as a print book. It exists as a workbook. So, that's another format. It's an audio book. It's also been translated into French.
It can be all these different products. So, I create it once, and I sell it millions of times, or at least hopefully, millions of times.
That's the definition of scalable.
This post is an example of scalable marketing. I create it once, and then it goes out there into the world, and one person could read it, or nobody, or lots of people.
You're not basing everything on money for time, you're basing it on what can be expanded, not based on your time anymore.
The book really is the ultimate scalable product.
At right is an image of my book Map of Shadows. I'm turning this book into a screenplay.
You can do this with fiction, as well, and obviously, there are different formats for fiction.
Scalable income is a key to making your living as a writer.
(3) Develop multiple streams of income
There is this pervasive myth in publishing. I don't really know why. I think it's a focus on the debut author phenomenon, which is that you can write one book and it will sell a gazillion copies, you'll be able to retire, you'll be a multimillionaire, and life will be good.
Now, of course, that does happen occasionally, but that's not the reality for most authors. And if you look at the richest authors in the world, according to Forbes, the highest paid authors, people like James Patterson, Stephen King, Nora Roberts, Danielle Steele, these are authors who've been writing consistently, one or more books per year.
In fact, for Nora Roberts writes a book a month. She writes under two names, as well. These writers, have multiple streams of income from their books.
Right now, I have 27 books. Those are 27 different income streams.
Then, you can multiply that by formats. Each book is an e-book, and they're on multiple sites. You can get them on Amazon, on the Kindle, on the iPad, and iBooks. You can get them on Kobo, you can get them on Nook. You can get them in different e-book formats. That multiplies the 27 by all these different e-book formats.
Then, of course, they're in print, and they're sometimes bundled together in box sets.
Box sets are amazing, and you can do them e-book, print book, audio book, and turn three novels into one box set, which is more streams of income.
Then, multiply that by country. So, this is the other exciting thing. Especially as independent authors, we can publish in 190 countries. I have sold books in 84 countries, and those are all in English.
If you have English books and you publish on sites like Kobo Writing Life, with iBooks, with Amazon, you can get your books out to all these places. You can use print-on-demand. You don't have to hold stock. There are lots of ways you can turn your books into multiple streams of income. But the important thing is not to rely on one book in one format.
And then, of course, you can use different author names. You can publish in different languages. You can license different intellectual property rights.
There are so many ways you can turn one manuscript into multiple streams of income. You should definitely be thinking about writing more books, about expanding into other genres, and thinking multiple streams of income for long-term success at making a living writing.
(4) Think global, mobile, and digital
Many authors get quite hung up on wanting to see their physical book in a local bookstore. Now, there's nothing wrong with that, and I totally urge you to go ahead and try for that.
But what's more exciting are the global possibilities, especially for independent authors.
What we've got now is a growing population of younger people in Asia, in Sub-Saharan Africa, in Latin America, all over the world, who are using mobile devices to access the internet and to read on.
We can actually meet that population. We can sell to that population. And thinking global, mobile, digital, rather than physical in the bookstore down the road from your house, will mean that you have greater streams of income coming from these exciting new sources over the years.
If you want more on this topic, check out How to Make a Living with Your Writing, out now in ebook, paperback, workbook, and audiobook editions.
If you'd like more videos, I'm releasing writing and business tips every Tuesday and Thursday. Check out my channel on YouTube.com/thecreativepenn
Hannah Ross says
Thanks for another informative post, Joanna!
This is a little off-topic, but I keep looking for information about self-publishing and marketing Middle Grade fiction. Every bit of advice I’ve been able to find says, “you have to be prepared to visit schools, libraries, and interact with teachers and kids face to face”. Does this mean that there’s no point in trying to self-publish Middle Grade if I live in a remote area, am tied up by kids, and have no transportation? I wish I knew how to proceed.
Bryan Fagan says
There is so much to learn. Thank you for this. Sometimes it’s exhausting.
Don Simkovich says
It’s a good general article, but … there’s a lot of work involved of course. I’m completing my 3rd novel with my writing partner and we’ll have a box set which is nice. So I’ll have 4 products then.
Frances Caballo says
Love this post, Joanna. And kudos to you for having written 27 books!
Informative post, I’ve had some of those ideas running around in my head. I now learn how to utilise them.