Online courses are one great way for authors to create multiple streams of income while also helping those writers who want to learn a new skill. Sara Rosett shares seven tips for building a course, and even creating other scalable assets from that course!
Writers have a long history of sharing their knowledge and supplementing their income through teaching. In the past, this was often done in a school setting like a community college, or on a one-to-one basis through coaching or consulting.
But with the rise of online teaching platforms, writers can reach a wider audience and have their content continually available.
[Note from Joanna: I use Teachable to host my courses as they take care of the technical and tax side so I can just focus on the content!]
In 2016, I had an idea for a course but I’m an introvert and was reluctant to do video. However, I had information I knew could help writers.
I also knew the course would be evergreen content, so it would be a smart use of my time. It was a big project—much bigger than I realized—but I’m glad I took the time to do it. The course gives me a way to share what I’ve learned with other writers and provides a steady sideline income, which has brought in between 6 and 10% of my income since 2017. If you’re interested in creating an online course, here are my top tips.
1. Pick a small niche
Instead of going broad with a topic like How to Write a Novel, go narrow and focus on a specific genre, sub-genre, or aspect of writing. If you’re having trouble picking a topic look at what you’re good at.
What do your reviews mention? Deep characterization? Evocative settings? Satisfying endings?
Those are all great topics for a course that will appeal to writers. Or think about what you help other writers with. It might be editing, humor, or world-building.
I knew my course would focus on cozy mysteries, but then I narrowed my topic even more to the outlining/planning stage of writing. I’d written over 20 cozies at that point and my intricate plots were often mentioned in reviews.
2. If you want your course to be low-maintenance, choose an evergreen topic
Writing fiction is my main focus. I wanted my course to help authors and bring in a sideline income. I didn’t want to always be re-recording content. Creating Great Characters or Compelling Settings are evergreen topics that writers will always be interested in.
How to Use ConvertKit or Selling More Books with Ads are non-evergreen topics. Courses based on author services and ad platforms will change, and you'll have to re-record to keep your course relevant.
3. Break the project into smaller tasks
I created a list of topics I wanted to cover and detailed the supporting points I wanted to hit under each topic, which gave me an outline for the course.
For instance, I knew I wanted to explore the flexible nature of cozies, so I included a module about creativity, which included lessons on innovative ways to approach story structure, the discovery of the body, suspects and motives, clues, and bending and breaking the rules.
Next, I created all the slides, then I wrote a script to help me remember the major points I wanted to touch on. I jotted down phrases and ideas to keep the style more conversational and less like a lecture.
4. Invest in equipment and up-skill as needed
I purchased a light kit, a lapel microphone, and a pop-up background in a solid color as well as ScreenFlow, a screencasting and video editing software.
I also took a How to Create a Course course. (It was very meta!) I learned the skills I needed to record and edit video as well as tips on how to organize my material.
5. Re-record the first episodes after finishing all the videos
By the time I finished recording the course I was more comfortable in front of the camera. I went back and re-recorded the first lessons because I wanted students to have a good experience from the beginning.
6. Create a workbook
This is a tip I got from Joanna, and it’s an excellent one! At the end of each lesson, I listed questions to help students put the information from the lesson into practice. I used those questions to create a print workbook. It’s my most consistent selling print book year in and year out.
[Note from Joanna: You'll find tips on how to create a workbook in this tutorial.]
7. Revise according to feedback
I opened the course to writer friends for feedback then launched at a “low” price (for an online course) of $79. I played around with pricing and coupons and ads.
After a year, I added more content based on feedback I’d received—one-on-one interviews with authors in various cozy sub-genres as well as a private Facebook group option.
Creating an online course is a big project. I estimated it would take me a month. Three months later it was done! Even though it took longer than I thought, I’m glad I carved out time to create it. It’s a way to share my knowledge and also diversify my income.
Have you thought of creating an online course? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.
USA Today and Audible bestselling author Sara Rosett writes lighthearted mysteries for readers who enjoy atmospheric settings, fun characters, and puzzling whodunits. Publishers Weekly called Sara’s books, “satisfying,” “well-executed,” and “sparkling.” Sara loves to get new stamps in her passport and considers dark chocolate a daily requirement. Find out more at SaraRosett.com or How to Outline a Cozy Mystery.