How to Make Money by Writing Books: 8 Tips for Success
Of course, making money by writing books should ideally involve publishing well-received and popular works. But for most authors, it also means activating several income streams that stem from your career as an author. By supplementing royalty earnings with additional writerly activities, many authors can quit their 9-5 jobs and make a living.
If you’re dreaming of making money by writing books, here are 8 tips to help you out:
1. Write a lot, and to market
Contrary to popular belief, a bestseller isn't loved by everyone, but rather by a niche audience obsessed with it. As bestselling author Suzy K Quin says, “Best-sellers target a pre-made audience.” The ‘pre-made’ audience can be genre readers, sub-genre readers or a very specific demographic that a book will resonate with. As Quin pointed out in her talk at SPS Live 2022, Eat, Pray, Love targeted single women in their 30s — and their enthusiasm for this book helped create a buzz around it.
In other words, if you want to write a book that sells, it’s key to write for a niche group that will truly resonate with it. Reedsy’s Ricardo Fayet said at the same event that this is the equivalent of the startup world’s “Product-market fit — when a company creates a product that is perfect for a specific market.”
Touch on themes that resonate with your genre’s readers
Each genre tends to be associated with certain themes — sci-fi with justice, oppression, and freedom; fantasy with good and evil; romance with hope and love, etc. So, one way to ensure your book is well targeted to your market is to look at the themes associated with your genre. If you aren't sure how to go about this, reflect on the books within your genre that you’ve read and try to connect them with common plot themes.
Consider using genre tropes
Genre fiction frequently uses tropes that readers are already familiar with, as they keep returning for new books with the same tropes they've previously liked. In fact, many of the traction that books pick up on TikTok is based on popular tropes — romance tropes such as ‘enemies to lovers’ or fantasy tropes like ‘the reluctant hero’. Moreover, tropes have become significant to the extent that authors have started to incorporate them into their marketing too, as evident in this marketing material from author Ali Hazelwood.
Release new titles as often as possible
Writing to market is just one part of the equation. To make serious money by writing, word of mouth about your books has to build momentum, which can only happen if you write multiple titles or a trilogy or series that keeps readers coming back. So, keep writing, and don’t get dejected if your first book doesn’t immediately skyrocket to success. For more on boosting your writerly productivity, head to our post on writing faster.
For fictional series, consider the following:
- What might happen to your main character(s) after the events of this book? Is their story truly finished? Maybe their arc in Book 1 is only the first stage of a much larger journey — this could become a longer series.
- Could you shift the focus to a secondary character? Another common approach for series, especially in romance, is to write sequels based on secondary characters from previous books — keeping a familiar cast while giving the story a fresh spin.
- What about a brand-new story in the same universe? This would technically become a new “interlinking” series, but it would still draw readers from the original books.
Alternatively, for a nonfiction series:
- Do I have anything more to say on this topic? Is there an area you didn’t have time to research or space to expand on? Make it the subject of your next, related work.
- What’s the natural progression from here? Think of your books as how-to steps. Say your first book is about how to set up a small business; your second might be about how to grow that business over the next five years.
- What else would my readers find interesting? Return to your target market and figure out what they want! For instance, if your first book were true crime, you’d likely find that your target readers are gobbling up more of the same — which might compel you to write another book about a different case.
2. Polish your manuscript with an editor
There’s a reason that the highest-earning authors, without exception, work with professional editors. Authors are often too close to their story to see their work’s flaws without biases — and they usually also don’t have the years of experience that an editor can bring to the task. A developmental editor can tell you whether your book’s big-picture progression makes sense, spot any plot holes or incomplete character arcs, and consider how your book compares to competitor titles in its genres.
Here’s how author Catherine Pettersson describes her experience of working with a Reedsy editor: “What I really needed was the insight of someone who also understood what the competitive publishing market demanded — and Clare certainly delivered. Her insight elevated my book to a whole new level. She not only identified how my manuscript’s lack of tension hampered its commercial viability, she also gave me a roadmap that outlined how to get it up to publishing standards.” After collaborating with her editor, Pettersson landed a book deal.
Here are some stories of other authors who’ve worked with Reedsy editors:
- How My Nonfiction Book Became a Reputable Tech Resource by Marlon Buchanan
- My Reedsy-Edited Memoir Landed Me a TEDx Talk by Niyati Tamaskar
- Lifting the Stigma: How My Reedsy Editor Helped Me Structure My Mental Health Memoir by Ahiddibah Tsinnie
- How the Right Editor Helped Me Grow as a Bestselling Fantasy Author by Antoine Bandele
3. Keep as many of the royalties as possible
The royalties you receive depend on whether you self-publish or traditionally publish your book. While self-publishing requires that you invest in editing, cover design, and book marketing upfront, you get to keep the rights to your book and a significantly higher amount of the royalties — for books that prove commercially popular, that usually proves lucrative.
To give you a rough estimate of how much authors make, self-publishing allows you to keep 50-70% of the royalties, while traditional publishing gives you 5-20% (assuming you ‘earn out’ your advance). Indie authors often go solo out of choice not because they’ve failed to be published traditionally, but to secure a bigger share of the earnings pie. If you’re on the fence about which path to publication is right for you, our one-minute quiz can help you out:
Is self-publishing or traditional publishing right for you?
4. Build up your author platform
To succeed financially, you must put on more than just your ‘author’ hat. As Darren Hardy (Amazon’s UK manager of Author and Editorial Programmes) emphasized at SPS Live 2022, this means “treating your book as a business.”
Building up your author platform is a long-term investment in your writing career. While having an author website and an active social media presence is useful, setting up an author mailing list takes the cup when it comes to delivering results. A mailing list can help you build an engaged audience, announce new releases, secure pre-orders and create long-lasting relationships with your loyal fans. It helps you build credibility, establish your authority, and make offers to people who already know you and want to hear from you.
Not sure how you go about it? No problem — just sign up for our free course on setting up a mailing list:
5. Make your books accessible to more readers
Making your book available in multiple formats allows you to tap into different pools of readers — some people only read ebooks, others only browse in-store, others can only listen to audiobooks for accessibility reasons (and many people just listen to audio for the fun and convenience of it). In other words, if you aren’t already offering your work in more than one format, doing so could expand your readership.
The same principle can be applied to foreign language markets — translating your book enables you to tap into new markets of readers in your genre. The German, French, Italian, Spanish, Indian, Chinese, and Japanese markets generally prove successful with independent authors — other markets, like Greece, not so much (Greeks somehow never fell for ebooks).
In fact, you might even consider how to best promote your English-language book across the pond from wherever you’re based — for British authors, the American market offers massive potential, and British readership is always a nice added bonus for American authors. Think about doing a marketing push in a new territory, considering things like digital ads, book cover aesthetics, and your book’s title.
💡 Fun fact: British author Emma Jane Unsworth’s novel Adults was published as Grown Ups in the USA. Clearly, her publishers thought the difference mattered!
6. Promote new releases as well as your backlist
Promoting your backlist along with your newest release can dramatically increase your overall sales. This can be done by creating a book bundle — offering your older books at a discounted price when people buy your newest book. This is especially useful if you have a series and put a discount on the first few books 一 you readers will have to pay full price to know how it all ends! So hook new readers and get them invested in your collection.
You can play around with different price points, but make it a time-bound offer and make the discount evident. Use your email list, newsletter, and social media to promote this to your best capabilities. Another popular tactic authors use is setting up their latest book for pre-order and then running targeted ad campaigns. This helps generate a certain buzz around your book even before it’s out.
Looking for more marketing ideas and insights? You can grab a free copy of How to Market a Book by Reedsy co-founder Ricardo Fayet below.
7. Offer services related to your product
Authors do make money from writing books, but they also make money from all the related services they can offer once they’ve built up their platform. These could take the form of speaking engagements where you share your journey as an author, seminars and courses teaching the craft of writing or even consulting services (especially for non-fiction authors).
Val Breit, founder of The Common Cents Club, didn’t think she’d be invited to do any public speaking: “Without any mention of speaking on my website, social media, or in my book, I received paid invitations to speak just a few months after publishing. Albeit nerve-racking, I connected with new readers, expanded my author platform, and even paid a few bills!”
If you already know you’re interested in doing speaking engagements, do mention this in your author website’s Contact page. This can be done in a few different ways:
- “For speaking enquiries, contact me at [email address]”
- “I am available for speaking engagements on the topic of X, Y, and Z.”
- “Previous speaking engagements” section, followed by photos or videos of you speaking.
Coaching or consulting (if you’re a nonfiction author)
Many established authors offer coaching services to new authors, assisting them with things like project plans, feedback on their writing, and navigating the confusing world of publishing.
Also, if you’ve written a book on a nonfiction subject, you can earn money by consulting on it. Publishing a book (or multiple books) in your field has already established you as an expert; it’s only natural to leverage that status into consulting.
Courses and seminars
While one-on-one coaching and consulting sessions are great, you might be better off hosting courses and seminars multiple people can take at once. For these, you’d put together more in-depth, widely applicable content on a topic of your choice — for example, “How to Write Sparkling Dialogue” or “How to Turn Your Blog Into a Book” — and market it to other writers, either through a multi-part course or an interactive presentation.
Ghostwriting and/or editing services
If you’ve got the skills to pay the bills, ghostwriting and editing can be very lucrative — but getting through projects can also be quite time-consuming, so prepare to commit at least several hours a week if you go this route. Reedsy’s marketplace can provide you with a reliable source of freelance projects:
8. Study how other authors make money
Many authors today are finding creative ways to make more money with their books — be it starting a crowdfunding campaign or selling books directly to readers. Brandon Sanderson raised a record-setting $41 million on Kickstarter for 4 books he wrote during the pandemic — and many other authors can finance their books with the help of their fans. If you want to learn how they do it, sign up to our free course below.
Another tactic independent authors are starting to turn to is direct sales, as mentioned by Joanna Penn at the SPS Live conference in 2022. This involves directly selling your book to readers through e-commerce platforms, allowing you to keep the entire cut of the sale instead of just the royalties. Here’s Ricardo Fayet’s analysis from his weekly book marketing newsletter — which you can sign up to here:
The first benefit of direct sales is obvious: you make more money per copy sold. It won’t be 100% of the list price, as there are always taxes and payment processing fees, but it certainly is a lot more than 70%…
It’s not just about the money, though. There are many other benefits that come from selling direct, which can be even more valuable than the extra $ you gain:
- You own the customer data. When a reader buys your book on Amazon (or any other retailer), you have no idea who they are. You don’t get their email address, nor their name — nothing. When you sell direct, however, you do collect this data. Which means that you can immediately add them to your mailing list (prior consent), and even segment your list based on their purchase.
- You own the retail interface. Discoverability on retailers works both ways: while readers might come across your book while searching for another one, they might also find another book when looking for yours. On your website, the only books that readers will see are yours.
- You own the tracking. One of the reasons why advertising books is so complicated is that you can’t track anything that happens after the reader clicks on your ad and lands on your book page. Except, of course, if that book page is on your website — in which case you can use tracking tools like Google Analytics, Facebook Pixel, etc. You can even optimize your ads for conversion (more on that in a future email).
So why isn’t everyone selling their books directly through their website already? Because there’s a big tradeoff: discoverability.
Fayet goes on to explain that direct sales are an appealing option for authors who already have a following, and don’t need to rely on retailers — though you do need to be aware that with the increased earnings may come decreased visibility on Amazon, whose algorithms won’t pick up as much traction for your book.
If this isn’t making much sense, take our free course on Amazon algorithms to demystify the way the platform spotlights certain books:
We hope you now feel more confident in terms of being able to make money with your book. Remember, create the best possible version of the book you can (for a tailored audience), take yourself seriously, learn from others, and don’t hold back on promoting your book. Good luck!