How to Make Your Self-Published Book Pay for Itself

BY HANNAH GUY • September 10, 2020

How to Make Your Self-Published Book Pay for Itself

“Do you want to be published? Or do you want to make money?”

When I first heard this question, I blinked. Hard. I had been chatting and having some drinks with a family member who works in the book publishing biz (the book nerd gene is strong in my family). A few weeks prior, I had sent him the first 50 pages of my latest book and asked for his honest thoughts. In response, he asked the question that even now haunts me whenever I think about starting a new project.

Publication or money? Pick one.

Most writers (myself included) waded into book writing with the goal of creating those things we love—and making a living from them. We hope we’ll become bestselling authors or at least be able to pay our mortgage. As many of us have already realized, being published is no guarantee that we’ll make money, and writing the book we want to write is no guarantee that we’ll be published. This can be a depressing and sobering realization. But in some respects, freeing yourself of unrealistic expectations can be liberating … once you sort out your priorities. Is seeing your book in print your primary motivator, or is generating income from your writing your goal? 

If you’re depending on your work to provide a return, there are ways to increase your chances of making money. And your best bet to make your book pay for itself comes from incorporating all these things as best as you can.

Plan ahead.

In order to maximize your marketing and publicity efforts, you should be aiming to give yourself between four and six months of time to start submitting your book to reviewers, approach author agents for blurbs, and really make an effort to increase and improve your reader engagement on social media. Not sure what this entails? Check out our Book Launch Checklist and strategy guide for planning out the basics ahead of time.

Diversify where and how you sell your books.

It’s no surprise that Amazon is the top place to sell books in the world. But they are also the most crowded. Some authors choose to sell exclusively on Amazon in the United States and that works for them. However, other authors have reported an increase in book sales in other parts of the world and also through different platforms. Take a look at the places where you can sell your book before you decide to commit to just one bookseller:

  • Your website (free)
  • Amazon (free, but only earn 35–70% royalties)
  • Apple iBooks (free, but only earn 35–70% royalties)
  • Google Play Books (free, 100% royalties)
  • Barnes & Noble Press (free, but only earn 40–65% royalties)
  • Kobo’s Writing Life (free, but only earn 45–70% royalties)
  • Shopify ($29/month and 100% royalties)
  • Smashwords (15% commission on all sales)
  • Draft2Digital (15% commission on all sales)
  • Inkshares (free, but only earn 35–50% royalties)
  • Fiverr ($1 per transaction)
  • E-Junkie (starts at $5/month)

Embrace reader preferences and growing trends.

When e-books first entered the scene, both the book industry and its audiences were unsure they’d stick around. But once affordable e-reading devices became popular, they cemented the fact that nearly all books need an e-version: readers want to have the choice between formats. By exploring your market (and researching what other authors in your niche/genre are doing), you should be able to get a feel for what your audience prefers and what they’ve come to expect. Beyond just the e-book, consider making your book available as an audiobook, translating it into another language, partnering with an illustrator to create a graphic edition, or reformatting for a large-print edition.

Don’t stop writing.

The more visible you are, the more likely readers will be to buy your books. This means that writing essays, guest blogs, and articles, and doing interviews and podcasts can increase your visibility. Beyond that, however, one of the best way to increase book sales is to keep writing books. Whenever you publish a new book, readers will have an opportunity to discover older titles. And if you can’t bring yourself to commit to a whole new book (trust us, we get it), think about releasing a collection of essays, some short stories, or even a bonus novella at an attractive price point.

The worst mistake you can make as an indie author is to publish your book and then sit back and do nothing. (Not even traditionally published authors can afford to take that kind of laissez-faire approach with their books anymore.) Like so much of life, what you’ll get out of this endeavor is often directly related to the amount of effort you put in to making your project a success. That the “burden” is all on you can seem overwhelming, but it should also feel empowering.

Maybe you won’t have to choose between creating what you love and making money after all.





Hannah Guy lives in Toronto and is a professional writer and copywriter who specializes in books, books, and more books. Follow her on Twitter at @hannorg.

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