How to Make Money Writing and Publishing Books

Advertising Disclosure: When you buy something by clicking links on our site, we may earn a small commission, but it never affects the products or services we recommend.

Image Not Available

Everybody’s got a story to tell, and you may dream of seeing yours in print.

With today’s technology, book publishing is open to just about anyone who can write (and even some who can’t, for that matter).

But will your book leave you rolling in 50 shades of green?

Writing a book is one thing. Profiting from publishing is another story.

To translate book writing ambition into popularity, and then into profits, means making choices, self-published author Rochelle Weinstein says on her blog.

The Florida-based writer self-published two novels, “What We Leave Behind” and “The Mourning After,” through CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, an arm of Amazon. She’s working on a third book and has offered advice to Money Talks News readers thinking about self-publishing books, too.

Even after selling 1,000 copies of her first book, Weinstein says, she hadn’t seen a profit.

Production and marketing your book doesn’t come cheap, and you need to sell the book to cover those costs, just to break even, she points out.

“You have to get people to buy your book. You got to get people to tap on that button and buy that book. It’s a lot of work to get people to do that. There are millions of books out there — you’ve got to get yours in that special venue that attracts people.”

Millions is an understatement.

The overall U.S. book and journal publishing industry generated $27.01 billion in net revenue for 2013, representing a volume of 2.59 billion units says BookStats, which publishes an annual statistical survey. (Its 2014 figures are due in May.) The Trade sector, covering general consumer fiction and nonfiction, generated $14.63 billion in net revenue and 2.32 billion in volume.

Sales and publishing trends to know

E-sales trump book stores: Sales of eBooks and print copies through online retailers exceeded the revenue produced at brick-and-mortar stores such as Barnes & Noble and local, independent book sellers, BookStats reported.

Target audience: Adult nonfiction was the fastest-growing trade category, surpassing juvenile (children’s/young adult), the growth leader for the previous two years, BookStats reported.

Self-publishing is growing strong: The number of self-published titles in 2013 increased to more than 458,564, up 17 percent from 2012 and 437 percent from 2008, according to Bowker, the U.S. independent agent that can issue your book’s International Standard Book Number, ISBN, its unique identifier. Print titles were up 29 percent from 2012, indicating the format’s continuing relevance to self-publishers, it said.

While self-publishing is “a force to reckon with, it is evolving from a frantic, Wild-West-style space to a more serious business,” Beat Barblan, director of identifier services at Bowker, said in the company’s annual report.

The traditional route to print and eBook publishing still exists, i.e., get an agent, who will pitch a publisher and take a big chunk of your book’s revenue.

If you go the independent publishing route, you keep all the profit yourself, but only after you spend anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000 for editing, design, production, marketing and distribution and other services a traditional publisher would have absorbed.

Focus your goal, choose your genre

“If your goal is to touch someone’s life, if your goal is to become a famous author, if your goal is just to have your book on the shelf of family and friends, you have to know your goal,” Weinstein says.

You also need to know what you want to write, will it be a historic or romance novel, a memoir about a life’s struggle, or nonfiction travel guides or money-making advice.

Writer Paul Jarvis, in a Forbes post, said he sold 5,410 copies of his first book, “Eat Awesome,” through digital product seller Gumroad and netted about $12,033 after fees. After producing a second book through Gumroad, Jarvis put his third, “Everything I Know,” through Amazon and reported that sales exceeded 4,000 in the first four months and a year later were still going at 700 downloads a month, netting him $2,870.

Hedge fund manager and author James Altucher says one approach to making a living through self-publishing is sheer volume. Write dozens a year. Perhaps you’ll earn $100 a year on each for life, which would add up.

The nuts and bolts

Once you know your goal and write the book, these are some key points to consider:

  • More than 75 percent of self-published titles with ISBNs came to market with support from just three companies: Smashwords, CreateSpace and Lulu, Bowker said.
  • That unique 13-digit ISBN starts at $125. You may need at least five, one for each book version, Bowker says, including hardback, paperback and electronic forms; a bar code, $25; a look-inside widget, $125.
  • “Invest in your book with editing and great cover art,” Hugh Howey, author of the best-selling “Wool” series, advises in a long post praising self-publishing for aspiring writers. Unless you are Brad Pitt, don’t put your own picture on the cover, advises Kimanzi Constable, an author and coach. A cover design can run up to $3,500; editing, thousands, says Mirral Sattar, an author’s services marketplace executive, in an NPR post.
  • To sell your book, you need a marketing plan. That can entail writing blog posts, creating an author’s platform, tweeting, posting on Facebook and Pinterest, appearing at book clubs and bake sales, getting good reviews — to name a few ways that authors work to get their books noticed.

When you’re a self-published author, you’re in business selling yourself.

Do you have a book in you, on the bookstore shelves or out there in the e-book market? Share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.

Get smarter with your money!

Want the best money-news and tips to help you make more and spend less? Then sign up for the free Money Talks Newsletter to receive daily updates of personal finance news and advice, delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for our free newsletter today.