How can authors make money when they can’t sell books?

Chris Day is the founder of Filament Publishing and has been helping authors to turn their knowledge into income for two decades.

In any time of crisis, there will be those who get caught in the headlights and not know which way to turn. But there will always be others who always see the opportunity in every adversity and use each moment wisely. This is the moment to choose which you are.

Authors spend far too much time and effort writing and crafting their book to let anything get in the way of bringing it to market and for it to achieve its potential. Your book is far too important, and your business is far too important to sit and wait for other people to control your future.  Your future as the knowledgeable, passionate and talented person that you are will be determined by the mindset you choose to be in right now.

So the bookshops might be shut. The book distributors closed, we might all be in lockdown. Is that any reason to switch off your creativity and watch daytime TV?  I hope not!  Lockdown is a state of mind and has nothing to do with where you are, so snap out of it and get back to making a success of your author business. There are lots of things that you can be doing.

If you look around you, so many organisations are discovering new ways of doing things. Learn from what they are doing! Doctors are doing consultations on Skype – why has it taken them so long?  Choirs are still rehearsing together, but on the Zoom conferencing platform where they can all see and hear each other. Churches are live streaming their services and reaching new congregations around the world.  There is a sudden growth of virtual meetings and presentations. People are making this situation work to their advantage. If they can all adapt to what is happening. So can you!

People buy People first

The first thing to remember is that people buy people first before they buy books, or anything else. If you want people to buy your stuff, no matter what format it is in, they need to know you and why you are the best person to go to for what you have to offer. The first thing to make sure that your online presence is the best it could possibly be. 

Ask a friend to search for you online  Someone who doesn’t know where to look. See how easy you are to find, how clear is your offering, and see how easy it is to become a customer. For far too many people, their website seems to have been built by the sales prevention department. Have you ever tried to buy from yourself? You may be in for a shock.  Before you can sell anything, your online presence needs to be fit for purpose.  Your website can’t be ‘under construction’ forever!

What are your most profitable sales?

As an author do you know where your most profitable sales come from?  If you knew this would it give you a clue as to what to focus on?  When you sell books through the book trade or on Amazon you are giving away a discount of up to 60%, leaving you with 40% coming back to you – and out of that, you have to pay the cost of printing the books. By contrast, the books that you sell direct on your website, 100% of that income comes back to you. You still have to pay for your printing, but everything else sticks.  Right now, you need to be attracting book sales onto your website, and all of the other channels you control. Whatever you do, do not put a link on your website to any online bookshop, especially one with connections to South American rivers. If you have attracted the customer, you deserve the full income, not anybody else!

Are you selling books on EBay or Instagram? Many authors are, so think outside the box!

When people search for you online, your website should be the first thing that comes up. Is that the case? Or have other organisations hijacked your name?  Why not do a search for your name, and see what comes up. If you do not come up on top, what can you do about it?  The answer is lots!  If your website is built on WordPress, it is easy to ensure that every opportunity for keywords, ALT text, picture captions contain the phrases you want to be found for. One hour spent on doing this will certainly pay off. If you need help, ask a seven-year-old. Probably the same one that showed you how to use the television remote control!

New ways of selling books

As Homer said (the Greek one, not the Simpsons) “There is nothing new under the sun”.  Way back in the time of Charles Dickens, he sold his books as a series of weekly episodes. Indeed, in 1768, the very first edition of Encyclopaedia Britannia was sold in Edinburgh in exactly the same way. You then got a book-binder to stitch the parts together.  In more recent times, the Part-Work became popular, weekly editions that you added to a binder.  So how could this be relevant right now?

At a time when it is not possible to print or sell your book in the usual way, why not offer a Pre-Launch package for your fans and followers. In advance of your book coming out invite them to pay for it upfront, then deliver weekly episodes to them by email or by using your email marketing system.  They get to read the book before anyone else, then once the printed book comes out, you send them a copy. After all, they have already paid for it.

A variation of this is to send them each episode as an audio file, with the book read by the author. Very personal. 

Is your book a business?

If your book is non-fiction, self-help or a how-to title, you may well have other products that your readers will want to buy. The keyword here is Repurpose.  Your book is just one way of ingesting your knowledge or information. Are you repurposing that same information in other ways? These could via a paid-for webinar, an online course delivered by Zoom,  or an open learning programme – in the same way as the Open University does so well.  There are far more ways of monetising your knowledge than just the paperback book.

Of course, another good reason for holding online events, other than to make money, is to build your followers and give them a chance to see you perform live and understand where you add your own unique value.  However, whenever you give anything away make sure you get something back. The objective is to build your list with people who like your stuff. So if you are giving away content, always get an email address in return.

Are you doing Podcasts yet?  You could be building a following by simply reading extracts from your book. You could also do this on Facebook Live. So be creative. Look around you! The platforms that will link you to the world cost you nothing but time and a little imagination. Now is the time to create real momentum whilst you have a captive audience. We will be back to normal soon enough. Make sure you don’t let one day pass without doing at least one thing to raise your profile and sell more books.

 © Chris Day  – author coach, publisher, speaker, journalist, author of Turning your Knowledge into Income.