Bob Baker's Book Promotion Blog

Making Money With Your Books

Here's a followup to my Should You Give Away Free eBooks? post ...

I'm a big fan of Chris Anderson and his Long Tail blog. Earlier this week he wrote about the benefits and drawbacks of giving away free ebooks and even spoken-word audio downloads of books. Within the post were these three sentences:

Of the nearly 200,000 books published last year, only about 2,000 (1%) made any money for anyone. The rest of them were published for other reasons, which range from marketing consulting services to simple expression. Outside of a relative handful of celebrity authors and self-help peddlers, almost nobody writes books for a living.

The hair on the back of my neck sprung to attention like a welterweight boxer who had just been insulted. Here's the comment I left on Anderson's blog:

Chris, while I agree that most authors don't make much money from their books, saying "almost nobody writes books for a living" is a bit of a simplistic statement. I'm one of those rare authors who does make a good living from the sales of my self-published books, so I have a different perspective. In fact, I consider myself a living example of Long Tail abundance economics in action.

Regarding giving away free ebooks to sell print books, I've been using a different model to promote my identity as a source of indie music marketing and artist empowerment advice. For about 12 years I've been giving away lots of free tips through my ezine and free articles. In more recent years, I've added a blog, a podcast and video content.

Like you, I don't give away full versions of my books online, but I do freely distribute writings on my topic. This demonstrates what I offer and leads to exposure and name recognition, in the same way new bands create buzz with free downloads, etc.

Once you have engaged a growing audience with an abundance of your writing samples, it's a lot easier to sell them on your more in-depth, for-sale products. Stay at it long enough and you can make a living doing it.

With audiobooks, the same approach applies. Give away spoken-word samples, perhaps in the form of short podcasts (as I do). Then sell the full-length audio version to those who want more.

As with most aspects of life, you have to give to get.

Here's the thing: I agree that most authors write books for reasons other than money. In fact, if you aren't compelled to share what you have to say in the absence of cash flow, you're doing it for the wrong reason.

However, at the same time, I refuse to buy into the "starving artist" and "struggling writer" mentality. Just because most don't generate a profit doesn't mean you are destined to poverty as an author or self-publisher.

You can bet I'll be writing more on this topic in the weeks and months ahead :-)


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  • Well, it worked on me: I appreciated that your free articles shared good ideas and were authentic content, not just 'teasers' (e.g. "For the real 12-page secret report, buy this..."). I wanted more, so I bought a couple of your e-books.

    I do think this is trickier for fiction writers, though. It seems to work best for authors like Corey Doctorow whose 'day job' (in this case fighting for copyright change, developing new technologies) is high-profile enough to draw attention to his novels and stories. It's tougher when all you have to offer is the story.

    I'm trying to develop ways to teach what I've learnt about running a micropress (bookbinding, page layout, how to start and finish a novel, etc.), but it's tough when I'm ghostwriting during the day and doing work on my next novel at night.

    This business of generating self-promotable content is like a third job, and often gets pushed to the bottom because I'm intimidated by the prospect of having to go out there and bleat about myself. The local press pay no attention at all to independent media and creators thereof, so I recognise that this means I need to develop a new community of potential audience members. I do believe it's possible, but it taking a long time and a lot of different tactics.

    By Anonymous Hamish MacDonald, At Friday, February 09, 2007  

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