Updated: Aug 7, 2019
Seth Godin once said about book publishing: “If you’re doing it for the money, you’re going to be disappointed.”
Coming from an author of 19 bestsellers who’s worth a reported $34 million dollars, that’s pretty disappointing.
So if no one’s making any money from books, why do they bother publishing them?
Money isn’t everything
Maybe for many authors, money isn’t the driving force. There are many non-financial reasons for writing a book—it might be a life-long ambition, or something to show your family. You might have an idea that will change the world and you’ll kick yourself if you never get it out there. Or maybe it’s the process of writing a book that drives you. Going back to Seth, he sums up these reasons neatly:
“Writing a book is a tremendous experience. It pays off intellectually. It clarifies your thinking. It builds credibility. It is a living engine of marketing and idea spreading, working every day to deliver your message with authority.”
Back to reality
But let’s face it: we all want to make money. I encourage the authors on my online course to be brutally honest about their reasons for writing a book, and most of them admit they want their book to be a source of income. So how much money can the average business author like you expect to make?
The most obvious way of making money from books is author royalties. If you’re lucky enough to be traditionally published, these are likely to be between 7.5% and 10% of your book’s cover price. However, if the trade discount given to bookshops reaches a certain level, you can expect this to drop to more like 5-7%. Many publishers will give you an advance on these royalties, and that can be anything from a couple of thousand pounds to a 5-figure sum.
Of course, if you self-publish you’ll keep more of your royalties—up to 90% in some cases. But unless you’re a brilliant marketing machine, you’re likely to sell fewer books, and you’ll have to pay for editing, design and proofreading yourself.
The middle of the road option is hybrid publishing, which generally pays around 50-60% royalties. But publishing packages will usually cost you around £2500-£3000. I’ll be explaining more about the different publishing options on this blog page over the next few weeks, so watch out for advice on choosing the right route for you.
So it seems Seth Godin’s right—if you think you’re going to make serious money from book sales alone then you’ve got another think coming. But like many other successful authors he knows the real rewards from writing a business book. The real money—the long-term benefit of being an author—is from the money your book makes you indirectly.
How much money has Seth Godin made from his podcast, his marketing workshop and his online courses? How much do people pay for him to speak at their event? The financial reward from writing his books is almost certainly outweighed by the value they’ve given his brand.
We’re not all Seth Godin. So think about this: a wedding planner whose target market is brides getting married abroad writes a book about how to plan a wedding remotely. The book makes her around £1900 in royalties in its first year—less than £160 a month. But four brides, impressed with her practical tips and knowledge of worldwide destinations, contact her via her link in the back of the book. Three of them become clients—worth a total of £21,500. If those three clients wouldn’t have come across her service without reading the book, who’s laughing now in terms of return on investment?
A book isn’t a short-term marketing investment like Facebook ads. It will carry on winning you clients for years to come—without any further outlay. That’s where the real money is made.
One final point: To make this return on investment more likely, it’s vital to carefully research your audience and what they need. You’ll also need to make sure you structure your book so that your reader gets the right information in the right way.
I’ll be talking more about how to identify your reader in my next blog, but if you want to make sure you position your book most effectively from the start, find out more about my online Business Book Kickstarter course.