Making money with books is not the easiest way to make money online, but it can be one of the most fulfilling.
Whether you write nonfiction or fiction, many feel called to share your message or story with the world, but that message doesn’t matter much if you can’t end up putting that book in the hands of the right readers.
Unfortunately, the market for book publishing is saturated, and it’s growing more so by the day, with advertising becoming almost essential for anyone who wants to sell.
Thankfully, there are a ton of proven techniques that can help to get you a little closer to that dream you have.
- How to do market research so the right readers find your book
- How to write more books (and therefore make more money)
- How to make your books worth the price
- How to sell books
Table of contents
Note that some of the links in this article may lead to affiliate commissions, but as always, that costs you nothing extra, and any purchases you make will help to support my coffee fund.
Now, let’s get into the details of how to make money by writing books.
Step 1: Do Market Research
Your first step, not just when publishing books but for any kind of business, is to know your customer.
There are basically three steps to doing market research:
- Know who your customer is
- Know where that ideal customer is
- Know what you can create to appeal to attract them
To best understand the who (when it comes to publishing books), the best thing you can do is start by understanding the genre.
Amazon makes it relatively easy to browse through it’s list of categories for books, and tools like Publisher Rocket make it even easier.
What you want to do is look through a tool like Publisher Rocket, find a category that readers seem to like (and that you would want to write in).
Ideally, you’ll want a category that is growing over time, proof that there is a demand for it. Publisher Rocket makes this incredibly easy, because it shows you a graphy of the performance of books in that category.
Plus, it gives you a lot of other useful insights as well, to understand reader behavior around that category.
Once you have your category, you can then browse through that category and see what’s selling well.
Your next step is to research these books, which means…reading. Lots and lots of reading.
It’s genuinely amazing to me to see how many authors try to write in a genre that they aren’t intimately familiar with. You should know the genre inside and out, know all the major tropes, understand what readers love about that genre.
Because that is the best way to understand the reader and what they like.
There are other things you should consider about your ideal reader too (like why they like to read in that genre, what problem are they trying to solve, what demographics and psychographics do they fall under, etc.). All of these will help you refine your marketing message.
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Where Are Your Readers?
Once you know your “who”, it’s time to figure out your “where”. The key to discoverability is understanding where your readers are, then getting yourself in front of them.
When I first learned this concept, I initially thought I had to go find Facebook or Goodreads groups and “spam” them to buy my book.
Not at all.
While groups like these are one place where readers can hang out, there are many others.
So for starters, you might want to make a list of the following:
- What authors do your ideal readers follow?
- What podcasts do they listen to?
- What YouTube channels do they watch?
- What Facebook groups are they in?
- What keywords might they search on Google?
- What influencers are they following on TikTok?
These are all forms of traffic that you can intercept. A share from a single relevant author, for example, can result in a lot of sales, because that author had fans that like books similar to yours.
What Can You Do to Attract the Ideal Reader?
Once you know your “who” and your “where”, it’s time to figure out the “what”.
The “What” is what you’ll be creating to attract your ideal customer/reader.
The obvious answer to this is that you’ll be creating a book. But it’s more than that. It’s all of the messages you’ll be sharing in social media posts, content marketing, and more.
It’s also the freebies that you might give away, the free books or other forms of bait to attract that ideal reader. If that bait is not something your reader likes, you will not be able to find readers for your book. Simple as that.
Step 2: Become Prolific
Step 1 was important, possibly the most important. But the second step is also essential, because if you can’t produce books, you’re never going to sell them.
For some, this is the most discouraging part. Because writing a book takes a lot of effort. So that is why I have a number of strategies that you can make use of in order to write more prolifically, because this is a skill you are going to want to learn.
- Set clear goals: Setting clear and achievable goals for your writing journey is crucial for success. Define what you want to achieve with each writing session, whether it's completing a chapter or hitting a certain word count. Long-term goals, like publishing dates or deadlines for drafts, can also help you stay focused and on track.
- Find regular time to write: Consistency is key in writing. Choose specific times during the day or week when you are most productive, and block off that time exclusively for writing. The more consistent you are, the easier it will be to make writing a habit. If you can't find large blocks of time, even 15–30 minutes daily can make a big difference over time.
- Establish regular habits: Apart from setting aside regular time, build supportive habits around your writing. This could include creating a conducive writing environment, warming up before writing through exercises or reading, and establishing pre-writing rituals like a cup of coffee or a quick walk. The aim is to make the transition into writing mode as seamless as possible.
- Do regular writing sprints: Writing sprints are focused bursts of writing for a set amount of time, usually 5–30 minutes. These sprints can help you get a lot of writing done in a short period and can be particularly effective for beating procrastination. You can do this alone or engage in social writing sprints online or with friends for added motivation.
- Hire ghostwriters: If you have the financial resources and find it difficult to keep up with your writing schedule, consider hiring a ghostwriter. They can either write the entire book for you or help you with specific sections, allowing you to focus on other aspects of publishing and marketing. Just make sure you're clear on terms and have a good understanding with your ghostwriter to maintain the book's quality and voice.
- Try dictation: Using dictation software can speed up the writing process significantly. Speak your thoughts out loud and let the software transcribe them into text. This is especially useful if you find that you speak faster than you type, or if you want to capture thoughts on the go. It may require some editing to clean up the transcribed text, but it can be a great way to get your ideas down quickly.
- Try AI: Artificial Intelligence tools can assist in a variety of tasks from generating ideas to even writing portions of your text. AI can help you break through writer’s block by suggesting the next line or paragraph, brainstorming chapter ideas, or even help you with basic editing tasks. However, it's essential to thoroughly review and edit any AI-generated content to ensure it matches your voice and meets basic quality standards.
I’ve got a whole article on how to write fast. I recommend checking that out for more tips you can put to good use.
Step 3: Focus on Quality
You can write a lot of books, but if they aren’t good books, you won’t sell them.
Now, the good news is that simply by writing several books, you’re going to get better as a writer. This is a natural bi-product.
However, there are various investments that you can and should make to improve the quality (and perceived quality) of the book. Here are a few:
- Developmental Editing: Developmental editing is the process of examining your book’s content, structure, pacing, and overall narrative. This form of editing dives deep into the big-picture issues, such as character development, plot cohesion, and thematic elements. A developmental editor can provide crucial feedback that can transform a good book into a great one. They can identify plot holes, inconsistent tone, and structural problems that may not be apparent to you as the author.
- Line Editing: Line editing focuses on the craft of your writing. This stage involves going through your manuscript line by line to enhance its readability, flow, and overall language use. It aims to improve the prose, refine your voice, and ensure that your sentences are as clear and effective as possible. Line editors may rephrase awkward sentences, flag repetitive words, and suggest improvements in word choice. The outcome is a smoother, more polished text that communicates your message or story more effectively.
- Proofreading: Proofreading is the final step before publishing and should never be skipped. Even the most meticulous authors can overlook minor errors. A proofreader examines the manuscript for typos, grammatical errors, punctuation issues, and formatting inconsistencies. This type of editing doesn’t focus on style or content but on surface-level errors that can distract readers and potentially undermine your book’s credibility.
- Book Cover: The book cover is usually the first thing a potential reader sees and can make or break their decision to pick up the book or click on its online listing. It should conform to the genre's standards to attract the right audience. Many authors choose to hire professional designers for this critical task.
When you are just starting out, it can be hard to find the funds to pay an editor for all three types of editing, not to mention getting a good book cover.
But not only will editing improve your book, but it will help you grow as a writer. You will learn a lot.
That said, I know that budgets are scarce, and sometimes prioritization is needed. So if I could narrow these down to the essentials, I would pick a proofreader and a good book cover.
The book cover, in particular, will play a huge role in selling your book, so you want it to be good.
Step 4: Understand What Converts
Selling a product is basically driven by two things:
- Behavioral Psychology
To sell a lot, you need to have a solid leverage of both to create conversion.
Conversion is basically just the process of closing a sale.
Thankfully, there are a few things that you can do to increase conversions and exposure. Here are a few factors you want to consider:
- A Good Book Cover: As mentioned earlier, a book cover is often the first thing a potential reader notices. In terms of conversions, a professional, eye-catching book cover can significantly increase the likelihood that a browser will become a buyer. The cover should not only be visually appealing but also communicate the essence or mood of the book, encouraging a click-through or a second look. A poorly designed cover can dissuade potential readers, causing you to lose sales regardless of how good the content inside might be.
- Your Title and Subtitle: The title and subtitle play a crucial role in converting potential readers. The title should be catchy, relevant, and evoke curiosity or emotion. The subtitle can add additional context or explain the benefits the reader will get from the book, serving as a mini sales pitch. Together, they form a powerful combo that can either pull a reader in or turn them away. Use clear and compelling language, and if possible, employ keywords that your target audience might use when searching for books in your genre.
- Your Book Description: The book description is usually the second thing that your potential reader sees, besides the cover. This is where you can delve into what your book is about, why it’s beneficial, and what sets it apart from others in the same category. Use compelling language to draw the reader into the world you’ve created or the problems you can solve for them (for nonfiction) or the conflict that will be resolved (for fiction).
Step 5: Understand What Brings Traffic
No matter how good your product, or how convincing your sales tactics, none of that will matter if you’re not getting traffic (i.e. people looking at your product).
The following are various ways in which you can get traffic to your Amazon sales page (or wherever you want to direct them).
- Picking the Right Keywords and Categories: The keywords should be terms that your target audience is likely to use when looking for books in your genre. Proper keyword optimization can help your book appear in search results and can even get you into Amazon's “Also Bought” and “You Might Like” recommendations. Similarly, picking the right categories can put your book in front of readers who are most likely to be interested in it.
- Newsletter Swaps with Other Authors: A newsletter swap is an arrangement where two authors promote each other's books to their respective email lists. This is a cost-effective way to reach a wider but still targeted audience. Make sure to partner with authors who write in similar genres or topics to ensure that the audience is likely to be interested in your book. It’s a win-win situation where both authors can benefit from each other's established readership.
- Book Promotions: Utilize platforms that specialize in book promotions, such as BookBub, to reach an even larger audience. Social media and your author newsletter are also great avenues to announce promotions. Be strategic with the timing—consider aligning your promotion with holidays, the launch of a new book, or other significant events to maximize impact.
- Advertising: Platforms like Amazon Advertising, Facebook Ads, and BookBub Ads offer various options to target your audience based on demographics, interests, and behavior. A well-crafted ad with a compelling call to action can drive a substantial amount of traffic to your book’s sales page. However, the obvious downside is that ads cost money. Make sure to constantly test your ads with different images or headlines, because this is what will eventually increase conversion.
And even though you can get traffic to your books in these ways, remember step 4. It doesn’t matter how much traffic you get if your book cover sucks or your description doesn’t pull readers in. Make sure those things are optimized, and you are guaranteed better conversions.
Step 6: Understand Funnels
A marketing funnel is a core concept that every entrepreneur should understand. It’s the process of taking a reader through a journey, starting with something small, then moving them up higher and higher into more opportunities.
For those who are selling direct, this is a crucial skill, and will likely need to involve several steps in a funnel. For all other authors, at least a simple funnel is necessary: for example offering something for free in exchange for an email list, then selling your books to those subscribers.
That is a basic funnel.
Here is a list of some of the basic funnel tactics you should be using in your author business.
- A Reader Magnet: A Reader Magnet is essentially a free gift that you offer to potential readers in exchange for their email address. It could be a short story, a prequel to your series, a free chapter from your upcoming book, or even a guide or workbook related to your book's topic. The goal is to offer something so enticing that readers will willingly give their email addresses to get it. This begins the funnel process, moving a casual browser into your ecosystem where you can nurture a deeper relationship.
- Nurturing Your Email List: Once you've captured email addresses, it's crucial to engage with these potential customers effectively. Nurturing your email list isn't just about sending them sales pitches for your books; it’s about providing value. Share updates about your writing journey, offer additional free content, and recommend other books they might enjoy (including your own, naturally). Utilize automated email sequences to guide new subscribers through a journey that introduces them to your work and establishes a relationship before asking for a sale. A nurtured list is more likely to convert into paying customers when you release a new book.
- Landing pages: For authors who sell books directly from their own website, having an optimized landing page can also help. This is a web page designed specifically to convert visitors into customers or leads. It should be visually appealing, easy to navigate, and have a clear call to action (CTA).
Step 7: Build a Personal Brand
For any author who wants lasting exposure and staying power as a writer, you will eventually need to build up an author brand.
Because what many authors don’t realize, is that we’re not selling books, we’re selling connection.
And in order to really capitalize on that connection, you have to be the face of your business.
So with that in mind, here are a few tactics and strategies you should be using to establish your author brand.
(Incidentally, most of these tactics will also increase your exposure, leading to more traffic as mentioned in step 5.)
- Your Author Website: An author website serves as your digital home base and should be a professional, clean space that reflects your brand's personality. This is where readers can learn more about you, browse through your bibliography, read your blog posts, and sign up for your newsletter. Your website should have a user-friendly layout, responsive design, and clear calls-to-action to guide visitors on what to do next, like “Read a Sample Chapter” or “Subscribe to My Newsletter.”
- Social Media: We recommend you pick at least one social media platform and master it. By this, I mean you should be posting daily, if not multiple times a day. Share not only updates about your books but also insights into your writing process, your interests, and even glimpses into your daily life.
- Content Marketing: This involves creating valuable, relevant content aimed at attracting and engaging your target audience. There are usually three avenues for content marketing (besides social media): YouTube, a podcast, or a blog. Content marketing can position you as an expert in your field or genre, offering value that goes beyond just selling a book. For example, a mystery writer might blog about the history of the genre or tips for creating suspense in writing. By providing valuable content, you attract a wider audience that's likely to be interested in your books as well.
- Amazon Author Page: Your Amazon Author Page is often the first stop for readers who want to know more about you after discovering one of your books. Make sure this page is complete, updated, and compelling. Include a professional bio, a high-quality author photo, links to your social media accounts, and a list of all your available titles.
Let’s face it, we all want to sell books.
But it’s not as easy as writing the darn thing, slapping a cover on it, then hoping that it sells on Amazon.
Selling a book requires that you…well, sell it.
While many authors don’t like to admit it, a lot of marketing will be necessary if you want to make any degree of money from your book.
And by taking the steps that I’ve outlined in this article, I can promise that you will at least be moving in the right direction, and if things don’t work out as much as you’d like, they will get better, and you will have the skill sets you need to diagnose any problems you have.
With that, I wish you the best of luck in your author endeavors. Enjoy!