Traditional vs. self publishing is a debate which can get intensely complicated. It’s an enormous choice for new authors to make, and both options have some benefits and drawbacks.
However, there’s this idea that traditional publishing is the only ‘real’ way to get published. If you want to make money, anyway, you need to traditionally publish, because publishing houses are going to market your book and do their best to sell it.
That is not true! Not even a little!
If traditional publishing is right for you, then follow it to your heart’s content, but know that it isn’t your only option—and it isn’t your only option if you want to build a career, either. And we’ll teach you why in this post.
It might come as a surprise, but you can actually make a ton of money self-publishing your work. You just need to know how to go about it the right way.
This guide on how to make money self publishing covers:
- The benefits of self-publishing
- Step 1 – Write a good book
- Step 2 – Build a launch team
- Step 3 – Have a marketing and publication plan
- Step 4 – Develop your audience
- Step 5- Publish new work
The benefits of self-publishing
In this article, we’ll cover why self-publishing might be the best way to publish your book, and we’ll also take you through some steps to make money along the way.
If you’re like me, and you were told your whole life that traditional publishing was your best and only ‘real’ option, you might be wondering: why should I self-publish?
Better royalties means better take-home pay
Let’s start with perhaps the biggest incentive: royalties.
If you traditionally publish your book, you have to first make back your advance before even earning royalties. An advance is the amount of money a publishing house pays an author up front. On the high end, this might be about $10,000 dollars. An author has to first earn that money back in sales before they can go on to collect royalties.
Let’s take this example from “How to Become a Bestselling Author & Get on Bestseller Lists“:
Say you have a $10,000 advance and you have a 10% royalty rate. If your book is listed for sale at $17.99, you’ll need to sell 5,586 books before you start earning those royalties. When you do earn those royalties, you’ll be making about $1.79 per copy.
Self-published authors don’t get an advance, but they do get about 60% of their royalties from the start. Instead of getting paid $1.79 per copy on that book listed for $17.99, you’re getting paid closer to $11 a copy from the start. This means that on the whole, if you sold the same number of copies, you’d make about six times more money than the traditionally published author.
Self-publishing also means you get full creative control over your project. You get to decide what your book is about, how you talk about the issues presented in your book, what the cover looks like, what the formatting looks like, how the blurb looks—it’s all up to you.
If you’re self-publishing, it does mean you have to hire your own editor, cover artist, and formatter. But it also means you get to pick your editor, cover artist, and formatter. You have greater control over some of the most vital marketing tools at your disposal, to say nothing of the work itself.
Control over your business
Similarly, self-publishing gives you control over your own business. Do you want to publish another book? Cool! You don’t have to wait for a second book deal or hope the publisher keeps you on. You can just write another book, and it can be about whatever you want. You control how your books are sold, where they’re sold, what goes in them, and how many you write.
How to make money self publishing step by step
Now that we’ve covered why self-publishing is a viable option with tons of perks for authors looking to start their career, let’s talk about how to actually make money self-publishing.
Step 1 – Write a good book
With all this talk about marketing, sales, readerships, and platforms, we can’t lose sight of the writing itself. Your objective as a business is to sell your books, and it’s going to be really hard to sell bad books.
Before you worry about anything else, make sure you’re writing the best possible book you can. Make an outline, draft a few times, run some revisions, and have some beta readers look at it. Hire an editor. Maybe hire a proofreader, too. Do everything you can to make sure that you’ve got a book people are going to want to buy so that they want to, someday, buy another.
Step 2 – Build a launch team
A launch team, also known as a street team, is a group of people you get together to help you launch your book. These people are often recruited through social media—they may or may not be writers, but they should definitely have read and enjoyed your book and have a genuine desire to see it do well.
Usually, these people will help you out in the runup to your release date. You’ll schedule different events and social media campaigns to generate hype, and your launch team will help you spread the word. They can help contact content creators for reviews, generate traction on social media campaigns, and leave reviews on sites like Amazon to help the algorithm boost your book. Basically, they’re town criers, and their job is to let everyone know that you’ve got a book coming out and they should absolutely pre-order a copy.
A launch team can be as big or as small as you’d like. If you’re a new writer, your launch team might be two or three people, and that’s okay! Having a little help is better than having no help at all. Make sure to communicate consistently with your launch team and make extra, extra sure to thank them—they’re promoting you and your dream for free, and that makes them angels.
For more info on launch teams, check out this video by Jenna Moreci.
Step 3 – Have a marketing and publication plan
You know how an outline is there to keep you on track? You may not adhere strictly to it, but it’s there as a guideline—a good outline keeps you from abandoning your book altogether, and it greatly enhances your chance of finishing the project in a reasonable amount of time.
It’s the same with publishing a book. There’s a lot to keep track of, and putting together a publishing and marketing plan in advance will help you stay on track to publish your book in line with your ideal publication date.
What does this look like for marketing? Take a look at successful social media campaigns run by other self-published writers. Research things like giveaways, challenges, and cover reveals. Take a look at your publishing schedule and plan at least three months of pre-sale activities in the runup to your publication date.
What does this look like for publishing? Make a budget for production costs and figure out how you’re going to manage your cover art, formatting, and editing. Pick out your artists, formatters, and editors, and once you’ve found out how long you can expect them to finish their respective job, start mapping it out. In general, you should allow for about three months of production time (editing, cover art, etc.) after you’ve finished drafting your book.
Leave some wiggle room in case of delays and emergencies, too! Maybe you decided to format the book yourself and it’s way harder than you thought it was going to be. Maybe your cover artist isn’t working out. A too-tight schedule won’t allow for changes—it’s better to be done a month early than to be rushing to fix a book that’s coming out in two weeks.
Step 4 – Self-publish the right way by building an audience
It can seem scary to self-publish knowing that most self-published books sell few or no copies. However, it’s important to remember that most people don’t know the right way to self-publish, and they don’t focus on the most important element of making money in self-publishing: to build a career, you have to build a dedicated readership.
Here are just a few ways you can work on building an audience, and they don’t require your book to be complete, either—you can start working on all of these steps now, and ideally, you should! You want to build as big an audience as you can before your book comes out so that, you know, more people will buy the book.
- Social media presence
Perhaps the easiest way to get started is to establish a social media presence. It doesn’t have to be anything super fancy—a Twitter account will do, or a Facebook page, if that’s more your thing. You can research which platforms are most popular with people within your target demographic. Younger groups, for example, will trend toward Tiktok and Instagram, while older groups tend to congregate on Facebook.
Establish a social media presence that you’re comfortable with. You don’t have to post about yourself at all, if you don’t want to—you can keep it strictly business. Post regularly, play around with what kind of posts you make, and try to connect with other writers.
- Email newsletters
People don’t believe that email newsletters work, but they are perhaps the best possible way to reach your readers.
Advertise your newsletter somewhere people will see it—maybe it’s a banner on your website or a link on your social media page. Offer an incentive for signing up to your newsletter, like a free short story or a set of writing prompts. Offer incentives in newsletters themselves to get new subscribers whenever you publish, and make sure to keep your newsletters short, sweet, and interesting.
This is a direct line of communication to your reader, so you definitely don’t want to miss out on this opportunity. For more help on how to make the most of newsletters, check out this video by Hannah Lee Kidder.
- Author websites
If you don’t already have a website, setting one up using Wix, WordPress, or Squarespace is pretty easy. If you don’t intend to publish anything soon and you don’t have the money to drop on a domain, don’t worry about it for now, but having a website ready to go will be super helpful down the line.
A website is where readers can go to sign up for your newsletters, buy your books, learn about you, and find out about any other services you might offer.
Step 5 – Keep publishing new work
If you really want to make money self-publishing, you should be ready to publish more than one book.
Ideally, your platform will grow as you continue to publish books. Each new book release will grow your readership. If you write one book and never write again, it’s likely that your reader base will taper off and dwindle over time. The best way to recruit new readers to buy your work is to publish new work for them to buy.
Some self-published authors, particularly in romance, will churn out a dozen books a year. This can definitely rack up some cash, but it’s not for everyone, and it’s not necessary.
You might only be able to publish a book once every few years, and you can still build an audience that way, especially if you have other new content coming out more regularly, like YouTube videos or podcasts.
Got any tips for making money self-publishing? Got any questions about how to build an author platform? Let us know in the comments!
Want to learn more about how self publishing stacks up against traditional publishing? Download our resource below!