9 Inexpensive Revenue Streams for Broke or Struggling Authors

by | Jan 24, 2019

By Joan Stewart

When the Authors Guild released results of its most recent survey showing that revenue from all writing-related activity in 2017 was down significantly, I wasn’t surprised.

What the Guild calls “the largest survey of U.S. professional writers ever conducted” showed the median income that published American authors received for all writing-related activity in 2017 was $6,080, down from $10,500 in the survey taken only two years before.

The survey also showed that the median income for book-related income for published authors declined by one-fifth, from $3,900 in 2013 to $3,100 in 2017.

Why such grim figures?

My guess is that because Amazon makes it so easy for anyone to become an author, the marketplace is swollen with competition for readers’ time and money.

I’ve always counseled my author clients to create revenue streams beyond their books. Print books, in particular, suck up money like a vacuum cleaner, with most of it spent on editing, printing, cover and interior design, marketing and publicity.

How, then, can authors create more revenue streams associated with their books or areas of expertise without incurring a lot of additional expense? Here are nine of my favorite ways to make money other than writing books.

1. Special Reports

A special report is a PDF of five to seven pages devoted to a narrow topic.

I started writing them about two decades ago when I decided to write a book on how to generate free publicity. But I knew that books are money pits. I wanted to sell each chapter as soon as it was written, with the grand plan to publish all 20 or 25 chapters, or reports, into a book when I was done.

Each report sold for only $7 and I promoted them through my weekly email tips. Readers snatched them up as fast as I could write them, often buying four and five at a time!

They proved so successful that I abandoned the idea for the book, kept cranking out the reports and today have 52 special report titles.

Do the math. What’s 52 x $7? How much money would I make if I sold those 52 reports as a book? Maybe $25 max per book?

I update all the reports every few years, sell them individually or in a discounted bundle, and do special promotions once or twice a year. The secret to success with special reports is to choose topics an inch wide, and go a mile deep with the content.

2. Templates

Teach people how to build, write or create something from a topic that’s tied to your book or expertise.

Nonfiction authors can create templates for:

  • websites
  • infographics
  • business letters
  • emails
  • quizzes
  • resumes
  • time management and more

Fiction authors can create patterns for things like:

  • Civil War costumes
  • templates for love letters
  • meditations
  • jokes and humor

I never considered creating templates until Joel Friedlander, who publishes this blog, invited me to create Quick & Easy Media Kit Templates for authors and sell them exclusively at his Authortoolkits.com website.

They’ve proven such hot items that I’ve spun them into publicity templates for the accounting and real estate industries.

3. Subscription Ezines

Charge readers for providing valuable advice via email, on a regular schedule.

Publishing experts Jane Friedman and Porter Anderson write The Hot Sheet, an industry email newsletter for authors that offers context and analysis about complex issues for those who are traditionally published or self-published. Annual subscription is $59.

Subscription ezines work particularly well for authors who have deep expertise in a narrow topic. Before you start charging, however, offer your tips for free to give people a taste of what they’ll get. Don’t start charging until you’re sure you can maintain a regular publishing schedule.

4. Adult Education Classes

Contact your local:

  • city hall
  • tech school
  • school district
  • college
  • university
  • career center

If you’ve written an historical novel, you’ve probably done enough research on the time period that you can offer an entire course on it.

Have you written a romance novel and do you know a lot about online dating? I’ll bet that if you taught a course on how to get started on the dating sites, including how to avoid the scammers who rob vulnerable people, especially widows, the class would be filled.

Collect email addresses of your students and, with their permission, put them on your email list so they can receive notices about your publishing news and other events.

5. Home Study Courses

These can include:

  • a digital workbook
  • a recorded teleseminar or webinar
  • a series of short videos
  • an upsell to private coaching in addition to the course

Author Nina Amir offers a home study course for high-performance writers. But your course can focus on any topic related to your book or expertise.

6. Private Facebook Groups

Author and public speaker Tom Antion created Screw the Commute, a closed Facebook group that costs $37 a month, or $247 a year for a charter membership.

It’s devoted to tips and tricks for running a home-based business, something he knows well. The multi-million-dollar Internet marketer started working at age 10 and has never worked for anyone other than himself.

Within his private group, members can ask questions about any phase of running a business and Tom answers quickly. He offers a trial 7-day membership for only $1.

These groups are a powerful way to upsell clients into a mentor or coaching program.

7. Rent My Brain Sessions

This is simply known as hourly consulting. But it’s the term I borrowed from someone several years ago.

If you’re thinking, “Why would someone want to rent a fiction author’s brain?” you might be surprised. Maybe they love your dystopian novels and want to write them too, but they have no clue how to get started as an author. Who better to ask for help than you?

Some of the people who find my website through search want advice on topics I never would have considered offering but am qualified to teach.

You can use GotoMeeting like I do. It lets the client see my computer screen. I send a copy of the video afterward so they can review it at their leisure. The video eliminates the need to take notes during the call, leaving them free to concentrate on what I’m teaching.

Or keep it super cheap and super simple. Offer Rent My Brain sessions only by telephone, without a recording.

8. Professional Speaking

Public speakers speak for free. Professional speakers ask for a fee.

Don’t overlook the many paid opportunities at colleges and universities. They need speakers for:

  • orientation week
  • faculty and staff training
  • student leadership training
  • student government events
  • lectures sponsored by fraternities and sororities
  • commencement and graduation
  • student conferences
  • summer programs
  • events for athletes and clubs

Author Patty Hendrickson of Wisconsin, a Certified Speaking Professional, built her career speaking about leadership and other topics at colleges and universities.

9. Writing, Editing and Proofreading

You already know how to do this!

Advertise your writing-related skills on Craigslist or Fiverr.com. Get onto the speaking circuit in your community and teach audiences how to write a simple how-to article for an industry publication. Some people are too busy to learn. So they might hire you to ghostwrite it for them.

You can also buy Facebook ads, advertise on community message boards like NextDoor.com and post flyers at colleges and universities where students might need a writing tutor.

You don’t need four or five of these ideas. Choose one and do it well. When you start making money, choose another, and so on.

What about you? What do you do to bring in additional revenue without relying only on your book?
 
Photo: BigStockPhoto

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10 Comments

  1. Erin Wright

    I find this doom and gloom around the writing market to be…strange, I guess is a good way to put it. Perhaps I was just lucky because the genre I love, read for fun, and want to write in, is a very popular genre (contemporary romance). ?? I’m not sure if that’s made the difference or what, but I promise you, it’s very doable to make a full-time income as an author. I am supporting myself and my husband on my writing income as an author (I have no side gigs whatsoever), and to boot, we travel around the country full-time in our RV, exploring the world as we go. We are only in our 30s.

    I am no master of ads – I don’t have a single Facebook or AMS ad running at the moment. But I have had a steady release schedule for my books over the past two years, and I have many more books in my Long Valley world already planned out. A steady release schedule, professional covers, a dedicated ARC team, good proofreading, and a genre with lots of readers in it…this isn’t rocket science.

    I am an indie author who refuses to ever go trad pubbed, so whether I succeed or fail is completely up to me. Since I cannot afford to fail – eating food on a regular basis being something that I enjoy doing – I succeed.

    It can be done, you guys, I promise. Don’t let the Negative Nellys out there get you down. <3

    Reply
    • Joan Stewart

      Your popular genre is definitely a major factor in your ability to live off your writing income, Erin. So is your hard work with a steady release schedule and your versatile team. Keep cranking out those books! Ka-ching, ka-ching.

      Reply
    • AMY COLLINS

      I LOVE it. I just read on Lawrence O’Brien’s blog that Amazon paid over 1000 indy authors over 100,000 last year. I love stats like that!

      Reply
  2. michael n. marcus

    As I ease into retirement I decided to try to get some freelance writing and editing gigs—and I was shocked at the common low rates.

    Fiverr, Outsource and other online marketplaces have devalued the market, and some writers have such little self-worth that they sell their brain output much too cheaply. The huge number of competing writers and editors hurt, too.

    Back in the early 70s I freelanced for many magazines and newspapers. Most paid me ten or fifteen cents a word. For PR and advertising copy, I could collect a quarter or even a buck a word. Playboy apparently paid a buck.

    Now a nickel per word is HIGH, and some gigs pay a penny, or even less.

    I have gotten some editing work through personal contacts that paid me appropriately, but I stay away from the online marketplaces where writing and editing are sold as un-differentiated commodities.

    Writers’ groups on Facebook have many requests from new writers seeking editors. When eager editors respond, the first question they are asked is “how much?” This reminds me of the slop served in my high school cafeteria where food was supplied by the lowest bidder.

    https://www.bookmakingblog.com/2015/04/awful-authoring-arithmetic-whats-word.html

    Reply
    • Joan Stewart

      Thanks for sharing this, Michael. I wasn’t aware of how low the rates for writing have sunk. Based on what I see being marketed (“I’ll write your blog posts for you”), many of these alleged writers can’t write. When I saw the screenshot at the top of your blog post at the link above, I thought you created that yourself as a drastic example. Sadly, I discovered, you did not.

      Reply
      • helen

        An editor recently asked me to write for them at…(drum roll) $10 per hour. She complained about not having money, etc. yet had a $100K grant to write about COVID-19. The work was a technical writer using my experience as a psychologist. Hard pass.

        By the way, minimum wage in California is $13/hr. Point is that you should never undersell yourself. I ended up getting alot more money per hour after I hard passed.

        Reply
  3. Michael W. Perry

    Don’t limit your income options to tasks related to writing. That might even suck the creative juices out of you. Consider doing something completely different and doing it when you’re too tired to write anyway.

    That’s what I did when I was still trying to cope with Seattle’s increasingly high cost of living. I was too tired to write in the evening anyway and wanted something involving people, since writing tends to be lonely. I ended up assisting with special exhibitions at an art museum and doing inside security at another of their facilities.

    There’s always a downside. Sometimes that meant working until after midnight and getting home about 1 a.m., but with a good night’s sleep I was ready to go the next morning. And if you’re writing on anything involving people, it helps to meet a wide variety of them. I found that work through a temp agency, but once I had it the art museum staff asked for me by name, which ensured that when they needed assistance, I got called. I did that for five years and still miss it, although I do enjoy the more reasonable living costs where I am now.
    And yes, I also use my InDesign expertise to layout books for other publishers, but that work comes and goes. It’s nice to have steady, if part-time work, different enough that it doesn’t cut into my writing.

    Reply
    • Joan Stewart

      You make a good point, Michael, about choosing paying jobs that don’t necessarily have anything to do with your book or with writing. When I get away from the computer, even if for just a day, I feel refreshed when I return–ready to write again.

      Reply
  4. Ernie Zelinski

    You say, “Print books, in particular, suck up money like a vacuum cleaner, with most of it spent on editing, printing, cover and interior design, marketing and publicity.”

    You then later ask, “What about you? What do you do to bring in additional revenue without relying only on your book?”

    Actually, I rely on my books and any speaking engagements are just a bonus. I don’t find that any of my print books “suck up money like a vacuum cleaner.” I keep my overheads and my expenses really low. I have written 17 books and have made money on 16 of them. The only one that I yet haven’t made money on is “Life’s Secret Handbook” of which I self-published 1,000 copies in a Limited Leather Edition and priced at $97 US / $127 CAN. Although, this was really published as an expensive business card and an ego project, it has given me a lot of non-monetary paybacks so far. Here is the cool thing, however: Because I have so many new projects on the go, I kind of set this book aside. But after making a somewhat crazy comment (with Swagger) on a “Publishers Weekly” article, a division of Hachette contacted me and is interested in publishing it in a hardcover edition priced at under $19.99 US. Once it is published in 2020, it will definitely end up making me money as well. I am pleased to say that this division of Hachette will pay me royalties of 10 percent of suggested retail price (not of net) for the first 5,000 copies, 12.5 percent on the next 5,000 copies, and 15 percent of all copies sold over 10,000 copies. Yes, I could make more money self-publishing “Life’s Secret Handbook” but I have other projects to focus on including my self-published “The Joy of Being Retired: 365 Reasons Why Retirement Rocks — and Work Sucks” being released this month. My goal is to have this new retirement book become a true bestseller and sell over 100,000 copies in print, which three of my books have done. So rather than focus on other revenue streams, I will focus on having this book add to my already decent income.

    By the way, self-publishing the print edition of “The Joy of Being Retired” has not been a money pit to me at all. One of the reasons is that I used one of Joel’s Word templates to format the book. The second reason is that I used my creativity to get two financial advisors to each purchase 200 copies for their clients before the book went to the printer. Another reason is that I didn’t use any editors or proof readers. I have always gone by this adage: “Do it badly – but at least do it!” That in part has resulted in my books (mainly self-published) having reached over 1,000,000 copies sold worldwide in September. I am now working on the next 1,000,000 copies being sold but that could take a little while given that the 25,000 copies sold over the first million represents only 2.5 percent of the second million.

    Reply
    • Joan Stewart

      Ernie applause, applause for the many ways you save money publishing. Your tenacity is probably a big reason for your success. Unfortunately, based on my experience, you’re the exception to the rule. I have worked with dozens of authors over the years whose books became money pits, mostly because they had no clue what they were doing. They signed on with horrible small publishing houses, got ripped off by printers who produced sloppy books, or they hired marketing coaches who did little. My point in writing this post was to point out that authors who publish books primarily to make money, but do little else, will probably be disappointed.

      Reply

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