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Choosing the Right Author Business Model

It's important to find the right balance of business and creative fulfilment for you.

Long before many authors look to self-publish a book or pursue a traditional contract, they write purely for fun. It starts as a hobby we enjoy. Yes, some individuals get into it for the chance of earning passive income, but that’s not how the majority work. If you’re like most in the community, you probably didn’t think about monetising the skills you developed until you’d already spent years toying with characters and practicing your craft. Sure, you may have considered the possibility of writing a bestseller, but it was only a pipe dream. An unlikely fantasy. After all, it’s all down to luck, right? It’s only when you research, though, that you realise the reality.

It’s possible.

Indeed, thousands of authors pay mortgages with their book royalties every month. And they reached that stage not by luck but by using a strategy. Was it always easy? No, but nor are most careers. Ask 100 authors how they make a full-time income and you’ll discover that most work hard and compromise in some way. They love their work but it doesn’t necessarily resemble the original vision they pictured when drafting their debut novel. For some, it’s their routines that surprise them — the afternoons spent tweaking ads instead of writing. For others, it’s the subject matter — the bully romances they write after their man-on-toaster erotica novels failed to find readers.

Struggling authors often make comments like, “Unless I can just write my kind of books and not do anything else, I’d rather have a job.” And that’s fine. But if you’re desperate to go full time, lots of author business models can get you there. In fact, often, the issue isn’t finding ideas; it’s trying not to overstretch yourself. Try too few ideas and you may never find a good fit. Too many, though, may stop you from making proper progress on any. Balance is vital. Luckily, as you will discover, it’s possible to test models thoroughly and refine them at speed to uncover one that offers creative fulfilment, pays the bills and works for you. Doing so just requires a process.

Do What You Like

It’s useful to start by looking for activities you enjoy doing while writing books, because desperation influences us all to lose sight of our original goals and make illogical choices. In frantic pursuit of “the dream,” some writers end up following a business model they hate more than their day job. Why? Because some YouTube “guru” promised them it would help them become a full-time author. One day they were writing dragon stories, the next they were performing ASMR on TikTok to promote a thriller series, not entirely sure what any of it has to do with their dragon books. As author and creative coach Mark McGuiness said on The Creative Penn in 2016:

“There are easier ways to make money [than writing books]. But those ways are generally more unfulfilling. If you are a creator, then you need to know where your sweet spot is, let alone your sour spot, about the balance of money work and artistic or creative or fulfilling work in your life.”

Writing is fun and also comes with glamourous perks if it goes well. If you’re turning it into something you hate just to do it full time, though, what’s the point? You could earn a steadier income from a day job you prefer. Hence, consider whether you like working on an idea as your first litmus test when choosing a business model. Ask yourself, “Will I enjoy this work?” Do you like writing military sci-fi, relying purely on Amazon page reads, visiting schools, or managing ads? If not, try something else. There are lots of ways an author can make money.

Pre-Test Ideas

What do many of us do when we have to make an important decision in our personal lives? Often, we run it past people we trust. You can take a similar approach when assessing author business models. That said, be careful who you rely on because not all feedback has equal value. Your best friend might have valuable insights when helping you choose a romantic partner, but they’re unlikely to be objective when it comes to business ideas. Depending on their biases, they’ll endorse whatever idea they think will make you happy, rich or — potentially — more available to them when they want you. Loved ones have biases and agendas. Data, however, doesn’t lie.

Poll 1,000 potential customers or split-test ads to dummy sales pages and you’ll quickly discover which of your business ideas has the most actual demand. That’s why many bestselling authors do market research and why our very own Mark Dawson surveys his newsletter subscribers. Doing so offers objective data sourced from lots of relevant sources. Using it, you can learn what type of person enjoys your books, how your readers prefer to read, which ideas you should write next, and what else your network might desire. Once you’ve settled on a handful of potentially fun ideas, pre-testing them will help you determine if they will actually make you money.

Reduce Experimentation Unit Size

Average authors can test ideas in a shorter timeframe than they think they can if they’re willing to dive in without feeling fully prepared. In fact, this is how many of the world’s top-performing authors learn what works faster than their peers. While one author dedicates six months to planning, they gain equal or even greater real-world experience in a fraction of the time just by starting the venture. Doing a thing without planning ahead might make you uncomfortable, but it teaches you about the realities of a situation far faster than planning to do it ever will. Let’s not forget, “move fast and break things” was the motto that made Facebook a global powerhouse.

Reducing the experimentation unit size is key because it lowers the barrier to entry, minimises procrastination and helps you stress-test an idea in the real world. In turn, the experience will tell you if you enjoy it and can make it work for you. As successful creator and productivity expert, Ali Abdaal, said in a YouTube video in June:

“I can just start that blog. I can just start posting on Twitter. I can just start a podcast—even if I don’t really know what’s going on because I’m going to run it as an experiment […], like maybe for just 30 days or just 7 days or just 14 days and then I’m going to gather data from that. The idea here is that the more experiments you run, the more you realise what you like.”

You might think you need to do a lot of preparation over months to test an idea. However, you can typically glean similar insights from a smaller experimentation unit. Can’t decide between two genres? Writing three books in each will tell you which is likely to perform better but so is writing a few introductory chapters and testing demand on Wattpad. Want to create a huge course? Try a short one and see if you like doing it. Typically, your gut or metric results will tell you from an early stage whether an idea is worth its salt.

Trust Feedback Loops

Recording results when testing business ideas will only benefit you if you pivot into better ideas as you become more informed. This principle is called a “feedback loop” which, according to a 2017 Wired article, will “provide [learners] with information about their actions in real time, then give them a chance to change those actions, pushing them toward better behaviors.” Pay attention to the information you take in and adjust accordingly and, in theory, your results will improve over time. You’ll use more useful knowledge and abandon ideas that didn’t work. It’s a sort of evolution. The shorter your loops, the faster you’ll develop a great business model.

Your progress may be imperceptible at first, like evolution, which Wired defines as a feedback loop, but it does happen. When a University of Texas research team studied Carolina anoles (sticky-footed lizards) after an invasive species drove them to live in treetops, they reported how, “their scales got stickier—in just 15 years and about 20 generations.” Development happened. What’s more, their shorter lifespans created more rapid feedback loops, leading to faster evolution. Consider this in your business to help you settle on a model that works for you. Look for extra feedback loops and use them. Your business model will emerge faster as a result.

Consider the Long Term

Use the aforementioned techniques and, eventually, you’ll discover a range of authorpreneur tasks that you enjoy and make money. In addition to writing your beloved vampire novels, your business might include a YouTube channel, for example, that covers vampire movie reviews. Or it could mean selling merch, creating courses or coaching other authors. Whatever you settle on, if you want to create a cohesive business model that works long term, you must also ask yourself several questions:

Do these tasks have synergy?

Will they work for me forever?

The answers will tell you if you’ve chosen work that will make sense as your business matures. Say you want to sell those vampire novels. Should you scrap the online course idea as it doesn’t have synergy with selling to Twilight fans? Would focusing on the YouTube channel be a better option as it could earn you ad revenue and give you opportunities to promote your books? Likewise, if non-fiction is your thing, do you want to coach individual clients forever or have a business that scales? Sometimes you have to make short-term sacrifices to cover bills, but these long-term questions are worth asking as they will guide you in the right direction.

All these techniques are worth considering when forming your business model, but don’t feel discouraged if you don’t immediately land your dream setup. The reality is that most authors make compromises along the way and many maintain multiple streams of income for necessity. Remember that there is always hope because, as an indie author, you can adapt your business as opportunities arise. That’s how self-publishing online started. As did rapid-release launches and earning money with page reads. If you don’t find an exact business model that works for you, it’s possible to make your own.

Daniel Parsons

Daniel Parsons

Dan Parsons is the bestselling author of multiple series. His Creative Business books for authors and other entrepreneurs contains several international bestsellers. Meanwhile, his fantasy and horror series, published under Daniel Parsons, have topped charts around the world and been used to promote a major Hollywood movie. For more information on writing, networking, and building your creative business, check out all of Dan’s non-fiction books here.