How to Protect Your Author Income
Once you start earning royalties as an author, you can’t help but dream of the figures swelling to full-time income proportions. It’s human nature to see an opportunity and wonder how far you can take it. How big you dream will depend on your ambition. Fast cars and expensive vacations or just covering the mortgage – it’s all possible. The thing to remember, though, is that it’s a dream. Authors are artists. Turning writing into a long-term career isn’t possible.
At least, that’s what many new authors believe.
Spend time with professional full-timers, however, and you will learn that many do earn a good living – anywhere from four figures a year, all the way to eight! Getting there is possible. Luck is involved, but some manage to make the leap purely with hard work and a calculated business plan. With the right work ethic, tools and knowledge, anyone can have a five-figure month – even you. What you, like many others, will discover when you get there, however, is that maintaining a full-time author income is an entirely new challenge.
The internet is a graveyard of once-successful author careers. Some talk on podcasts about previous high five-figure months as though discussing a big fish that got away. Evidence of others exists on Amazon – books with a thousand reviews that no longer sell, their authors having left the industry in search of a more reliable job. Many have learned the hard way that a mammoth surge in sales does not guarantee a long-term income.
Today’s blog post won’t delve into the details of these tragic tales. Instead, it will draw lessons from them in the form of an actionable list you can use to avoid the same fate. Keep reading for a series of tips you can use to protect any success you do experience and maintain your author income after an initial uplift in sales.
How you publish can hugely impact the longevity of your author career. Traditional deals attract many newbies because they want to benefit from a publisher’s alleged expertise and don’t want to foot the bill for editors and cover design fees. In exchange for providing this value, however, publishers gain a lot of influence. Depending on the contract, they can decide the style of your covers and have the final say on your plot. Or they can drop you mid-series, leaving you totally unable to end your story arc. While these actions don’t come with a bill, they can cost you a massive amount in potential earnings.
Learning to publish yourself comes with a steep learning curve. Handling everything without the guidance of a publisher can be particularly frustrating in the early days. You will inevitably make mistakes if you take this path. However, the trade-off for those short-term problems is long-term security. While self-publishing, you never get forced to compromise on a plot point or a cover design that doesn’t match your vision. Nor will you lose your ability to publish altogether if your editor retires or moves to another company. Yes, self-publishing can be tough and expensive, but it gives you the power to publish whenever and however you want to maintain your author income.
Build a Platform
Debbie Macomber is a traditionally published romance author who’s sold over 200 million books. Given her track record, you may assume she doesn’t need a platform and that her name alone can guarantee sales. Look closer, though, and you’ll discover she has gathered almost 5,000 YouTube subscribers, 15,000 Twitter followers, 43,000 Instagram followers and 315,000 Facebook page likes. She regularly updates all these platforms to keep her readers engaged. And when she’s not on social media, she’s sending out email newsletters, promoting her magazine or updating her blog. She may not personally manage all these accounts herself, but they exist because she knows that maintaining her author platform is essential to her continued success.
A few years ago, you could make a living touring Borders bookstores. What happened to the authors who relied on that chain to reach readers? What about the early influencers who sold books on Myspace? How have authors managed after Facebook or Twitter closed their accounts for unexplained policy breaches? Take away an author’s platform and their sales decline. This is unfortunate, but it happens. As a result, the only real way to enable yourself to reach your fans forever and protect your livelihood is to stay nimble in the ever-changing publishing landscape. To ensure longevity, you must build your own multi-faceted platform, spread across several mediums. That’s a sure-fire way to ensure readers never forget you.
Protect Your Brand
Imagine you’ve tasted initial success and you now have publishers, producers and merchandisers jostling to pitch you licensing deals. What do you do? The answer: be careful. Yes, signing rights deals is exciting, but it’s also dangerous. There are countless potential trip hazards, particularly for newer authors who don’t fully understand the potential of their intellectual property rights. You may, for instance, believe “the right to create and sell merchandise” is a single intellectual property right but “merchandise” is a vague term that covers a range of rights.
It doesn’t matter if a merchandiser has verbally assured you they are solely interested in producing an adult-only card game to complement your erotica novels. Signing away the right to merchandise in general gives them free rein to produce almost whatever they want – including children’s toys that could cause controversy and tank your writing career. Knowing this, it pays to be thorough. To ensure a rights deal doesn’t ruin your brand, insist on making your contracts as clearly defined as possible. License only specific rights to limit what collaborators can create and set a fixed time period so you can reconsider a relationship if a deal doesn’t go to plan. Reputable merchandisers will happily negotiate. If yours aren’t then willing then walking away is usually the safest option.
Retail is competitive in many industries, including bookselling. Amazon may have a massive lead on second place for now but they won’t necessarily stay ahead forever. Just as they have disrupted traditional bookstores, another company could disrupt them. Apple could start giving away ebooks for free but still pay their authors, memes on Reddit could make Kobo the cool new place to buy novels, or TikTok could release a VR bookstore that totally revolutionises the book-buying experience. It’s impossible to tell how the industry will change in a decade. So being relentlessly loyal to whatever platform pays you the most money right now, and neglecting their competitors, is a gamble that could cost you your future.
The best way to increase your chance of long-term stability is to publish your work on all platforms and in all major formats – a process many indies refer to as “publishing wide”. That way, if one bookselling outlet loses customers to a competitor, you can still reach those readers on the competitor’s site. Using this approach, your fate is not entwined with that of one retailer. Admittedly, not investing all your efforts in one place can dilute your results in the short term and lead to slower growth. But, in exchange, it enables you to take less of a hit if that main platform ever shrinks or disappears. Publishing wide, you can still grow; the process may just be slow and steady rather than quick and volatile. The reward for your patience will be a more robust career that is less likely to vanish overnight.
Diversify Your Income Streams
We would all love to sell 5,000 books every month and never have to worry about re-joining the daily commute. For some authors working in popular genres, that’s possible. But for the majority, this isn’t a realistic outcome. Many who work in niche sub-genres like haiku poetry or comedy zombie fiction can’t make a reliable income just from book sales. You may surf a fad and briefly earn good money, but that won’t usually last long without working hard and smart. And while one five-figure month may make it seem possible to leave your day job, the regular three-figure months that follow won’t keep you financially independent.
If you find yourself in this precarious situation then diversifying your income can help you maintain a full-time author status. As a poet, for example, you could set up a performance tour while you have your readers’ attention. According to Seat Geek, the bestselling “Instagram poet” Rupi Kaur charges $65 per person for a live reading. Theoretically, even asking for less, you could maintain a living wage on a handful of events per month. Alternatively, as a comedy zombie author, you could start a podcast while your book is trending and interview comedians about zombie fiction. The platform would give you more opportunities to promote your books and a steadier income source from corporate sponsors. Diversifying isn’t easy but, if you keep your brand consistent, it can protect your income without requiring too much extra effort.
Few industry experts will tell you that being an author is easy. Maintaining a healthy writer business comes with challenges. That said, they aren’t nearly as difficult to tackle as the learning curve and work required to build that business in the first place. If you can build an author career from scratch, you can definitely maintain one. You already have the tools and knowledge required to make it happen.
Grab Your SPF Freebies!
Sign up to receive your SPF starter package, which includes a free 3 part video series on getting started with FB ads, and inspirational and educational weekly emails.