One-Time Actions That Make Authors Money Forever
Author careers require a lot of maintenance. At least, that’s what you’d believe if you looked at the way many run their businesses, constantly launching books and pushing ads to maintain a reasonable base income. Fast and slow writers alike have subscribed to the idea that consistent hard work is the only way to keep earning. Those who pump out a book a month often attribute their success to their relentless release schedules, while infrequent launchers claim it’s their incessant marketing tactics that keep their royalties buoyant.
What surprises many in the community, though, is that some authors don’t release often or market their books aggressively. Yet they still earn a fairly regular income that sustains their lifestyle. They don’t have a back-end business selling courses or premium products, nor do they have a day job to supplement their royalties in dry periods. The truth is that some authors simply produce books in a way that generates a regular, decent income for years without much maintenance. To make this possible, they perform one-time actions that make money forever.
Admittedly, these actions have limited potency. While they can create impressive incomes, their purpose is more linked to providing stability. You’ll still need to work hard to build your business if you use them. The following actions won’t necessarily propel you onto the cover of Forbes. What they will do, however, is help you establish a higher income baseline so you will be less likely to have to worry about returning to a day job if you ever find yourself temporarily needing to step off the publishing treadmill.
Produce Good Books
It’s difficult to judge the quality of a book because, like other artforms, writing is subjective. Every reader has their own unique cocktail of genre and style preferences. Similarly, some like bright, cartoonish covers while others prefer dark or realistic ones. A subset appreciate beautifully formatted hardbacks while others happily read plain text on their smartphones. Typos grind on some readers but others overlook them completely, only interested in the content. In short, you will never please every reader. But there are objective quality markers you can hit to help give your books long-lasting appeal.
Firstly, write the best books you can. Publishing frequently may help you keep your readers’ attention in the short term, but only outstanding books stay with them. If you can write quickly and well, that’s great. But if you have to choose, always favour quality. Production is equally important to the writing where this issue is concerned. Professional covers that encapsulate your genre will help your books sell themselves more consistently over the long term. Some readers don’t care about artful formatting but excelling at it will also help create superfans among those who do. Producing a book to the best of your ability in all ways is a one-off action that will nurture word-of-mouth recommendations and improve your chances of getting long-term sales.
Optimise Your Metadata
If you aren’t familiar with the concept of metadata, think of it as data about data. The content of your book is the data; your book title, author name, categories and keywords that describe that content are your metadata. Without metadata, computers would not know how to identify and categorise books. Nor would retailers be able to list them on sales pages or share their details with readers. Good metadata makes books more discoverable in brick-and-mortar bookstores and online. Many authors and publishers already know this, but surprisingly few do everything they can to optimise their metadata.
Include well-chosen keywords in your title or assign your book more targeted Amazon categories, and your metadata could do much of the heavy lifting for your career. Having optimised your metadata, your books will show up in more places for more relevant readers, making them more likely to sell organically even years after a launch. Yes, you can achieve similar exposure by using paid promotional methods, but optimising your metadata creates a similar outcome without requiring you to spend money or monitor ads. Imagine automatically running ads on all major retailers forever – for free! This is essentially what you’re doing when you optimise your metadata.
Join License Collection Schemes
Savvy authors handle intellectual property (IP) in a similar way to software companies or movie studios. A book, for example, isn’t just a paperback. It can be split into all sorts of intellectual property assets, including ebooks, audiobooks, hardbacks, serials, merchandise, films, TV shows, stage plays. We even own the rights to photocopies! Enforcing and protecting your rights worldwide isn’t easy when you’re working alone as an indie author. There are, however, ways to collect the licensing fees for your IP from schools, bookstores and libraries whenever they use or copy your work. Using them can provide extra income streams to boost your dry periods.
Two famous examples of organisations that help authors and publishers in this area are the Author Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) and the Public Lending Right (PLR). Signing up to their services is a quick and easy, one-time action that will pay you and your family for the rest of the life of your copyright. They’re free to join and take any necessary fees out of the money they collect for you. All you have to do is input your information and the details of every book you publish, which only takes a few minutes per book launch. Join these organisations or look for similar ones that represent authors in your country to get paid every few months for the rest of your career. It’s free money!
Publish Wide Where Possible
An impassioned debate has raged in the publishing community for a years as to whether authors should publish exclusively on Amazon or go “wide” to all retailers. Going exclusive means entering your books into the powerful Kindle Unlimited (KU) programme, which has millions of reader members. You give up the right to “be everywhere” with your ebooks, but the payoff is extra exposure on Amazon and the opportunity to get paid for page reads after readers download your book for free.
On the surface, Amazon’s exclusivity terms seem far reaching but, remember, each of your books represents a bundle of IP rights. KU only demands exclusivity for your ebooks. ACX has a separate programme that offers similar terms for audiobooks. That means, even if you choose to go exclusive with one or both of them, you can still publish your paperbacks, hardbacks and other formats everywhere. Not doing so, in fact, means leaving potential money on the table.
Even if you wholeheartedly subscribe to KU as an author and don’t plan to promote your books on other retailers, publishing the relevant formats everywhere can expose you to readers that don’t shop on Amazon. In turn, this one-off effort will bolster your baseline income with potential random sales from those platforms for no extra long-term work.
Create Sales Funnels
A sales funnel is a marketing term for a journey potential customers make from being casual browsers who discover your brand to ardent fans who buy your most expensive products and wholeheartedly support you. As an author, creating a sales funnel is easy if you have a basic level of computer literacy. It entails three components:
- A platform through which readers can discover you
- A way to collect reader contact details
- A method for turning those readers into superfans
Setting up a sales funnel that meets these criteria requires up-front work, but it will pay off for years after that, requiring little maintenance. Starting is easy: ask yourself, “After seeing one of my books, where can readers find me?” The answer is your platform. This could be your social media pages but ideally should be your author website. Once they’ve found you, you must collect their information, either as a social media follower or, better yet, an email subscriber. Collecting their email address provides an almost guaranteed way for you to connect with them, which isn’t the case on a social network where companies can sever your connection at any time.
If you’ve taken an email address, you can automate the sales funnel process using a series of auto-responder emails. Fill these emails with valuable, evergreen content and give away digital goodies and you can automatically transform a constant inflow of readers into superfans. One action; more sales forever!
As already mentioned, using these one-time actions in isolation are unlikely to give you an income that allows you to live like the super-rich. For that, you would need to combine them with hard work and a smart strategy. That said, their set-it-and-forget-it nature will help stabilise your income over the long term, allowing you to step back from your computer every once in a while and enjoy your life as an author.
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