Premium Product Ideas for Authors
Authors often have a hard time generating enough book revenue to support their lifestyles. Obviously, there are exceptions – the savviest, luckiest or most prolific among us earn six and even seven figures – but that isn’t the case for everyone. This is because making a living purely selling books is a numbers game. Books don’t cost much, so you have to sell a truckload to make a good income. Meanwhile, plumbers have a far easier time because they can earn a whole week’s wage in a single transaction. It’s not often that they sell a pipe to a customer; they sell their expertise at a high cost to make their job worthwhile.
Most authors only sell books. No service. No swag to increase their reader’s basket value. Just books. There’s nothing wrong with this strategy, but there are steps you can take to make your job easier. Lots of authors opt to out-work the challenge by writing huge backlists. They create a similar effect to having more expensive products by putting together box sets or by syphoning readers through sales funnels, advertising series starters that lead into connected fiction universes.
Not all authors, however, have a huge back catalogue, and many don’t want to crank out a novel a month to make one. If that sounds like you then take heart, because you don’t need to follow that business model to make a living as an author, nor do you need to hope to score a runaway bestseller. What you need is a range of premium products – more expensive items that you can sell to bolster your revenue. The majority of authors don’t follow this route because pursuing it often requires a learning curve, financial investment or self-confidence. Doing it, though, will diversify your income streams and make you far more likely to live off your writing. Here are some examples for you to consider.
Special Book Editions
Ordinary books don’t sell for a high price, yet it is possible to add more value to them by creating special editions. Some authors do this by offering signed copies on their website or combine them with some swag to create gift boxes. You can also commission artwork and include it in a limited-edition print run, complete with foiled and embossed hardback covers. The heightened quality increases the reader’s perceived value of the book. At the same time, getting a fixed print run of a few hundred or thousand will enable you to bring down the unit cost to make a much better profit margin than with POD paperbacks. You just have to ensure you have a market for them in the first place.
Admittedly, trialling tactics like this requires an upfront investment. Some authors can afford to reinvest royalties from existing ebook sales. But if your books aren’t selling profitably yet or you need to keep the money to support your family, don’t worry. There are other ways. Successful fantasy author Michael J. Sullivan, for example, runs Kickstarter campaigns to help bankroll creative projects. Past campaigns have raised anywhere between $37,000 and $119,000. And mega-seller Brandon Sanderson has run one that raised over $6.7 million! If you don’t have the money to create premium products yourself then sometimes your most loyal fans and loved ones will help by supporting your Kickstarter if whatever project you propose captures their imagination.
Merchandise is an established concept for musicians and has become a goldmine for YouTubers, but indie authors rarely cash in on it to the same extent. Admittedly, the connection between creators and fans can be different when formed through video or sound than the written word, but everyone gets superfans no matter the medium. They often love to see merchandise available for sale from writers. Sometimes, this is because they like to support them. Other times, it’s because they want to own something that reminds them of their favourite fictional universe.
Anything you offer should be designed primarily to please these core fans because they are the only people who are likely to buy your products. If you write fantasy, that might means creating objects that exist inside your world. JK Rowling has made a killing licensing merch that identifies which house a fan would join if they went to Hogwarts. Memoir or self-help readers, in contrast, might want framed posters that promote the message of a book that resonated with them. These are all good potential earners that can bear a far higher ticket price than an ebook. Making them can help keep your author business afloat and, in rare cases, can even cause revenue to explode if your merch catches the eye of mainstream shoppers.
Courses and Performances
Successful non-fiction authors sometimes upsell services to their readers in place of a physical product. You’ve probably encountered this strategy even if you didn’t recognise it. How it works is simple: authors separate the products or services they offer based on their perceived value. Then they create a sales funnel that gradually warms up new readers, strengthening their relationship with them and enhancing their willingness to buy more expensive products over time.
They typically give browsers on Facebook some free information in a video ad. That then drives them to a free or low-cost ebook. The ebook funnels them onto an email list, which then offers mini-courses, followed by full courses, and then, in some cases, physical event tickets that cost over $1,000 a pop. As a fiction author, you can use a similar strategy. However, as a novel doesn’t typically have a self-help theme, your premium product could be a course on something your characters do – tarot-reading, for example. Or you could invite readers to a live performance, split up into physical tickets for those who can attend in person and discounted digital ones for fans who don’t live in the area.
To get a steady income, you can opt to have readers sign up to a membership programme in which they receive products or content on a reoccurring basis in exchange for guaranteed, regular payments. Authors who run these successfully usually make their supporter rewards exclusive to members and offer membership levels that give access to content at different price points. Companies have run giant systems to do this for years, but individual creators have also adopted this business practice since the birth of Patreon and its competitors, which simplified the process. Influencers with loyal fans have used this method to stabilise their incomes, offsetting earnings from their chosen platforms, which can fluctuate heavily.
You might not think of this type of income as a premium product, especially as many authors charge as little as $2 a month, but you’d be surprised by how much some readers will pay for regular content. Top-earning authors have reported that some patrons pay them as much as $25 a month. What content you deliver to make your supporters feel valued is up to you. It could be side stories, character concept art, video Q&As, a secret podcast, or a mastermind group if you do non-fiction. $2-$5 doesn’t seem like a lot but a 12-month commitment from a single reader equates to $24-$60, which sits firmly in premium product territory. A few hundred of those can easily match a full-time salary.
Coaching and Consulting
Coaching and consulting aren’t scalable but they do allow you to charge considerably more per hour than you would earn from an average day of book sales if you sell in low numbers. In fact, lots of authors use consulting income to pay editors and cover designers until their readerships grow and their books pay for themselves. The financial costs of teaching someone is minimal since the main investment is your time. Plus, in the modern age, where video meetings have become normal, you don’t even have to travel as most clients are happy to be coached or consulted over Zoom.
There is good money to be made in coaching. Funnelling readers into this service can be easy too if you’ve written a good book to nurture their trust. Depending on your platform size, experience and specialist skill, you can charge anywhere from the living wage to $200 an hour. Some tech-savvy or specialised authors command an even higher hourly rate when they work with corporations. To their clients, $1,000 for a two-hour session is a justifiable expense when the advice you offer could save them millions. Just because you wouldn’t pay that, that doesn’t mean everyone thinks the same way, so don’t undervalue your worth.
Some authors think they have to write a ton of books to make a living or sell a ton of copies of one break-out success. The truth is that neither of these strategies are feasible for everyone in the author community. Some genres don’t have enough readers to make that possible. Hence, if you’re struggling to live off your royalties, try coming up with premium products or services you can offer your readers. Be creative and remember that not all of your salary has to come from book sales.
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