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Using Leverage as an Author

Leverage isn't just a financial term – it's also a way for authors to get ahead.

If you’ve ever watched a stockbroker or entrepreneur talk about their growth strategies on the news, you’ve probably heard them use “leverage” in conversation. The term arises when ambitious individuals talk about gaining a tactical edge in business. It sounds mathematical, not something a creative entrepreneur like an author would necessarily discuss. The truth, though, is that authors can use leverage to great effect. In fact, almost every self-published author who has followed a rags-to-riches trajectory uses it. But what is leverage?

Originally, it referred solely to a mechanical tool engineers used to move heavy objects with minimal effort — a lever. Nowadays, though, the term appears as a concept just as frequently as a literal tool. Almost every kind of investor uses it. Only, it’s not a metal bar that provides their leverage; it’s debt. First-time buyers who take out a mortgage use leverage to get a home they could never afford upfront, and students use it to afford a college degree. In both cases, leverage affords them a previously unaffordable asset. But debt isn’t the only form of leverage. It can also be social. Politicians leverage their social reach to have a greater impact on civilisation.

Consider it any tool that amplifies your power and potential success, but also one that magnifies your losses. It’s risky, but the reality for many authors is that using leverage is one of only a few ways to scale their business and make a living with their writing. Leverage is easy to harness once you understand it. The tricky part is working out how to use it in the first place. Fortunately, today’s blog post identifies a few key areas of your author business you can leverage to grow your platform and income.

Education

The first thing many authors leverage is knowledge. If you’re interested in self-help content and you’ve spent a few years on YouTube, you’ve probably encountered the once-omnipresent Tai Lopez ads about how he valued the bookcases in his garage more than his Lamborghini. The ads, produced by the self-help coach, became a meme and thousands of internet users mocked Lopez for it, but he had a point: knowledge is valuable. A person might be physically fit, but they could never travel as quickly as someone who knows how to ride a horse. And that horse tamer would always lose to someone who could fly a jet.

Skills give you leverage. What’s more, stack them and they produce exponential results. Want to publish a bestseller? Publishing a book gives you less than a 1% chance. Learn how to write to commercially, however, and your chance might jump to 3%. Study book launches and you could increase it to 10%. Learn the basics of PPC advertising and suddenly you’re at 25%. Educating yourself isn’t easy, but it’s one of the only forms of leverage that don’t require other people’s involvement. You can do it alone, perhaps by paying for access to an online course like those offered by SPF, or by studying peers who are already doing what you want to achieve.

Labour

It doesn’t matter how much intelligence or skill you have; we all only have 24 hours in a day. Yes, you can learn to manage your time and energy efficiently, but you’ll still hit a limit. Businesspeople, though, have found a way to overcome this glass ceiling. They simply leverage the labour of others. Say for example, a shopkeeper opens a store for 10 hours a day that makes $50 profit per hour. By hiring someone to manage it for $20 an hour, they can keep the store running without them and earn a $30-an-hour cut off the top. Then, using their newfound free time, they can open a second, identical store, man it themselves, and increase their hourly income:

$20 per hour from store one + $50 per hour from store two = $70 per hour

As authors, we can leverage labour in a similar way. For example, you could hire a professional cover designer to create your book covers or pay an editor to accelerate your editing process. You could also pay a virtual assistant to do routine tasks. Doing so won’t just free up more writing time; the experts you hire will often be able to do their specialised tasks faster than you and, if they’re good at their job, they will also produce a better outcome. Leveraging labour doesn’t always make sense, particularly if you don’t yet earn enough to justify the expense, but it can drastically improve your productivity if you’re in a position to use it.

Networks

Have you noticed that certain high performers seem to be impressive in a range of arenas? There are tennis players that retire from the court, start a charity and, somehow, raise a million dollars in a single event. Influencers build a platform, decide to write a book and hit the New York Times bestseller list on their first attempt. Lawyers consider a career change into acting and make more progress in the industry in a few months than many who’ve auditioned for decades. But why? Are these elites smarter or work harder? Those qualities can play a part, but their repeated success is often due to them being able to leverage their existing networks.

The tennis player, for instance, might have a host of celebrity friends willing to support their first charity event. The YouTuber who hit the NYT, meanwhile, might have an agent with direct access to Big 4 publishing executives. And the lawyer who got the TV deal might have helped lots of TV producer clients and got a breakout role in return. If you already have your own network, you can achieve similar progress, but don’t worry if you don’t. There’s a whole industry based on leveraging other people’s networks. Many authors sponsor influencers to market their work or pay a discount promo site like BookBub. Using these methods, you’ll reach far more readers than you could on your own.

Systems

The tech revolution is problematic in some ways, but there’s no denying how much it has increased productivity for office-based companies. Not only has software made routine tasks quicker than they would have been a few decades ago but it has also removed some tasks altogether from a workday. When’s the last time you manually thanked a reader for joining your email list? When did you last have to print a physical poster and stick it to a notice board? If you wrote and published books in 1980, you probably wouldn’t have even heard of a digital mailing list, and posters were an expected part of advertising, particularly for events like book signings.

These days, we can get more done simply because we can leverage systems. Creating a landing page to collect customer information is simple. So is setting up an automated email sequence to deliver freebies to readers. Many savvy authors can even use systems to schedule advertising ahead of a launch and stimulate Amazon’s recommendation engine to leverage the site’s organic discoverability. There are thousands of ways to leverage tech in the modern age. For you, it could be as complex as running an interweaved bestseller ad strategy or as simple as sharing an editable checklist with your virtual freelancer team on Google Docs.

Finance

In finance, using leverage means borrowing money to invest in an asset you could not afford to purchase upfront with the purpose of amplifying your potential returns. Say, for example, an investor has $20,000. They could invest it in the stock market, unleveraged, and average a 5% return in a year, making $1,000 profit. Alternatively, however, they could use the $20,000 as a deposit on a $200,000 property, see the home appreciate by 5%, and make $10,000 in the same timeframe—ten times more! Admittedly, if the house dropped in value by 5% and they sold it, they would also lose ten times more. Using financial leverage is risky. That said, it can be useful.

Bestselling thriller author Adam Croft, for instance, has spoken publicly about his early Facebook ad successes. Before breaking out, Croft reportedly couldn’t afford to maintain expensive daily ads. Once his small ads started producing a predictable profit, however, he knew he had to scale quickly to maintain momentum. He just had one problem: while the advertising money left his account immediately, his royalties wouldn’t arrive for months. Hence, using leverage, he borrowed cash to feed the profit machine and quickly made a fortune. It’s a strategy any author can replicate. Just ensure you start with great books and ads that produce a consistent profit.

Think of leverage as an amplifier. If your author business is growing, it can facilitate a meteoric rise. If it’s sinking, though, leverage can also multiply your losses. Hence, be careful. This blog post is not financial advice. If you’re going to harness leverage, that’s up to you. But do so only after you’ve mastered the basics and got your ducks in a row. It’s riskier but, used wisely, the greater risk can produce fantastic rewards.

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.