The One Bookselling Myth You Should Know About (Before Writing Your Book)

a stack of books with a roll of money sitting on top

If you’re like my clients, you haven’t spent much time in the publishing industry. Maybe a friend of yours has been published in the past, or your PR firm has recommended writing a book. But now that the idea is in your head, you’ve started dreaming about what it would be like to be an author. The book signings, the press tours, the advances, the royalties. . .

But for authors in 2023, the reality of getting published is much less glamorous. Now don’t get me wrong, there are still big benefits to being a published author. But there are a few misconceptions that new clients sometimes believe when they come to me for a book. And if you’re considering putting one together, whether you plan to use a ghostwriter or not, there’s one thing you should know before you get started:

Don’t Expect to Make a Fortune in Royalties

I don’t want to be a dream crusher here. I want my clients to go into these expensive projects with their eyes wide open. Don’t go through the hassle of publishing only to get blindsided by a lack of sales; some experts estimate that the average book sells less than 500 copies. In the first year, the average traditionally published book may sell 250-300 copies. And keep in mind that traditionally published authors take home only about 10% of those sales profits. 

For authors that go the hybrid and self-publishing route, the numbers aren’t any better. 

The average self-published author sells 250 copies and makes about $1,000 per year from their book. While royalty percentages are significantly higher for hybrid and self-publishers, their sales are typically much lower. If you go through a hybrid publisher, you’ll likely not make any money until you breach 5,000 copies

Psst. . . not sure what hybrid or independent publishers are? Check out my publishing guide

If you’ve got ambitions of hitting the New York Times Bestseller list, I’ve got even worse news for you. To get on the NYT list, you’ll need to sell between 3,000-5,000 copies in one week. There’s a certain alchemy that goes into selling that many books; a combination of marketing, visibility, timing, and competition. Don’t expect to hit that sweet spot on the first try: many great authors never get there. 

All this doom-and-gloom around book sales and bestsellers is probably making you wonder, how are authors even making any money these days? What happened to the blissful, contemplative life of the successful author? And is it still possible to actually make money from your book? 

Absolutely you can. My clients invest in getting published because it’s still one of the best business tools out there. When used as a marketing business card, a book is a major asset in your personal and business brand. But how can you make sure your book still makes you money (even if it doesn’t make the bestseller list)? Let’s talk about it. 

Going Beyond Royalties: 5 Practical Strategies to Ensure a Profitable Book

So we’ve busted the myth that book sales are a real source of income for authors. But that doesn’t mean that publishing a book isn’t a worthwhile investment. From our first call, I help my clients strategize creating a book that builds on their brand. And there are five things I recommend having in place before investing time and energy into a book. 

1. Know Your Audience (And Where They Hang Out)

If you’re talking to everyone, you’re talking to no one. And if your book isn’t talking to anyone specifically, you’re not selling it to anyone specifically. Having an audience to target doesn’t just make sense from a book-selling perspective; it’s also good practice as you’re writing your book as well. 

For example, if you’re a clinician who treats patients with TMS therapy, your book might be written for patients who are struggling with mental illnesses that TMS can help with. You might use case studies of people who are similar to your patients to show how this treatment can help them. And since you see patients like your readers every day, you’ll know what questions they’re likely to have. 

This leads me to another tool that authors need; a way to connect with their audience. It’s great to know who your audience is in theory, but having a real way to communicate with them is even better. And an audience platform helps you do that. 

2. Build Your Author Platform

Books are great authority-building tools. But before people can believe in your authority, they’ll need to know you exist first. That’s the dual benefit of an author platform; you can reach your ideal audience, and learn what they need from you in return. And having a following gives you immediate access to folks that will want to buy your book. 

It doesn’t have to take years to build up a following, but it does take consistency. If you’re the TMS provider in our example, your audience could be the patients you see every day. If you’re a nutrition coach for women with PCOS, your following might be an email list of subscribers. There’s no one right way to build up a following. And in 2023, you’ve got more options than ever, like. . . 

  • Email newsletters/mailing lists
  • Instagram
  • Tiktok
  • Linkedin
  • Twitter
  • Facebook groups
  • Your website
  • Substack
  • Patreon
  • Youtube
  • Guest blogging
  • Speaking engagements

Having an author platform established before you write your book shows long-term dedication to their audience. Many hybrid publishers require some sort of author following, and big-house traditional publishers don’t take on authors without an established audience. 

Interacting with your readers through a platform gives you valuable information about how you can help them with a book. Plus, you can build an audience of people who can’t wait to read your words. But what if you’re looking at this list and thinking ‘I’m already so busy, how am I supposed to build up an author following?’

Lots of my clients come to me with busy work schedules that don’t allow for filming YouTube videos or writing Substack newsletters. But if you’ve got the cash, building an author platform can still be possible.  

3. Be Ready to Invest in Marketing Expertise

Having a marketing strategy in place before you start writing your book is the best way to have a successful launch. But marketing yourself can feel like a full-time job, and it’s a skill that many people struggle with. I ask many of my clients to partner with a professional team, whether that means a social media manager, a PR representative, or a marketing company.  

Working with a professional team doesn’t just help you boost book sales, it can help your book investment go further. Even the best-written book will be a flop if it’s not promoted well. And if you’re a first-time author, partnering with an experienced team is a no-brainer. Which brings me to the next tip to make sure your book succeeds. . . 

4. Invest in Publishing Professionals 

If you’re like most of my clients and you’re not going with a traditional publishing house, you might be bewildered by your options. And it can be tempting to go the least expensive route and DIY your book yourself. 

Publishing through Amazon’s Print-On-Demand service can help you get a published book in just weeks. But by going the cheapest route, the finished product you end up with might not be of the highest quality. And an unprofessional book can hurt your brand more than help. Once you’ve hit ‘publish’, those typos, grammatical errors and graphic design mistakes are impossible to take back. 

That’s why I recommend working with an established hybrid publishing house to ensure your book makes you look great. Getting professional publishing help still doesn’t have to break the bank; Morgan James Publishing, the pioneer hybrid publisher, charges about $6k per manuscript. Investing in an experienced publishing team ensures that the time and money you’ve spent on your book won’t go to waste. 

But even if you get a great publisher and publicist, you have an author platform, and you’ve defined your target audience, you still might not turn an ROI on your book. If you don’t have a big-picture strategy for capitalizing on this investment, you’ll lose the opportunities that a book brings. Let’s talk about what this means. 

5. Have a Big-Picture Strategy

“Where do you want to be in 3-5 years?” this is one of the first questions I ask clients on discovery calls. It’s okay if you don’t have a concrete answer, most people don’t. But knowing your goals can help you make sure that a book is the right investment for you. And having a trajectory in mind helps you angle your book in that direction. For example. . .

  • If you’d like to be booking more speaking engagements, your book might focus on thought leadership in your industry. You can speak about the experiences you’ve had as a clinician and how they inform your philosophies. 
  • If you’re wanting to be more involved in politics in the next phase of your career, you might focus on how your industry has been affected by policy changes. 
  • If you want to become a clinician leader in your specialty, you might educate patients on why you believe in your approach. You might use case studies and industry research to support your recommendations. 

Aside from having big-picture career goals for your book, creating a sales funnel around your book can help you take advantage of the publicity and branding work you’ve done. Books are great lead magnets for your email list or course offerings. If you’re the TMS clinician we mentioned earlier, your book can be a great way to attract patients to your clinic. 

Having a sales funnel in place helps readers act quickly once they know your name. If you’d like to learn more about sales funnels, you can check out my guide here

Book Sale Myths, Busted. 

The average book doesn’t make a ton of money for the average author. But publishing a book is still the best way to build industry authority, name recognition, and a lasting legacy. The key here is to go into your book journey with eyes wide open: even though you likely won’t make much money on book sales, creating an ROI from your book is still possible. 

When you partner with a professional ghostwriter, you give your book an edge over the competition. If you want to put your best book forward, while spending less time writing, a ghostwriter can help. 

If you’d like to learn more about working with me and leveraging a book for your brand, schedule a disco call with me. 

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