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How to Go from Author to Successful Online Business

http://www.chrisg.com/wp-content/uploads/2014-06-07-13.48.03-1.jpgSince I let slip that I was a wannabe fiction writer, a few people have asked me questions about the modern author/publishing business:

“Can you make a full time living as a writer, without being freelance?”

“What should a modern indie author do to maximise their business?”

“For successful self-publishers, what would we do differently?”

I’ve answered these questions and more in various comment areas, forums, and social media. In fact, I am going to be talking about this subject on the SPP podcast/Google Hangout on Friday. I thought I would expand my answer to put my thoughts in one place.

I love the second question above in particular because while obviously I am not (yet?) a successful fiction writer in the Hugh Howey league, there are things that worked for me and others in the non-fiction world that are ripe to deploy in the fiction space.

If you are in non-fiction, even easier – the tools now exist for you to go beyond the usual model of publishing a book in order to have something to talk about on the speaking circuit, rinse and repeat!

Why is this strategy capturing people’s imagination?

Many people are making a good go of selling on Amazon and other related sites. My concept is to change your relationship with Amazon. To sell and promote on those platforms, but use them as a lead-generator.

I’ve seen too many people have great businesses that relied on a powerful third-party, such as Google or Facebook, only to see the rules change and their business to flatline. You don’t control Amazon, they can change anything they like without consulting you. Your best defence is to use them, but build your own assets.

It’s not just that the strategy would probably (properly executed) make you more money, but it gives you more control as a writer business.

Benefits of controlling your platform

Instead of being a Kindle sharecropper, insulate yourself from Amazon’s changes (revenue split, visibility, pricing, etc), plus …

  • Boost your profile as a “real” author and build a true fanbase “platform”
  • Build a customer list and prospect list so you can sell future books more easily, with or without Amazon
  • Endless bundling and packaging capability
  • Get sales commissions by referring related books/products that your customers would enjoy
  • Grow your own community, with more interaction and engagement
  • Business model testing and optimisation flexibility (sponsorships, patron funding, Humble Bundle “pay what you want” approach)
  • Increase customer lifetime value (loyal customers, share of customer)
  • Premium/enhanced versions of your work
  • Provide DRM-free rather than DRM-crippled downloads to treat your customers as friends and not potential criminals
  • Sell spin-offs and merchandise
  • Know where your fans are based so you can book better signings and speaking, plus get more people to turn up
  • Find out what else your fans would like from you

There are probably more advantages, but you get the idea 🙂

Cross-promotion of uses of your intellectual property

Once you have experimented with the packaging options you now have complete control over (singles, serials/series, bundles, audio), consider how you might expand the use of your intellectual property. Opportunities exist for translation into other languages, or licensing your work to gaming companies (board and video game licensing). You never know, there might be possibilities for film/TV/radio play licensing, graphic novels, and so on.

For non-fiction it is tough to get a film deal, but repurposing your content, serials, chapters, slide shares, infographics and excerpts can be a great outreach approach.

Even though you licensed to another party, you still need to do your promotion work, and these partners are going to be far more eager if you can show you have grown real demand for your world and characters.

For non-fiction authors, it’s possible companies might want to license your intellectual property for training and education materials. This fall I will be teaching at a local university, based in part on my online profile, business background and experience.

Paid Subscriptions

Where it gets really exciting is if you consider moving to a subscription! Many authors are doing well with series and serials, so why not allow someone to subscribe to you like they would a series on iTunes, or even everything you do in the style of HBO or Netflix?

They could binge-read or get each episode “dripped” into their download area and email, the same way non-fiction membership sites, interview series, and online seminars work.

How your funnel might work

  1. You start where most indie authors are now. Use free and paid catalogue of books on Amazon and associated sites as lead-generator and source of reviews, in addition to your blog, podcast, social media, appearances and guest writing.
  2. Build your list with a call to action in your books, but rather than just an email list, consider a free membership model, giving fans greater access and value (forum? downloads?) – this way downloads don’t get lost in inboxes, the member can set their own profile/forum signature/avatar, and you get useful usage/engagement stats.
  3. Get the opt-in in return for a sense of community, higher perceived value freebies, and interaction.
  4. Immediate ability to up-sell to bundles (only pay merchant %, no Amazon fees) – with the added ability to base the recommendations on previous purchases if they have already bought direct from you (“we see you own episode 1, buy the remainder of the series for x”, “you might also like …”)
  5. Up-sell to Premium/membership model (audio version, print-collectors-edition, early access to new releases, beta readers, “DVD-style” behind the scenes extras, maps, novellas/short stories, events, signings)
  6. Non-fiction authors can run online courses, coaching, events and masterminds – same platform, different products and access levels.
  7. Create follow-up sequences and themed funnels so that you can nurture new free and paid people to keep them happy and sticking around
  8. Once you have your funnels optimised and revenue is increasing, experiment with
    • collaborations and multi-author bundles
    • allowing partners to refer customers for a commission
    • advertising

Can you see how after #1, it doesn’t really matter what changes Amazon makes? For your customers you can add a great deal of value that is just not possible in a Kindle ebook. You have a direct communication channel with your fans. Everybody wins 🙂

Bottom Line

Amazon is great, I love Amazon, but they are a business that has already moved the goal posts a couple of times, with charts, with free versus paid pricing, and with royalty percentages. They are still the biggest game in town but you don’t have to make your business 100% or even 50% reliant on them. In what little spare time I have I am slowly writing some stories. If I ever finish something worth publishing I will let you know how these ideas work for me 🙂

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Comments

  1. Hi Chris

    Brilliant article and very timely for me.

    Congrats as well on getting onto the SPP podcast show, I love that program, how the hell did you manage that 🙂

    There is still a stigma attached to self publishing but when you see some of the self published authors making over $50k per month it kind of brings it home just how powerful this model can be, people like Hugh Howey, Amanda Hocking, H. M. Ward, Bella Andre, J. A. Konrath, and Chris Culver to name only a few. Some of the self publishers are turning down deals from traditional publishers, which says a lot.

    Your point about building a list, a fan base is crucial. I have everyone going to a sign up page at the end of each book (not quite published yet, as the editing can take a bit time 🙂 ), but yes definitely focus on building a list, but we know that being internet marketers, most authors don’t.

    Also I love your idea about a subscription model as well – Genius!

    I’ll be listening to the SPP show on Saturday/Sunday – be good to hear what you have to say and how the guys treat you.

    BTW, what type of fiction are you writing?

    • > I love that program, how the hell did you manage that

      The guys are using Rainmaker for FictionUnboxed 🙂

      > what type of fiction are you writing?

      My current story that is stuck in analysis-paralysis (me? never!) is a mashup between urban fantasy and superhero comics 🙂

  2. Hi Chris!

    Great piece with many ideas to chew on.

    As you know, I’m a full time author creating a business around my books and blogs. I’m a hybrid with traditional books and some indie books…more to come (even one novel amongst all the nonfiction). I never like relying on Amazon. I’m pleased my publisher has a site of its own and my books are in stores. I firmly believe in distribution of ebooks via other sites as well. But you must deal with Amazon as well.

    I’ll be curious to hear how things work for you. Please keep us posted!

    And good to see you posting here again.

    • > And good to see you posting here again.

      Thank you Nina, and I will likely be asking for advice about covers and such as soon as I can get some words finished. Only having solid time to write the story on the weekends while juggling family time is going to make it a slow process 🙂

      We are just coming out of a pretty crappy year of family health panics and other stress so hopefully I can start to post more now 🙂

  3. Excellent points here Chris,

    “in addition to your blog, podcast, social media, appearances and guest writing”

    This means it’s takes work to make it happen there is no set it and forget it great point.

    • Yes it’s such a shame when people put one or two books on Kindle and are appalled by low sales so they give up, without realising that even traditionally published work needs promotion by the author, and you need a body of work before the best sales come in (unless you hit it out the park on book 1 which is very rare!)

  4. Hi Chris, excellent article! It really is important not to rely on a single platform, and you provide some great reasons to support this.
    Having in mind the variety of options for writers to publish and promote their work, you make some good points for writers to take advantage of their position and make the most out of the online influence. The advice on generating leads is especially helpful.

    • Thank you. Unfortunately relying on one source of traffic/customers/income is a trap many fall into, it’s a lesson we keep learning over and over 🙂

  5. I am happy to gain new insights from you, and it’s very rewarding about something I will do. thank you sir Chris garret

  6. WOW! What a great post!
    I am pretty new to the whole blogging scene but have read lot’s of posts over the past week or so (my entry into blogging) but this one is a HNC in business….(Ideas).
    I have bookmarked this post as a reference to come back to time again to help me to grow personally as well as on a business level.

    I actually cannot believe that anyone would use amazon as a primary model. The system is created (in my view) to get you to send people to them.
    I recently purchase $1000 worth of bedroom furniture through my associate account and they wouldn’t even allow me a commission. (I give and they take – but maybe some high trafficked sites make quite a bit from them?)That as corporation written all over it. (again in my view only).

    I think anyone would be well served to read this post and build something of value themselves than help amazon get their 1000th Billion?

    Again thanks for the value you crammed into this one page – Oh and great site design too. Thanks

    Stephen Hawkins

    • People use Amazon as a search engine (kind of like how YouTube is the first place to look for some people). This means right now people are doing well with Kindle ebooks, but I think it is putting all your eggs in Amazon’s basket. A better approach would be for people to find you on Amazon, but hang out on your own site, your own list, and your own community 🙂

  7. Hey chris, nicely put. Agree with this one “Benefits of controlling your platform”.
    I think it also means that one can interact with their own readers directly rather.

    -shane

  8. I think you should control your own platform so you can interact directly with your followers. Great read and it is interesting to see how to promote content and literature.

  9. Thanks Chris! Great reminder of the importance of using your own platform, a place YOU control to build your online business. It’s become clear to me that relying on ONE thing in any area of business can be irreparably detrimental. One traffic source, one book publisher, one host, one product, one anything. Great article.

  10. All great ideas, though some I’m not sure what they are or how to do them, but I’m running on slow today. Well, that’s my excuse.