How Do You Really Make Money Writing Books?

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It’s amazing how many folks want to write books…

People I’ve known from all walks of life, from bowlers to bloggers, seem to share a similar jones. Sometimes, it’s about the love of writing, creating, expressing, influencing. Sometimes it’s about legacy, the desire to teach, share or guide or just straight up ego. Other times, it’s all about business, making money, either directly from the book or indirectly from where the book leads. For me, admittedly, it’s a combination of all of the above.

Why does it matter?

Because, what you are looking to get out of writing a book, your desired big-picture personal fulfillment and revenue-model will effect how and what you write.

So, let’s get back to the question…

How do you really make money with books?

For this post, let’s focus on nonfiction books with more of a prescriptive bent, because so many fall into that category. Here are 3 approaches I’ve seen used successfully over the last year or two.

The Uber-Brochure & Upsell Model…

This is the approach used by authors like Robert Kiyosaki in his first book, Rich Dad, Poor Dad, and Harv Eker in his Secrets of The Millionaire Mindset and many others in the personal finance, making money, coaching and personal development niches. The idea is to position the book essentially as a teaser, interest-builder and sales vehicle for any number of up-sells, from products to seminars or services. That doesn’t mean you don’t want the book to make money, it just means it’s not the primary focus.

So, for example, personal development rockstar, T. Harv Eker’s book, The Millionaire Mindset, has some interesting, provocative, engaging content, but the book is largely positioned to sell the reader on attending one of his trainings (the book grants you free access to the first-tier program). And, it works like a charm. In fact, I received a copy of the book from someone who’d been to an event, become an “ambassador” and given me the book. The event was free and I, along with more than 2,000 others, shared in an interesting experience and, while there, I was also offered the chance to to buy next-level trainings.

Eker’s approach is just one variation of the Brochure & Upsell strategy, but you can morph it into nearly any type of secondary revenue stream you like, like coaching, product sales or consulting. If this is your strategy, one thing to think about when writing the book is just how much information you’ll reveal in the book and how much you’ll hold back. The general trend seems to be to give just enough to peak interest, prove value and create credibility, but hold back a solid chunk of information and pitch additional services or products as a way to get “all the way home.”

No doubt, Kiyosaki and Eker’s books have also sold millions of copies and generated millions in book sale revenue, but that’s more a welcome side-benefit of this strategy than a primary revenue goal.

Thousands of other lesser known folks have used this strategy without selling huge numbers of books and succeeded in both generating buzz and driving the sale of products and services related to the topic of the book.

The All-In Model…

This is likely the riskiest strategy, because it depends on you relying largely on your ability to deliver a fiercely compelling book at just the right time, tap a sizable platform and mine a network of influencers to drive  book sales and go for the big bestseller lists. This very often also has the secondary effect of opening up speaking and keynote opportunities, if that’s something that interests you. But, the main revenue driver is the book, itself.

Tim Ferriss’s Four Hour Workweek is a great example of this. Tim has shared in a number of interviews that in writing the book, he gave it everything he had. Nothing was held back. He packed with a huge volume of information and resources and offered some highly provocative concepts and ideas that resonated with a lot of people. These inluded things like the low-information diet, virtual outsourcing, finding your muse, dissociating your job from an office-setting and checking your e-mail only twice a day and setting autoresponders to let people know.

So, rather than delivering a healthy taste of a solution and saving the “good stuff” for the higher-ticket upsell, he went all-in. And he hoped what he shared was compelling, valuable and unique enough to make his book as Seth Godin puts it “remarkable” on a level that would inspire people to evangelize it and fuel mega-sales.

Tim is also one hell of a marketer and a really bright guy. So, for him, the strategy worked like a charm. In fact, more than a year and a half later, the Four Hour Workweek is still in the top 100 on and has hit many bestseller lists.

No doubt, though, this is much more of a cowboy, eggs in one basket approach. It’s not for everyone. So, what about a middle way?

The Hybrid Model…

The above two strategies can be blended in a number of innovative ways to create a balance between book based revenue and indirect product/service based revenue. But, the defining elements, regardless how it’s implemented are:

  1. A substantial volume of highly-useful information, stories, insights, strategies, tips and ideas capable of being so remarkable they can drive substantial buzz and book sales, and
  2. One or more highly-desired, secondary income vehicles, from coaching to speaking to blog ad revenue, product or event sales.

Michael Port and his book, Book Yourself Solid is a great example of this blended approach. The book is loaded with a lot of great, prescriptive, instructional information, stuff you can take action on. Enough to make it remarkable, insanely useful, drive substantial sales and be a primary source of income. But, at the same time, the information offered raises a lot of questions that are ripe for “support” type of services or coaching, which he’s recently launched. And, because they are also business building tactics, there’s a strong market for not only coaching, but keynotes that offer snippets of high-value advice and products designed to assist in implementing the ideas in the book.

Bloggers Darren Rowse and Chris Garrett, who released Problogger: Secrets For Blogging Your Way To A Six Figure Income earlier this year, also took a hybrid approach. The book, itself, was jammed with great information and was positioned to potentially generate a significant amount of sales. But, that wasn’t the end of the revenue story. There was a clear path to indirect income, as well.

With the blogosphere evolving in the blink of an eye, the best way to stay on top of the niche is to read the leading blogs on blogging. That would include, Darren’s, the book’s namesake. And, in the world of pro-blogging, more people means more ad exposures and more revenue.

But, what about Darren’s co-author, Chris Garrett? Even though the book provided enough information to jump in and “do it yourself,” launching and effectively monetizing a blog is still a lot of work. More work than a lot of people are willing to undertake. So, for those who want a higher level of assistance, Chris is perfectly positioned as a co-author to offer new media and blogging consulting on his own blog,

David Meerman Scott took a similar approach with his recent book, The New Rules Of Marketing & PR. He laid it all out, giving readers a ton of great, usable information and strategies. And, he even pre-released a shorter manifesto featuring a small bit of the information from the book that was downloaded more than 250,000 times.

Before the book hit the shelves, most of Scott’s income came from consulting. And, no doubt, the book would have allowed him to do even more. But he had other plans. The book’s success allowed him to shift much of his energy away from consulting and into speaking and keynoting, which he loves to do.

I am actually using a hybrid strategy with my forthcoming book (Jan 13, 2009), Career Renegade: How To Make A Great Living Doing What You Love as well. Like Tim’s book, it offers a ton of strategies, processes, resources, links and case-studies for do-it-yourselfers, enough to make the it radically different than anything else out there. It solves a pervasive problem and reveals a world of opportunities that are completely unknown to most people.

My goal was to write an “all-in” book, something packed with eye-opening concepts and ideas and more than enough actionable strategies to launch a career evolution. But for those who want more guidance, support or highly-specialized entrepreneurship and marketing services, there’ll likely be a series of options available beyond the book. Because, my bigger picture vision was to create the opportunity to write more books, speak here and there, launch more of my own ventures and help other people launch and market theirs.

In the end…

There are many different ways to make money writing a book.

But, most people don’t really think about them until after the book’s already been written. That could be a huge mistake, because your big-picture revenue model can and should impact what you write about and how you write the book. So, the better you understand the different approaches, the more capable you’ll be of writing the book that’s needed to further your overall revenue and writing goals.

Of course, when push comes to shove, remember, too, that this is all just planning and projecting. You never really know how the book will be received or what people will really want from it…until they’ve actually read it.

So, be flexible…

Because if the market tells you they want something different once the book is out, and you have the ability and the desire to give it to them, your ability to adapt and deliver on the fly may become your most valuable revenue asset.

As always, I’m writing this as someone who’s currently immersed in the process. It’s a fascinating exploration. And, while I’ve learned a ton, I am quite sure there’s far more I don’t yet know.

But, I’d love the benefits of your insights, thoughts, stories and perspectives.

I am really curious, do you have a dream of writing a book?

Are you working on one right now?

What’s it about or what would it be about?

What would your big picture revenue model be?

Let’s discuss…

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36 responses

36 responses to “How Do You Really Make Money Writing Books?”

  1. I do dream of writing my own best seller book and am still doing the ground work for my intended “Multilingual Parenting” book.
    I too think that the Hybrid model would suit me the best as I have other parenting commitments which take up the majority of my time as a WAHM.

    Good luck with your book.

  2. […] How Do You Really Make Money Writing Books? It’s all non-fiction my friends. […]

  3. Hi Jonathan,

    I think many writers dream of one day writing a book. I’m hoping to get my feet wet with a free ebook outlining some of my strategies for goal setting, as well as an ebook about being efficient and delegating with process mapping.

    I’d love to make money from it some day as well, but for now, helping others is enough. I make enough at my day job, and enjoy my work as well =). My big picture revenue model would probably be the whole package – books, speaking engagements, perhaps one on one consultations.

  4. Thanks for giving me a chance to read an early copy of Career Renegade. You’ve written a great book.

    Clearly, from this post, you also understand what the book can do for you. Very few business book writers even care about the revenue from the book itself. It’s the platform you develop because of the book that positions you for greatness.

    Good luck with your journey!!


  5. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Dominique – wow, that sounds like an interesting idea for a book, good luck with it!

    @ Sid – No doubt, sounds like we share a similar bent. For me, too, the opportunity to make an impact and help people has been the number one driving force, that’s why I mentioned I wrote the book, initially, as an “all in” book. And, like you, I have other ventures that keep me comfortably afloat…but, I’ll also be ready to capture the potential bump in opportunity to do more of what I love that can come from a successful book.

    @ David – Thanks so much for your kind words, means a lot. It’s always so helpful to see how others, like you, have done it…and done it well! 🙂

  6. Jonathan – this analysis is terrific! I’m wondering how you think these criteria would apply to a non-business book – a memoir or fiction?

  7. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Betsy – The all-in strategy is really about all books. If you can write something truly remarkable, then the book has the potential to not only become a wonderful outlet for your writing and have an impact of a lot of people, but also become a primary source of revenue. But the Brochure & Upsell and the Hybrid strategies likely work better with non-fiction.

    Actually, thinking out loud here, that’s not necessarily true, because if you can write and market a book on a level that makes it successful AND you are interested in teaching those skills, there’s a good chance others may want to learn them, once you’ve proven your ability with your book. And, depending on the topic of your book, you may have a lot of speaking and merchandising opportunities. Harry Potter is the perfect example of this.

    So, strike my earlier limitation. I think it’s easier to tap the strategies for prescriptive nonfiction, but, with a bit of creativity, you may well be able to extend them to memoirs and even fiction, too.

    Anyone have thoughts or experience on this?

  8. Chris Webb says:

    I signed Chris and Darren for the Problogger book which is a very interesting example in many ways. It is the hybrid approach you mention, but it doesn’t work in only one direction.

    Part of the reason the book works, is that the authors already had an amazing platform from which to launch and promote the book. Pair that with a great book packed with amazing information and you can end up with a sort of “perfect storm” that feeds itself in the way you describe.

  9. Hi Jonathan – yeah, I agree with you on the all-in. The serial, now that I think about it, is a way to tap the strategies for memoir or fiction, no? The example that comes most readily to mind is the excerpt at the end of a Grisham paperback about the next book that is coming. I really think making a marketing plan before you write the dang thing applies to everything. It’s the rare fiction or memoir that just “bursts upon” us.

  10. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Chris – Thanks for jumping in and sharing a bit of insight from the inside out. Great point about it working both ways. The stronger your platform and relationships before the book launches the better positioned you and the book will be to really catch fire on many levels.

    @ Betsy – No doubt, marketing is critical for pretty much any book, that’s a whole different discussion, but definitely one I want to dive into a bit further down the road. Interesting point about serializing being the fiction equivalent, something to think about. 🙂

  11. Gary says:

    This article comes at a great time for me. I’m planning on writing a book in 2009 when I get back to the US and before I start my next trip for late 2009-10. I definitely plan on using my blog as a platform as well as an alternative source of revenue.

    Thanks for the info.

  12. Very informative. I never really knew the economics of publishing before, except that its very hard to get wealthy from book sales alone. Every aspiring author should read this!

  13. riva says:

    I did write the book I dreamed of writing, self published it and am still dreaming of book tours, interviews and key notes. I have plans for not only a sequel but a whole product line. Meanwhile, I’m still working a day job. And not unhappily!

  14. riva says:

    oh! and yes! your post was very helpful chock full of great info!

  15. shelley says:

    Great post!!!

    I have all these ideas swimming around in my head for sure, but I am not the girl who takes the time to sit down and write- I get side tracked and lose focus. I can get the skeleton done, even chapter titles and focus points- fleshing it out and adding the meat is so tedious…

    I never thought about what my goal is, or should be, in sharing information in book form- Perhaps that would help me focus and then make the larger decisions to stick with it or not-

    Hmmm, thinking……

  16. MLRebecca says:

    Congratulations, Riva! It’s only a matter of time before the book tour.

    I have a dream of writing a book, and I have since girlhood. I’ve thought about writing non-fiction books on education, but my heart belongs to fiction. I have some ideas, in the works, but no idea where to start. I typically don’t struggle with writer’s block, so perhaps my inability to begin has something to do with the uncertainty of getting published.

    Great post! I would love to read a follow up post of yours with tips for making money with fiction books.

  17. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Gary – like Chris Webb shared, having a strong blog community not only helps provide a “back end,” it’s critical in marketing the book, too.

    @ John – Glad you got some info from the article, mission accomplished.

    @ riva – Congrats on writing a book, just finishing it is a monumental achievement, keep us all in the loop.

    @ Shelley – A book is just one way to release what’s inside, it was calling me, but so is blogging and so many other outlets. Follow what’s right for you

    @ MLRebecca – “perhaps my inability to begin has something to do with the uncertainty of getting published.” If it’s something you’ve wanted to do since you were a kid, then its’ most likely something you want to do “for you” as much as for anyone else.

    So, like Goethe said, “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

  18. Jonathan,

    I can’t wait to read your book.

    I don’t know who said the following statement, but it has resonated with me over time.

    “You don’t make money writing your book, you make money explaining your book.”

  19. Hey Jonathan,

    I am in the process of writing a book… It almost sound cliche as I read my words. My book is about the incongruence that exists between you implict/subconscious drives and you explicit/cognitive drives and their role in anxiety, depression and ineffectiveness.

    I will explain the neurology of it along with the psychology and lay out a linear plan for exorcising the incongruence.

    Fingers Crossed,

    David J. Parnell

  20. Alex says:

    Insightful perspective…the dynamics behind how people interact with information have definitely changed. Books need to have a life beyond the book to be successful…people buy into stories that continue to develop over time.

  21. Jonathan,

    Thank you so much for putting this together. I bang my head against a wall sometimes, trying to show clients what their options are to create a successful book, and it does depend on your definition of “success”.

    I wish more people would approach their book projects in a conscious way because spending 100+ hours on a book that doesn’t quite achieve your goals is very sad!

    All the best,

  22. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Matthew – Very psyched as the date begins to get closer. It’s interesting, to me, the book itself is what I’m far more passionate about, so while I’ll explore secondary revenue paths, the book is still my prime focus. Probably largely because I love to write and want to make this the first of many.

    @ David – Sounds like a cool topic, definite keeps us all in the loop as things progress!

    @ Alex – Interesting insight “people buy into stories that continue to develop over time.” I like that, something to ponder.

    @ Mindy – No problem. Interestingly enough, for me, I tend toward writing the book my soul tells me I need to write first, then think bigger picture second. But, like I’ve shared in earlier posts, I think that’s also largely because, for me, I get so much out of the process and exploration of writing that the opportunity to simply get paid to do that is a big chunk of what drives me. And, no doubt, I’ve got a bunch of fiction in me, too

  23. Justin says:

    I didn’t realize there were so many ways to make money from books (and types of them). As for me, I am not currently writing a book, and if I ever did, it would probably be fiction. I believe you’ve written a couple books, which I think is awesome. Good job!

  24. Deborah says:

    I know of one memoir that has a lot of speaking potential. On Nov. 4, “A Dance With the Devil” will be published. It’s a memoir about a woman’s experience living with a psychopath, and she done quite a bit of speaking about domestic violence and similar topics. Her site is

    I have written a novel about a woman recovering from domestic abuse and if it ever gets published, I would want to promote it by talking about domestic abuse in the real world. It’s been read by a domestic abuse counselor who said that every social work major (college student) who wants to work with survivors should read it.

    I want to write a book that is about environmental sustainability, but that subject has been done so much right now, I’m trying to figure out a fresh perspective. Of course, living on 32 acres in the middle of nowhere and growing a lot of our food is a fresh perspective, but it also has to be something that people can relate to.


  25. Chad says:

    I look forward to reading your book Jonathan.

  26. Hey Jonathan,

    What a timely article for me personally, having just finished ‘7 Simple Steps – Life Transformation Guide.’ My goal was to create a distilled home study course that could stand-alone while leaving room for additional, closely related products and services.

    As appealing as the Amazon call is, I’ll go the digital route for a while. The writing path seems to have lead down some interesting but unexpected side roads. To a large degree there is a personal unfolding element that I have really enjoyed. The process of refining and articulating your thoughts onto the printed page is a lot different then speaking or coaching. It’s a truly unique experience of self-discovery. You’re an inspiration Jonathan, thanks.

  27. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Justin – Yeah, I’ve definitely got some fiction in me, too. The challenge is getting it out.

    @ Deborah – Congrats on writing your novel! No doubt, if you decide to have a “back end,” making it not just about money, but about something you’re passionate for is so important for your bigger picture mindset/vision/happiness.

    @ Jonathan – Thanks for the kind words and congrats on finishing your guide! No doubt, when you write about something, especially something that’s been personally transformative, the entire process of writing involves a “personal unfolding.” I found it really helped to clarify a lot of my thoughts and beliefs, too.

  28. Pete says:

    I couldn’t make it through the post before I passed out from the shock at how much arrogance a person can display in so few words!

  29. Lord Matt says:

    This is a fascinating read on so many levels not least of all because the national novel writing month is about to kick off.

  30. Hi,

    Actually, I am writing a non-fiction book, but I believe it doesn’t fit into any of the three categories above. It is a technology book, so when it’s out it will have a fairly short timespan to make a difference. What do I hope for from this book? Well, several things: to try it out, for the heck of it. I’ve got an opportunity to write a book, and I decided I’d go for it. Secondary goal is to see what people it will get me in touch with, and what kind of doors it will open for me in the long run. Last, it’s an excercise – when I decide to write a “real” book, one with life expectancy of more than a year and a half, I will have one already under my belt, I will know the drill, and it will be much easier. Money is not driving my effort with this book at all, at least not directly.

    Best regards,


  31. tannage says:

    Woo.. lots of really good information on what to do with books. I’ve been chewing over a whole load of content on stress management and Tai Chi (been teaching it for years) but haven’t had many ideas on how to position it. This post has given me some ideas on how to do this!

    Looking forward to the publication of your book.

  32. Insightful post, though I’m convinced that very few authors really “make money” from writing books. I think if you go into writing to make money, you may be disappointed. I write because I love to write.

  33. JN says:

    I would like to write a book, but doubt I ever could. Not only is the work too much but I hate rejection.

  34. Mindy says:

    Hey JN!

    I hear you. But if it were important enough to you, i.e. if you had a good enough reason and enough motivation, there would not be *anything* in the world that would stop you. Not fear of hard work or the silly opinions of other people.

    It sounds like you feel you *should* write a book. That’s not a good starting place. Ask yourself what the key personal reasons would be and how strongly you feel. I’ve seen lots of people conquer fears when they had a clear vision, and you probably know exactly what I mean!

    Good luck!

  35. After falling short in completing earlier book attempts I’m thinking about compiling some of my education-themed articles and putting together to create a book. Has this strategy worked for first-time authors?

  36. Mindy says:

    Dan – you are in good company. A lot of people think that compiling their articles will turn into a book. Maybe and maybe not. And maybe it would be a good book and probably not. You want to have the best possible book, I’m sure.

    It seems like an attractive option to write articles or blogs and then string them together to make a book, and even my hero Seth Godin put together Small is the New Big in this way. However, I just prefer books that are planned in a strategic way from the outset. I once worked with a client who had an idea to write 100 blogs and then turn it into a book. She said, “I have written 50 already; do you want to see them?” I said, “No, let’s do the process as though you hadn’t written anything and then we will see how to incorporate what you have written.” To make a long story short, she only ended up using about 30% of the original material and ended up with a much better book because of it. Just ask me if you want her contact details because she nearly made a huge mistake.

    I’ve seen some books that really don’t hang together and it’s not fun for the reader. You probably can use much of what you have written, Dan. Just make sure you do a thorough job of planning the best content for the best book and try to be objective, or else get some help from a good book coach.

    Best of luck!