How to Productize Your Writing & Make More Money
When you think about making money with your books do you think about selling books to online and brick-and-mortar stores? It’s worth pointing out that while distribution is wide, royalties can be paltry. So don’t stop there, be everywhere! You can sell your book for greater profits by going direct. And you can make even more money by productizing your book.
Please don’t be intimidated by the word "productize". It’s just another way to make money doing what you love… writing. I wrote this post to give you some creative ideas on just how to do that.
I use San Francisco-based Gumroad as an example because I think they were first to market in 2011, which is when I started using the platform. Competitors include Selz and Sellfy and there are a dozen more I haven’t checked out including San Francisco-based Chec, London-based PayHip and South Asian-based InstaMojo, to name a few..
I also can’t help comparing Gumroad with a few other products: an iterative publishing platform called LeanPub, with crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and IndieGogo, and with a subscription-based (recurring funding) platform called Patreon.
Iteration is the act of repeating a process… with the aim of approaching a desired goal, target or result. Each repetition of the process is also called an "iteration", and the results of one iteration are used as the starting point for the next iteration. (Wikipedia)
These are apples to oranges comparisons but essential to explaining how you decide on the platform that’s best for you in the funding-for-artists ecosystem. There’s lots of messy overlap but I think you’ll find that you’re attracted to one platform or method over another. No need to use every feature! Dip your toe in, see if the temperature is right, and wade in deeper when you’re comfortable.
The Gumroad ModelGumroad is an e-commerce platform that allows you to directly sell your work. They charge 5% of sales and a 25 cent transaction fee for their basic service. They offer a premium service for $10 a month and 3.5% of sales with a 30 cent transaction fee. This short, fun video describes what Gumroad is and how it works.
How it Works
Sign up for a free account in the Gumroad store using your email addresses or your Facebook or Twitter credentials. Create your profile and customize the look and feel of your page. You can change the colors to match those of your website, and don’t forget to use keywords in your book descriptions so that search engines can find them. You’ll also need to enter your bank information so they know where to deposit your money, which they pay every two weeks. I get a little thrill every time I get sales and payday emails with these cute little notices.
Sell Any Digital File
Test Gumroad out by selling digital versions of your book. You can sell your book in PDF format, MOBI for Kindle, or EPUB. You can also sell any kind of digital file, like audiobooks, digital art, photography, screensavers, videos, videogames, music, software, presentations, courses, or e-zines.
When customers buy digital products you don’t do a thing. They’ll be able to download it immediately, and you’ll get a note from Gumroad to tell you that you’ve made a sale and you get the buyer’s email address.
You can contact your customers to thank them, put their address into your email marketing list, or follow up in a week or two to ask them if they liked your book, and to review it on Amazon. You might incentivize them by offering a freebie.
Create Versions of Your Products
If you have a product like mine—the Self-Publishing Boot Camp Virtual Workshop with its 14 digital files—you can segment it into versions for various prices. For example, there might be a “distribution edition,” and a “social media” edition. These can be offered at a lower price. I can even create an offer code for a discount on the full course.
Sell Physical Books and Other Products
You can even sell physical products. I’ve sold more autographed copies of my books than I ever thought I would, especially just before the holidays. Maybe you’ll be inspired to create a special edition of your print book with some handcrafted elements. You might want to bundle your book with a pen and a journal or a T-shirt. Once you start thinking about ways to productize your book(s), your only limit is your imagination. When a customer buys a physical product or bundle, you’ll receive an order form immediately.
Please use a USPS Priority Mail envelope and get that book out to your customer right away. (Charge the customer a shipping and handling charge. I charge $6 to cover the priority mail stamp and my trip to the post office.) One year I made the mistake of using Media Mail to deliver autographed books purchased for Christmas presents. Easily half of my customers did not receive their books until well after the New Year, and some didn’t receive them at all. I sent out new books and received a few torn and battered original packages months later, because the customer’s addresses were no longer visible. I imagine that some of them ended up in the trash. I asked customers who eventually received a duplicate to gift it or donate it to their library.
The Sales Widget on Your Site
Gumroad is an online store but you don’t have to send your customers there. Keep them on your site with a sales widget that handles credit card processing and delivery. You can choose an overlay, or lightbox, that opens a payment window, or simply embed the product in your web page.
If you find an error in your book, if your book needs updating often, or you’re publishing a serial book, you can publish updates to the customers who bought it. This is one of the features that makes Gumroad and similar e-commerce platforms great beta-publishing tools.
The subscriptions feature on Gumroad lets you set up recurring funding for your serial book or all of your latest writing, an e-zine, audio-video, training courses, private Google Hangouts—again, use your imagination—you can upload any kind of digital file and deliver physical goods after receiving payment and an order form. Choose to offer a monthly or annual subscription.
The idea of recurring funding is an attractive one. A company called Patreon takes it to the extreme with its platform created solely to allow artists to achieve sustainable income.
I moderated a panel on crowdfunding at the recent San Francisco Writers Conference and Patreon’s Graham Hunter provided a lot of valuable information on why and how to use this platform. Find Crowdfunding for Cash and Community on the VW Tapes site to purchase a digital download.
Gumroad allows you to do the same thing but in a different format, so take a look at both. To me, Patreon seems like a commitment. When I decide to create a subscription property there—and I will—I think it needs to be pretty robust. However, I think I could charge more money. Hmmm. Check it out and see for yourself. I’d love to hear about your impressions (in the comments below).
Analyze Your Popularity
Analytics are an essential element of marketing. When you know what people look at versus what they buy, then you can figure out if things are working okay or a change is needed. That change might be a new book cover, marketing copy, or pricing. When you sell direct, you can experiment endlessly. And because you own the email addresses of those people who did buy, you can ask them directly or send them a survey to give you some input. (Give them an incentive, like a new story or a tip sheet.)
Gumroad is not really a crowdfunding platform but it can be used that way. Raise money for your book before you publish, and use Pay What You Want pricing to allow your customers to pay more than the minimum. For example, you might set the minimum price for your beta or serial book at $10. But in your social media and email marketing campaigns you’ll ask your fans to pay more to support you while you finish the book.
When I analyze all the features Gumroad offers, I can’t help but see it as a pretty strong competitor to traditional crowdfunding sites. Not only can you collect money, but you can digitally deliver the eBook and all the rewards using the same platform. Kickstarter, IndieGogo, and others (which I wrote about here) are really useful, but they simply create an order form and don’t offer an integrated digital download feature. I wish they would.
As an iterative publishing platform, I think LeanPub is a great choice for any kind of author with a text-heavy book (not image heavy). As a crowdfunding platform, I like LeanPub, but find LeanPub’s implementation of the sliding scale model restrictive because I'm trying to force it into a crowdfunding model, which it's not.
For example, my small press Misadventures Media (in beta) publishes adventure travel books and is currently crowdfunding a couple of author’s using LeanPub. On one book, Dirty Dining, I set the price at a minimum of $20 and the suggested price to $50. The resulting scale limits the buyer to paying $100. We could have set the suggested price at $500 but I think it would be a bit of a turnoff to buyers if they see a $500 price point right away when they get to the page. With Gumroad there is no minimum. Buyers can enter any amount they wish. So I may need to switch platforms in order to crowdfund. Another limitation with LeanPub is that they don’t allow you to sell physical products. They’re just not interested in creating the kind of order form that Gumroad and others offer. So you can’t offer the print book as an incentive. But I can’t blame them. They’re completely focused on eBooks. Dealing with the additional category of support surrounding physical delivery and expectations around returns has to be a time suck beyond comprehension.
Gumroad, however, seems to handle legal issues around returns with clear documentation directed to both seller and buyer, though I’m sure they get pesky emails from users who expect them to pay for a product that wasn’t delivered as expected.
When you sell your books using an intermediary you have no idea who your readers are. When you sell direct, you get the email addresses of your customer and the ability to take advantage of the incredibly valuable “permission marketing” that goes with it. You can manually add email addresses to your list or use the integration feature that Gumroad offers with MailChimp, my favorite email marketing service.
As an independent publisher, you determine your sales strategy. Yes, of course, you should use Amazon CreateSpace and KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) to get your POD and Kindle books into the Amazon store. By all means, let Smashwords aggregate your eBooks to all the other ebook retailers. Upload your print book to IngramSpark to reach the rest of the print market with your paperback and hardback books. None of this is exclusive. But big distribution should be the last step in your publishing process. I can’t overestimate the value of going slow, beta publishing, and building your community before you commit to big distribution. (See my post: Publishing Small with Tools by the Online Booksellers.)
But. My. Book. Is. Not. A. Product!
“My book is a work of art, not a product!” you might protest. Well, okay, I can feel your angst, but, if you’ve read this far, perhaps thee doth protest too much.
I’m a nonfiction author who teaches self-publishing, so sure, it’s easy for me to productize my book and sell it with course material in a digital package that might even include an hour of my time. A cookbook author could sell a package with a book and a new recipe with a video demonstration for a year.
So you write fiction. I know a certain mystery writer whose books are set in Paris. Each mystery is set in a different Paris neighborhood. She’s written over a dozen books and she also blogs about Paris travel. If she were self-published she could sell each book with bonus materials on travel in Paris. She might even be able to partner with Lonely Planet… who knows! But since she is traditionally published she has to ask her publisher. That said, publishers are ever more willing to experiment these days. I’m envisioning an eBook bundled with travel information on each neighborhood, and maybe even a video tour. Let’s see if she takes the bait. In fact, the first person to tweet @carlaking with the name of this author gets my Self-Publishing Boot Camp Guide for Authors in the eBook format of your choice.
What Do You Envision?
Are you confused? Inspired? Got an idea you want to run by me? I’m looking forward to discussing them in the comments section below.
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