Few things in life are more satisfying than watching book royalties roll in.
It’s especially pleasing when they’re coming from a book you wrote years ago, when all the actual work you had to do on it is a distant memory.
I’ve self-published two books now. The first was a non-fiction book on Moving to Portugal, an off-shoot from a successful blog, written in collaboration with my wife. More recently, we’ve put out an illustrated children’s book called “Valtro the Witch” – a real family project based on a character dreamed up by our six year old son, Freddie. (You can see my case study on this here: https://www.homeworkingclub.com/how-to-self-publish-a-childrens-book/)
The non-fiction book about Portugal continues to sell well, eight years after its release. In fact, it’s selling better than ever these days – perhaps unsurprising with everybody wondering about what kind of life they want in a (hopefully) post-pandemic world. We’ve clocked up around 4000 sales, which feels like quite an achievement from something that started out as a personal blog with no ambitions!
In this article, I’m going to share some insights based on the experience of publishing these books. I hope you find them useful for your own endeavours.
1. You should accept that you may need to pay for some professional assistance
If you look at the reviews of self-published books on Amazon, you’ll quickly notice the things that really irk readers: mistakes, typos and poor formatting.
I’m very fortunate to have a professional editor in the family, so the editing for my first book cost me the price of a fancy bottle of whisky. I even got myself a professionally-produced index into the bargain.
Had I not had easy access to this, I still would have invested in it.
It’s all too easy to become blind to your own errors, and all the little quirks and ticks you may not notice – such as using a specific phrase over and OVER again. Avoid these things and you get better reviews, better sales, and a better reputation.
Similarly, with our second book, I hired an illustrator. It didn’t cost a fortune, thanks to the wonders of freelance platforms like Upwork.
The key here is to be honest with yourself about the things you can’t do yourself, and be willing to pay for them. It’s much less stressful, and lands you with a more professional end product.
2. You need to think about the marketing
Writing and publishing a book is only a fraction of the work. You need a plan to promote it too.
Some initial momentum is really useful for pushing up your Amazon sales ranking. In turn, this makes your book more visible to other people. Having a blog with a loyal audience certainly helps, but it’s not the only way. A solid social media following is equally useful.
I have specific experience that bears this out. With my Portugal book, the blog really helped to establish momentum. With the more recent children’s book, establishing steady sales has been (and will remain) much harder.
3. It’s impossible to do too many “final checks”
Despite checking and tweaking our last book dozens of times, I still managed to make a big mistake. This resulted in the first handful of copies landing on people’s doormats with a glaring formatting error. (In case you’re wondering, I had to increase the page size by a couple of millimetres to please Amazon, which knocked out all of the text!)
So much work goes into a book that when it’s finally finished, it’s tempting to rush it out of the door. By the time you hold a proof in your hand, you’re probably incredibly bored with the content, but you still need to read and examine every word.
Waiting a few more weeks for your book to be out there “in the wild” is better than having to compose a humiliating Facebook post apologising for the errors – believe me!
4. Future proofing is important
Depending on the topic of your non-fiction book, it’s wise to have a good think about whether you’ll need to update it in the future. If it’s a book about history, you may get away with this. However, if it’s instructional, there’s a good chance that information could become out of date.
It’s good to have a plan for this. In the case of my Portugal book, I have to be candid and say that it would benefit from an update now. Various things have changed, and while the “memoir” section doesn’t need changing, the advice I provided could do with a refresh.
Many different factors feed into the strategy for this. If you’re providing out of date information, your reviews (and, in turn, your sales) will suffer. How much you’re making from the book (and how much time you have) will also inform how much you prioritise the update.
Just try not to go in without a plan. It’s possible that if you keep future-proofing in mind when you write, you could eliminate the need for updates, or at least push them further into the future.
5. Local sales can pay off
If you’re self-publishing a book, you can usually buy author copies at a keen price. With this in mind, it’s worth thinking about possible local outlets for your book.
A personal example: I had copies of my Portugal book on sale in a local bar. Many people on holiday would be fascinated with the idea of living in the country permanently, and plenty bought a copy.
With our children’s book, we have plans to sell via local Facebook groups, and see if we can do something with my son’s school too.
If you obtain author copies and find a way to sell them yourself (with the added attraction of them being signed copies), you could find you make much more margin on each. Dependent on the book, and how you plan to market it, the “local” sales could bring you a more significant amount of money than the online sales.
As I said at the start, the passive income from book royalties is always a joy to receive. If you’re wondering about getting started – don’t hesitate. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to retire from the proceeds of one book – but who knows what might be possible once you’ve written several!
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