If you’re a nonfiction author, you may be concerned about the low ROI or Return on Investment) caused by the heavy-discounts offered by many bricks-and-mortar bookstores. In addition, in some cases, self-published ebooks are available online for just 99 cents—or for free!Roger C. Parker

You may be asking yourself, “How can my book survive in the face of this aggressive competition?”

Workbooks offer nonfiction authors a practical solution. Self-published workbooks can restore lost profits. Workbooks can even generate more income than the original published books!

Trade book discounting

Trade books are vulnerable to discounting pressures found in conventional retail channels. Often, paradoxically, the more popular a book is, the more likely it is for online bookstores and retail chains are to discount the title to remain competitive.

In order to help retail chains remain competitive, publishers may reduce their wholesale prices. Or, they may pay promotional allowances for premium display space. In either case, the author’s royalty rate remains the same, but their per-copy income goes down. Author royalties are based on the income publishers receive from selling each copy, less expenses.

Ideally, the discounted price will increase sales, offsetting the reduced income-per-copy. But, it’s a gamble, and authors have little or no control over the prices publishers charge their distributors or retailers.

Aggressive priced self-published books

The profitability of ebooks is threatened because many self-published authors often price their ebooks for just 99 cents a few dollars, or as low as available for free! These aggressive (or free) pricing strategies may only available during promotions or available throughout the year.

Hopefully, these strategies may increase the author’s visibility and sales of sales of an author’s other titles. But, again, there are no guarantees this will happen.

The solution is for self-published authors to develop a program based around creating workbooks that help readers apply the lessons described in their book. Workbooks help-published authors convert a one-time ebook transition into readers (or clients) for life.

What are workbooks?

Think of workbooks as a cross between the concise book found in Cliffs Notes study guides and the types of questions a discussion group leader, or a mentor, are likely to ask.

The purpose of the questions is help readers boost their understanding of a topic and retain more of the information found in the original book.

But, more important, workbooks will help readers apply the information in the book to the challenges and opportunities they’re presently facing. The proven utility of the advice in the ebook can turn the original purchase, or download, into a lifetime relationship with the author.

Workbook options

Workbooks can range from a few pages to 100, or more, pages. They can consist of simple word-processed documents to attractive, easy-to-use publications.

At the free, or low-cost level, workbooks may consist of few (i.e., 2 or 3 PDF) pages. Often the simplest, list-based workbooks can pay big dividends. Content can consist of a chapter-based list of important terms and definitions, or brief summaries of each chapter accompanied by 3 or 4 review questions.

Workbooks become more valuable as their cost increases. At the $9.99 to $14.95 level, workbooks include more pages and more helpful information. Chapter summaries may include examples and infographics not found in the original book. The workbooks may be more attractively formatted. Workbooks may include ideas that authors discovered after the publication of their book.

The best workbooks don’t just include information. They focus on interactivity and reader involvement. Their go beyond the recall of information. The questions require interpretation and thoughtful planning before answering. When completed, the workbooks provide readers with a customized, detailed action plan.

These workbooks usually include space for readers to fill-in by hand. Alternatively, the questions may be included in a password-protected area of their website. This permits more readers to add more information, as well as print-out their responses.

When finished, the reader has created a detailed action plan that not only describes what must be done, but communicates the order that tasks should be addressed.

Why are workbooks so popular?

Readers appreciate workbooks because they make it easy for readers to review the ideas in their book, increasing their retention of key ideas. By eliminating details and focusing attention on the key ideas, or steps, necessary to move toward their goals, workbooks reduce the amount of time it takes to solve a problem or achieve a goal.

Authors value workbooks because entry level workbooks are efficient to produce and—most important, they control the process. The bulk of a workbook’s content already exists in their original book. There are no printing or distribution costs. Authors can focus their attention on other tasks once they have set up their email program to deliver their workbook and add the recipient’s name and address to their email list.

If authors are selling their ebook, the deliver process can be set up to confirm and process the payment, adding it to their current credit card or PayPal account. Best of all, authors don’t have to split workbook revenues with anyone else—beyond deductions for processing.

Workbooks are also an excellent way for authors to promote their podcast recordings or their latest video courses. The revenues from video courses can be many multitudes greater than the revenues from the sales of their original book.

Other workbook advantages for authors

Entry level workbooks can be used as lead generators which efficiently build their newsletter mailing list. Their lead generators can be placed anywhere online, including guest blog posts and their marketing partner’s websites.

An often-overlooked advantage is that authors can update their workbooks as often as possible. For example, authors can update their workbooks each year. This keeps their workbooks as new ideas, information, and examples become available. Within a short time, readers begin to look forward to these yearly updates.

Updated workbooks solve the problem that many nonfiction authors experience, when they discover new information just as their book becomes available!

Workbook economics

Workbook economics can be very attractive at the advanced levels.

Let’s assume you have prepared a trade-published book priced at $19.95 that earns you between $2.50 and $4.00 a copy—before deducting the percentage your literary agent is due. The problem built into trade publishing is that royalties are often paid once or twice a year.

Worse, your earned commission is not paid until the end of the next royalty period. In addition, the publisher deducts the costs of unsold books that bookstores have returned! There is also the problem that publishers usually deduct additional funds as a hedge against books that may be returned in the future.

Compare the uncertainty of the above scenario to waking up and finding out that two copies of your for-profit workbook have sold, and that $9.99, $12.95, or $14.95 (minus processing fees) has been added to your bank or PayPal account!

Why are workbooks easy to create?

Since you have already mastered a topic and written the book, a simple workbook can be as efficient to prepare as easy as reproducing your book’s table of contents accompanied by a brief synopsis of each chapter, two or three review questions for each chapter, plus a list of important terms and definitions. Conclude with a list of additional resources—which can include links to your website—and your workbook is complete!

Obviously, it will take more time to prepare a $9.99 to $14.95 workbook, but it will likely be far  less work than you originally spent planning, writing, and editing the manuscript of your book and responding to editorial queries.

Often the first step in creating a workbook is to go through your manuscript with a yellow highlighting tool, highlighting the important ideas contained in each chapter. The idea is not to copy your original text, but to enhance it by adding additional ideas and examples.

Another source of new ideas for workbooks may be ideas and information that was edited out of your book, your recent blog posts, podcast interviews, or discovered at yearly conferences or conventions. recent advances in your field. You can use the above to enrich your workbook and beyond what you originally wrote.

The next step is to prepare the interactive questions which will advance your workbook to the next level of value. Instead of asking “review” questions, you can ask deeper questions which will help readers put your ideas to work.

Summary of potential workbook content

Here are some of the other ways you can add value to your new workbook or updated editions:

  • New information. In addition to ideas, resources, and tips, that you discovered after the publication of your book, this can include your impression of books that have appeared since the publication of your book. You can tie new information to the chapters where the topics originally appeared, or you can add an additional chapter to your book.
  • Highlight important resources. This can include an updated list of influencers and blogs, books, podcasts, and websites that influencers who have emerged since the publication of your book. You might even “score” the relevant information and explain your criteria for your opinions.
  • Emerging and fading trends. Few topics stand still. New ideas and trends are continually becoming more and more important, while other are fading. As a published author, your readers ae likely to respect your observations and opinions.
  • Yearly events. Events include both face-to-face and virtual conferences, conventions, and workshops. Your credibility will be enhanced if you include not only your events, but other events—including those produced by competing organizations.
  • Influencer profiles. These include authors and subject area experts who not only succeed in business, but are passionate about sharing their experiences and lessons with others. An added benefit, profiling emerging leaders in your field can be an important first step towards reciprocal relationships.
  • Case studies. In addition to updating examples and stories you included in your book, you might profile the background stories behind the 10 best new products and services, the 10 fastest growing firms, and the 10 most innovative ideas.
  • Frequently made mistakes. Your workbook can also include a list of the 10 most frequently made mistakes. (Your choices may focus why the mistakes occurred, rather than identify the specific individuals or firms where they occurred.) You can also focus on the best new ideas in your field.

Potential trade-book concerns

If your book will be, or has been, published by a trade publisher, it’s vital that you (or your literary agent) discuss your workbook plans with your publisher.

Often, a separate letter of agreement, or a revised contract, may be required.

A publishing contract is a partnership between you and your publisher. Your author profile must confirm in content and length to the publisher’s requirements. It may contain your background and website information, but it must conform to the publisher’s standards.

The first time I discovered the potential contractual “gotcha’s!” was when I had planned to expand my Looking Good in Print book to include a Looking Good in Print newsletter and Looking Good in Print seminar series. I quickly discovered that this wasn’t a good idea.

Of course, you are free to promote your workbook on the home page of your website, as well throughout your website, blog, podcasts, and videos.

Self-published authors, of course, are free from such constraints!

Regardless whether your book is self-published or published by a trade publisher, always invest in a professional editor or proofreader. Grammatical or typographical mistakes will seriously reduce your workbook’s perceived value.

Author Bio:

Roger has written several nonfiction books sold in over 30 countries around the world. He’s also pioneered new topics for books about emerging trends. Many “escapees” from corporate cubicles have depended on him to help them transition from corporate life to entrepreneurial success.

If you like this blog post, you’ll love this book: The Nonfiction Book Publishing Plan by Nonfiction Authors Association CEO Stephanie Chandler!