Business Models for Indie Authors: Which One Is Right For You?

Orna Ross Director Alliance of Independent Authors

Orna Ross, Founder & Director of ALLi



ALLi Director Orna Ross sets seven scenarios for self-publishing success. Which one describes how you are now? Which matches your aspirations?

Image result for three hats

Everybody (including me and other ALLi advisors) talks about the need for authors to be entrepreneurs, but what does that mean at a day-to-day level?

Authors can make enough money to make a living in a variety of ways. Here are some of the most common business models employed by successful author businesses.

1. Single Outlet: Write Fast, Publish Often

Writing in a popular genre, writing fast, publishing often. Often Amazon only to take advantage of KU (Kindle Unlimited), and often ebook only, or with print and audio as an also-ran.

2. Wide Model: Multiple Formats and Retailers

Referred to in the community as “going wide”,  publishing through Kobo, Apple Books, Google Play and distributors like Draft2Digital and PublishDrive as well as KDP, and IngramSpark as well as Createspace for books. And multiple formats: ebook, print, audio. The idea is to reach as many readers as possible and build a growing readership, steadily, over time.

3. Books Plus Mentoring Model: Information Products and Consultancy

A nonfiction model, whereby books are supplemented by speaker and consulting income, together with higher-margin, information products connected to the book, (often done as back of the “room” sales, after a speaking gig or webinar)

4. Books Plus Teaching Model: Supported Learning

This is true teaching, not just an information product. The time-honored way is through an educational establishment, like a university, but now it can happen online but it distinguishes itself from Model 3 by being real, active teaching in a supported learning environment, with the author, or another real person, correcting modules and exercises, not just giving information.

5. Books Plus Reader Membership Model: Benefits For Close Readers

Keen readers are invited to subscribe monthly or annually to a membership program that offers various benefits. Again, this generally works better for non-fiction authors, although some fiction authors, especially women’s and romance novelists, have made a great success of these.

6. Books Plus Sponsorship or Patronage: Support from Other Individuals or Businesses

Wealthy patrons have never been as generous to writers as to fine artists, for some reason, and these days, it’s more likely to be a brand, arts council or other sponsor offering money, and wanting something in return for the investment.  Often, awareness from your fans or followers. Another new opportunity for this model  is crowdfunding through Patreon or similar.

The patron might even be another business of your own, which  supports the writing. For example, you might run an editorial or design service which helps to supplement your writing business in the early years or in lean times.

7. Multiple Streams of Income

The most common, and perhaps the safest, business model but one that can make a creative business owner very time poor. In addition to combining any of the above, authors can also now benefit from affiliate income through their website recommendations, paid freelance writing gigs, prizes, grants and other options. Combining these is a workable way can take time, but when you get the mix right, it can be very rewarding, creatively and commercially.

Whichever business model we choose, indie authors have to develop skills in three distinct arenas: craft, management and enterprise.

The Three Aspects of An Author Business

Each of these functions requires us to wear a different “hat”: 

  • You put on your Crafter Hat for the work you need to do in your business: your creative projects, products and campaigns
  • You put on your Director Hat for the work you need to do on your business: your creative business assets, processes and profits
  • You put on your Entrepreneur Hat for the work you need to do about your business: your creative ideas, pitches and publications.

Success as an indie author is down to how well you balance these three.

More Information to Help You Decide What’s Right for You:

More in this blog post. And I’m running a free online workshop on this topic tomorrow night (, if you’d like to map out how you will manage the three aspects of your business over the coming year and months.

 7 Business Models for indie #authors - which is right for you? Top #selfpub advice from @OrnaRoss for #writers of every kind Click To Tweet

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8 Responses to Business Models for Indie Authors: Which One Is Right For You?

  1. Kari Trenten February 11, 2018 at 8:20 am #

    Thank you for the advice, Orna…you’ve given me a lot to think about.

  2. Wendy Dewar Hughes February 7, 2018 at 6:29 pm #

    An excellent summation of the options and opportunities. This list really helps to clarify where I most want to be.

  3. Terri Sherrill February 7, 2018 at 3:29 pm #

    Orna, this is one of the most powerful summaries I’ve ever read. I’m still at the beginning of this writing journey and have been trying my hand at various things like freelance writing and writing competitions while slogging away on my novel. I’d like to be single-minded but find that I can’t. I’m just not wired that way. So fantastic to see all the options laid out so clearly. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    • Orna Ross February 9, 2018 at 7:36 am #

      So glad it was so useful Terri. Clarity is so important in clearing creative space.

  4. Helena Halme February 6, 2018 at 1:20 pm #

    This is an excellent way to look at author entrepreneurship. I’ve also somehow fallen into category 7, but after two days at 20booksto50K conference I’m seriously considering number 1!

  5. Julie Day February 6, 2018 at 1:10 pm #

    I am in category 2. Want to reach as many readers as I can by going wide, esp with my ebooks for adults.

  6. Zsofia Macho February 6, 2018 at 7:25 am #

    Great article, thank you!

  7. Nancy Christie February 6, 2018 at 1:05 am #

    As one who falls in category 7, you’re right about the time-intensive part.
    And I loved your detailed breakdown of all the categories.
    Thanks for a great post!

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