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

Image result for three hatsALLi Director Orna Ross sets out seven scenarios for self-publishing success. Which one describes where you are now? Which matches your aspirations?

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. Books Only, 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. Books Only, Going Wide: 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 Speaking Model: Information Products

Usually a model for nonfiction, whereby books and products arising are supplemented by speaker income. Offline, this is done as back-of-the room-book sales at a speaking gig. Online, it is typically higher-margin, information products connected to the book being sold after a free webinar. This is often supplemented with a Facebook group that supports the learning offered in the books and info products.

4. Books Plus Teaching/Mentoring/Coaching/Consultancy Model: Supported Learning

This is true teaching, not just an information product. The time-honored way is through an educational establishment, like a university or school, but now it can happen online too. It distinguishes itself from Model 3 by being active teaching in a supported learning environment, with the author, or another real person, correcting modules and exercises, giving feedback in a pedagogic framework, not information-plus-Facebook group (which has its own value but is different).

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 or asking for direct donations on your website.

7. Books Plus Affiliate Income

Supplement your book income by recommending products and services you approve of and believe are useful, entertaining or inspiring to your readership. The products are linked to your subject matter, theme or world, and you promote them through blog posts, articles, videos and podcasts with affiliate links to the products.

An eighth model, of course, is multiple streams of income. This is the most common, and the safest, business model: to combine a number of the options.

Authors can also benefit from 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, business process, and enterprise.

The Three Dimensions of An Author Business

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

  • You put on your Maker Hat for the work you need to do in your business: your creative projects, products and campaigns (craft)
  • You put on your Manager Hat for the work you need to do on your business: your creative assets, your team, your processes, your profits (process)
  • You put on your Entrepreneur Hat for the work you need to grow your business: your creative ideas, pitches and publications. (enterprise)

Your success as an indie author will reflect how well you do, and balance, these three. See xxx for more on this.

Creative Business For Creativepreneurs:

Orna Ross Director Alliance of Independent AuthorsI run a free online workshop about running a creative business the creative way on Facebook Live on the third Thursday every month (replays available).

Attending live allows you ask questions about your own business and get direct answers and comments from me and the other participants.

You can register here for the next event. Or add “Creative in Business Workshop” to your monthly calendar: 3rd Thursdays, 7pm London time.

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

  1. Lesley Nase October 18, 2018 at 1:29 pm #

    I so appreciate this article. My first children’s book came out this year, I believe I am at category #2. My indie author entrepreneur goal is to have many streams of income. Now that I have the 1st book published I am getting readers through website, library and school appearances, plus podcast.

    It all feels overwhelming but doable especially when reading your article and hearing you on Creative Penn with Joanna. I am blessed to have wonderful smart female models to follow. Thank-you

    • Orna Ross November 5, 2018 at 2:28 pm #

      You are so welcome, Lesley. Sounds like you have a good plan in place. Yes, it’s totally doable. A steep learning curve but what a prize at the end, that ability to earn our living doing what we love to do. Good luck!

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

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

    • Orna Ross November 5, 2018 at 2:26 pm #

      You’re welcome Kari, I hope the thinking is productive!

  3. 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.

    • Orna Ross November 5, 2018 at 2:26 pm #

      Great, that truly is one important milestone. Good luck Wendy and let us know how it goes.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

    • Orna Ross November 5, 2018 at 2:25 pm #

      Will be keen to know which way it goes, Helena. Model 1 is probably the riskiest model, as all eggs are in one publishing basket. Diversifying income streams is, generally speaking, the safest option. But there are no rules and each indie author is the expert in their own business.

  6. 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.

    • Orna Ross November 5, 2018 at 2:23 pm #

      It’s great when you know which way you want to go. Good luck Julie!

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

    Great article, thank you!

    • Orna Ross November 5, 2018 at 2:22 pm #

      Glad it was useful to you Zsofia!

  8. 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!

    • Orna Ross November 5, 2018 at 2:22 pm #

      Happy it was useful Nancy! It’s all time-consuming, whichever model we choose. Then again, what better way could we invest our time?

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