This post outlines the ten business models for indie authors that are working right now, those most widely used by members of the Alliance of Independent Authors. The first four of these business models for indie authors are those most typically employed in the first few years of the self-publishing journey. Models six through ten are employed by more established authors, once they have amassed a following and have a high-traffic author website.
Traditionally only a few authors, writing in particular genres, were likely to sell enough books through physical bookstores to earn a living. Access to a global audience through digital publishing greatly increases the size of your potential readership as an author, and therefore your potential income.
To the degree that an author in any genre (yes, including literary fiction and poetry) can build a sufficient pool of readers over time to run a sustainable business.
Creating a business that is sustainable and scalable is easier if you incorporate other products, projects and earning strategies alongside your book publication in ways that support your . Books take a long time to create and are underpriced compared to other forms of entertainment, education and inspiration.
The business models below allow you to bring your mission and passion to readers in additional ways. For the entrepreneurial author, this offers a real option to taking a day job.
For the fully fledged authorpreneur, it offers a higher return and expanded reach, growing your income and influence, while simultaneously feeding into your book production.
To run these business models, all indie authors need a transactional website: not just a brochure site that shows books but a shop where readers can buy books and other products. See ALLi’s Self-Publishing 3.0 Campaign for more.
Business Models for Indie Authors 1: Book Sales Only, One Outlet: Write Fast, Publish Often
Authors employing this business model are writing in a popular genre, usually fiction, writing fast and publishing often. Some authors employing this model publish only in ebook, do not own their own ISBNs and focus on publishing in ways deemed favorable to the Amazon algorithm.
This model works very well for some authors. It is the most visible publishing model in the self-publishing community, through Amazon’s bestseller lists and promotion engine, so it can lead to misassumptions that this is the only way to succeed in self-publishing. It is actually a risky business model. A self-publishing author bound exclusively to one distribution outlet is as vulnerable as an author exclusively bound to a single trade-publisher and authors can suffer badly when their only outlet changes their terms and conditions in ways that are unfavorable to them. The advantages of exclusivity over its disadvantages have to be carefully weighed, with a long-term as well as a short-term viewpoint.
Business Models for Indie Authors 2: Book Sales Only, Going Wide: Multiple Formats, Multiple Retailers
The indie author community refers to this model as “going wide” (publishing directly through a variety of distributors e.g. Apple Books, Google Play, IngramSpark and Kobo in addition to Amazon KDP and ACX, as well as aggregator distributors like Draft2Digital, PublishDrive and StreetLib). They reach as many readers as possible by being available in as many places and formats as possible and publishing in ways most likely to grow a readership steadily, over time.
Business Models for Indie Authors 3: Book Sales Plus Speaking or Performance and Other Content
Publishing books plus speaking or performance is a model often used by nonfiction writers and poets, whereby books are supplemented by speaker income and live events. Offline, this is done as book sales at a paid gig. Online, video performances or webinars lead people to buy books and/or higher-margin products (often called “courses”), often supplemented by an online closed forum.
Business Models for Indie Authors 4: Book Sales Plus Teaching: Supported Learning
Active teaching in a learning-supported environment differs from the previous model (information products/content) because it involves the author (and/or their team) setting exercises, correcting modules, and giving individual feedback within a supported pedagogic structure, as opposed to an information-product-plus-online-group.
The time-honored way is through an educational establishment, like a university or school, but now it happens online too, in the form of courses but also mentoring, coaching and consultancy.
Business Models for Indie Authors 5: Book Sales Plus Author Services and/or Affiliate Income
Under this model, authors supplement their book income with publishing services to other authors. This model often includes recommending to their readership products and services they have used and believe in. The products are often linked to the author’s subject matter, theme, or world, and the author promotes them through blog posts, articles, videos and podcasts with affiliate links to the products.
Business Models for Indie Authors 6: Book Sales Plus Articles, Poems or Short Stories
Independent authors using this model are not those who use freelance journalism around other topics as a day job. This business model for indie authors is about writing shorter articles, poems and stories, in ways that complement their books, and are also an income stream in themselves. They may be paid by traditional media outlets like newspapers or magazine, new media crowdsourced payment sites, or run the publications for payment on their own websites or patron sites. The latter version of this model requires a high-traffic website.
Book Sales Plus Reader Membership 7: Benefits for Close Readers
Authorpreneurs in this model invite keen readers to subscribe monthly or annually to a membership program that offers various benefits. This model often works better for non-fiction authors, although some fiction authors and poets are achieved great success with it.
Book Sales Plus Influencer Income 8: Sponsorship or Advertising
Employed when a brand or other sponsor wanting something in return for the investment—often exposure to and awareness from the author’s fans or followers.
Business Models for Indie Authors 9: Book Sales Plus Patronage: Support from Grants, Endowments, Awards or Crowdsourcing
Wealthy patrons have never been as generous to writers as they have been to fine artists. These days, those offering patronage to an author are less likely to be a wealthy ruler or merchant than an arts council or literary organization. Most patronage, these days, however comes from readers, through direct donations on authors’ websites or through Patreon or similar platforms.
Business Models for Indie Authors 10: Book Sales Plus Publishing Rights Licensing or Merchandising
Independent authors are selectively licensing some of their rights to publishing partners, rights buyers and licensing operators in their home territories and abroad. Publishing rights include print and other rights to English language publishers, translations, TV/film/documentary, audiobook and other rights. In some cases, authors are also mining their own merchandising, translation and multimedia rights. This model generally requires the author to have had significant success already in books sales for other rights buyers to be interested, though occasionally rights are sold on the merit of the idea, book proposal or book.
It is possible to combine a number of these models and enjoy multiple streams of income in addition to book sales but it can take a lot of juggling.
From observing our members, it would seem that best results are had when
- any other projects and products in the business mirror the same mission and passion that inspire the books and
- the author has an ecosystem of products that includes the following product types: gift product(s), free reader-magnet product(s), core products (books) and premium product(s).
Whatever model you choose, the benefit of being an independent author is that you get to choose how you run your business. If something doesn’t work, you get to change it.
These ten business models for indie authors represent what’s working now, but with our changeable industry the future might hold ten more possibilities.
OVER TO YOU
Which one of the ten business models for indie authors do you use? Is there another model we haven’t yet identified?
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