So! We have spent author monetization week talking about some newfangled ways authors can make money, from self-publishing to blog ads and merchandising to using Kickstarter to fund a book project.
And what’s funny about those three posts is that they’re actually just new versions of very old traditions. Ben Franklin used his own printing press for Poor Richard’s Almanack, Mark Twain made money from the ancillary lecture circuit, and Kickstarter is just a new version of the patronage system.
So. All that said, how do you think authors of the future will and should make money? Should it come from the books? From secondary streams? Will that whole moneymaking thing go away entirely?
And in case you’re curious about my attempt at selling t-shirts and mugs, so far I’ve sold 1 t-shirt and 0 mugs. Zero mugs!! And everyone needs mugs.
Making money? It ain’t easy.
If you put your mug on your mug, I'll buy one 😉
Ted Fox says
I just got a gig doing some standup comedy, and I've been thinking about putting my @KnowWhosAwesome twitter on a shirt that I could wear on stage. Family and friends are interested in them, too–provided, you know, I pay for them. So I seem to have found a way to lose money by promoting myself. If this were opposite day, I'd be golden.
Tiffany Hawk says
I wouldn't be surprised if corporate sponsorship comes into play. It paid for ballparks, and now big-time journalists are creating content for companies. Yesterday, a rumor surfaced that Ruth Reichl will be heading up a food blog for Gilt Group.
I'm not sure how that will translate to fiction – maybe cities could pay for books set there. Apparently United helped in production of The Terminal.
Arthur Slade says
Author will rent their brains to politicians! It's a win, win situation!
Appreciated this series. it was eye-opening.
I might hold out for commercials once I'm published. Maybe I could get a Nike spot or something. I hear they pay well. Writers have to "Just Do It" too.
Lucinda Bilya says
Sell all our possessions and live in our cars – sounds like a plan. I am almost there. 🙂
Most will keep their day jobs, right?
As soon as I get a day job, I plan to keep it.
Writing for a living? Well, someone once said to me that only 2% of all writers can make a living at writing. My response?
"Great! I have a chance then."
I don't really know, but I think I might have to go and get a mug now. Too bad I'm in NJ, otherwise I'd have you sign it.
I could sell it on Ebay and then in the future I would make money.
Matt Heppe says
I am going to sell $.99 Kindle short stories between my novels. The short stories will keep my readers with me in the long stretches between novels. It will also provide a great opportunity to fill in back story and side adventures that are only hinted at in the novels.
And I'll sell mugs.
Is it time to start putting ads in paperbacks? It was common practice in the 50s and 60s and was discontinued because authors didn't appreciate the lack of thought behind which ads were chosen for their books.
Kristi Helvig says
I collect coffee mugs, as well as drink large quantities of caffeine every morning. I'd definitely buy a mug relating to rhetorical questions. Let me know when it's available. 🙂
See Elle Oh says
The cynic in me would say that "authors" and "make money" is a paradox.
I think the bumper sticker is your real ticket. Gridlock could use a little levity.
Mr. D says
What's wrong with the traditional thing? You know…you go to college, you get a job, and you make money that way. If you want to write, then write. If your writing makes enough money, then great. Am I forgetting something?
I'm with you, Arthur Slade — best idea yet!
I agree, Nathan. It's not easy. As far as how authors make money? I suspect the same way they always have: write a good book and get that book into the hands of readers. Traditional or self-published? That's the question. Which will provide the most talented and disciplined of writers the highest income?
Will more self-pubbed authors take up offers to go purely traditional? Will more traditional authors walk away from publishing deals to self-publish? Will there be something in-between?
Either way, there will always be money to be made on books.
The Book of Lost Souls
Maybe product placement. Did anyone see the Amazing Race on Sunday? Was that obnoxious product placement or what with Snapple everywhere? But I'm sure it made the show lots of money–and Snapple, too. My son bought the new Amazing Race Snapple yesterday. Perhaps my characters will start drinking lots of Snapple.
Mr. D. said…
"What's wrong with the traditional thing? You know…you go to college, you get a job, and you make money that way. If you want to write, then write. If your writing makes enough money, then great. Am I forgetting something?"
I'm with you, Bud. You're not forgetting anything and I'm glad you commented. You said exactly what I was thinking.
So far I feel you have only suggested e-publishing as a way to make this viable.
Making decent money through blog ads is way harder than it sounds and besides, why don't you have ads on your blog then?
Kickstarter is just a way to get backing for a project your working on, not a way to support yourself (replace a day job).
I enjoy this blog and everything, but I just wanted to point out that this monetizing week thing has lacked substance.
thanks for sharing though!
Chuck H. says
Money? You can make money by writing?
I did not know that, Johnny.
I like Mr. D's response as well. I need a job to support my family while I improve as a writer, talking monetization leaves me uninspired.
I expect there will come a day when selling will become more important to me, but I will attempt to focus on the fun of the message rather than the numbers.
Stephanie Faris says
One of your commenters reminded me of something. I was watching Jeopardy the other night, when one of the contestants was introduced as an "aspiring novelist." I looked over at him and said, "Last time I checked, 'aspiring novelist' was not a career." I'm an aspiring novelist, but I also have a day job that pays the bills…I've seen people who use aspiring novelist or aspiring musician (I live in Nashville, so I see that a LOT) as an excuse not to get a job. But then, there's nothing wrong with pursuing a dream if you can afford to, either…
I think we all know there will always be a need for entertainment. And that is what books, movies, and TV shows are. Blogging is, some say, dying, and Twitter and Facebook only provide a certain amount of that entertainment. We still want to be entertained and we need someone with imagination to do that (reality TV aside!). Yes, you can get that need fulfilled for free online but if you want quality entertainment, you're going to have to pay for it…and you're going to want to pay for it. I don't think that will change, even if the medium is electronic. Random House will still be selling books and people like me will pay to download them, even when we can get some other book for cheaper or free, because we know we can count on Random House for quality. That's my take on it…
While I'm a freshman – nah, I'm still in Jr. High when it comes to the whole writing-for-a-living concept (my little local paper publishes me but there's no $ in the deal, just a complimentary paper) so it's possible I'm way naive on this one but …. what if writers write because they love to write – or have something the world needs to hear- or it's therapeutic to their soul? What if getting paid for it is the bonus? The craft of writing doesn't put food in my 5 kids mouth but if I need money even I understand I need a job with a paycheck. Yet I still write. Just wonderin'…
D.G. Hudson says
I agree with what Mr. D. says, too. Why must writers be acrobats and jump through hoop after hoop?
It's not going to be like 'Field of Dreams', though. (Write a book and they will buy)
I'll decide what's best for me in the future. There may be other avenues to explore. It's always a good idea to make sure of alternate sources of income 'until' you hit the big time or even the midlist. We will have to slog through the options and choose the best fit.
Do you have suggestions as to what you'll do, Nathan, since you still have your day job? Just wondering.
One of the best ways I've found to make money as a writer is by bartending. Plus you get free drinks!
Sara Ohlin says
Nathan, Thanks so much for this series; it was wonderful and eye-opening. And in the end it left me with hope as a writer, that YES, there still are people out there buying books no matter the publishing route, and that it's up to us as writers to promote our books.
Kafka had a desk job. Trollope started out by getting up in the morning early enough to write for two hours before going to work for the post office. People will figure it out.
St. Andrew says
I sell greeting cards and, occasionally, the random t-shirt. For years I made more from greeting cards than from my prose writing.
J. T. Shea says
I've just had a great idea! I'll sell the publishing rights to my YA Steampunk Trilogy (WITH SEA MONSTERS!) to a Big Traditional NY Publisher and the movie rights to Hollywood! I bet nobody ever thought of THAT approach! And there's no extra charge for the Sea Monsters!
Just in case people don't get the message, I'll leave some spare exclamation points here!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Matthew MacNish says
In the future, I plan on making money from writing awesome books that get turned into multi-million dollar Hollywood blockbusters. I'm just sayin'.
Matthew MacNish says
Also: why can't I get a 3X hoodie?
Very Nice. I am talking about this at my upcoming class. I think that trying to put food in our bellies is going to require unification and synergy. It will require what we actually utilize as our number one resource….our imagination.
Gotta agree with Michelle and others. There always has been and always will be demand for stories (from ancient bards to 3DTV). Gifted storytellers will fill that demand and get paid for it, with not-so-gifted ones filling in on the top and sides.
As for mugs… I think you pretty much have to establish an overwhelming demand for such things before you start syndicating.
The system can shuffle around endlessly as far as I'm concerned, with agents/self-pubs/big companies/online-only combinations. If I can write stories people want to hear and buy, then it's easier now than ever before to present them with my product.
Edward Gordon says
I'm not sure how that will translate to fiction – maybe cities could pay for books set there. Apparently United helped in production of The Terminal.
We don't need coporate sponsorship; we don't need advertising pages in the pages of our novels; we don't need anything but a good story–same as ever.
All these money-making ideas are just more ways for the agents and publishers to remain relevant.
This is the artists revolution, babe. Our time has come. All we need is our brain, an editor and a cover artist. All we need are the artists–and our computer.
We should be rejoicing instead of trying to figure out how to sell t-shirts.
The Pen and Ink Blog says
Yeah it's quite possible that a book needs to be as popular as Twilight to see a mug.
I just made a bumper sticker for sale. "Happiness is an inside job."
You can put anything on the web and TRY to sell it. (my son once sold his brother's soul on EBay.)
I can't wait to see how Lupe does with the Kindle Book we will be tracking. Thanks for the articles
Haha I like your T-Shirt. My husband made me two 'writerly' T-shirts for Christmas (well, he paid for someone else to make them). One said "Watch out or you'll end up in my novel" and the other said "My characters don't sparkle" (born out of my frustration for everyone asking me if I was writing something like Twilight when I said I wrote YA fantasy). Perhaps diversification would be they key to making more moola in the T-shirt/Mug industry?
I agree with Edward Gordon, we should be rejoicing! Yay!
The real money is totally in the books. And with higher royalty rates, writers should finally be able to see some return on their time.
Everything else is just icing on the cake.
In terms of the mug/t-shirt, I'd buy something, Nathan, but I actually LIKE rhetorical questions. I'm sorry. :S
In general, I think merchandising is a sporadic and organic type of thing, not something for steady income. Personally, I might just develop some products, put up a link and see how it goes.
But the blog and writing, that's where it's really at.
And a paypal button, which is patronage, I think.
Lastly, I really appreciate this series very much, Nathan. Thank you.
Money is a somewhat taboo topic in our culture, and it's especially taboo for writers, with the whole romantic starving artist image. Well, phooey on the starving artist image! We deserve to be compensated for our talent, skill, energy and efforts, and posts like these are so helpful at chipping away at the stigma and encouraging people to decide they are worth it.
We are worth it! Thank you!
Marilyn Peake says
I concentrate on the writing, just trying to write the best books I can. Hopefully, they’ll make money someday. I had lots of things made with pictures of my book covers: T-shirts, coffee cups, baseball-style caps, Christmas ornaments. I mostly gave them away as prizes in contests in which people could also win free books, and I also contributed copies of my books as prizes. The purpose of the contests was to get a buzz going about the authors’ books. Books have to reach the popularity of HARRY POTTER before people want to buy the extra merchandise. I also had my website URL engraved on pencils and I gave those out in classrooms when I spoke about my children’s books. Many authors offer T-shirts and coffee cups on CafePress, and there’s a lot of similar merchandise available for customers to choose from. Seriously, if people have to choose between T-shirts with my book cover on them and the awesome, often hilarious T-shirts at ThinkGeek, I’m pretty sure they won’t be buying mine. In fact, come to think of it, I buy a lot more T-shirts at ThinkGeek. Although I did buy Christmas ornaments that featured my book covers, and every year I feel happy when I hang them on our tree.
Blue Farrow says
Good on you, Edward.
And Mira – "Phooey on the romantic starving artist" should be on a T-shirt!!
Look at the writers who are making their name in this so-called brave new world, and what have they got? Hard work. They're great writers and they're prolific. They deliver up stories people love, and they keep them coming – the starving artist in the attic tends to be the one with the unfinished masterpiece still filed in that spherical folder that sits on top of their shoulders.
Paul Dillon says
1000 true fans. Is that all you need? Here's an interesting article, the topic of which has been discussed a few times at a Media and Entertainment networking group in LA that I belong to.
"In 2004 author Lawrence Watt-Evans used this model to publish his newest novel. He asked his True Fans to collectively pay $100 per month. When he got $100 he posted the next chapter of the novel. The entire book was published online for his True Fans, and then later in paper for all his fans. He is now writing a second novel this way. He gets by on an estimated 200 True Fans because he also publishes in the traditional manner — with advances from a publisher supported by thousands of Lesser Fans. Other authors who use fans to directly support their work are Diane Duane, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, and Don Sakers. Game designer Greg Stolze employed a similar True Fan model to launch two pre-financed games. Fifty of his True Fans contributed seed money for his development costs."
Gregory K. says
I imagine authors will still make most of their money the "traditional" ways… but more and more, I think authors will be able to find ancillary markets based on, well, I guess based on their "brand" or platform or reputation (or all the above). A platform leads to opportunities, whether it's selling self pubbed books between (or instead of) traditionally published books or selling shirts or finding ways to partner with your fans in win-win situations outside of the norm.
There's certainly nothing wrong with the "find a job and write on the side" method, either, but I think writers should be able to make a living doing what they're talented at. All the ideas that Nathan and others have point allow for that. Writing's a career choice, too, and finding ways to make it work seems like a good idea to me.
Sliding a little sideways, I wanted to tell you Nathan about a conversation I had yesterday.
I was talking to a friend who is an avid reader. She mentioned that she'd purchased some books on her e-reader.
"But I've ordered the real thing too," she said. "The ebooks are just short term, until the real ones arrive."
"What – don't the e-books feel real?"
"Not at all. If I'm not holding it in my hands, I don't really own it. I just own some electronic file that could get deleted."
And you know what? For all the enthusiasm you see on the internet – amongst avid readers who are computer literate – the -'it's just a file,' is exactly the sentiment amongst the rest of the population.
It's going to take a lot longer before parents and grandparents stop walking into bookstores and buying 'real' books for gifts. In fact, for all the talking about the demise of the book, can you really imagine a future when the book you give a child,a friend, an aunt, a parent, for Christmas is a downloaded file?
I think solid books will be around a lot longer than most people think.
Kristin Laughtin says
I think the most important method, but one which might only benefit those who sell really well, will still be to write a good story. I imagine, though, that ancillary streams will become more important, even if their main purpose is to drive people toward the book or other books from that publisher. I won't be surprised if ads show up in ebooks, the way they were in many of the books I read growing up; I only hope they won't be right in the middle of the text. I just hope the ebook/print model stabilizes so consumers are charged fair prices that somehow allow good writers to make decent livings.
Lady Jane says
I finally looked at your products and now I kinda really want one of your mugs. Thanks for giving me another reason to get a job. 🙂
Christina Tinglof says
First, let me say that I've thoroughly enjoyed this past week's posts. Very interesting and helpful. But…about that mug thing. I'm chairing a yard sale fundraiser at my kids' high school, and what's the number one donation we keep receiving? Yup. Mugs. We have hundreds of them! Please no more!!!
Sorry, that mug costs more than I paid for my complete servive for four from the Dollar Store. Seriously, though, I do love the mug! Quandry – new book? or Nathan's mug? Hmmm
I can't wait for the day that authors book stadiums for reading and release parties. We'll be cooler than rock stars and at $25 (or equivalent in about 50 years) a ticket we'll be rich in no time.
Jacqueline Windh says
A big thing is for authors – even budding, unpublished authors – to not give your work away. Or at least not without a lot of thought as to why you would give away your work for free (I might do it if it is a charity I support, including some literary magazines).
But once we (or some of us) set a precedent for our work not having value, it is hard to charge for it.
The other thing is for authors to get business-smart and look at their contracts. Think and negotiate beore you sign. The real economics between an author with pubisher receiving 10% of a paper book purchase pric is sad but unavoidable. But the publishers' "generous" offer of 25% for ebooks (so they have gone from getting 50% to 75%, all for doing less: no printing, no shipping, no warehousing!) is shameful, and authors who sign this type of contract bring us all down. Publishers claims that that is the industry ebook "standard" – the ebook thing barey existed a year or two ago, there is no standard, yet authors accept it and sign.
I am a writer. I have educated myself about te business of writing, too. I do make allall from writing, and I am pleased with that. (And I sure ain't branching out to mugs or T-shirts).
Jacqueline Windh says
Oh gee, sorry for all the typos in that last post. How embarrassing.
I hope it's okay if I make one more comment.
It occured to me that there something in indie publishing that's new.
The new situation will bring writers face-to-face with their writing ability, and whether their talent and skill level is of the type to reach other people.
I hope that people remember – or believe – that there is great benefit to writing even if we don't have the type of writing that will sell and make big bucks.
And I say this as an unpublished writer who hasn't written much of anything, and may never sell a dime, so this very much relates to me.
But I belive that writing, although a very valid way to make a living, is alot more than just a way to make money. It is creativity. And being creative is an act that cleanses, deepens, enhances and develops the artist, whether or not they ever make a penny off of it.
Writing is about much, much more than money. Although, making a living off of it is wonderful, too.
That's what I believe, anyway.
Okay, last comment. Thanks for letting me be so chatty this week, Nathan.
Hard work on my writing skills. That's the ticket.
Authors make money? Why did nobody tell me this when I started my career?