Discover how to monetize your book by building an author platform and a loyal and growing following of readers over the long term.
For the entrepreneur writing an expertise-based nonfiction book, there are many ways to monetize it and deliver value for the author and their business. Selling books is typically not at the top of this list as they can earn far more income using their book to grow their core business. The truth is that book sales aren’t likely to be the big money-maker for most entrepreneurs anyway.
There are a few reasons for this:
- Niche focus. Books by entrepreneurs tend to be focused on a niche that’s too small to support the sales volume required to provide significant income from book sales alone.
- First-time author. First-time authors aren’t yet well known enough to attract the attention and partnerships needed to sell lots of books. In fact, this is often why they’re writing their book in the first place – to build their profile.
- Protracted sales. Except for well-known authors with big-budget marketing pushes, book sales tend to happen over time rather than when the book first launches.
An effective strategy to address these challenges is what I call the Serial-Author Strategy. It’s a long game where the focus is on building a portfolio of related books that, over time, snowballs into a collective asset that delivers enough value to support the author’s income goals. When done well, this strategy is one that becomes more and more effective the longer you stick with it.
The best-known professional writers, both fiction and nonfiction, employ this strategy. What we often perceive to be a first-time author who “hits” on their first try is actually someone who’s been toiling behind the scenes for years, honing their craft and building an audience that culminates in what looks like overnight success.
While this strategy can become profitable, it takes time to write and publish multiple books, and to build the reader following and the profile needed to execute this strategy. For this reason, business owners usually start with one of the other monetization strategies, with a plan to build toward the Serial-Author Strategy over time.
In this section, we’ll cover how (and why) this strategy works, the different kinds of book series you might write, and the success factors that will make your strategy work most effectively for you.
The compound effect of the serial-author strategy
Let’s take a look at how this strategy works (and why it works) using an example from real life.
Joanna Penn is a prolific author of fiction and nonfiction books and the host of the Creative Penn Podcast, which is connected to her writer-focused blog of the same name. I first came across Joanna when I was looking for a book about nonfiction writing.
Her book How to Write Non-Fiction: Turn Your Knowledge into Words was exactly what I was looking for. It offered a great base of knowledge, and, when I finished it, I had questions on related topics and wanted to go deeper into others.
Fortunately, both for me and for Joanna, I discovered she’d written a series of books about writing, and I’ve since devoured nine of her titles.
Not only do I consider Joanna to be an authoritative voice on writing and authorship, but I’ve also gladly handed over a good deal of cash for her books.
Why does this strategy work?
Books are different to many other products. When you find a phone you like, you don’t use it and then start looking for other phones from the same manufacturer that you might also enjoy. But when you read a book you enjoy, odds are good that you’ll want to read more books by the same author on related topics. Over time, authors can develop a following of engaged readers who buy their new books as soon as they’re released.
3 ways to approach the serial-author strategy
There are three approaches to executing the Serial-Author Strategy. They can be (and often are) employed together, but I recommend you start with one or it may take longer to see the benefits materialize. The three approaches are: the deep-dive series, the ideal-reader series, and the reader-segment series. Choosing one of these approaches will help to give your book series a consistent thrust, which will be more effective in building an author platform.
The deep-dive series
With a deep-dive series, you start with a foundational book that covers a subject in its entirety. You then pick a topic within your foundational book and write a second book that delves deeper into that topic. Subsequent books follow this same pattern, resulting in a body of work that can become the go-to source on the subject.
Joanna Penn uses this approach (as well as the ideal-reader approach we’ll cover next). Her 2015 book Successful Self-Publishing provides an end-to-end overview of self-publishing, while subsequent books dive more deeply into topics she’s touched on only lightly, such as The Successful Author Mindset (2016), Productivity for Authors (2019), and Audio for Authors (2020).
This is the easiest of the three approaches, and it pairs well with the other two monetization strategies because it keeps your focus contained to the initial methodology laid out in your foundational book. For this reason, it’s usually the best place to start.
The ideal-reader series
An ideal-reader series also starts with a foundational book. But for the second book, you broaden your focus beyond the scope of your first to address a different pain or problem for the same ideal reader.
A logical place to look for this additional focus is where your first book left off. What new problems does your reader face now that their initial problem has been addressed? Subsequent books then follow the same approach, addressing more and more of your ideal reader’s problems.
A great example of this is Armin A. Brott’s series on fatherhood. A father-to-be might pick up a copy of The Expectant Father: The Ultimate Guide for Dads-to-Be and find Brott’s expertise invaluable while navigating the journey through his partner’s pregnancy. If he did, he’s very likely to also get a copy of The New Father: A Dad’s Guide to the First Year. If Brott’s first two books saved the father’s bacon up to this point, there’s a good chance he’ll continue on with Brott through Fathering Your Toddler: A Dad’s Guide to the Second and Third Years, and Fathering Your School-Age Child: A Dad’s Guide to the Wonder Years.
As you might imagine, this approach is incredibly effective at building a fiercely loyal following of readers. The more books you write that hit home and solve real problems for the same reader, the more they’ll see you as their go-to guru. Just don’t start a cult. Please.
The reader-segment series
This final approach is most effective at building a broad base of readers over time. It too starts with your foundational book, laying out your core methodology. But subsequent books then focus on different segments of readers and help each segment apply your methodology to their unique situation.
Michael E. Gerber’s book The E-Myth dispels the myths around entrepreneurship, helping business owners build successful businesses by using a franchising model, even if their goal isn’t to franchise their business. The book is relevant for a wide range of business owners, but Gerber has expanded on the initial book with a large and growing number of titles that target much narrower groups of readers. I counted seventeen niche editions of The E-Myth, including The E-Myth Contractor, The E-Myth Real Estate Agent, The E-Myth Chiropractor, and The E-Myth Veterinarian.
Even though the core content of each of these books is based on the foundational E-Myth book, you can be sure that The E-Myth Veterinarian sells to many more vets than the generic one. And the incremental effort for Gerber to write each of these is minimal compared to writing on a completely different topic.
5 success factors for the serial-author strategy
There are multiple factors that will determine the success (or otherwise) of your Serial-Author Strategy. These include establishing a writing habit, writing your book series, developing your author brand, engaging an audience of readers, and building an effective series funnel. All of these elements work in concert to create a platform for you as an author as you execute this strategy.
If you aren’t already, you need to get comfortable writing regularly. The more you can increase the speed and quality of your output, the more quickly you’ll be able to execute this strategy.
That said, one of the advantages of the Serial-Author Strategy is that writing tends to get quicker over time. After your first book, you know your reader and what they want. You’ve done a lot of thinking across a variety of topics already, and it becomes easier and quicker to dive deeper, expand the thinking, and adapt your content for subsequent titles.
If you’re serious about becoming a serial author, it’s important to block time in your calendar to write regularly. Unlike other entrepreneurs-turned-authors, for the serial author, writing is your core business, and so you have to treat the activity of writing as such.
Your book series
Success for the serial-author picks up steam with each new title published. Many authors start to see sales ramp up after their third or fourth book, depending on the subject matter. For this strategy to work, your series must follow a coherent theme using one of the three approaches described earlier, and your subjects should be evergreen. In other words, the content of your books shouldn’t go stale and lose relevance over time.
If you’re considering this strategy, let your publisher know while you’re working together on your first title so they can consider the potential for a series in the cover design and overall publishing strategy. It’s helpful to have some consistency and an overall design architecture that spans all books in the series, rather than each one looking unique and disjointed.
Example book series covers from Russell Brunson's Underground Playbook series
Your author brand
Just as customers connect with you as a person more than they connect with your business, readers want to connect with you as an author. This is especially the case as they read more and more of your books. Use the Authority Strategy from Chapter 14 to build your author brand. This lays a strong foundation for building a following of readers who feel like they know you, want to engage with you, and are eager to read your next book.
Building an email list is vital so that you have an audience you can nurture and then activate each time you launch a new book. But emailing your list once a year for a launch won’t cut it. You need to engage with people between launches and stay relevant by providing consistent value. Love your readers, and they’ll love you back.
A series funnel
Think of your book series in the same way you think about your product ecosystem. I suggest you plan, in advance, what your series of books is likely to be, realizing that this will probably change. Which book should readers start with? Which should they read next? What do you want them to do at the end of each book?
Design each book, the calls-to-action, pricing, and supporting promotion to encourage this ideal journey. For example, once you have a few titles, you might consider making the first one permanently free to pull readers in. With a series, you can look at marketing ROI across the entire series, rather than myopically for a single title.
Especially with this strategy, there’s no reason not to deploy other monetization strategies alongside this one. Some of the most successful serial authors super-charge their business by converting their loyal, engaged reader base into clients of high-ticket products and services. With each book you publish, your authority grows, making everything else you do more effective.
If you believe writing and publishing a book could benefit your business, and are focused on how it can deliver a return on your investment of time and money, I’d invite you to visit www.entrepreneurtoauthor.com and discover how to bring your book to market the right way.
SCOTT A. MACMILLAN is an entrepreneur, speaker, publisher, and the author of the international best-selling book Entrepreneur to Author. He’s also President & Executive Publisher at Grammar Factory Publishing, a Toronto-based professional service publisher that has helped more than 200 entrepreneurs write and publish books that build authority and grow their businesses.