We imagine a successful author's life to be idyllic: write a book, or several, sell millions of copies, sit back and relax on a secluded island, living off of your book royalties.
The reality couldn't be more different.
A typical book author barely makes more than minimum wage. You receive an advance and 10% royalties on net profit from each book. If your book retails at $25 per copy, you would need to sell at least 4,000 copies to break even on a $5,000 advance. Mack Collier, author of Think Like a Rock Star, estimates that he earned $15.63/hour for writing his book, working 25 hours per week over a period of 9 months.
I'm not saying you can't make money from writing books. The likes of John Grisham, Stephen King, and JK Rowling prove you can. Even if your royalty were only $1 per book, if you sold 1 million books, then you'd become a millionaire.
But few of us can sell as many books as James Patterson or Danielle Steele. "The average U.S. nonfiction book is now selling less than 250 copies per year and less than 3,000 copies over its lifetime," says publisher Steve Piersanti, "And very few titles are big sellers."
Does this mean you should give up your dream of being a successful author? Of course not, because you can make a living writing books--even if you don't sell a single copy.
The Other Way to Make Money with Books
You'll make money as an author, not from the sales of your book, but from the relationships you create with your books.
Even Grisham, King, and Rowling make more money from TV and film adaptations of their books than the actual sales of their books. Producers pay them a lot of money for the opportunity to capitalize on the relationships they've forged with their readers, and to give their fans a deeper experience with the stories they've come to know and love.
This holds the key to how "lesser" authors like you and me can make money with books, too: Use your book to create relationships with readers. Let your book be your ambassador so others get to know, like, and trust you. Your book will open doors and grease the wheels.
A good example is my book, Engagement from Scratch!. It's available to buy on Amazon, both as an ebook and as a printed book. However, I also give it away on my website in exchange for people's emails.
You may think it's foolish of me to give the book away, especially since I've received royalties over $10,000 from Amazon by now (I'm able to pocket a higher percentage of sales because I self-published the book).
But that's only the tip of the iceberg. People who downloaded the free book became aware of my consulting services and training programs and eventually brought in revenues of over a quarter of a million dollars.
Imagine if I had been so short-sighted as to choose book sales over building relationships with those people!
Make Your Dream A Reality
Before you worry about how to write a nonfiction book that will fund your retirement, sit down and create a long-range vision for how you'll deepen relationships with your readers.
Think through your win scenarios. What can you do to make this worth your while? How is it going to work for you and your business, in a way that isn't just about selling the individual book?
Be creative when thinking of ways to take the relationship forward. Some writers, including fiction writers, for instance, give away the first book of a series. Others offer their readers in-person experiences or ancillary products to their books, and these offerings end up bringing in more significant revenues than book sales alone could ever deliver.
So if you're dreaming of making a living from writing books, realize that you absolutely can do it. Just maybe not in the way you expected.