How to make your book pay...without selling a copy

One of the most constant questions I hear from my ghostwriting clients is "How many books do I have to sell to cover my costs?" For most of them, this is the wrong question. 

Why? Because many of the people who spend time and money creating a nonfiction book—ghostwritten or otherwise—are professionals who are writing a book to give themselves the "brand halo" of expertise. In our culture, despite our migration to all things digital, having a book with your name on it still confers the mantle of authority, knowledge and expert status. 

If you're a consultant, financial advisor, speaker, coach, trainer, healthcare provider, attorney, entrepreneur or anyone who can make a living based on your brains and your reputation, your book's primary value has NOTHING to do with its ability to sell copies at $25 per. It has everything to do with making others perceive what you do, say and write as more valuable than if you didn't have a book. 

Does this mean you shouldn't care about selling copies of your book? Heavens no! It's great if you can move 5,000 copies of a ghostwritten book and cover your writing and maybe even your printing costs. It's even better if you can get a publishing deal and land a $50,000 advance that puts you in the black (or at least gives you the cash to hire a good publicist). But if you're in a position to benefit from the "expertise halo" of a book, concern over selling individual copies shouldn't stop you from getting a book of your own. I've had professional speaker clients who've self-published books and told me that within six months, their speaking fees had doubled...solely because they had a book to point to. 

So, what are some of the ways you can see a financial return on your book without stressing out over single-copy sales? Glad you asked:

  • Sell copies in bulk. Single copy sales, frankly, are for suckers. If you have strong relationships with corporations, universities, nonprofits or churches, talk to them about buying copies of your book in bulk. You'll need to offer them a discount, of course, but look at it this way: if you self-publish and sell your book for $20, and give a 40% discount to an organization that buys 500 copies or more, you only need to make two 500-copy sales to gross $12,000. Not bad. 
  • Increased fees. Big bulk sales are comparatively rare, but getting higher fees due to the prestige of having a book is not. This is where a book can really pay off: boosting your hourly or flat rate into the stratosphere. I've had consultant clients who were able to double their hourly rate within a year of publishing their books, more than covering the entire cost of ghostwriting and self-publishing. 
  • More and better business. The other huge ROI in having a book comes from attracting a higher caliber of customer or client. If you want to stop taking every low-ball client that comes along, write a book. It's a gateway to the premium clients who can afford your higher fees. You'll get more leads of higher quality than before you had a book, and you might even turn the leads you don't want into revenue by referring those prospects to colleagues in return for a referral fee. This really becomes true when you use your book to get...
  • Media appearances. Having a book makes you an expert in other people's eyes. Now, we know that plenty of people who have books are actually blithering morons; a few hours of watching CNN or Fox proves that. But the point is, they're getting major media time because they have a book with their name on it. You can do the same, and the attention makes you a super-expert. Not only do you have a book, but you've been on the local NPR affiliate talking about it! Please, take my money!
  • Speaking fees. Plenty of service professionals speak for free, largely because they're afraid to ask to be paid. That won't happen when you have a book. In the world of speaking, the most common question asked of prospective speakers is, "Do you have a book?" If you do, your chances of being paid to speak go up dramatically. If you're already being paid, you can increase your fees. Even speaking engagements where fees aren't on the table become revenue streams because you can sell copies of your book to tour audience (that's known as "back of the room" sales). 
  • New services. Finally, your book can open the door to provide services that you couldn't realistically offer before. For example, I've worked with several healthcare professionals who were fed up with running clinical practices and wanted to do things like consulting with corporate clients on developing employee wellness programs. The gateway to breaking into that market? A book. 

Let's say that it costs you $60,000 for ghostwriting, design, editing, proofreading, printing and shipping of your self-published book. If your ROI was based solely on copies sold, you'd have to move thousands and thousands of copies just to break even. But if your focus is on increasing your value and using that increase to boost your income through higher fees, new services and better clients, then you might recoup your costs in six months! Then, everything else is profit.

Of course, making all this happen means having your goals in mind and using your book properly as a marketing and business development tool: blogging and speaking about book content, leveraging LinkedIn and other social networks, developing new services, developing a PR plan to leverage your status as an author, and so on. It's not easy. But having a terrific book makes it a lot easier.