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Why Free Books Can Outearn Publishing Deals: A New Strategy for Authors

Why Free Books Can Outearn Publishing Deals: A New Strategy for Authors
Photo by Jeroen den Otter / Unsplash

One of the big myths people believe about becoming an author is that the path to success is selling a ton of copies.

When they hold this false belief, they inevitably think of their book as a failure. Because most books don't sell many copies. And there's misleading data that backs this up:

"Just 1% of self-published authors make more than $1,000 per month from their book."

Makes it sound like self-publishing is a losing strategy, right?

Meanwhile, the top traditionally published authors are making millions of dollars through royalties and advances. Wow!

Is it safe to assume a publishing deal will be a better, safer, more lucrative path for you?


The numbers are misleading because they only track one source of revenue:

Copies sold.

And selling copies, in my opinion, is the WORST way to make money from a book.

Why Selling Lots of Copies is The Worst Business Model for Nonfiction Authors

Let's do some basic math here.

With traditional publishers, you get $1-4 per book sold.

With self-publishing, you get $3-10 per book sold.

Now, if the typical self-published book sells less than 1,000 copies...

And a traditionally published book typically sells 5,000 to 10,000 copies...

The conclusion is... WHO CARES!

Either way, you're only making a $10K to $40K in royalties, for the entire lifecycle of your book.

That ain't much. Certainly not enough to live on.

This is why it's so dangerous to view your nonfiction book as "a product I need to sell." You will go broke if you think your path to wealth is by selling tons of copies of your book - a single SKU, by the way!

When it comes to making money through book sales, neither path is great.

So, which is the better option overall? Self-pub or traditional?

The answer: It depends on your circumstances.

When You Should Take A Publishing Deal

If you can land a publishing deal with a 6-7 figure advance, great. Take it. Get paid to make the book, work with their team, and use that credential. It's a good bet.

Most people can't pull this off, though. Most people don't have a huge audience, primed and ready to buy 10,000 copies of their book before it goes live on Amazon.

Still, the idea of being chosen by a Big-5 publisher is enticing. Who doesn't want that kind of validation? These publishers have put out amazing work. They work with the biggest, most important names in the world.

Maybe you could be part of that group!

No, you can't. Sorry.


Unless you're a semi-professional writer who's practiced for a decade by testing and validating hundreds of ideas online, in front of a dedicated audience...

Unless you've written multiple viral posts (1M+ views) on your topic, and you can see a clear path to a 3-10 book series...

Unless you can pre-sell 10,000 copies of your book, get hundreds of PR pieces across legacy channels (TV, radio, print), and tens of thousands of shares and comments across each of your online platforms...

You ain't getting a publishing deal.

Which leaves us with self-publishing, where – if you're smart about it – you can actually outearn traditionally published authors.

The Real Path to Riches With Your Book

I know two of the top selling nonfiction authors in the world. They've both sold over 10 million copies of their books. They are both traditionally published.

Do you want to know how they've made the most money from their books?

(Hint: It's NOT from book sales.)

By getting equity in startups.

Because of their books, they were offered advisory roles and small percentages of fast-growing businesses, in exchange for helping those startups with their marketing.

The founders and CEO's of these companies gave them this equity for a simple reason:

"I liked your book! You seem really great at what you do. Can you help us?"

THAT is how you get rich with a book.

If you're actually trying to use your book to make a decent income (minimum of $100K, ideally $1M+), you absolutely MUST view your book as a marketing tool. One that can lead you to...

  • New clients signed
  • Old clients re-signed
  • Speaking gigs
  • Board seats
  • Advisory roles
  • Investment opportunities
  • Event sales
  • Course sales
  • New paid subscribers
  • New employees
  • Permanently elevated branding
  • Permanently elevated reputation

You don't need a publisher for all that. In fact, it's antithetical to your success.

Your publisher's revenue comes from book sales

Your revenue comes from leads.

That's why you shouldn't worry about selling your book.

You can actually make more money giving away your book for free.

Think about it...

What's a better way to make $100,000?

(A) Sell 20,000 copies of a book.

(B) Enroll 2 clients for $50,000.


Now, how many books would you have to give away to land 2 clients?

My guess: Less than 200.

Your Book is a Marketing Tool, Not a Product You Need to Sell

Your mission as a self-published author is NOT "Go sell a bunch of copies."

Your mission is "Use your book as a marketing tool."

Give it away for free to the people you want to work with. Include a letter. Follow up with them. If they like it, send them 20 more copies for co-workers.

Or you can do a free book funnel instead, like my friend Brad Hart:

A book is the ultimate lead generator. It's one of the few marketing funnels that people respect. If done well, they don't ignore it or trash it. It's a valuable product, so they put it on their shelf, or gift it to a friend. It's marketing that lives on.

Again, you don't need a publisher to do well financially.

You just need a great book that makes people want to work with you.

Final Thought: Free > Selling

I always tell my clients: Your book is a seed.

Maybe it will grow into a mighty oak tree.

Maybe it will become an orchard that bears fruit for others, or continues to pollinate and spread throughout the world.

Or maybe it will be a bonsai tree that only you and a few others get to appreciate.

But that's the fun of it. You make a book, you give it a nudge and put it out into the world, and see what it grows into.

John Chapman didn't earn the nickname "Johnny Appleseed" by selling seeds. He gave them away for free. He handed out just as many apple trees as he sold. Today, he's a legend who planted more than a hundred thousand trees.

Follow Johnny's lead. Give your book away for free, and watch that seed grow.

If you are ready to write your book, I can help. Click here.