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Are You a Self-Published Author or an Authorpreneur?

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

There are two types of self-publishers. Find out which one you are.

There are two types of self-publishers. Find out which one you are.

One self-publisher on YouTube claims he makes just shy of $87K USD through Kindle Direct Publishing in one year. Wow, that’s impressive. But he also reported spending $39K USD on Amazon Marketing Services (AMS) ads on Amazon, book development, and promotions. Again, wow. But still, that’s $49K in gross income before overhead costs and taxes. He’s achieved that in only one year. More wow. But with only a year to report, it’s hard to tell if this will be a sustainable venture for the long term or if this is just luck.

A popular and successful self-published author was featured in a Forbes article in 2015 for his royalty income of $450,000 from Amazon. The author shared that he spent up to $370 per day on Facebook ads. Per day. Again, doing the math, that’s just north of $135,000 in Facebook advertising costs if the ads ran every day of the year (ad frequency not reported). At that time, the author shared that he made double his ad spend in return on his investment. But that was 2015. Since then, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media advertising has become even more competitive. So I don’t know if this spend would achieve those results today.

Jealous? Don’t be. These are examples of authorpreneurs. And they’re not like other self-published authors

Author Versus Authorpreneur

Authors who self-publish do so in the hopes of making some sales. But as my Thorne Self Publishing Survey research from both 2016 and 2018 shows, 73 percent of them make less than $1,000 per year in book sales and royalty income. For many, the motivations to self-publish are rooted in their love of writing, a desire to express themselves creatively or to fulfill a lifelong dream. Those were the top three answers for motivations in the 2018 survey. Making money was the 4th most popular answer. The money is just one of multiple desired rewards from their efforts.

Authorpreneurs, in contrast, are really entrepreneurs—thus the term authorpreneur—who just happen to be authors or publishers.

Some authorpreneurs may not really care about being authors. They just want to make money. This was especially the case for the YouTube self-publisher I discussed in the opening. While I gathered he did do some writing and book development, he emphasized how he hires ghostwriters. So when he says he “self publishes,” he means he’s actually an independent (or “indie”) publisher. He’s “self” published in that it appears he solely runs that operation.

Authorpreneurs may not even care about publishing either. Today it’s self-publishing. Tomorrow it might be reselling items on eBay or Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA) or buying into a fast food franchise. They’re likely just as willing to walk away from publishing if success doesn’t materialize or continue.

As evidenced by their investment in advertising, they’re willing to spend a great deal of money with absolutely no guarantee of success. While they may deal with a high level of risk and investment, the successful ones make decisions based on research.

Being an authorpreneur is not better than being an author, or vice versa. You just need to understand and be committed to the path you’re on.

Being an authorpreneur is not better than being an author, or vice versa. You just need to understand and be committed to the path you’re on.

— Heidi Thorne

Authors Invest in Book Production; Authorpreneurs Invest in Advertising

“I spent a lot of money on self-publishing my book. Doesn’t that make me an authorpreneur?” No. While you may have spent a great deal of money on creating your book, your motivation in selling your book is likely to cover what you spent on expenses such as editing, formatting, book cover design, etc., and make a few bucks beyond that. I’ve found that self-published authors invest heavily in book production. But spending on book production doesn’t create sales. Advertising and marketing do. Authors may spend a bit on advertising at book launch, but then drop it immediately afterward because it strains their already exhausted book project budget.

In contrast, authorpreneurs often talk about easier, cheaper, and faster ways to develop book products. Their greater investment—sometimes a very great investment—is in continuous advertising to create cash flow, not just a recouping of costs.

Authors Build Fans; Authorpreneurs Build Sales

Authors who don’t have money use the cheapest marketing they can afford, which is building and maintaining their author platform, their tribe of fans and followers on social media. This can be actually a good long-term strategy. But it doesn’t scale easily or quickly, which is why you don’t often see authorpreneurs using or recommending it. Here’s proof.

I dug a little deeper into the YouTube self-publisher. His company has almost nothing on its author page on Amazon and no links to a blog or social media. He does have an Instagram account that mainly shows his Instagram lifestyle (or lifestyle aspirations), with thousands of followers but little conversational engagement. On YouTube, he lists his website for his self-publishing success program. He’s a seller through and through. Nothing wrong with that. Again, he’s an entrepreneur who chose an authorpreneur path.

However, the second author I discussed is really an author, as well as an authorpreneur. He posts quite frequently on social media, but there appears to be limited engagement, such as replies to comments. Being both an author and authorpreneur would explain why. He’s too busy to be super active on social.

The Advertising Gamble

A different authorpreneur I ran across on YouTube touted how he made $10K per month selling audiobooks on Audible. (Why do these people seem to always focus on $10K per month? Weird.) Since I have several audiobooks on Audible, I was curious about what this guy’s story was.

As I listened to his pitch, he clearly stated that if you have student loans or other debt, or have no money, his program wasn’t for you. Why? Because you were going to have to spend on—surprise, surprise—advertising in addition to his coaching.

Are you seeing a theme developing? You should. It’s nothing new. It takes ad money to make sales money. And you’ll have to pay money upfront and continuously for advertising and customer acquisition if you want to be an authorpreneur.

I spent most of my career in the advertising and publishing fields. So I think that both authors and authorpreneurs should consider advertising because it can work, as long as it’s aligned with your goals and budget limitations.

Can You Afford to Wait for Royalty Payments?

When you publish on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) or ACX (for Audible audiobooks), your royalties are typically paid to you about 60 days after the sale occurs, less refunds and any fees. If you advertise your books on Amazon Marketing Services (AMS), Facebook, or social media, you will be paying for that each month or when you run a campaign. My AMS ad fees are charged once a month. My Facebook advertising is charged as soon as an ad campaign runs.

So there is going to be a period of at least 60 days before the first royalty payments from any sales generated by your advertising will be paid to you. You’ll have to pay for that advertising before those payments are received. Using the authorpreneur examples, they were willing to pay up to several thousand in advertising every month before even the first dime in royalties dropped into their bank accounts. And what if those sales don’t materialize? You would lose all of that money. Are you okay with that? Authors probably won’t be. Authorpreneurs know it’s part of the gamble.

How volatile can sales get? In one video, the YouTube self-publisher reported he made $25K gross royalty revenue one month, the next he made $11K. That’s a drop of more than 50 percent in royalty revenue from one month to the next. What a roller coaster! True, you can expect some volatility in revenue throughout a year. But your advertising costs are going to be predictable every month. Amazon and Facebook won’t care whether it’s a good or bad month for you in terms of sales or cash flow. You’re paying for the ads you’ve run on their sites no matter what.

Sadly, authorpreneurs can slip into becoming gamblers when it comes to advertising. That big wave of sales is going to come in the next month, right? Or the next month. Or maybe the month after that. And before they realize it, they’ve emptied their savings spending on advertising for sales that never came through. To avoid getting into a hole of debt and lost money, constant monitoring, weekly at minimum, of ad costs and sales is critical.

Why Authorpreneurs Can't Stop Advertising on Amazon

Authorpreneurs also need to advertise constantly because it’s next to impossible to create mailing lists from Amazon sales. Amazon doesn’t share the contact information of who bought your book, though they do offer reports on how successful your Amazon ads are at creating sales. The inability to solicit email addresses from Amazon buyers to create followup marketing means that authorpreneurs must constantly advertise to generate sales.

Why Small Ad Spending Doesn't Create Big Sales

Bigger advertising spends can mean bigger sales returns. This is because higher ad spending means higher ad frequency and visibility.

Authors who want to feel like they’re doing some marketing with a low dollar ad spend might actually be wasting their money. While you can run an ad for as little as $5 a day on social media or pennies per click on Amazon, you probably won’t see much action. There are bigger advertisers—like these authorpreneur examples—who snap up the available ad inventory. Your ad will run, but just not as prominently and frequently. So your little ad investment will produce little in sales.

Are You an Author or an Authorpreneur?

You might be an author if…

  • You want to write and publish what you want to write, regardless of whether it is what the market wants.
  • You just want to self-publish the books you’ve written yourself.
  • You have no funds or stomach for spending thousands of dollars on advertising on top of your book production costs.

You might be an authorpreneur if…

  • You don’t care if you write the book you publish or not. In fact, someone else could write it better than you, and you’d be thrilled.
  • You have access to thousands of dollars to spend on advertising, and you’re willing to spend it without a guarantee of a return.
  • You’re financially and emotionally able to weather the entrepreneurial roller coaster of feast and famine.
  • You love the sales and marketing game, including SEO and keyword research.
  • You’d be willing to walk away from being an author if something better came along.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2020 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on December 11, 2020:

Good for you, MG! Glad you found the article encouraging. All the best with your self publishing efforts and Happy Holidays!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on December 11, 2020:

Hi Peggy! Isn't it astounding? I would be sick spending that much on a gamble like that. I've leaned toward the entrepreneur side for a fair amount of my career. But this is just nuts. :)

Glad you found the article. I've been seeing some of your lovely recipe articles. But by the time I get to read them, they've already flipped into "no commenting" mode. Don't know if you noticed, but HP said in their weekly email that they're working on bringing by the commenting in 2021. So it'll be easier for all of us to stay connected.

Thank you so much for your support and thoughtful comments throughout the year! Stay safe and have a beautiful holiday season!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on December 11, 2020:

Brenda, at least you're comfortable with who you are as a writer! I can't afford those dollar outlays either. If, as an individual, I'm spending as much as the price of a new car, or a down payment on a house, I want to get something for it! :)

I wouldn't think of yourself as a little person though. I would suggest thinking of yourself as a person who understands your priorities.

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts! Happy Holidays!

MG Singh emge from Singapore on December 09, 2020:

Very interesting article. I have self published 8 books. Your article is a great encouragement.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on December 09, 2020:

I tried to find your article in the feed to comment on yesterday without luck. Thankfully, it cropped up today. Your article was most interesting! The amount of money that some people spend to promote their books is mindboggling! As you wrote, it is almost like gambling.

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on December 09, 2020:

This has alot of true information. I guess I am not an authorpreneur. 

I can't afford that kind of money nor would I want to toss my writing aside if it didn't work.

I love to write. I guess I will stay a little person and that's fine by me.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on December 09, 2020:

Bill, I don't know what or where I am a lot of the time either. But I think I know who I am, especially in this area. I'm an author, but I do watch my numbers like an authorpreneur. So I'm totally mixed up.

Glad to make you look smarter. :-D Have a wonderful day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on December 09, 2020:

Mary, I agree that for some of us (*raising hand*) it's a bit difficult to figure out which side of this equation we're on. While mostly I'm an author, I watch my numbers all the time. Let's just say that we're more business savvy authors. :)

And, yes, those claims to fame and fortune through self publishing are wild aren't they? I just hope regular authors don't get sucked into these schemes and lose money.

Thanks for adding your experience to the conversation, as always! Have a wonderful day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on December 09, 2020:

Chitrangada, you got that right! Being an authorpreneur is a completely different skill set from just being an author. Thanks so much for reading and commenting, as always. Have a wonderful day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on December 09, 2020:

Flourish, I don't know why they don't play the stock market either. Or maybe lottery tickets.

I agree that these folks probably have a need for an adrenaline rush. I like calling them "self publishing day traders." That's exactly what it is! It's so volatile.

Thanks for adding that humorous, but kind of sad, angle to the conversation! Have a wonderful day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on December 09, 2020:

Linda, I agree, some crazy numbers! Just keeping it real. Thanks for stopping by and have a wonderful day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on December 09, 2020:

Deborah, glad you've figured out your path. Thanks so much for reading and commenting! Happy Holidays!

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on December 08, 2020:

This distinction is so important to me. I have to look at my own self and determine what or who I really am. This explains the many claims I see online.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on December 08, 2020:

Hell, Heidi, most days I don't know what the hell I am, but at least I know who I am, so that's a start, right? :) I completely agree with your information, but then I find it makes me look smarter if I agree with you, so I always try to do that. :) Happy Tuesday my friend!

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on December 08, 2020:

Excellent article, and makes so many facts clear about self publishing, authors and authorpreneurs. It's one thing to write, for the joy of writing, as a form of self expression, and completely different to promote and sell your work.

Being an authorpreneur, needs skill of another kind, and money too.

Thank you for sharing this valuable and insightful article.

FlourishAnyway from USA on December 07, 2020:

As I was reading about authorpreneurs I wondered why they just don’t play the stock market instead. Seems like they really like the adrenaline and can tolerate the risk plus they have access to money for ad spend. Seems like they are day traders of the self-publishing world, no offense intended.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on December 07, 2020:

There are some amazing numbers in this article, especially in the first paragraph! Thank you for describing the reality of the situation, Heidi.

Deborah Demander from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD on December 07, 2020:

Loved this article. I am definitely an author. It’s not about the money for me, but the love of writing and sharing a message.

Thanks for an informative and well written article