Why Authors Don’t Have to Be Broke: A $10,000,000 Case Study
By Brendon Burchard
“Writing and money-making.”
To many, that phrase seems akin to “oil and water.” After all, writers are supposed to be broke, forced to choose between what Neil Gaiman calls “making things up and writing them down” versus “getting a real job.”
But what if I told you I made $10,000,000 in 12 months as a writer and educator?
And what if there was an entire industry of people making millions of dollars from their writing and wisdom?
Well, it’s true, and for revealing these things, I’ll likely be drawing a big target on my back. Publishers, writers and content creators are suspicious of money-talk and money-making endeavors (except when you use the word “startup” around them, and mostly because people in startups dress way cooler than we lonely writers).
Alas, I’m going to talk about a topic which many people quickly judge: making money, a lot of it, and much of it online.
Worse, I’m going to frame this conversation in the arts—writing, specifically—and in the field of education. Making money, arts, education. Presented together, these things may feel strange to you now, but by the end of this post, you’ll find that in the modern economy, they are no longer odd bedfellows.
The creating, organizing, and sharing of valued content—the very things writers do best—is what drives today’s economy.
Yet writers are seen as separate from the economy and business at large. Why? The answer, I believe, is that writers have traditionally been myopic about their knowledge and content, and thus pigeonholed into being broke.
I’m here to suggest that writers can, and ought to be, millionaires. If wealth is measured by how much value one adds to society, then why shouldn’t writers be wealthy?
Before we get to the money, allow me to be a hand-wringing writer. (There are no other kinds). I worry about what people think when I start teaching all this money stuff, since I’m known more as the motivation “make a difference” guy than the “get rich” guy.
As a general introduction: I don’t really care all that much about money because I never had it growing up. My family really struggled financially; though truth be told, my parents were so abundant with their love that I thought the world positively glowed.
I can recall caring significantly about money only twice in my life.
There was the time when my first entrepreneurial endeavor—launching a new book—landed me in bankruptcy. I was so broke from following all the traditional “writing advice” out there that I had to move into my girlfriend’s apartment. The place was so small I used our bed as a desk for all my notes and bills and research. One night, I watched my lady crawl under the covers, trying not to disturb me or all the paperwork I had laid out on the bed. Seeing her sleeping under the weight of my own bills, my problems, motivated me to focus on making real money for the first time in my life.
The second night I ever cared about money happened a few years later, after I had “made it.” (I did the very things I’ll share in this post). That night involved another bed. In that bed, my dad was dying of leukemia, and he was lying there in hospice worrying about what would happen financially for my mother after he passed. I remember walking into the other room and writing a very large check, made out to my mother, and bringing it back to Dad. The relief on his face…his knowing that everything would be okay for mom for as long as she lived…made me, for the first time in my life, appreciate wealth. That night, I knew that money mattered not just for what it gives us but for what it can give others, and I was thankful I had learned to make it.
I’ve loved writing and sharing good content with people all of my life. The money part came later when I realized how to monetize all that good content that helped people.
I share all this to qualify all the money-talk I’m about to go into. I just wanted you to know me. I’ve fought for my art and wrote when I was making nothing, and I still would today, if I had to. The only thing I’ve really done with my money is give it to my family or charity, build a good business to share my message more broadly, and take a bunch of fun trips around the world with friends.
A Million-Dollar Story
My first book effort, launched as a self-published book way back in 2001, didn’t go so well financially.
By 2011, though, I had learned all the different ways to monetize what I know without getting a job. I learned that knowledge was just content and that content is very profitable and powerful in the marketplace. And I learned that content could change lives. So, I decided to write a book on that topic and put it to the test in the mass market.
Everyone asked: Why write a book in this economy?—“there’s no money in books anymore and publishing is dying,” they said. Huh.
Well, here’s what happened:
- I wrote and launched The Millionaire Messenger in just five weeks. On the sixth week, the book hit #1 on the New York Times, #1 on Amazon, #1 on BarnesandNoble.com, and #1 on the USA Today paperback bestseller lists.
- This was all done without a “major” publisher (I used a mid-tier publisher I love, called Morgan James), or any major media or publicity whatsoever. In fact, I had never been interviewed about the book, ever.
- Within 60 days of publication, I had around $1,000,000 in “backend” sales from content related to that book.
- Within 90 days, I did another $4,000,000 in sales or so.
- Around 120 days later, I signed a $2,000,000 book deal with Simon & Schuster’s Free Press.
I would do another few million in content sales in the next six or seven months, clearing $10,000,000 by one year of publication. The best part is, I was just helping people with what I had learned.
There are many reasons this sounds crazy and so many people would discount these results.
Some might say, “Well, you were teaching about wealth with all that ‘millionaire’ stuff, so of course you made money.”
Some would also say perhaps it was all lucky timing—a helluva good title during a downtrodden economy.
These would be good reasons except for the fact that:
(a) I’ve also made over a million dollars in genres unrelated to wealth or business (both in fiction and personal improvement), and
(b) while I am no doubt grateful and blessed by all this, I’ve been told that raw luck rarely strikes twice at the multi-million-dollar level (especially for non-famous and rather plain individuals like myself).
Here are the stats from this last go-round:
- On May 15th of this year, I launched my new book, “THE CHARGE: Activating the 10 Human Drives that Make You Feel Alive.” It’s the best thing I’ve ever written, despite the fact I was struggling through a brain injury when I wrote it.
- By midnight of May 16th, I had just under $2,000,000 in backend sales on content related to the book from the launch and other promotions.
- By May 27th, the book was a #1 Wall Street Journal bestseller and a #2 New York Times bestseller.
- The best part of all this is that my promotions simply involve putting content that really adds value and helps people out there.
Better yet, I’m helping people whether or not they ever bought my book. The promotions for the books, which I’ll tell you about in the steps below, add just as much value as the book itself. In fact, hundreds of thousands of people didn’t buy my book, but were inspired by related content I released for free. Around ten thousand people who didn’t buy the book did buy some kind of content from me along the way. This is one reason that my approach really resonates with writers; because I’m still giving away plenty of free content, but I’m building a business by monetizing some of it too. (Oh, those startup kids with the cool kicks would be proud).
Here’s the four steps to make it all happen.
1. THINK LIKE APPLE — Build an Integrated Product Suite
How did Apple ascend to the #1 company in the world?
We all give rightful credit to Steve Jobs and team, of course. As a business strategist, though, I can’t call individuals “the strategy” that made it happen. The strategy, which can be replicated, was in the creation of what I’ve coined as an ”integrated product suite.” (Somehow I’ve become well-known for this phrase—a writer’s dream).
The iPod didn’t make Apple #1. Nor did the iMac, iPhone, or iPad individually. What created the most successful brand and business in the world was the fact that all these products were similar in some way, they were tied together by a single platform (iTunes), and they added such distinct value to the end user that the user wanted all of them.
Simply, Apple has a series of great products that are connected by theme and platform, that escalate in price, and that serve a similar customer ambition. I call this an “integrated product suite” and it’s the strategy I’ve used as a writer to make it.
As a writer, I’ve no more focused on just the book than Apple has focused on just the iPod. I created an integrated product suite, and I believe all writers should follow suit if they hope to fully monetize their content and knowledge.
In the content world, you have over a dozen ways to add new value and make money with what you know. You can create books, ebooks, audio programs, DVD programs, live webinars, recorded webinars, live webcasts, online video courses, teleseminar series, live events/experiences, mastermind programs, coaching programs, consulting services, certification programs, keynote speeches, gift items, online blogs, online magazines, and mobile apps.
Consider the following options to understand where the monetization of content can take place:
You write a business book and sell it for $20. That’s your entire business. You sell 15,000 books in one year and you’ve grossed $200,000.
Same deal as Option A, but you create more products and programs that are distinct in value and escalate in price, all the while helping your fans and readers gain deeper levels of insight or mastery.
- You also create a 6-disc audio training program on how to start a business, and you charge $197. You sell 100 of those per month, equaling $19,700 gross per month ($236,400 per year).
- You also create a more advanced business training program, say a $997 online video course on how to optimize and generate more revenue. You enroll 30 people a month in that program and you’ve grossed another $29,910 per month ($348,920 per year).
- You also take people even deeper with a yearly $1,997 live seminar training event. You get 100 people in a seminar room and that’s another $199,700 per year.
Together with Option A’s results of $200,000, you’ve now grossed over a million bucks in this example. ($1,085,020 to be exact).
This integrated product suite approach is what resulted in all the numbers I shared with you earlier.
When I sold my books, for example, I’d also offer special reports, audio programs, online courses, and live event tickets at some point in my communication with my customer. I just happened to sell a whole lot more than the numbers I illustrated above for you.
(Disclaimer: This is all illustrative, and you’re not guaranteed to earn any money by reading this post or trying anything I recommend. Guarantees of income are illegal and stupid—especially because I don’t know you, and if I did, I’d likely guess wrong anyway, based on my past experience hiring an incapable contractor simply because I liked her accent. As Dr. Phil and all the lawyers so rightly remind us, you alone are responsible for your results in life).
If this kind of product escalation sounds crazy, consider that you’ve probably willingly done it already. You bought the iPod at around $200 bucks, then the iPhone at $500, then the MacBook at $2,000. All these things add up and suddenly, Apple is #1 in the world. This makes sense in the business world.
Somehow, in the writing world, though, people often get very ruffled by all this. Writers worry about creating all this extra content to sell. I personally find this amusing, since after all, creating content is the writer’s muse.
If I’m asking writers to do anything unique, it’s in elevating their content to a more valued and actionable category—training.
In this way, I’m asking writers to be more thoughtful educators, what I call “entrepreneurial experts.” Writers are smart and they should get paid for their intelligence. The easiest way for that to happen is in arranging their content together in such a way that it helps others advance in their lives or business.
I guide writers to ask themselves, “What do I know and what advice do I have based on my life’s story or career that could help others shorten their learning curve in their life, business, or any activities that are important to them?”
That’s the million-dollar question.
If you don’t know something that can help people—and I’d bet you most certainly do—then your job is to go out and research a topic until you can.
Of course, some fiction writers hate this idea and say it doesn’t apply to them; that it’s more amenable to nonfiction writers. This is true in some ways, but from a business and content-creation standpoint, that’s just being myopic and unimaginative.
When I wrote Life’s Golden Ticket—a parable about second chances—I had to get inventive about the backend of the book. I ultimately created a live experience based on some of the themes of the book—and I held the event in an amusement park circus tent.
J.K. Rowling has turned her writing into other monetizable content as well, from movies to gifts to, yes, an amusement park at Disney. (By the way, who wouldn’t pay $997 all day long to hear J.K Rowling teach an online course on plot development?).
This isn’t just the musings of a lucky millionaire. An entire industry has existed for decades doing this and in many cases, even better than I do.
When you see Wayne Dyer or Suze Orman on PBS teaching from the stage and offering their DVDs for sell to benefit public television, that’s the expert industry at work. When you see David Bach on the Today Show talking about personal finance and referencing his website, there it is again. Tony Robbins and all his events and coaching programs? Same deal.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to be famous like these people. (Spoiler: these people became famous because of their books, products, and programs).
Any topic you can possibly imagine has been written about and monetized with backend programs, just as I’ve shared. I know home organizers killing it telling people how to organize homes; quilters turned writers and educators teaching people how to quilt; piano players turned experts teaching others to play the piano; writers turned experts teaching others to create; strippers turned experts teaching women to…well, you get the idea.
Cynics often dislike integrated product suites, suggesting that price escalating is absurd or hurtful to consumers and especially students. Well, then I suppose we should do away with getting MBAs or doctorates, as those are certainly higher-priced training programs too, right?
I agree with cynics on one count, though, and it’s that a lot of content in the how-to space isn’t all that good, and that some students in the industry don’t apply what they’ve been taught.
But again a parallel rebuttal is needed:
Most college programs are terribly outdated too, and according to the New York Times, only 50% of college graduates land a job related to their degree. Most college graduates I know are not using their degrees at all, and don’t plan to.
But does this make education any less worthwhile? I would argue no. Who are we to judge how people choose to learn and what is right for them to act on? I’ve learned a lot of things in life that I don’t act on or utilize on a daily or consistent basis - that doesn’t diminish the value of what I have learned nor the teacher.
All I can do is insist that anyone following my advice here does it with excellence and integrity, focusing on giving great advice and creating great content that serves people. I hope you will too.
Another concern I often hear is how “hard” it must be to create products. That was true decades ago when we didn’t have all this great tech to facilitate easy content creation and commerce. Today, it’s easy. I’ve taught tens of thousands of students enrolled in Experts Academy how to do this stuff. Here’s some simple things I’ve done:
Here’s a step-by-step on how I’ve created two highly-profitable products.
Product Creation Example #1: The $197 Audio Course
- Purchased Rode Podcaster USB Microphone. ($229 on Amazon).
- Plugged it into my Macbook. Opened Garageband, which comes free on Mac. Pressed red record button.
- Walked around living room in my boxers, talking extemporaneously into microphone following a simple outline for what I wanted to teach. I recorded six 1-hr sessions in one weekend. (Each CD of a 6-disc audio program holds about 60 minutes of audio). I exported the audio into MP3 format and emailed them to an audio editor I got on eLance for $50.
- I emailed final MP3s to Disk.com (a product manufacturer and fulfillment house). They emailed me a design template for a 6-disc audio program.
- I got a designer from eLance to create a design from that template (cost $200). They emailed the design back to Disk.com. Product=done.
- I created a video and website to sell the program. I shot the video with a simple HD camera and posted the video on a site built in under two hours using Kajabi.com (they have a bunch of templates and checkout pages for about $99/month; Optimize Press is another easy option for WordPress users and about $97 total). I used Paypal to accept money. Done.
Product Creation Example #2: The $1997 5-Week Online Course
- I bought an HD video camera. (Today I like to use fancier DSLRs like Cannon’s 7D, but at the beginning it was—gasp—a Flip video camera).
- I bought a flipchart.
- I stood in front of said video camera and next to said flipchart, and I taught stuff. I broke the content up into five lessons or modules, with basically 1-3 hours of teaching for each module.
- I posted all the videos in a membership site. (I used Kajabi’s membership site software). I also hosted a live Q&A call each week where I took questions on a conference call with all the students.
That’s pretty much it. (I’ll get to marketing later.)
If there’s any magic to what I do, it’s that I do my homework and I know what I’m talking about. I do research, I get results, I interview others, and I report it all in an organized and creative way. Content gathering. Organizing. Creative expression. Isn’t that what writers do?
I offer a 100% money-back satisfaction guarantee, and you should too.
I hope you can see that the benefits of creating integrated product suites for your fans and readers outweigh any concerns any critic or I could ever come come up with.
The more helpful content you give to your audience, the more their life is enriched. Why simply tease them with random or overly broad ideas in a blog or book and never give them the more detailed how-to information they’d need to truly advance?
People want continuing education and training. They want mastery. Every writer knows this. Their fans want more and they ask for it all the time. I say, give it to them and build a business with an integrated product suite while doing so. Apple did it and they’re not exactly having to force their products down people’s throats.
2. CREATE A VALUE-TO-SALE MARKETING SEQUENCE
What prevents most writers from earning income isn’t the quality of their content, it’s their aversion to what they think is marketing.
I emphasize “think” because most writers are operating from an out-dated understanding of what actually constitutes marketing in the modern era.
Today, marketing is essentially creating and sharing valuable content, something writers excel at.
Here’s what marketing an integrated product suite can look like:
- You create three pieces of phenomenal content people will absolutely love. These can be written articles, webinars, special reports, videos, or a mixture of all three. I personally recommend these content pieces be video training as video resonates better (and is shared more often). The video can either be direct-to-camera (you talking to the camera and teaching), or screen-capture presentation based (you can use software like Screenflow to record your voice narrating your Powerpoint or Keynote slides and kick the recording out as a movie file). Writing a series of blog posts is fine too.
- You drive people to a page where they have to register with their name and email to receive the three pieces of phenomenal content. This is usually called an “optin” or squeeze page. Once someone enters their information, they are taken to a page where they get the first piece of content/training. There’s no sale, just awesome content. Over the next few days you send them the remaining two pieces of content, which they absolutely love because that’s what they registered for. For tech, you can use pretty much any email provider (I like iContact) or shopping cart software to make this happen via autoresponders (Office Autopilot, 1shoppingcart, and Infusionsoft are all good options).
- A few days after they receive all three pieces of content they registered for, you send them an email directing them to a sales page with marketing copy or a sales video that essentially says, “Hey, if you liked that free content I just gave you, I’ve got this other program that goes even deeper. Here’s what it is, here’s how it will help you, here’s why it’s different, here’s why it’s a great value, here’s why you should buy it now.”
This process is what I call a “value-to-sale sequence,” or value sequence in short. (A guy named Jeff Walker created what he calls the Product Launch Formula, which basically pioneered this process online).
This sequencing works because you added a lot of value to people through the three free content pieces, then you offered something for sale. In other words, you gave before you asked. That’s the new world of business: it’s not ask and you shall receive, it’s give and you shall receive.
This strategy is basically how I launched my two New York Times bestselling books as well all my popular online training programs. It’s how I do almost all of my marketing, and it’s led to millions of dollars in sales.
(This is where I practice what I teach and now say, “Gee, if you liked this post and want to learn more, attend Experts Academy!).
3. AIM THE INFLUENCERS.
Once you have a value sequence online, the next step is to get as many people to see it as possible.
The best way to make that happen is to have people who already have large audiences drive their people to your site, either because (a) they flat-out like you, (b) they want you to guest-post or collaborate on something, (c) they get paid to, or (d) a combination of a-c.
The most effective strategy I’ve found for driving a ton of traffic and moving a ton of books is affiliate marketing. Basically, you aim a bunch of friends and influencers to promote your value sequence on a predetermined date, called “launch day.” Each affiliate is given a unique affiliate link so that you can track their traffic. (For the tech on affiliate tracking, you can use almost any decent shopping cart system these days including Office Autopilot, 1shoppingcart, or Infusionsoft. Note: I am not compensated in any way to recommend these providers nor any of the products in this post).
Why would affiliates mail their subscribers for you?
First, because they know your content rocks and their people will be interested in it. Second, because if their people opt-in to your value sequence and end up buying anything, then you’re going to give them 50% of the sale as affiliate/referral compensation. Yep, you pay them for the referral.
Affiliate marketing is my favorite traffic strategy because it’s win-win-win: you get a new audience referred by someone they trust, the audience gets great content from you, and the affiliate looks good to their people for sending them to cool stuff and also gets compensated for any referral sales.
Other strategies for getting traffic to your sites include SEO, paid search, guest posts, major media appearances, traditional ad buys, and co-promotions with major sponsors. Personally, I’d take affiliate marketing strategies over anything else and it’s been the secret weapon in all my launches. [See my book The Millionaire Messenger for the emails I send to my promotional partners].
4. KEEP CREATING - YOU ARE A CREATOR
Writers and entrepreneurial experts get paid only when people are seeing and buying their content. For this reason, it’s important to be prolific and stay out front by creating, posting, and promoting good content that people enjoy. That should go without saying, but you’d be surprised how many people tip their toe in the content world and then walk away.
Like any career, the more you learn and experiment, and try and fail and stick to it, the more you end up succeeding.
Along the way, some fast tips:
- Create content that engages and inspires you personally, or don’t create it.
- Focus on writing content that connects with people’s hearts and also moves the needle for people in their ability to succeed. The rest is noise.
- Great writers broaden people’s perspectives by offering their own personal journey coupled with solid research. So live an awesome life and be a disciplined student.
- Never let your small business make you small-minded. Just because you’re starting out at something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have grand ambitions to share your voice with the world. My first efforts were small, but I kept at it and it paid off.
- Stop to listen to constructive criticism, but walk briskly past the jaded, cynical, and rude.
- Care. The more you do, the more you feel alive and the more your audience believes in you, buys from you, follows you, and shares your work.
- Read. A lot more. Remember, people are paying for perspective.
Here’s what I believe:
Your life story, your knowledge, and your message—what you know from experience and want to share with the world—have greater importance and market value than you probably ever dreamed.
Use your knowledge and content to help others succeed, and in the process you can build a very lucrative business and a profoundly meaningful life. That was my message with The Millionaire Messenger, and that’s the secret to becoming a wealthy writer too.
Write. Help people. Make money. Share your message with the world.
PS. Thanks for all the nice comments and emails. I guess I knew it was coming, but wow, since sharing this article, I’ve been hammered with requests from people wanting help. Sorry, but I’m just one guy, so my only way of helping people is through my books and events. My book The Millionaire Messenger is very affordable and easy to start with. If you need more in-depth training, please attend Experts Academy.
Follow me on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/brendonburchardfan
© 2012-Current Brendon Burchard. All rights reserved.
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