A year ago I launched my book Buy Buttons out into the world.
It was my most ambitious book project to-date, and I put a lot of effort into the creation and marketing of it.
The launch did well. The book became an Amazon bestseller on its first day and earned around $2600 in profit in its first month.
But several people have asked how it’s done since then, and while I had a vague idea that it was still selling daily, I figured the 1-year anniversary would be a good excuse to dive into the numbers to see in concrete terms how profitable it’s been in its first year.
The 9 Revenue Streams of a Book
This post will attempt to take a holistic look at the potential income streams from self-publishing, because there’s a lot more ways to ring the cash register than just selling ebooks on Amazon.
In fact, I’ve come up with 9 different ways Buy Buttons has made money over the last 12 months. Some are easy to quantify and others a little more indirect and hard to pin down an exact number for.
Ready to dive in?
1. Digital Sales
This is the biggest chunk of the direct revenue pie for me, amounting to $10,368 so far.
One thing Amazon isn’t amazing at is reporting, though in fairness they have gotten better. Still, they give you a chart like this and it’s on you to translate what the foreign currencies are actually worth:
You can see a big spike of sales during the launch and then a long slow ride down over the next year:
That type of decline is normal and nothing I’m overly concerned about. It’s exciting to have created an asset that still makes sales every day.
Today, 12 months after the launch, the book holds a sales rank of around 23,000 (after peaking near the top 100 at launch).
For most of the year, the book has been priced at $3.99 and earns a 70% royalty. The spike in July was a $0.99 “re-launch” I did to coincide with Amazon’s Prime Day promotion.
2. Kindle “Page Reads”
Buy Buttons remains enrolled in Amazon’s exclusivity program called KDP Select, which makes the book eligible for Kindle Unlimited members to read it for free.
Under this program, Amazon pays authors based on the number of pages they read of your book.
This amounted to $1730 worth of additional royalties.
There’s always the debate of whether you could earn more through expanded distribution channels, or whether borrowers would turn into buyers if the option was available, but I haven’t tested it personally with this title.
3. Paperback Sales
I run my paperback sales through CreateSpace, a print on demand service owned by Amazon. I have the paperback edition priced at $14.99 and earn a little over $5 for every sale.
Over the last 12 months, I’ve sold almost 1000 physical copies of the book, which have brought in $4664.
4. Audiobook Sales
The audiobook was one of my mis-steps during the launch, in that it wasn’t recorded and ready. In fact, it wasn’t available for sale until nearly 2 months after the September launch date — turns out recording and editing an audiobook to Audible’s standards is a bit of a challenge!
But lesson learned.
Because I narrated the book myself and opted for Audible/Amazon-exclusive distribution, I earn a 40% royalty on audiobook sales. Those royalties have amounted to $2373 so far.
This was done through ACX.com.
The other cool thing about the audiobook is ACX’s bounty program. If your book is someone’s first Audible purchase, you earn $50. So far I’ve earned $750 in these bounty payments!
I previewed some sections of the audiobook in this episode of the podcast if you want to check it out.
Related: An Audible membership made my list of the top gifts for entrepreneurs.
5. Rights Sales
Perhaps the most surprising revenue source from the book was when a publishing company from Taiwan reached out about purchasing the Chinese language rights for the book.
After a little bit of homework to determine if they were legit or not, and some negotiation on the terms, we signed a deal that netted me a $1200 advance and a share of future sales.
I have no idea if that was a good deal or not, but I was pretty excited by it and it was definitely the first “advance” I’ve ever received.
6. Affiliate Revenue
Whenever I link to Buy Buttons or mention it on a podcast, I use the URL BuyButtonsBook.com.
That link redirects through my Amazon Associates affiliate link, and while the commission on a $3.99 book isn’t too exciting, I also earn a commission on anything else that person buys on Amazon that visit.
Where I screwed up was in not creating a dedicated tracking ID, so I can’t say for sure exactly how much affiliate commissions where generated by the BuyButtonsBook.com links.
Based on the launch spike and subsequent sales, I’m estimating this to be around $900.
I’m using Geni.us as my Amazon link localizer.
7. “Internal” Sales (Affiliates/Products)
While Buy Buttons doesn’t promote any “big ticket” course or upsell, there are monetization options inside the book itself, namely in the form of referral links for the various platforms mentioned.
For example, if readers sign up for the receipt-sharing service Ibotta, they’ll earn a $10 bonus and I’ll earn $5 for referring them.
But since I’m using the same affiliate/referral links outside the book as well, it’s hard to say how much came directly from the book. This one I won’t even venture a guess on, but can only assume it’s greater than zero.
8. Email List Growth
Because there are “content upgrades” inside the book, it’s generated hundreds of new email subscribers. 568 at press time to be exact.
Here’s what it looks like:
Now I’m not one of those people who can tell you exactly what each new email subscriber is worth, but I can tell you this: as my email list has grown, my business has grown right alongside it.
9. Sales of Other Books
This is another one that’s hard to track, but it stands to reason that if someone liked the book they’d check out the other books you have available.
In a sense, self-publishing is a portfolio business. The more you write, the more you can sell — of your entire back catalog.
10. Teaching Others
OK, this one is definitely a little too meta to include in any total, but after my Work Smarter book launch in 2014, there was a lot of interest in how I’d done it, so I created a Udemy course called Kindle Launch Plan.
The course has earned passive instructor royalties every month since its launch, including $3600 in the last 12 months.
The Grand Total
So what’s it all add up to?
How about $21,984, not including related referral earnings, email list growth, or sales of other books in the portfolio (or sales of the Udemy course).
But that’s not the whole story, since there were some expenses incurred along the way too…
In my launch case study post, I itemized out $1200 in expenses, which covered the cover design, editing, the “vanity domain name,” an ISBN number, and some marketing items.
Since then, my biggest expense has been AMS ads. These are a gamechanger for authors since they allow you not to rely on your own traffic sources or even your own Amazon-SEO skillz, but give you the chance to siphon traffic directly from Amazon itself — for a price.
What Amazon has done quietly over the last year is add a second carousel of products to book pages, called “Sponsored products related to this item”. That means you can select the exact authors and titles you’d like to advertise you book against.
For example, here’s Buy Buttons on Pat Flynn’s Will it Fly? page:
It’s a really powerful platform for authors!
I started with AMS (Amazon Marketing Services) ads late last year, and have since spent $2900 on them.
For a great (and free) resource on learning AMS ads, check out Dave Chesson’s AMS Course.
Self-Publishing as a Profitable Project?
So over the course of the first year of this asset’s life, it generated roughly $22,000 in income against $4100 in expenses for an approximate profit of $17,900.
In fact writing this post has got me thinking about what my next book should be about! Any suggestions?