It’s finally time: you’re writing that book that’s been calling your name.
You know it’s going to change the trajectory of your career, but you might be wondering how you’re going to juggle the book writing process and making money while writing a book.
That’s where having an online course that you can sell comes in.
But creating and launching an online course takes time, too, which could be spent on writing your book.
This is the typical chicken or the egg situation: which comes first, and how can you make it all work together?
Keep reading to find out how 10 successful authors and business owners make money writing books, and the best advice to get and stay profitable throughout your book publishing project!
Why Online Courses are an Important Part of an Author’s Business
I remember catching up with author Chris Guillebeau at a conference and asking him how business was going.
His response: “Oh, I don’t have a business, but things are good!”
Clearly, Chris Guillebeau sees himself first and foremost as an author. But I’d argue that Chris has a business, even if he doesn’t see things that way.
He has offered several online courses and paid membership offerings over the years, which complement his book sales income.
So that brings me to reason #1 that authors need to consider adding an online business component to their writing and publishing endeavors.
1. Books don’t make money, in and of themselves.
Okay, so this is a gross generalization. There are plenty of best-selling books that have made their authors plenty of money.
But for most first-time authors, the book itself only brings in a small advance and a few dividends.
The real money in book publishing can come over time, as you continue to release new books and sell more of them to a loyal audience. Or your book might spin off another opportunity or get picked up by an influencer like Oprah.
Most authors don’t have unlimited funds to keep them in coffee and chocolate while they’re writing their next book.
So that’s where having an online course or paid digital membership program can really change the game.
2. Online courses and membership programs provide back-end profits.
The beauty of publishing a book is that it positions you as the expert, and it’s also a low barrier to entry… someone can typically buy your book for $20 or less.
If they like what you shared in your book, then they’re more likely to trust you and want to go deeper with your work.
By having a “next step” for people to take after they finish your book, you’re helping people engage deeper with you.
You’re also opening up another recurring revenue stream, and when it comes to online courses or membership sites, you can often price these much higher than a book.
People expect to pay more for an online course, and because you’re not working with a publisher you’re able to set the price for your courses.
You also don’t need to sell as many seats in a digital course to make more profits, because you’re keeping all of the income instead of splitting it with publishers and distributors.
Essentially, developing an online course to sell off the back of your book means that all of your book promotion efforts can lead to direct revenues in your business.
3. There are always going to be people who want to go deeper.
Finally, one of the biggest reasons to launch a course or digital offering is that people who read your book are likely to become super fans… Why leave them hanging?
Sure, they might be willing to wait for you to publish your next book in a few years… but why not have something available for them to dive into when they’re the most excited about the topic?
If you consider the 80/20 rule, there will always be 20% of readers who are willing to invest more and go deeper.
For example, if you look at 1000 book buyers, about 200 of them might sign up for an online course you offer.
Within that 200, another 40 people might be willing to hire you for high-end consulting or coaching.
Having different tiers or levels that readers can engage with you helps you protect your writing time, and also opens up more sources of revenue other than book sales.
That leads to a common question that I hear from authors and content creators… should your book be the exact same topic as your course, or should they be different?
How Different Should Your Book and Course Be?
Believe it or not, your book and your online course can cover the exact same topic.
The biggest difference between your book and your course will be the type of experience people have as they go through the material.
For example, a reader might buy the book and get inspired. But it’s not until they invest in the online course that they see how each lesson is broken down into action steps that they implement the ideas.
The reader might have already learned the same ideas in the book first, but they’ll use the structure of the course to guide them in new ways of acting on these ideas.
A course might also have a different level of access to you as the author.
Maybe you offer group coaching sessions where people can ask you questions, or you allow members to connect to each other and form a community.
Each of these elements is worth more than the price of a book, and can help you justify the higher price on what feels to you like the same information.
Remember: people don’t buy online courses because they want more information.
Rather, they’re looking for an organized and simple system that can help them achieve their goals. By breaking down a whole book into bite-sized lessons or automated follow-up, it helps students apply the ideas in more practical ways.
Still, you might also have a portion of your audience that learns best through books – and that’s fine too. The goal isn’t to get every reader to buy your courses, but it’s to give those that want the option a place to go.
Now that brings us to another common conundrum for authors… what’s the best order to launch things in?
The Case For Launching Your Online Course Before Your Book
Let’s dive into the reasons you might want to launch an online course even before you publish your book, possibly even years in advance of your book.
1. An online course can help you fund the book writing process.
Whether you’re working with a publisher that is willing to extend a solid advance or not, when you’ve got an online course that you can sell… you’ve got more flexibility.
You’re not depending on advance money, and that gives you some leeway around timelines.
We all know that books take many years of work, and it helps to have an income during that time.
2. Online courses can fund your marketing efforts for the book, helping you create better results like getting on bestsellers’ lists.
If your goal is to make a big splash with your book and land on bestsellers’ lists, then you’ll want to have a marketing budget to pull from.
Having cash to hire out your PR, run Facebook ads, or do an in-person book tour can make a big difference in the success of your book.
Most publishers do the bare minimum to help you promote your book, so if you’ve got your own resources you’ll come out ahead.
After putting years of work into your book, you’ll appreciate knowing that your online course can help expand the reach of your book financially.
3. An online course allows you to build community and test the ideas in your book first.
All of the work that you put into building a successful LMS offering can benefit your book and the publishing process.
For example, if you realize that everyone who goes through your online course gets confused or hung up on a certain concept… you can workshop it with live course participants until it’s clear enough to add to your book.
You might also be able to include examples of real people who implemented your ideas and strategies successfully into your book.
That elevates your book from theoretical to real-world tried and tested.
Plus all of the audience building that you’ll do for your online course will lead into more sales for your book because…
4. Course buyers become book buyers.
Once someone falls in love with your work, they’re more likely to purchase all of your products and books.
Your fans will want to support your book, share it with friends, and help you spread the word because of the value they got from your online course.
By building relationships with your ideal readers first, you’ve got a built-in book buying audience.
You can do something special for people who have already taken the course and who buy the book, like offering additional bonuses or goodies.
The Case for Publishing a Book First
Let’s take a look at the flip side: yes, sometimes it makes sense to publish the book first and then release an online course.
1. If you’ve already got the book content, and you want to be first to market with your book title or your topic is very hot right now.
It’s no secret that there are trends in the publishing space, and sometimes you want to release a book quickly to capture the building interest.
In this case you might not have an online course to offer yet, but there are ways to lead from your book to an email list so that you can let people know when your course is ready.
Another option would be to set a date for running a live version of your online course, and pre-sell the course.
So you could hit the shelves with your book quickly, but have a way to start taking payments for a live version of your course a few months down the line.
2. Books have a wider reach, and they’re authoritative.
If you’re writing a book for the first time and need to establish your expertise, you probably feel like having a published book is going to help you in many aspects of your career… if so, then publishing first is a great idea.
This can be especially useful for younger authors who might feel the need to prove themselves and their expertise.
But anyone can benefit from a “published author” feather in their cap.
Another reason you might want to publish a book first is that you’ve got a great distribution channel.
You’re more likely to be booked for press to talk about your book than your online course.
Books show up in search on Amazon, are given as gifts, and can be picked up as favorites by influencers.
3. No matter what, your book naturally leads into your course, and can help recoup your book writing and promotion costs.
It’s never too late to offer an online course after your book comes out.
In an ideal world you’d have a proven online course ready to sell when your book comes out, but if you can build an email list of book buyers by offering bonuses… your course can help recoup your marketing efforts.
You might also find that other opportunities come out of publishing your book: from speaking gigs, consulting contracts, and cross-promotion invitations.
These in turn might help you sell out an online course even faster and more easily than just depending on a few links and invitations inside your book.
Enough Talk, Let’s See How These 10 Authors Built Book + Online Course Empires
Every author’s journey is different,
but it helps to see what worked for other authors and course creators.
Please note that as an Amazon Associate we’ll earn from qualifying sales if you buy a book, at no additional cost to you.
Marie Forleo: Marie self-published her first book “Make Every Man Want You” and sold thousands of copies while bartending and building her coaching business. Her book got picked up by a publisher and came out in 2008, and around the same time, she started working on an unrelated online course that became the foundation of a multi-million dollar business called B-School. Now in 2019 Marie’s second book “Everything is Figureoutable” is hitting the shelves.
Todd Herman: Todd started off with launching his highly successful 90 Day Year program before he put all of his energies behind the “The Alter Ego Effect” book. His efforts in growing his audience and network with online courses helped him have a successful launch and get on the Wall Street bestseller’s list. Now the two feed into each other, as more people discover Todd’s work through his book and public appearances and want to take his online course. (P.S. Todd uses AccessAlly to run his courses!)
Dr. Brene Brown
Dr. Brene Brown: Brene is a #1 New York Times best-selling author who started her career as a researcher in academia on the topics of courage, shame, vulnerability, and empathy. She entered the world of publishing first, but also taught live and gave many presentations before offering online programs. Over the years she has created Dare to Lead training programs, as well as other digital content for paying members. She also has in-person certifications.
Les McKeown: Throughout the years Les started over 40 companies, and published 3 books on business growth leadership before tying it all together with an online course. His Predictable Success model is available in his best-selling book, his online course, and a public or in-house workshop.
Jennifer Louden: Jen has been publishing books since before there was much of an online education space to speak of. Her work has impacted so many women and couples, and she’s now turned her successful publishing career into an online business where she helps other writers through a membership site and higher-end offerings, too. She’s currently working on her next book, too!
Neil Strauss: Neil was definitely on the author track before he ever ventured into the online course space. In fact, I would argue that Neil is really a writer-first, and business person second. He’s published multiple best-sellers and partners with different people to help him run the online program aspects of his business. (Neil also uses AccessAlly to run his courses!)
Denise Duffield-Thomas: Denise started off by self-publishing her first two books, but she also launched her first digital products around the same time. That gave her the ability to earn an income online and help her promote her books… so much that she was able to negotiate a 3-book deal with Hay House publishers. Now Denise masterfully combines her books and her online courses to run a multi-million dollar business.
James Clear: James launched The Habits Academy online course before his book came out, and he was able to help fund his book writing process. He also targets his course to both individuals and organizations, so the message of his book “Atomic Habits” was a great fit for many types of audiences and helped it become an instant New York Times best-seller.
Martha Beck: Martha is a New York Times best-selling author with several books under her belt, and she’s also a powerhouse master coach who has trained a generation of coaches. Martha offers coaching certifications as well as online courses on writing and she blends her talents for writing and leading masterfully. (Martha also uses AccessAlly to run her courses!)
Donald Miller: Donald Miller started off as an author first with his memoir-style books, and as with many of the writers on this list he branched off into other topics and books along the way. From there he launched both a live workshop and online course that goes hand in hand with his book “Building a Storybrand”. This book and course are an example of keeping the same topic between your book and online course.
The Bottom-Line for You As An Author
The biggest take-away I want you to leave with is this: book publishing and online courses go hand in hand.
The more successful your book is, the more online course sales you’ll make.
The more transformation you can deliver in an online course, the better your book will be and the more book sales you’ll make.
It’s a circular system, where your book helps your courses and vise versa.