This millennial made $97,000 last year from two self-published books

In 2017, at the age of 24, Rachel Richards had already worn a number of professional hats. She worked as a financial consultant and then as a financial analyst at a manufacturing company. Then, after getting her license, she started working as a real estate agent. No matter what type of work she did, one thing remained constant: people in her life were constantly seeking help with their finances.

“I started to think, ‘Why don’t they study by themselves? Why don’t they read books, listen to podcasts, or check out websites?'” says Richards, now 30.

Then it dawned on her—most of the financial books she’d encountered were boring and esoteric, bordering on intimidating. And only a few were aimed at young women. “So I was like, ‘How can I make this theme bold, fun and simple?'”

Richards began writing her first book, Money Honey, in January 2017 and self-published it on Amazon in September. In almost every way it was a huge success. The book brought in $600 in its first month. The next month it brought in $1,000. “After that, it’s been making a pretty consistent $1,500 a month,” she says.

By the same year, Richards had begun building a thriving real estate business. The income from her rental properties would soon allow her to retire in 2019 at the age of 27.

Of course, the solid income she earned from posting didn’t hurt. In total, as of the end of July 2022, Richards has sold approximately 25,000 copies each of Money Honey and her second self-published book, Passive Income, Aggressive Retirement, a 2019 publication detailing her early retirement strategies. In 2021, royalties from the two titles earned Richards more than $97,000 in earnings. That’s how she did it.

She published herself online

Like many aspiring authors, Richards dreamed of seeing her name in print through the window of her local bookstore. She also hoped that with a traditional book deal, the publisher would take on the labor-intensive task of promoting the book. As it turned out, that wasn’t the case.

“The more I asked writers about their experiences, the more I learned that publishers expect you to do 99% of the marketing and advertising,” says Richards. “If you’re a writer without a platform, they’re not going to put you on a national book tour.”

When she learned she would have to flog the book herself, Richards was far less inclined to give a large portion of her royalties to a publisher. “When you close a book deal, you earn a 10% to 15% royalty. When you publish on Amazon, you earn a 35% to 70% royalty.” (Royalty structures vary between different formats, such as e-books and paperbacks, and account for costs such as shipping and taxes.)

She also says self-publishing guarantees creative control, even if it comes at a cost. Thinking her book wouldn’t sell and hoping to cut her losses, Richards spent just $561 to hire an editor and cover designer for Money Honey. She says a more “realistic” minimum budget is at least $2,000 and would ideally also include an internal formatter. She spent $3,500 putting together her second book.

Self-publishing on Amazon has also given Richards the opportunity to offer her books in different formats for different types of readers. Today, Money Honey is priced at $9.99 for e-book, $15.99 for paperback, and $17.46 for audiobook.

She started her book strategically

As she read books on self-publishing, Richards realized she needed a launch team – a dedicated group of supporters who would buy and support her book. But in 2017, she didn’t have a large following on social media or an email list of clients.

But she has been involved in several Facebook groups with younger women. “Here were 13 million female millennials. The groups weren’t necessarily financial, but I would go ahead and say, ‘My name is Rachel. I’m a former financial advisor. Here’s what I think,'” she says. After a while, she says, Richards became the go-to resource for financial advice in the groups. “These Facebook groups have really helped me build credibility with these women.”

Richards began pitching the idea that she was working on a book. She asked her groupmates to vote on possible titles and cover designs. “They were emotionally invested,” she says. “They were my informal starting team.”

After the book was published, Richards began interacting 1-on-1 with anyone and everyone she felt might spark interest in the book. “I would personally text people and say, ‘Hey, it’s out. Could you download it?’” she says. “I’ve sent hundreds of emails. I texted every contact in my phone. I was really aggressive.”

Your other big question besides downloads: reviews. “Getting reviews early is just as important as making sales,” Richards. “Amazon will show your book to more organic people if they see you have lots of reviews and activity.”

After the first few days on the market, Richards’ book had 60 reviews.

She has found a niche in the market

Even with a solid launch, Richards doesn’t think her book would have sold sustainably if it hadn’t filled a specific niche in the market. “You have to have a unique value proposition. Why would anyone buy my book when there are thousands out there already?” She says. “For me, there weren’t many books at the time that made finance fun – that had humor and that were cheeky and sarcastic. There were many books by old white men.”

Richards also made sure her book was available to different types of readers and at attractive prices. This initially meant a five-day introductory phase during which the book could be downloaded digitally free of charge. “It’s worth giving up some profits to get the book into the hands of more people,” says Richards. “Then go to $0.99, $1.99 and so on.”

Richards has played around with pricing over the years to see how it affects profitability, but has always kept an eye on its competitors. “I always wanted to be a little cheaper. If [a competitor’s book] $6.99, intuitively I want to be $5.99.”

After some recent price changes, Richards now earns its largest royalty – $6.68 – from sales of e-book versions of Money Honey. She makes $6.39 for paperbacks and $4.31 per audiobook. (The profits from the sale of her second book are similar.)

Pricing aside, Richards credits the continued success of her books to the service they provide to readers. “I published and told myself that if I could help one person, I would be happy,” she says. “And then, about six months after the release, I got emails from strangers and random people from all over the country.”

The readers had paid off their student loans. They had paid off their credit card debt. People told Richards the book changed their lives. Richards had only spent $75 to promote her book, and here it did more than she ever set out to do.

“I figured it had to be word of mouth,” she says. “And if it helps people like that, I must have written something good.”

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