The Life Coaches Guide To Writing A Profitable Book

Potentially one of the best ways to make additional passive income for any Life Coach is to write a book.

After all, with self publishing the bar to entry hasn’t so much been lowered, as kicked over and trampled to death in the ensuing stampede.

In this post, I’m going to take a look at the merits of being published as opposed to self publishing, and some of the things you need to be aware of.

I’m also going to share with you something I have never done before, and that is how much money I earned going down the respective routes.

It’s a very long post, but it’s information I wish I’d had ten years ago.

In case you can’t be bothered to read it I have done a nice little bullet point summary at the end, but I’d encourage you not to just jump to that as you will miss the rationale behind the points I make.

Two of the nine books I have written were published with the other seven being self published.

The first back in 2007 was ‘Don’t Ask Stupid Questions’ and was only available in the US.

Then in 2011  ‘How To Be Rich and Happy’ which I co-authored, was published in countries as diverse as China, Netherlands, Taiwan, France and Germany.

What Does Being A Published Author Mean?

If you sell the rights to your book, or even if a publishing house picks them up without paying you an advance (more on advances later), then you can call yourself a published author.

Technically speaking, if you pay money to be published (and yes, there are plenty of books, especially compilations, where the authors have paid to be included. Usually, it’s to be associated with one named author on the cover so that the person can claim to be a co-author with a literary star in their industry) or you publish yourself, then you are not a published author.

Being published adds a certain level of kudos and credibility because your book usually has to be approved by two or more independent people before a publishing company will order a print run. They are professionals and their jobs rely on them signing titles that will sell.

It doesn’t guarantee a book will be good, any more than being a certified coach means somebody will be a top notch coach, but it significantly increases the odds.

Unless you have a self published book that goes viral, and very few do, you are far more likely to get unsolicited invitations to give paid workshops or speak to groups if you are published.

Also potential clients are more likely to have confidence in you if they know have had a book published that looks at some area of self development.

life coaching booksHow Do Advances Work?

On top of that, there is the advance.

I earned about $30,000 in advances for ‘How To Be Rich and Happy’ which is very nice, but, I earned a big fat zero for ‘Don’t Ask Stupid Questions’. I was prepared to forgo any advance just to get published.

An advance is great, but you have to understand how it works.

Essentially the publisher is giving you an amount of money upfront for the copyright of the book based on what they think the minimum sales will yield.

As such, if the book never recovers the amount of money they advance you, then that is where your earnings start and finish.

Having said that, the advance isn’t a loan and you don’t have to return it if the book fails, you just don’t earn any more money until the publisher recovers their investment through sales.

At this point it’s really important to understand the difference between an advance that is recovered net, and one that is recovered gross.

We turned down the offer for ‘How To Be Rich and Happy’ from a very large UK publisher.

The advance was low (about $3,500 split between myself, my co-author and our agent – agents usually take 15%) and we knew that we had no way of stopping the book being sold back into the US where we retained the rights.

We refused to sell the rights to ‘How To Be Rich and Happy’ into the USA because we wanted to self publish and use all the profits to print books to give away free to good causes. 

By the time we closed the business we had given close to $400,000 worth of books away. Cool eh?

Not only was the advance low, but the publisher wanted all rights to any new technology that may be developed in the future.

There was a massive kerfuffle in 2009 when Amazon released the second version of the Kindle that had a text-to-speech synthesizer built in.

This meant that anybody who bought an ebook effectively got an audiobook thrown in for free. Not unreasonably, authors were up in arms because they weren’t being paid for the audio version and it all got very legal.

If I knew what the next wave of technology was going to deliver I’d be a multi-millionaire waiting to happen. Sadly my imagination and grasp on what is happening in cutting edge technology is slimmer than a snake who’s been on the Whole30 diet.

An Offer To Write A Book

A couple of years ago the same publisher who we’d turned down for ‘’How To Be Rich and Happy’’ contacted me to see if I’d be willing to write a book on Life Coaching.

They had previously published such a book and it had sold 25,000 copies. It was old and outdated and the author was indisposed (dead) and wanted to write a brand new book.

They offered me an advance in the region of $8,000 and I was pumped.

I agreed in principle and asked them to send me the contract. That was when I lost interest.

The advance was to be recouped gross and not net.

If a publisher is paying you net and supposing that figure is 10% of each sale (that’s quite common) and the book relates for $20, then every book sale lowers the money you owe back for the advance by $2.00.

They said that the first book sold 25,000 copies, so that would mean that would equate to $500,00 and I’d earn  $50,000 before the advance of $8,000 was subtracted.

But hang on a moment, they said gross and that is entirely different because gross is the amount after all their expenses have been deducted.

There was a very real possibility that I’d be earning 5 cents or lower per copy sold as I’d have no way of knowing what their expenses are or would have been moving forward.

Contracts where a commission is based on gross sales rarely make much money. At least not for the author.

You may be thinking, ‘Well hang on a minute Tim, $8k in and of itself is worth the deal, plus you get published’

Writing A Book Is A Grind

Well I was already published so that didn’t offer any value, but you have to realize how long a book will take to write and the work involved. It’s an incredibly laborious and time consuming process.

They offered me a 9-month deadline and that is tight to write a book from scratch to – at least one that requires considerable research and is written by a two-fingered typist with clients to see.

They were (as is common) working to a word count which was 90,000 – 100,000 words. That’s about 80 blog posts for me and a blog post usually takes me from 3 to 5 hours.

Even on the low end that is 240 hours (and it really would have been considerably more as there would have been a lot more rewriting than with a blog post).

That equates to a tad over $30 per hour and when you take into account editing, rewriting and time spent communicating I can say without any doubt that I would have barely been paid $20 per hour.

You can work under extreme pressure (and yes, working to a book deadline is high pressure) for $20 per hour and give away your best material if you like, but I didn’t want to.

Needless to say I declined even though a part of me wanted to do it just so I could say I was published back home in the UK.

It was worth us selling the rights to ‘How To Be Rich and Happy’ into different non-English speaking countries because the book was written and it was free money.

All there was to do was for our agent to pitch it to various publishing houses at who looked favorably on self development material.

There is a key word in there, and it’s ‘agent’.

You’re Going To Need An Agent (Probably)

It is close to impossible to get a manuscript read by a publishing company that doesn’t come via an agent (or somebody within the company) because they get inundated.

Agents work closely with publishers and as such their reputation relies on them not pitching the ramblings of a half-wit.

In other words, the agent will not take you on if they don’t think you can deliver a book of real value.

Because you only need about $50 to have a manuscript turned into either an ebook or a physical book, then publishers are no longer impressed with that.

They want to know that the missive also impressed the agent before they will invest any time reading it.

You can waste your time sending manuscripts to every publisher in your niche if you like, but it’s highly doubtful any will get read.

You need an ‘in’ either via an agent or knowing somebody on the inside who will beat your drum.

I have had people quote two books at me as examples of where a book has exploded out of nowhere and become a best seller virally.

The two books are,’The Happiness Project’ by Gretchen Rubin and ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Both authors had massive influence before they wrote a word, and both had a contract in place before they even started.

They weren’t writing a manuscript hoping to find a publisher, they already had the money in the bank

Gilbert was an accomplished journalist and winner of numerous literary prizes prior to her pitching her idea.

And it was that gravitas and credibility that allowed her access to the kind of people able to sign off on advances the size she eventually received.

You Can Do A Lot With A $200k Advance

She financed her trek from Italy to India and Indonesia after she was given a huge $200k advance. 

rich and happy tim brownsonIt would be lovely to think she just set off and had this amazing trip that she decided to turn into a book after the event, but it was way more contrived than that. It was a business decision.

Rubin lives in Manhattan’s exclusive Upper East Side with James her super wealthy husband and son of Bill Clinton’s Treasury Secretary, Robert Rubin.

That kind of wealth and influence opens doors and she too was effectively playing with house money.

Forget stories like these because even though they’re cool, they are not the norm.

I don’t mean to be a dream-crusher, but equally, I don’t want you heading off on a fool’s errand.

Unless You’re A Star, Your Publishing Company Probably Won’t Help

You would think that if a publishing company paid you $18,000 for the rights to your book in Germany as they did for ‘How To Be Rich and Happy’ that they would then bust their ass to promote and sell it, right?

That’s definitely what I thought, but the truth was a distant cousin.

Unless you are a best-selling author then you will get little help from the publisher with promotion.

For the most part, they are rolling the dice knowing that most books will end up as pulp.

They will throw it into the stores but unless you can go on book signing tours, organize interviews and drum up publicity by any means possible, it’s probably going to bomb.

Neither myself nor John wanted to tour Europe or Asia trying to promote a book in a language we weren’t even familiar with.

If a published book takes off then you can be set for life.

Books like ‘Awaken The Giant Within’ and ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People’ have sold many millions and made Tony Robbins and the late Stephen Covey a lot of money.

But for every ‘7 Habits’ there are 10,000 books that didn’t sell 100 copies.

It’s also a longer journey than most people suppose. From manuscript submission to the book hitting the shelves, it’s typically about two years.

There can be exceptions to this, especially for books that are time sensitive.

If you have written a killer book on how to use Facebook then that’s going to be out of date relatively quickly so they will push to get that in print.

Now The Real Work Starts

Then after publication, the work really starts if you want to succeed.

You pretty much need to clone yourself several times over as you will have to be attending multiple interviews on radio and hopefully, TV if you have a good agent.

Then there are blog interviews and guest posts to write and you have to hammer the message home again and again on Social Media.

And this is just for the launch date! The launch is absolutely critical. You need to call in every favor you possibly can to get the book to go viral on the day of publication.

The more people buy on the day of release the more chance you have to hit the magical #1 spot on Amazon because if you surge and don’t make it, you probably won’t get another chance.

If you can hit #1 in your category, even if it’s only for an hour, then you get can legitimately call yourself ‘Amazon #1 Best Selling Author’ for as long as you care.

Once you get there for the category you want then you hope to see the book ‘tip’ as people who have no prior knowledge about you or your offering start to see the book drop into their feed as they browse.

This is the momentum that will keep you there and get you some amazing publicity.

Actually, there’s one thing I have missed out. You need to be encouraging people by all means necessary to give you a great review on Amazon.

If you hit the top and the book is averaging 2.3, then you’re screwed and it won’t tip.

Probably the best example I have ever seen of this was when Tim Ferriss’s book, ‘The Four Hour Body’ was released.

I have no idea how he did it other than asking his huge list to pitch in, but Ferris had over 150 five star reviews the day before the book even went on sale.

Technically speaking, at that time the only people who should have had a copy of the book were people the publisher had sent advance copies to so they could write a review.

I’m not saying there were some reviews based on the outline and people’s blind devotion to Tim Ferriss, but I’d be a tad surprised if that wasn’t the case and there wasn’t some gaming of the system going on.

All a bit hectic and intensive eh?

Welcome to the world of being a published author.

Is Self Publishing Easier?

But what about self publishing, is that any easier?

Yes, it’s much easier!

You write a book in a word doc. Then you pay somebody on Upwork or Elance to design it and then you’re good to go either as an ebook or physical book.

There is one small drawback. Having a great book ready to sell means next to nothing without people ready and willing to buy it.

The hard work really isn’t writing the book at all (even though it will feel like it at the time).

The great thing about self publishing an ebook is that (unless you sell through Amazon) your cost of sale is almost zero.

I have sold over $40,000 worth of ‘Aligning With Your Core Values’ and somewhere around $39,500 has been profit.

But I get relatively high traffic levels to my site and have 10,000 people on my newsletter list, so I always have people to sell to.

I do sell a few on Amazon, but as they take 30% I’m less bothered in promoting those sales.

However, the really big money to be made is not doing what I do, but focusing on having a best seller on Amazon, especially if your list isn’t running into the thousands.

The good news is that in 2015 a third of the books in the Kindle Top 30 were self published.

The better news is that once you get on a roll using Amazon it can be highly profitable.

The Life Coaches version of ‘Aligning With Your Core Values’ retails at $99 and when ! finish rewriting it and launching it as ‘The Clarity Method’ it will be double that.

It’s not a traditional book, it’s more like a tool that can help coaches be much more effective. As such, we know the value far exceeds the cost for a serious coach.

However, most ebooks that coaches try and sell on Amazon are anything from free to $9.99 with $2.99 seeming to be the most popular option.

Why Would A Coach Give Their Book Away For Free?

You may be wondering why anybody would make their books free and there are two reasons.

The first one is less likely to be relevant to you, but it could be something you consider.

If you’re writing a series of short ebooks then giving the first one away for free will give people a taster and if they like it then getting them to pay is far more likely.

As you can imagine, this method is far better suited to fiction as stories quite naturally flow over multiple books.

The reason that is applicable to you is that Amazon works out their top Kindle sellers based on downloads, not on cost.

If you have a free book that thousands are downloading, then you’re likely to feature high in the searches in that category and potentially hit the #1 spot.

Easy-peasy right?

Far from it.

It’s perfectly reasonable to think that because the book is free people will want it, but alas life doesn’t work like that and people are no longer impressed with free.

If you were to subscribe to my newsletter at A Daring Adventure I’d send you four free ebooks one of which, ’70 Amazing Facts About Your Brain’ averages 4.8 stars on Amazon.

Free can even be a turn off as it lowers people’s perceived value.

If I were to make ‘Aligning With Your Core Values’ free I’m confident that even though more people would download it, fewer people would actually read it.

If you pay $99 for something you have made a significant investment and will want to make use of it.

On the flip side, if you’re given something for free you haven’t made any investment and don’t place the same value on it.

This is why pro bono clients can be some of the most challenging to work with because they’re not invested to the same extent that somebody who had handed over $1,000 to you is.

There are some authors do well using the free approach. The prolific James Altucher and Steven Pressfield come immediately to mind, but they are in a very small minority.

If you want to take this approach there are two options open to you.

The sneaky way is you upload your book to a site like Smashwords and price it at zero. Then a week or so later you report it to Amazon forcing them to price match.

The traditional way however is to use Amazon’s Kindle Select option.

When you enroll in Kindle Select you can have your book priced at $0.00 for a maximum of five days in any three-month period.

baseball catcher
baseball catcher photographed during game.

Where’s The Catch?

However, it’s not that straightforward because Amazon has to make money somehow. Therefore you are in a contract with them for 90-days where to all intents and purposes they own the copyright.

You cannot sell your book elsewhere, give it away or even eat it if you are very hungry on a snowy day.

They own your ass for three months and that is a crucial time in terms of whether a book succeeds or not.

There are books that take off slowly, even very slowly, but for the most part, if you haven’t had a good launch you’re going to struggle whether it’s free or not..

We have been going back and forth with what to do with ‘Aligning With Your Core Values’ when we relaunch.

We know the real money is getting a publishing deal from a company like Random House or even Hay House, but as I’m sure you’re coming to terms with, it’s so hard unless you’re an established author.

A problem we have to deal with currently is that my agent has retired and getting a new one isn’t easy.

Karl suggested we self publish, have a huge push, then kill it and then take our sales figures to a big publisher.

That sounds like a really great plan and it can work, but it’s very risky.

There is a guy called Chris Widener who wrote a book called ‘The Angel Inside’. It was very much in the mould of those short feel good books like ‘Who Moved My Cheese’ I mentioned earlier

Chris crushed it and sold in the region of 50,000 copies from his website.

However, Chris regularly appeared on stage with the late, great Jim Rohn. He stood in front of audiences often consisting of thousands of people and got to pitch his book to an incredibly receptive audience.

Eventually, Random House Publishing got to hear about this and bought the rights.

The book didn’t do as well as might have been expected although it has surpassed 70,000 copies sold.


Because Chris quite wisely had hammered his list. Even though he’s a very gifted motivational speaker and accomplished writer, he didn’t have the reach to take it to the next level.

A book can explode through word of mouth only, but it’s incredibly unusual. Most of the time it requires massive promotion from the author and occasionally the publisher when they fully believe in a book and throw their weight behind it.

If you self publish then any publisher further down the line knows you have probably exhausted your contacts.

In other words, they know they will probably have to put a lot of money into the promotional element and they hate doing that unless if it is a sure thing.

What About Publishing On Demand?

If you think you will struggle to sell more than a handful of books and it’s just for a bit of fun, to have as a calling card and to make your mom happy, then it’s probably not a bad idea to consider publishing on demand.

There are companies such Lightning Source that will print as little as one book at a time and even deal with the fulfilment for you via Amazon.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with adopting this approach if you want a physical book for the reasons I just mentioned. But you substantially limit the profit you are going to make on each book.

When we did the first print run of ‘How To Be Rich and Happy’ for sale in the US we ordered 3,000 copies.

I cannot remember exactly how much we paid but it was round about $1.40 delivered to our doorstep.

I just got a quote from Lightning Source to print 25 copies of that book and it works out at about $5 per copy.

Paperbacks retail for around $9.99 so your profit margin is far lower using publish on demand.

Also, adopting this approach means you cannot just wander into your garage and get a book out of a case to give to a random stranger as I am apt to do. Or even take a case to a speaking engagement or presentation.

Ok, so I have thrown a load of information at you, so let’s sum up the main points.

The Life Coaches Guide To Writing A Profitable Book – Summary

Benefits of Being Published

  • Potential for a nice advance
  • The kudos of being able to say you’re a published author
  • Editing, proof writing and design are paid for
  • Distribution is paid for by the publisher
  • More chance of having a best seller
  • You will be pushed to write well and not get sloppy
  • If your book does well, then you’re way more likely to get a sizable advance for a follow up

Disadvantage of Being Published

  • You no longer own the copyright so if the book bombs you cannot then sell it yourself unless you buy the copyright back which can mean handing back the advance
  • The amount per copy you can earn is very limited and may be zero if the advance was reasonable and the book doesn’t take off with you being paid gross (see above)
  • A poor publisher may make success harder rather than easier
  • You almost certainly need an agent and they are tough to come by and when you get one she will take 15% of your earnings
  • You nearly always have to buy your own books if you want to gift them after publication date

Benefits of Self Publishing

  • Speed to market is down to you
  • Very high mark-up for ebooks
  • You get to set the price
  • No need to find and then pay an agent
  • You can give books to clients for free and it does not cost you
  • If your book does poorly you can at least use it as a bribe to encourage people to sign up for your newsletter as you own the copyright

Disadvantage of Self Publishing

  • If you’re not going to be an amateur and half ass it – cost of design, editing proofreading etc
  • It’s a pain in the ass dealing with distribution and managing sales online of the hard copy versions of your book
  • So many people are doing it that it’s no longer seen as anything special

If you have read the entire post, then good for you, you are obviously serious about writing a book, or if you have already written one, making the most out of it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, questions or any experience you have had with publishing a book in the comments.

8 thoughts on “The Life Coaches Guide To Writing A Profitable Book”

  1. Thank you Tim. I learned some things about the publishing process that I didn’t know. I appreciate your taking the time to help new unpublished authors. I’m sure I’ll read this again, and again, as it won’t be long before I’ve completed my final edit of my book, and accompanying workbook. I need to get serious about having a blog spot.

  2. Wow There was a lot of thought put into that writing. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. I will have to read it several more times to receive all the information that was written.

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