Want to get paid to write a book? If you’re thinking “I can’t write fiction”, that’s OK.
Over the past couple of years, fiction ghostwriting has taken off, BUT there are many opportunities and gigs for nonfiction authors too.
Let’s begin at the beginning. With buyers.
When authors consider nonfiction, they always wonder: who pays for nonfiction books?
Get paid to write a book: what are you selling?
Listen up. New authors tend to worry most about “who pays and how much do I get paid?” Here’s what’s more important: what you’re selling.
You MUST know what you’re selling if you want someone to pay you to write a book AND want to make a profit. Sadly, the world is filled with scammers who want books and will happily scam you out of months and years of work.
Writers and authors tend to confuse traditional publishing, self-publishing, and ghostwriting.
Think in terms of copyright, rather than getting paid per se.
When you write something you own the copyright as soon as you create your book or other literary work in a specific form.
You can’t lose your copyright, but you can:
- License rights in your work (traditional publishing);
- Sell your work and the copyright (via ghostwriting or via direct sale.)
If you’re self-publishing, you retain the copyright—you haven’t sold a license in the specific work, nor have you sold the copyright.
As an author, you need to know the basics of copyright and intellectual property law. Your local library should have a book on “copyright for beginners.” Please read one or two books and get specific legal advice when you need it.
Most importantly: always, always, read your contracts. Read every word at least twice. You’d be amazed at what people will try to sneak into contracts. Be alert and pay attention. They can only pluck you like a chicken if you stop paying attention. If you don’t understand something in a contract, get advice.
You want to get paid to write a book: who will buy it?
For the purpose of this article, we’ll assume that you aren’t self-publishing your book, nor are you offering the book to a traditional publisher (who licenses, rather than buys your book, you’ll recall.)
- Writing a book and selling it to someone who wants to BUY the nonfiction book and publish it: you’re selling the copyright; OR
- You’re ghostwriting the book. Someone has hired you to write the book. They’ve paid a deposit and will make milestone payments while you’re writing. And once the book is done, the copyright devolves to them once you’re paid in full.
OK, with the vital, practical stuff out of the way, let’s look at how to get ideas for a salable nonfiction book.
1. Start with your expertise: what’s easy for you to write? And sells?
No matter who you are, you’ve had experiences which are valuable.
“I can’t write about weight loss, because there are too many books on it,” said Sophie, one of my students.
“Why do you want to write about weight loss? Are you trying to lose weight?” I asked.
Sophie responded that she’d lost a massive amount of weight at Weight Watchers some years before. Hence, her dilemma. The Weight Watchers company produces books on weight loss.
“Will you rip off their ideas, methods and recipes?”
“NO!” Sophie was shocked at the very idea.
I suggested that she start writing. When she sent me a draft of her book, she hadn’t mentioned Weight Watchers at all. Sophie wrote about her own experiences losing weight, the divorce which precipitated her weight gain and techniques and tips for weight loss which she found valuable. Her book was different, because she wrote it, from her own experiences.
Think about your experiences. What could you write about that might sell? Make a list of ideas.
2. Beginner’s mind: what are you learning? Could you write about it?
If you’re a beginner in an area, you can write about it. Weird as it sounds, your inexperience is valuable.
What are you learning? Your state of mind when you’re learning something is valuable, because you can’t unlearn what you know.
In the 1990s, I tried to convince my editor at a major publishing house to give me a contract for an advanced book on a subject. She said: “No, the market’s too small. Give me something for beginners.”
I’ve always kept that in mind, and so should you. In every topic, there are always more beginners than experts. If you want to write for experts, go ahead, but if you’re new to a topic, you’re perfectly placed to write for other beginners—and it’s a bigger market.
Make a list about what you’re learning.
Get paid to write a nonfiction book: your experiences and ideas are worth money
When Cody, one of my freelance writing students, initially approached me he had a nonfiction book he was hawking around literary agents and publishers. He’d a nibble: a new publisher offered him a contract, but no advance against royalties.
Cody needed money. I suggested he sell his nonfiction book on his website rather than self-publishing it. If he self-published, he’d spend a lot of time and money marketing it; that time would be better spent on writing for clients.
It took him just a few weeks to sell the book; he sold the copyright. Now the book belongs to the purchaser, Cody retains no rights.
If you want to get paid to write a book, you have options. Which option you choose is up to you.
Of course, if you need help, please get in touch.
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Copywriter and marketing pro Angela Booth maintains a busy copywriting and ghostwriting practice. Fascinated by online marketing, she wrote one of the first business books for internet marketing, published by Allen & Unwin. She’s been an enthusiastic blogger since the late 1990s.