Earning Extra Income with a (Small) Blog

Blogging is often touted as a means to earn some extra income. But many people believe that you need tens of thousands of people reading your blog everyday before you can make any real money from it.

I can tell you from experience: That's simply not true.

In the first twelve months of my blog's existence, my writing generated over $20,000 of revenue. And by the end of those twelve months, I still only had 588 subscribers to my blog — barely half way to 1,000. Now, I'm not trying to make the case that a large readership isn't valuable. Of course it's valuable. A big subscriber list is not, however, the only way to make decent money with a blog.

So how does one go about making significant income from a blog without a ton of subscribers? You could try my method: writing, publishing, and selling your own books on Amazon.

Why Not Sell E-Books?
One reason: traffic.

According to Google, Amazon gets approximately 81 million unique visitors per month. By tapping into that traffic, you can make a meaningful amount of money without having a huge following of your own.

You will need some traffic, though, as you'll be responsible for generating your book's initial sales. But after 60 sales or so, Amazon starts to take over. Your book will begin to appear in various places on Amazon's site, such as the “also bought” and “ultimately bought” lists for other books on related subjects.

Eventually, Amazon will be generating more sales than your own blog.

To be fair, publishing physical books does have some disadvantages as compared to the E-book method.

  • You have to compete on price. If there are several similar books on Amazon that sell for $10-$15, you're going to have a hard time charging $47 for your book.
  • Updating paper books costs money and takes time, whereas updating a pdf is both quick and free.
  • You don't get to collect your customers' names or contact information, so you have no way to reach out to them when you release a new product.

In short, the less important it is for you to be able to tap into Amazon's traffic (i.e., the more traffic of your own that you have), the more attractive the E-book method becomes.

Why Self-Publish?
But if you're going the physical book route, why not go through a traditional publisher? Your reasons may vary, but these are mine:

  • I don't have to work to find a publisher — a difficult task for a low-profile blogger.
  • I get complete control over what goes into each book.
  • The time to market is shorter, which can be important for books about timely topics.

The biggest reason, though, is profit margin. For most authors who work with a traditional publisher, the profit margin per book is in the $1-$2 range. When you self-publish, you get a bigger piece of the pie. (For example, my books sell on Amazon for $12.55, and my profit margin is roughly $8 per book.)

But, as with the comparison to E-books, the comparison to traditional publishing isn't entirely one-sided. If the primary goal for your book is to build up your reputation, the traditional publisher route is probably your best bet.

How to Self-Publish
The actual “how-to” of self-publishing is actually surprisingly easy — so easy, in fact, that it's also rather boring. Rather than outline everything here, I'd suggest that you pick up Aaron Shepard's Aiming at Amazon if you're seriously considering self-publishing. It covers the entire process step-by-step, including things like which printing company to use and how to get your book listed on Amazon.

Getting the Ball Rolling with Sales
As I mentioned above, you'll have to generate the first several sales before Amazon starts to promote your book, so getting traffic to your own site is still important.

When selling information products, high-volume, low-value keywords are your friends. If a phrase is low-value for everybody else (because they'd be relying on Adsense to monetize it), but high-value for you (because you have a related product to sell), you can afford to work harder to rank for that phrase.

For example, in my niche (taxation and investing), the phrase “tax brackets” isn't exactly high-value. In fact, according to the Adwords Keyword Tool, all the variations of it are worth less than $1 per click.

But because I sell books on the topic of taxation, my article explaining how tax brackets work actually pulls in a decent amount of money. As a result, I can afford to spend time working to rank that article.

Have Any Questions?
I've only been blogging and writing books since the end of 2007, so I'm still definitely in the “learn as I go” stage. Also, while my revenue is steadily growing and I'm now making enough to do this full-time, I'm still not exactly going to be an overnight millionaire.

That said, if you have any questions about self-publishing, I'd be happy to do my best to answer in the comments section below.

J.D.'s note: This post was originally going to be part of my GRS blog project, which is now on hold. It's good info, though. Instead of letting the article languish, Mike and I scheduled it for a Saturday so that those who don't give a fig about blogging can just go watch football instead.

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Stu @ Pennywise2Pennyworth
Stu @ Pennywise2Pennyworth
10 years ago

Awesome article Mike. Hopefully I’ll be able to use this advice sometime soon. Thanks for the great information.

s
s
10 years ago

“high-volume, low-value keywords”
“Adsense to monetize it”

Please define. Thanks!

Mike Piper
Mike Piper
10 years ago

Stu: Glad you found the article helpful. Good luck putting it to work. 🙂

s: Adsense is Google’s ad network. Basically, it’s the easiest way to put ads on a site, so it’s the first thing most bloggers try.

By “high volume, low-value” keywords, I meant phrases that lots of people search for, but which don’t usually make a lot of money.

Wojo
Wojo
10 years ago

A friend of mine recently mentioned to me that Amazon started to allow sales of eBooks through its system–I haven’t looked into it, but it could be a cool (and profitable) way to merge the eBook model with Amazon’s sales model.

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
10 years ago

Good stuff Mike! How long does it take to go from start of writing the book to getting it published on average for you?

Also, is this your main means of income?

Thanks,

Sam

Mike Piper
Mike Piper
10 years ago

Financial Samurai: As to timing, it varies widely depending on the content of the book. Some take a lot more research than others. Also, I imagine that the amount of time it takes me doesn’t necessarily have much to do with how long it would take anybody else, as everybody has different speeds at which they work and varying amounts of time which they can dedicate to writing.

As to income: Yes, book sales make up about 2/3 of my income. (Adsense and affiliate programs make up the other 1/3.)

Tom Melancon
Tom Melancon
10 years ago

Mike,

Great article. Can you talk a little more about how adsense works? It sounds like you pay money to drive people to your blog based upon key words, is that close? My guess is the cost is variable, but what is a good initial investment?

Thanks.

Nicole
Nicole
10 years ago

Interesting. Thanks for the post.

Chris Gagner
Chris Gagner
10 years ago

Thanks for a great post! I was considering self-publishing a book using Amazon’s createspace. Now, I might just look into E-books instead.

Suzanne
Suzanne
10 years ago

Just about every part of this topic is new to me, very interesting!

Blogthority
Blogthority
10 years ago

Great article Mike.

I second the idea that for material on your blog that gets traffic, but doesn’t do well with Adsense or affiliates – you should create some sort of “product” to sell. A book is a great idea because it can reach a much bigger audience (most people don’t read blogs).

Other monetization ideas might be an ebook (especially if you don’t have enough material for a full book), an online course/tutorial or even offering your services as a consultant.

Mike

honeybee
honeybee
10 years ago

“Give a fig”
“Holy cats”

These are the things I love most about this blog…

jack
jack
10 years ago

I feel like this article glosses over a few important points. For example, what is the typical upfront investment to self-publish a book? What if you never make that money back?

Mike Piper
Mike Piper
10 years ago

Jack: The up-front investment depends on several things such as which printing company you use and whether or not you outsource cover design, book layout, etc.

For me, the initial investment of my first book was approximately $600. Since then, the initial investment has ranged from as low as $400 up to about $1,000.

Of course, only you can decide whether or not that risk is worth it.

jack
jack
10 years ago

ok, but how many copies are you getting for $600? is there any way to estimate demand before you decide how many to print, or do you just go with a minimum order required by the printer?

or–do you start with a small order, gauge demand, then print more based on demand….and if you do it that way, how long does it take to print more copies?

Mike Piper
Mike Piper
10 years ago

Ah, sorry, that was indeed something I left out. That’s zero copies of inventory actually. The method of printing I use (as well as almost all self-publishers these days) is called “Print on Demand.” That is, the books aren’t even printed until somebody orders a copy from Amazon. (The printing company can print a book, slap an Amazon package around it, and mail it out within the same day.) So, there’s an initial investment, which as I mentioned, will vary. And from there you pay printing costs as each book is ordered and printed. (The printing costs were already factored… Read more »

jack
jack
10 years ago

ok, makes sense. thanks.

Rob Bennett
Rob Bennett
10 years ago

This is the smartest article that I have ever read about how to make money with a blog.

Congratulations on your success and thanks for sharing, Mike.

Rob

asdf
asdf
10 years ago

How much traffic did it take to generate that $20K? Subscribers aren’t a reasonable measurement. I view your blog every day for the last 2 years. I’m not subscribed though, so I guess I don’t count.

EnnisP
EnnisP
10 years ago

Great post. Had no idea there was such a thing a “print on demand” but I like it.

Would you be kind enough to tell us which printing company you used?

Mike Piper
Mike Piper
10 years ago

asdf: My blog received an average of 251 visits per day over that year. And yes, of course every reader counts, regardless method.

Ennis: Lightning Source is the printing company I use.

EnnisP
EnnisP
10 years ago

Thanks for sharing Mike. Again, great post.

Paul Williams
Paul Williams
10 years ago

Great post, Mike! I know we’ve talked about this before, but I’m going to have to start picking your brain on this some more. I’m amazed you were able to do so well on such little traffic, but your writing style is great for the subjects you’ve chosen!

Andy Hough
Andy Hough
10 years ago

The idea of self-publishing a book is one I have had for a while. After reading this article and seeing that a blogger with not much more traffic than me is having success at it I’m making it a goal to have a book written by the end of the year.

Christina
Christina
10 years ago

Mike, what if you wanted to do both: sell physical books on Amazon and use Adsense to drive traffic to a sales page with an e-book, even if just for purposes of comparison. Is there some kind of non-compete clause you have to get into with Amazon? And who sets the price? The author or Amazon?

Very timely article for me, by the way! I have a book I’ve been working on, and I was originally planning to publish it as an e-book, but this might work much better. Thanks for the info!

Mike Piper
Mike Piper
10 years ago

Andy: If you end up with any questions, feel free to ask. And, I really can’t recommend the book Aiming at Amazon highly enough for somebody seriously considering self-publishing.

Good luck!

Mike Piper
Mike Piper
10 years ago

Christina: Great questions. 🙂 With Amazon, there is no non-compete at all. You can certainly sell both physical books and e-books if you choose to do so. That said, if you do decide to publish physical books, I might recommend sticking with them exclusively. The reason is that every sale of a book that occurs on Amazon helps to drive that book higher on various “also bought” and “ultimately bought” lists on Amazon. Rate of sales also appears to play a role in how well the book ranks for related searches on Amazon. In other words, every sale that occurs… Read more »

Arenda
Arenda
10 years ago

I do have a blog but I’m just not at the stage where I’m interested in doing much with it, other than rant :p and hey, what if I don’t like football either? Hehe

Jaime
Jaime
10 years ago

Thank you for writing in an encouraging manner. I read Penelope Trunk’s article about why you shouldn’t expect to make money from your blog and she was very discouraging in her article. Its nice to see someone write about this topic in an encouraging way. I read very few blogs, and the blogs that I do read its because the people writing those blogs take the time to be good writers. To be good at anything you have to take the time to get good at those things. I mean what if someone had told Heather from Dooce to not… Read more »

AC
AC
10 years ago

I know this is an odd question, but this is America.. what liability risk do you assume? Is there anything legal that should be set up before doing a venture like this?

Mike Piper
Mike Piper
10 years ago

AC: My business is an LLC. I’m not an attorney though, so I’m not the best person to answer that question.

MT
MT
10 years ago

Not all websites need to be blogs per say to make $ on the side. My website has been up for about 5-6 years now; it did not become financially consistent/successful until I finally integrated Adsense into my site and quit relying on just Amazon commissions.

Now I consistently bring home enough each month from the site to essentially make a car payment. My format might not have the ceiling that JD’s/others might, but it’s a lot less maintenance.

Rob Ward
Rob Ward
10 years ago

This is great advice. All along I have been thinking of publishing an e-book (and most likely I will go that route) but this is certainly an option as well.

Romeo
Romeo
10 years ago

Mike,

Thanks for this article. I too found it very helpful. In fact, until this article, I was reluctant to use Google Adsense because I figured that it would overwhelm my blog – one that I want to keep relatively simple. However, I dediced to add it and it looks fine. I just have to watch for ads for payday loans, which I will promptly try to remove.

I am also working on my book and it appears that selling it both as an e-Book and through self-publishing is the way to go. Any thoughts?

Mike Piper
Mike Piper
10 years ago

Hi Romeo. I’m glad you found the article helpful. 🙂

As to Adsense, you may want to look in to the “category filter” accessible from your Adsense account by clicking the “Adsense Setup” tab, then “Ad Review Center.” It gives you at least a little control over what does and doesn’t show up.

As to publishing a book both as an e-book and as a physical product, see comment #27 for the reason I have yet to do it myself.

chacha1
chacha1
10 years ago

Very helpful article. I agree it’s nice to see this presented in a positive way, e.g. “you CAN make some money on your blog without working 100 hours a day!” 🙂

I started looking at CreateSpace and Blurb last year, both are legitimate ways to self-publish. To those who are interested, I recommend a lot of research – meaning, run searches for already-published work in the topic area of interest to you. Look for what is missing in the marketplace.

Briana @ GBR
Briana @ GBR
10 years ago

This is a great system, but I still think writing an ebook could be a little easier, and keeping traffic on your site. Is it possible to publish an ebook and then make the hard copy? Would that even make sense to do?

Mike Piper
Mike Piper
10 years ago

Briana: Yes, it’s entirely possible to do both.

I’m not 100% convinced it’s a good idea though. (See comment #27 for more info on that.)

Jessica Bosari
Jessica Bosari
10 years ago

I think your article makes it sound a little too easy. The hardest part about blogging isn’t writing. It’s discipline. You have to keep plugging away at it and don’t expect a return for a year or two.

@AC: A legal disclaimer and privacy policy will shield you from liability. It also helps SEO when you do it right. Google has a policy to follow that will help. Just search it.

Ryan
Ryan
10 years ago

@Jessica – I think that’s why JD wrote “small blog” — he is absolutely right when he says you can make a small income with a small blog… You can start a blog, write 10 decent articles, stick Google ads on it, and you’ll get some income every month for years…

However, you can’t just fall into a successful blog.. you have to basically treat it as a job.. you have to consider your content.. I’m talking about putting real thought into it and ask yourself: “What will interest my readers?” Now that’s hard…

Landon
Landon
10 years ago

Mike, great article and informative for a newbie blogger.

Now if only I knew what to write a book about….

US certified accountants
US certified accountants
10 years ago

“Give a fig”
“Holy cats”

These are the things I love most about this blog…

Robin Wanser
Robin Wanser
7 years ago

I really enjoy reading your blog, it is actually among the highlights of my week. I particularly enjoy reading it within my lunch break.

Brent White
Brent White
6 years ago

Great article, filled with great information.
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