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How to make passive income publishing books with Amazon Kindle & Audiobooks

Photo by Jodie Cook on Unsplash

How to make passive income publishing books with Amazon Kindle & Audiobooks

Amazon Kindle offers a great way for people on the go to earn a living, especially if you enjoy writing. You can write eBooks on a variety of topics, publish them to Kindle (for free!) and Amazon will sell them on their website. Amazon is the leading bookseller online by a long shot, and if you can create a real page-turner, there’s some serious cash to be made writing Kindle eBooks and publishing as audiobooks.

The person who is best suited to make money with Amazon Kindle is someone who is a writer or researcher, or, someone who is well-organised and has money to spend on quality ghostwriting. You’ll need to love writing, researching or reviewing as you’ll find yourself doing it all day long. If the idea of writing more than a tweet gets on your nerves, writing books is probably not for you.

My Experience

I’ve published fiction and non-fiction books on Amazon Kindle (KDP – Kindle Direct Publishing) alongside several other ebook publishers, print on demand paperbacks and audiobooks. It takes significant effort and/or money to get started, however it provides one of the most passive incomes in the long term.

When I first started with Amazon Kindle it was an experiment and partially for fun – I had some cash to ‘invest’ and the idea of publishing a fiction book appealed. I was not a writer, so I hired a ghostwriter and we worked together on plots and whatnot.

I learned a lot about fiction writing and editing. Despite not writing the fiction books myself, it was a massive undertaking of time and effort – planning and plotting, reviewing, editing, proofreading, designing the covers, formatting, listening & re-listening to audio versions etc.

I then went on to write some non-fiction which I penned myself and had a quality editor to critique and correct. I find non-fiction is an easier genre for non-writers as it’s more about the information and structure. Whereas writing fiction is much more of an art.

Writing books was both enjoyable and stressful. Beyond the writing and publishing, marketing is also required and it’s highly competitive. 

Currently I’m investing time in other forms of passive income, however books are something I may come back to as the vision of writing from beautiful vanlife locations, without the pressure of needing to earn a significant income from it is appealing.

My spend and earnings from writing books

These are very much ‘ballpark’ figures, but they give you an idea of my money and time costs, alongside income. Also, for this venture, I did not seek out a profitable niche as such — I primarily experimented with personal interests. Researching your niche should provide you with much greater returns.

Fiction

  • Ghostwriting: $3,000 (approx 60,000 words – 3 novella books)
  • Editing: $600
  • Proofreading: $60 (3 x $20)
  • Narrating (audiobooks): $750
  • Design: $150
  • Marketing: $350
  • My time: approx 2 days/week for several months! (conservative estimate: 300hrs)

Total fiction cost: $4,910 + (300*$15) = $4,910+$4,500 = $9,410

Note that the above costs are quite low compared to market costs. I did a lot of legwork and input myself (probably much more than 300 hours) and sourced the freelancers from Upwork. I didn’t put as much effort into marketing as I should have.

Fiction Income:

These books have been earning income for +3 years that average around $350 per month

It took me just over 2 years to recoup my “investment”, with minimal effort after the books were published (marketing for just a few months). I’ve done nothing the past few years.

There are definitely smarter ways and niches that have potential to earn more income faster. Also, there are people who will be much faster than me — I found the fiction process a bit of a black hole in terms of sucking up time, but I enjoyed the creative side a lot.

Non-Fiction

Even though I researched and wrote the book myself, the time spent was very similar to when I had the fiction ghostwriter — I just found it much easier to time-box and be efficient. In general, costs were fairly similar to fiction in proportion to word count;

  • Ghostwriting: $0 (approx 25,000 words written by myself)
  • Editing: $500
  • Proofreading: $60 (3 x $20)
  • Narrating (audiobooks): $400
  • Design: $100
  • Marketing: $400
  • My time: approx 100 hours

Total non-fiction cost: $1,460 + (100*$15) = $1,460+$1,500 = $2,960

Non-fiction Income:

Has been earning around $200 per month for 2 years.

It took just over 1 year to recover my investment. Again, I’ve done nothing for the past couple of years.

The biggest return from both fiction and non-fiction…

In both fiction and non-fiction, the overall best return on investment for me has been via Audible audiobooks. 

Yes, there is a significant extra cost involved and for quality, you’re going to have to listen to it several times to ensure it is word-perfect, but it’s worth it!

Note that if your book is not quality it will in all likelihood fail due to bad reviews.

A few pros of writing eBooks (& audiobooks)

You can write about virtually any topic that you want

If you can think about it, you can write about it. All it takes is a few minutes of searching on Amazon to see that you can write about virtually anything. That’s good news if you like to write about a variety of topics or if you’re into something that isn’t exactly mainstream. In fact, non-mainstream is less competitive and so you have a greater chance of hitting the charts aka Amazon best seller list, which further increases your sales.

Be warned that some topics such as adult will trigger your book not to be found in search. This can have a massive impact on your sales, so avoid ‘grey’ areas.

You set the price for your books

This is one of the most important pros of making money with Amazon Kindle. You can set the price for your eBooks and decide how much you want to sell them for. Keep in mind that Amazon takes a cut of the money, so you’ll want to factor that in when you’re pricing your eBooks.

Read up on Kindle Unlimited and the pros/cons of the various pricing structures. Eg if you price your book at $0.99, you only earn 30% of sale, however books priced $2.99-9.99 earn 70% of the sale.

There are also some free book strategies whereby you can price a book at $0.00. There is a little bit of extra work involved in this as it requires a ‘price match’ ie you publish your book elsewhere and then get Amazon to match the price because Amazon do not permit you to publish free books.

Possibly I’ll write a full step-by-step on Amazon Kindle pricing, there are way too many options for this short introduction.

You don’t however set the price for your audiobooks within Audible ACX platform – this is based on the book length and category. I’ll possibly write a post dedicated to publishing audiobooks in the future.

You don’t need to go through a publisher & you keep full ownership

Amazon Kindle is self-publishing. That means you don’t need to find an agent who will then, in turn, find you a publisher. You write your eBook and upload it to Amazon. That’s it. There’s no middleman or anyone else between you and Amazon.

And you retain full control and ownership of your writing.

Books and audiobooks can be a great form of passive income

Whilst there is considerable effort involved in the beginning, the books you write today can sell for years to come. If you’re trying to build up a passive income stream, eBooks on Amazon Kindle (and audiobooks on Audible) is one of the best ways to go. 

There’s lots more potential outside of Amazon

Amazon Kindle can be used to build out a much bigger ‘business’. Instead of seeing Amazon as your source of income, what else could earn you money that your book could assist with? 

Being a published author can boost credibility and gain you work in other areas such as speaking or even freelance work. Or you could use your books as a lead generation tool, driving visitors to your website or an e-Learning course.

A few of the cons of publishing books

I’ve already given you some insight that writing books is a big investment; you need either time (and be a decent writer/researcher) or money or both. There are a few other things to consider;

You must do a lot of research & reviewing

Your readers will know immediately if you haven’t researched the topic of your book or the plot/characters. Just because you write about it doesn’t mean you have a real grasp of it. You’ll need to spend some time educating yourself on the subject matter or if writing fiction, that your plot and characters are well planned and consistent.

Prior to writing, investing time in researching your niche will likely yield you much better results. Don’t underestimate this if return on investment is a top priority.

Every book you write needs a cover & formatting

Sure, you can create your own covers if you know how to use Photoshop. If you don’t, there are still free possibilities such as Canva. Let’s be honest; people judge a book by its cover – that tiny thumbnail is their first impression. If your eBook covers suck, no one is going to buy it. So, that means you’ll probably have to pay someone to make ebook covers for you.

Similarly, books need editing for format. Amazon has gotten much better at converting Word / docx documents, however you’ll need to check every page to ensure that it is professionally formatted.

Every book and audiobook requires marketing

Build it and they will come? Whilst Amazon do provide a bit of a boost during the first 30 days of your book launch, similar to most businesses, you’ll need to do some marketing if you really want to be successful.

You’ll have to drive traffic to your Amazon eBooks from outside sources. A lot of authors use social media as a free source of traffic. Keep in mind the traffic might be free, but it takes quite a bit of time to build up a social media following big enough to earn money from.

There are also free book tactics that can be used and you’ll really want to encourage people to leave reviews as, next to the cover thumbnail, positive reviews are one of the biggest selling points.

If you’re only on Amazon, they own you (all eggs in one basket)

I’ve tried going completely independent – removing the exclusive agreement with Amazon and Audible so as to publish elsewhere on other platforms and via my website, however those strategies never earned me any more money and just cost me in effort. I suspect this varies from niche to niche.

Besides the ‘free book’ strategy, sadly I haven’t experienced any benefit from going totally independent.

What that means is ‘Amazon own you’. You must abide by their rules and you are at risk of them removing you from their platform (note that similar issues exist with other methods such as blogging where Google have dominance/monopoly).

Earnings (royalties) are paid in 60+ day arrears

Many platforms pay in arrears however it’s good to note that even when you start selling, there will be a significant delay in you receiving your funds from Amazon Kindle; they pay around 60 days AFTER the month in which the sale was generated. 

That means if you sell a book in January, it would be the end of March before you’d receive payment – almost 3 months if it sold on 1st January, or approx 2 months if it sold on 31st January. That can feel like an eternity, but once the payments start, there is no break so long as your books keep selling.

Conclusion

Writing eBooks for Amazon Kindle is a great way to earn an income that can become very passive. Especially if you love writing and have the time/skills to do most of the work yourself, but bear in mind that there is a significant upfront investment of time and money before you’ll see any of that cash.

And that extra effort makes a difference; planning and attention to the niche you choose, attention to detail in research, proofreading and formatting will get you better reviews. A bit of time spent building an email list from your audience will help you sell more books and get more reviews faster in the future, which in turn means more/faster sales.

If you have the skills and dedication, there is potential to make a great living by writing eBooks for Amazon Kindle (and audiobooks for Audible). You need to be a great writer, marketer, and someone who has attention to detail and can manage their time….but five-figures per month, virtually passive income within a year is not unheard of with dedication.

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Disclaimer: As with everything on this site, this article is for informational purposes only and is not advice of any kind. I simply share my experiences and my opinions for information. I am not a financial adviser and I am not providing investment advice or financial or legal advice of any kind. Cryptocurrencies (and most business opportunities) are high risk. Many of the opportunities I discuss exist in new, high risk and unregulated markets. Some methods require significant investment of time and/or relevant skills. Please do your own research and due diligence; do not blindly follow anyone!

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