Two More Ways for Writers to Milk the Cash Cow

So you want to make money as a writer. I feel a Seinfeld coming on: Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Because there absolutely isn’t. In fact, it’s a good thing to write for money.
Writers write. And these days, writers increasingly publish. But digital and print are not the only games in town. To invigorate the flow of your income stream, think diversification.As in, trying new things, putting out your content in all possible forms. Here are two to consider: Audio and Serialization.
According to the Wall Street Journal (link may expire),there is an “explosion” in the production and consumption of audio books:
“We’re moving toward a media-agnostic consumer who doesn’t think of the difference between textual and visual and auditory experience,” says Don Katz, Audible’s founder and CEO. “It’s the story, and it is there for you in the way you want it.”
Audio books have ballooned into a $1.2 billion industry, up from $480 million in retail sales in 1997. Unit sales of downloaded audio books grew by nearly 30% in 2011 compared with 2010, according to the Audio Publishers Association. Now they can be downloaded onto smartphones with the tap of a finger, often for the price of an e-book.
This development is not without its critics and concerns:
The rapid rise of audio books has prompted some hand-wringing about how we consume literature. Print purists doubt that listening to a book while multitasking delivers the same experience as sitting down and silently reading. Scientific studies have repeatedly shown that for competent readers, there is virtually no difference between listening to a story and reading it. The format has little bearing on a reader’s ability to understand and remember a text. Some scholars argue that listening to a text might even improve understanding, especially for difficult works like Shakespeare, where a narrator’s interpretation of the text can help convey the meaning.
Despite the doubts, it’s clear that audio is not only here to stay, it’s going to keep on growing. Which means another income stream for authors.
If you are going it alone, writer, the path to a recorded version of your work couldn’t be simpler. The ACX program at Amazon has one of the most user-friendly sites in publishing. Go cruise around it and see for yourself. Start hereto get an overview of the program.
You have two basic choices. You can pay for equipment (or rent a studio) and figure out how to produce your own work. Or you can partner up with a narrator/producer and split the proceeds. That’s what I chose to do with a guy named Sands from Alaska. Together we have two audiobooks available:
I’m currently auditioning female narrators for the audio version Pay Me in Flesh (Note: I retained those rights during contract negotiations. If you go traditional, discuss this with your agent). I’ll do the same with the other 8 books I have available with women as protagonists. For some of my other work, I’m planning to try it myself. I like listening to Stephen King narrate his own books, and I figure what’s good enough for him…
Now we come to the serials idea, which is gaining momentum via Amazon. I recently interviewed thriller author Reece Hirsch, author of The Adversary (serialized via Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer imprint) about his new venture:
“I’m writing a series of thrillers for Thomas & Mercer, featuring Chris Bruen, a former Department of Justice cybercrimes prosecutor who is now in private practice helping clients combat hackers and cybercriminals. Each of the three books in the series will be published initially as Kindle Serials, which means that for a one-time price of $1.99, an episode will be automatically delivered to your Kindle each week for eight weeks. After the serialization is complete, the book will be available for order as a paperback and as a regular ebook. The book’s pricing is typically higher after the serialization period.”
In addition to the serialization, Amazon sets up a discussion board for each Serial so that readers can comment on the episodes as they’re released. “I intend to mix it up with

readers on the discussion board as much as possible,” Reece says.

Reece also notes an additional marketing aspect of serialization:
“The Serials program offers a two-month initial rollout as the episodes are released at a relatively low price, and then the opportunity for a renewed marketing push when the complete ebook and paperback become available. Thrillers, which tend to feature plenty of cliffhanger chapter endings, are uniquely well suited to serialization.”
There was another writer who did okay with serials. Hmm, what was his name again? Oh yeah, a fellow named Dickens. Will the same dynamic that worked in 1875 work in 2013? “I’m looking forward to finding out,” Reece told me. “I measure the ROI in terms of the massive amounts of time I devote to writing a novel for readers. If being part of the Kindle Serials program helps me connect with a larger readership, then I trust that will translate into a decent financial return.”
What about you, TKZ readers? Do you listen to audio books? What about the serials idea? Maybe you should use Reece Hirsch and The Adversary as a try out. 

39 thoughts on “Two More Ways for Writers to Milk the Cash Cow

  1. It’s amazing how fast the writing/publishing industry is evolving. I can’t help but wonder what developments we will see (and discuss)in the next three to five years.

  2. Interesting that audio books demand has increased. Except for a few people I know who have long commutes, I know few who listen to audiobooks. I listened to War & Peace & a few non-fics on audio a few times, but it isn’t my method of choice. I am much more visually oriented.

    RE: Serialization–I’m not sure I’m clear–are the books then written in a different style, or is it, in effect, paying by the chapter? What length of work are we talking about?

    I do find the serialization concept interesting. I was recently thinking about how heavily episodic TV has affected my life–because when I think of novel concepts, I tend to have more plot lines than can feasibly be addressed in one novel.

    All interesting food for thought…

    • BK, see also Reece’s comment, below. The way it works is this: you pay a one-time purchase price of $1.99. Then, each week for 8 weeks, you get a portion of the book. At the end of that time you will have a full length novel. You also get to interact with others on the experience, discuss the book as it’s unfolding, etc. As Reece says, it’s a “water cooler” type of thing.

      When the serialization is over, the book is then made available in the Amazon bookstore as a full length ebook, presumably at a higher price point, and in print.

  3. Another great post, Jim.

    Your point about competent readers registering the same comprehension of a book whether they read it or listen to it is one that people should sit up and notice.

    I’m just now getting into audiobooks. The first novel in my Key West Nocturnes series is now live on Amazon’s, and the second is on the way. I’ve been doing voiceovers with an audio publisher (Lyrical Lip Service) on other material, so doing my novel was a natural.

  4. When I started in this business my books were all initially serialized podcast audiobooks broken into 20 ~30 minute segments put out once a week via By doing it that way I was able to grow a huge audience to the free works and actually made a significant chunk of cash via donations from listeners who were surprisingly generous for stuff they liked.

    Once I got my books picked up by Audible I had to pull down the free podiobooks versions, but there are still a couple of shorts available up there, and folks still listen to them, including Fresh Kills by the folks who started this blog.

    As far as audiobooks goes, I’ve been listening for over twenty years and still love it. Now that I make them for a living, I love it even more. So I’m gonna give a massive ‘Oorah!’ for this change in the way stuff works.

    • WOW! Check out the Fresh Kills audio sample. The creepy music and that deranged voice will echo in my poor brain for the rest of the day. In short, it’s just like radio–yunno, back in the day: The Creaking Door, The Fat Man, The Shadow Knows. Of course, you have to sit on the floor in your jammies to listen.

  5. Hmmm. Interesting post.

    My husband has music stuff (technical term) all over the basement and with this stuff, he records his songs. If I were to lift my head from my laptop screen and actually be sweet to the poor, neglected man, he might record me reading one of my flashes. At which time I could post it on my blog. And if K. Bennett were to listen (in betwixt fish tacos) and mayhaps approve…I could have a small role in one of his audiobooks! OH, dare to dream.

    Besides that, it could actually be fun.

    And the serialization is a great idea for my novel. So much to do.

    • While many DJs (perhaps most) don’t have the right voice for audiobooks some do, me included. If your hubby’s the acting chops GO FOR IT!!! You and he alike will not regret it! Check out for details on what it takes to self publish audiobooks directly to Audible and iTunes.

    • This response actually belongs to another post below…but fits here somewhat. Still getting used to doing this stuff on my new tablet.

  6. Jim — Thanks again for including me in today’s discussion. In response to BK, I think Thomas & Mercer chose THE ADVERSARY for the Kindle Serials program because it was fast-moving and had plenty of cliffhanger chapters endings (like many thrillers). It’s a full-length novel and I didn’t write it with serialization in mind. However, as I write the second book, I know that it will be serialized so I’m trying to make sure that I have a strong break point for an episode after every 50 or 60 pages.

    I think BK also hit it on the head when he mentioned episodic TV. Publishers of serialized fiction seem to be trying to replicate the water cooler phenomenon that occurs when viewers watch episodic thrillers like “Homeland” and “Breaking Bad.” If readers use the discussion board that’s provided for each episode, they can comment on the latest twists and turns and interact with the author, hopefully creating a more communal reading experience. I think Kindle Serials is an innovative program (to the extent that an approach that dates back to Dickens can be called innovative) and I’m happy to be a part of it.

  7. First and foremost, the purists need to make a sandwich and chill out. Getting books into brains is the goal, the method is secondary.

    I love audio books and they are my entertainment of choice while I work in my shop. If I get distracted, there are these two magical buttons, “pause” and “reverse” to make sure I don’t miss anything. And for some writers, I prefer audio.

    I am currently on my second time through the Harry Potter books narrated by Jim Dale. His pitch perfect accent and delivery brings the prose alive for me. Another is John Grisham. Reading his books are wonderful. A narrator with a southern accent puts you right into the middle of it.

    I had checked out the Amazon serials when it was first announced. Time for another look. I’ve been involved in several round robins and love the concept of the new chapter every week.

    Now I am off to check out your audiobooks as well. Awesome post as always.


  8. Great post. Things in the book world do move rapidly. Thank you for keeping us up to date, at least in what we know, if not exactly in what we do. I’ve been listening to audio books for about 12 years. Nearly all in the car during the commute and on long business trips in the car. Some series, such as James Lee Burke and Tony Hillerman, I identify with the voice of the narrator. Then when that artist narrates a book by a different author, I think, “That’s the voice of Lieutenant Leaphorn.” I’m not sure about serialization, but if it increases readership, then there you go. Thanks again.

  9. I spend a LOT of time driving long distances to and from Florida and New Orleans. Twelve hours in a car alone is the perfect time to listen to a audio book and not feel I’m wasting my day.
    I started with Michelle Gagnon’s Don’t Turn Around and loved it. Next up for Friday is John Gilstrap’s latest High Treason.
    Anyone else here have any TKZ suggestions. I basically need a new book a week.
    Victoria Allman
    Author of: SEAsoned: A Chef’s Journey with Her Captain

    • I love audiobooks. I listen to them when exercising, when I’m gardening, and essentially anytime I can work them in. I buy some books from Audible, butjust as many free from my local library. There is an IPhone app called “overdrive” that allows you download books over wi-fi – up to 10 books at a time for 21 days. As my first book is still a month away from being published, I don’t now how authors get royalties from libraries if they do.

  10. Jim,

    Thanks for expanding our horizons. As a complete neophyte on the subject of audio books, I assume that the market has moved from CD’s to digital downloads on smart phones. And I’m guessing from Lance’s comment above and others that the biggest market would be commuters and people on business trips. My question (as a dinosaur in this new world) is: Do most people have devices to connect their smart phone to their car’s audio system? Do they use head phones? Or what? Sorry for such a stupid question. But as a rural “commuter” with a five minute drive to work, I am totally clueless.

    • Steve, cars these days do have ways to hook up audio devices to the system. I suspect some people use earbuds, but such may be frowned upon in certain jurisdictions. An iPod with a little speaker attached is another alternative.

  11. I love the idea of serials. Seanan McGuire has a serial novel through Kindle called Indexing, and I impatiently wait every other week for my new installment of her story about fairy tales ruining people’s lives.

    I think you could write a book and break it up into pieces, as Reece has done, but I was also playing with the idea of writing a novel with serialization in mind. Something like superheros or cops and robbers, the sort of story that has lots of twists and turns in it.

    I wondered how you’d go about structuring a serialized novel, if there’s any special considerations to keep in mind. If you’d only ever serialize a novel you’ve already written and edited, or if this could be the new way to write a series, and treat each chapter like we usually treat each book in an ongoing series.

    Perhaps someone has answers, or perhaps it’s still so new, no one’s really written a how to guide on serializing a novel in progress.

    I love the idea though. These are very exciting times indeed.

    • Elizabeth — This is all new to me, too, but I’m trying to figure it out as I write the second book in my series with serialization in mind. The episode breaks come about every 50-60 pages, so I’m trying to make sure that I structure the story to provide some conveniently placed cliffhangers.

    • Well one way to serialize a work in progress is to make it reader directed. Write a chapter, post a poll and stand back to see what they say. I’m horribly behind on updating but that’s what I did last summer with Mind the Thorns, an urban fantasy I wanted to write so I could say that I too had done a vampire novel.

      The other perk of doing it, despite the fact that you almost garuntee that no publisher will touch the work, is that you get constant feedback from an audience of readers. You find out what they like, don’t like, and what kinds of things are working for them. It makes it easier to mold the prose as you go, at least for me.

    • Reece, that’s a really good way of breaking things down, by the pages. I assume this would be easier than trying to break up a book that might not have such easier “read on” prompts. I’m definitely going to check out your book! Sounds interesting. Thanks for the reply.

      Rob, thanks for the reply, I’ve followed your blog. I really love the idea of reader feedback. How do you decide what to do if you’d really like to do something that the feedback is against? Like, the readers hate a character (that they’re supposed to) and demand his blood, but you’re planning on keeping him the main villain for a while?

  12. I’m afraid I’m a visual learner. I tried audio books and never got more than ten minutes in. I can’t remember names unless I see them written, so I was quickly lost. But I would like to get my novels out in audio format. One more thing on the To Do list.

    Smashwords crunched their data and found that serialized material didn’t sell well. But when Smashwords’ authors serialize, the reader has to remember to come back and pony up the next chunk of money for the next piece. I suspect that by removing those barriers with a single pay up front and automatic delivery to the device, more people will be willing to purchase, especially if the book is only available in serial form at first.

    Magazines like Analog Science Fiction and Fact have been serializing novels forever and still do. My daughter is a huge fan of manga, and many of her favorite series are posted in serial form (for free) on the authors’ websites. It’s how the authors get noticed so they can get publishing contracts.


  13. I love audio books, and my wife and I pick one (even if it’s one we’ve read/heard before) when going on long trips. Almost every Harry Bosch book I’ve read has been audio. For some reason, I read Connolley’s Mickey Haller books in print, though. Go figure.

    I think the trick is having a narrator who can differentiate voices well enough. When you’re reading it, you can tell where the writer did that, but if you’re concentrating on the road at the same time, I find sometimes I’ll get mixed up if the narrator’s less than great. Lou Diamond Phillips read an old James Patterson on CD, and even though I didn’t think the book was all that good (sorry, JP), LDP’s reading of it was magical. That guy has some serious gift for voices (again, go figure).

    That brings me to the comment about reading your own. Only you can know if you have the goods, but I’ve heard some writers do their own work, and it just wasn’t as good as a pro. It was really cool to hear Tony Hillerman read his own book, but the next one I got that had a pro reading it was just better. Then again, I’ve heard authors with really great voices do their own, and they sounded just like a professional reading it. So it depends.

    Good luck with it!

    • George Guidall read most of Tony Hillerman’s novels, and for me that is the voice I hear when I read them in print form. He’s a talented reader. Frank Muller is another good reader.

    • A couple other great voices out there to listen to are Dick Hill (voice of Lee Child’s Reacher series) and Stephan Rudnicki (voice of most of Orson Scott Card’s SciFi works).

  14. I wish we could get James Lee Burke to read his works. His voice is magical–like honey dripping off a stick. He always reads us something for an hour every October during the Missoula Festival of the Book.

  15. I am another who, unfortunately, has trouble getting into audio books. Attempts during car trips have shown that 1st person POV tales are better than 3rd, but neither compares to actual reading. Perhaps it is the slow pace of audio performance or distraction.
    From the comments it appears I’m an outlier. Any others besides Kathy and I that have difficulty enjoying audio books?

    Somewhat surprising as teachers that read aloud in the first years of grade school planted the seed of my lifelong reading passion.

    • I’m not an audio book person, either. They’re like background music to me. I wonder off into my own thoughts within moments. Reading with my eyes is my preference as well.

  16. I listen to audio books when I’m working on a portrait or painting for someone, because I need my eyes, but not really my brain (or at least the same part of my brain), while I’m working. It sometimes the only way I can get books done for the book club I’m part of.

    I’ve thought about putting my books up as audio books eventually and having my husband record them because he was a DJ for a radio station and has done voiceovers, etc.

    • While many DJs (perhaps most) don’t have the right voice for audiobooks some do, me included. If your hubby’s the acting chops GO FOR IT!!! You and he alike will not regret it! Check out for details on what it takes to self publish audiobooks directly to Audible and iTunes.

  17. Thanks for another good post, Jim. I’m hearing from more and more authors who are taking advantage of audiobooks as another way to get their stories to readers/listeners. Your personal testimony is very helpful. And Basil the narrator — I had no idea. A man of many talents, he is.

    We first started with audiobooks almost 20 years ago when I would go to the library and check out Hank the Cowdog books on tape for road trips with our kids. We all have very fond memories of Hank the Cowdog!

    I don’t indulge in audiobooks on a regular basis, but I do still make use of them when I make car trips by myself. I have an older vehicle, and the CD player broke years ago, so audiobooks are a good option. Right now, I have the books on my phone, and I use one earbud (don’t tell the authorities, please). Not ideal, but it works until I can upgrade the technology in my car to go directly from my phone to the car speakers.

    In 2012, I worked as an editor on a publishing project with author Sean Platt. Along with co-writer David Wright, Sean was publishing serial fiction way before Amazon let us know it’s a big deal. They’ve had great success with their serial fiction (YESTERDAY’S GONE), and through them I got to see serial fiction in action. It’s probably not for everyone, but has worked very well for them.

  18. We listen to audiobooks in the car all the time. My boys have been introduced to many great children’s series that way and we never go on a long trip without at least 2 audiobooks in tow. The serialization idea is a great one. Was at the Willamette Writers conference last weekend and one of the talks was on transmedia and the crux was diversification is crucial (more on that in my post tomorrow).

  19. I know I’m late to the party but Serialization has actually been taking off long before Amazon decided it was going to try to make bank on all these writers. is an established and solid collection of stories, published online as original (no fan fic) serial storytelling. It’s been around a while and many writers there have moved into professional status by using donations, subscriptions or “if you all Pay X by date Y I’ll post a bonus chapter” as a means to drive revenue without having to turn to selling the printed word in a more traditional format.

    Might be worth a look-see.

  20. I love audio books, and am am always listening to at least one in the car and/or on my iPhone.

    Plus, I’m just beginning to look for female narrators for my two novels (through ACX). The right narrator is key. The hurdle is up front cost if you don’t do a share profits thing.

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