Academy for Wayward Authors: Hunting for Profit in the Publishing Wilderness

Would you go out and hunt a grizzly bear without ever having shot a gun?

Put aside your feelings about hunting animals and get inside this analogy with me.

Many authors declare they dream of becoming a best-selling author who earns six or seven figures.

That’s like looking to become a legendary big game trophy hunter without ever camping a night outside, tracking an animal, or shooting a gun.

What’s terrible is the whole hunting industry is focused on selling hunting gear, bullets, and guns to big game hunters who have never shot a gun. There is more money in hunting gear than hunting.

Writing is no different.

The trophy or the experience?

When you adopt the identity of a hunter, then the trophies that mount your wall are just a marker for an experience you’ve had. Your genuine joy is when you ARE hunting.

Maybe you’ve heard of Africa’s Big Five game—the elephant, rhinoceros, African buffalo, lion, and leopard.

You could take a lifetime hunting these, or with enough money, you could have it done in a matter of weeks.

Doing it to have the trophies is hunting for status and recognition. It’s not sustainable. The joy is fleeting and requires others to give you recognition.

Hunting began as a way of life to obtain the sustenance needed for the hunter and their tribe. It was a daily activity, with attention to the act and one’s interaction with the environment. It was a way of life, not a photo op and vacation experience.

While the big game is impressive, the most valuable hunter was the one who could deliver sustenance, regardless of the conditions.

Why do you want to hunt?

Not all game is the same.

There is a variety of game, and each has its way of being hunted. In the hunter-gatherer age, the hunter would strike a balance between what they needed and what resources it took to catch more resources. There was always a trade-off. You made choices about how long you hunted, what weather you hunted in, and the size of the game versus the danger it presented.

The Academy isn’t about getting you the trophy on the wall but teaching you how to interact with the ecosystem to get and give what you need for sustainable hunting.

There are tools to master and skills to learn to make you a successful hunter of what you are best suited to hunt.

What is it we hunt?

Let’s get clear on what we hunt.

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Bank, not rank. How do you craft a hunting expedition that brings home the only worthy trophy—profit?

As homework, think about what you are focusing on. Is your current hunt out to get the big trophy, or is it based on your current resources and getting the most out of those resources with minimal risk?

For example, suppose you are limited to a budget of $2,000 for the production and launch of your book. In that case, you should carefully consider the best strategies to ensure a return on your investment.

This includes considering how you will reach your audience, the marketing strategies you will employ, and the additional resources you will need to ensure the launch’s success.

With the right plan in place, you can be sure to get back your original investment plus a reasonable return. What is reasonable? Well, if you put $2,000 in the stock market and had $2,400 at the end of the year, that would be a 20% annual return.

If you did the same numbers in a book launch that earned that money in six months, that would be a 40% annual return. Those are amazing returns, but they don’t seem like it when you are looking at another hunter’s trophies.

You must put your hunting skills in context with that of more experienced hunters. You may want to hunt the grizzly, but perhaps you should be trapping rabbits, given your time as a hunter.

In the end, the post-tax profit that comes out of the business is all that matters.

Every other indicator is in support of it. Having a great Return on Investment (ROI) for your advertising doesn’t matter if your business doesn’t return cash to you. All you’ve done is make profits for the advertising platform.

“But, Joe, I decided to reinvest everything to grow my business.”


So you could “go big or go home”?

Do you think that once your business gets to a certain level of income, it will become easier?

Are you desperate to quit your day job, so are you pushing your business to be something it isn’t yet?

These are distractions for the true hunter. A trophy hunter is all about how it looks on the wall. A real hunter is always looking to bring home game to sustain themselves and their tribe with the appropriate risk while using the resources they have.

Preparing for a lifetime of hunting

Let’s say you take down the big game and have a colossal book launch. Eventually, your audience will consume it, leaving you with residual sales. You have the trophy on the wall, but you’re hungry again.

Look to build the practice of hunting and returning to the village with a meal every day.

That’s you taking profit out of your business.

We are going to focus on building a business that gets to break even fast and then always provides a profit. In the beginning, it may be small. That’s okay. The point is to have a consistent pattern of profit production.

 Learning the trail signs

The act of hunting isn’t just the kill but tracking.

You are learning to see the signs of your prey and honing in on the biggest profit you can take down.

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Sometimes, it is hard to see where you are on the trail. More money is going out during production than coming in on that title. When your business is profitable, it’s easy to stop watching the costs you accrue on your most recent launch. Do that on enough things, and then you will have no idea what happened to all of your money.

Another example is a project like translations. When you see the money you invest in a translation or audio return quickly with a profit, you get excited and look to take advantage of the opportunity. You push more and more resources into the project only to find that you get into cash flow problems.

Yes, there is profit on the trail ahead, bigger than there is now, but you find yourself out of cash and can’t meet your personal needs, or other parts of the business get neglected and suffer.

In our hunting analogy, mismanaging cash flow is like starving to death while you hunt the elk that could feed the whole tribe.

So what’s the point of this story?

If I just talked about profit and its importance, it wouldn’t stick.

Facts and numbers are hard to retain, but the story of you as a profit hunter learning the ways of the profit hunt is easier to recall. You may not always remember the specific skill to apply on the hunt, but you’ll know that now you’re a profit hunter.

One more thing…

Here is some homework. Start tracking profit. Look for the trails through your business. What are your more profitable series? What processes eat up the most profit? Is it the same for every book? You don’t need to know why. Just identify the signs.

Read: Profit Essentials for Indie Authors