Can You Make Money Writing Short Stories And Publishing Them Online For Free?

I have been thinking about this for quite some time now. What has made me think about this is the fact that a couple of years ago, myself and a friend had some incredible results with several websites which generated a fair amount of money from Google AdSense revenue and T-Shirt sales.

What started off as an experiment became a booming business venture. We built a couple of websites and created image heavy articles. We added the articles to the sites then started to share them across social media.

The articles were constructed in a way so that the advertising was placed strategically and so were the affiliated T-Shirts.

We started to earn something like $30 a month then it grew to $30 a week then it went to $30 a day.

At this point we started to run Facebook ads to give posts a push and targeted people with professions and interest in the article subject matter. I.E. adverts for a post about nurses was shown to nurses only, a post about doctors had adverts which targeted doctors and posts about the military had adverts aimed at military personnel. With Facebook’s targeting tool it was pretty easy to do.

Not all adverts worked well but when they did… boy did they work well! We were using a system better known as click arbitrage, for every pound/dollar we were spending we were making 2, 3 or 5 back. We went from $30 a day to several hundred, we were about to hit our first $500 day and closing up on our first $10,000 month when it suddenly turned against us.

Facebook changed its targeting tool and Google AdSense cut its advertising CPC (Cost Per Click) by half. The revenue suddenly dropped to nothing. The good days were over, for 6 months things were growing brilliantly but within a matter of a couple of days it was dead.

I know what you are thinking, if we were paying money out for ads then we wasn’t making money by giving stuff away for free. Well yes that’s right however I am just giving you some history of what happened, a background of where the idea came from. I am not proposing that you start using adverts, you can if you want but that is not the plan.

You see, the articles we were writing were free, we were not selling them. They were added to a website and then shared on social media. Before we started running adverts they were shared for free. As for the content itself, it was typical viral crap, it was just anything we thought people would enjoy, like and share.

But as writers, we want to write quality stories, stuff that people will love. We want to build a tribe of emphatic fans. What happens when you get those fans? They want more of the same, they want more of our work. Which we hope means that they would keep visiting the website to read more stories and re-read the stories they enjoyed.

(Yes, I know, the covers need re-doing, I have a total revamp planned for the Bernard Cooper stories… one day!)

It’s this tribe of fans who would re-read and share your stories and maybe buy merchandise. In one month we made just under $1000 on affiliated T-shirt sales alone from our websites. These were sales of T-shirts we hadn’t designed, they were other people’s T-shirts found on the website For each shirt we sold we were paid on average $6.

If you create great fiction with lovable characters couldn’t you create T-shirts, mugs and hats which are relevant? Products your fans might love?

If you had Google AdSense on you pages you will earn money every time an advert is shown. This is called CPM, (Cost Per Mille – Latin for thousand) To make decent money you have to have thousands of advert impressions. If you have books in Amazon’s Select programme you need thousands of page reads to make good money – but with Google, if people click on the adverts you can earn more, this cannot happen in Amazon Select. Depending on what the advert was promoting you can earn pennies up to several pounds/dollars per click.

Adverts which are shown on websites are shown based on two factors: what the reader had recently been searching for on Google and the content of the page. Everyone is shown different ads, so a person in Lincoln in the UK will very likely see different ads to someone in Australia visiting your website.

If the person in Lincoln had recently been searching Google for villas for hire in Ibiza they could be shown adverts for holiday rental property in Ibiza. If one of the adverts caught their eye and they clicked on the advert, you would make a few pounds/dollars due to the subject topic. Holiday rentals are high ticket items with a lot of competition so for example: if the advertiser  paid Google £$30 per click for their advert when shown across their network – I.E. on your website – you could earn £$15 or more from that one click.

The other type of advert Google show is the one which matches the content on the page. If your page had an article talking about Mexican food then Google would try and match the adverts to that content and adverts about Mexican restaurants, food, cooking equipment, cooking books and maybe even Mexican holidays would be shown. If anyone clicked on these adverts, you would earn money. The money earned from each advert will vary depending on what the advert was for.

Remember, if adverts are not clicked, you can still earn money if they have been shown thousands of times to people –  impressions count.  

If Google doesn’t have any search history for a visitor or if they cannot match an advert to the content then they will show a range of default adverts. These may not get clicked but if they are shown enough times – thousands of impressions – you will earn money.

The recent film The Martian starring Matt Damon started off as a web based book. The author Andy Weir would write a new chapter and publish it to his website for his fans to read. Even though they could read it on his website for free many asked for it to be published on Kindle so they could buy it. Eventually, the story was published by a traditional publishing company then bought by Hollywood and turned into a film. Anything is possible online!

The other thing that makes me think publishing books on your own website for free could be profitable is that you can add Amazon affiliate links within your pages. Noone knows everything and by their nature books describe a lot of physical items like phones, cars, watches, drinks, food etc. You could link out to expensive Amazon products which could potentially earn you a lot of money.

Amazon affiliate links are both great and bad. Great in the fact that they place a cookie on the computers of those who clicked on the links meaning that if they buy anything from Amazon within a specific time frame even if they clicked away and went back you still get the commissions. Also you get paid no matter what is bought, so if you link to a watch but they click off the watch and go and buy a microwave you still get an affiliate commission. If they buy several products you get a commission on everything.

The bad is that you need to have accounts with many Amazon sites like the US .com, the UK and the German .de site otherwise if you have an affiliate account with just the US .com site any visitors from the UK and Germany will be directed to their own sites and if they buy any products you unfortunately do not earn a commission – unless you have an affiliate account with that country’s site. Does that make sense?

To make money adding books to Amazon Select you need to have a fair few if not a lot of pageviews. You will need a lot of people to find and read your books. If you are going to market your books so that people find them would it not make sense if you point potential readers to your website? At least they don’t need to pay Amazon a monthly subscription to access their Select programme.

The big bonus of hosting your stories on your own website is that you can build an email list. Email lists are a must in the internet marketing world. When you have an email list you can inform people of your latest stories and promote merchandise or any stories which you do sell via Amazon. There is a saying in the internet marketing industry…

‘The Money Is In The List.’

There are ways to build email lists when selling books on Amazon, inside your books you place a small write up about your website or offer a free ebook in exchange for their email address but you need to send those readers to a website.

When you publish your stories for free on your own website you are already sending people to your website. Websites allow you to add pop-up boxes, sidebar sign-up forms and sign-up forms within pages giving you every opportunity to get readers to join your mailing lists… before they even read a word.

So is it possible to build up a nice income stream and a profitable website by publishing your stories for free on a website? I cannot say for definite but I do think it’s possible however there could be a couple of problems which could hinder the success.

  1. Trying to get people away from the idea of reading via Amazon’s Kindle tablets and apps could be a big issue. People read articles on websites but generally today they read books through a dedicated app or tablet. However, there are some popular websites dedicated to erotica that people visit and read without using reading apps which gives me hope.
  2. When your site grows with content and you start to get a lot of daily visitors you will need to up your hosting package meaning that your monthly website costs will go up quite a bit. We went from spending around £3 a month to £60 a month on hosting but we were making hundreds and for a few months several thousand pounds per month so the hosting costs were nothing in the grand scheme of things.

It’s something that I think needs testing. I might try it out one day. I might write a dedicated series of short stories, drive traffic to the website and record the results in a case study which I will share with you here on Self Publishing Journey.

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