8 min 13 sec

Book Reviewer Finds Money In The Stacks

An author and librarian creates a free video archive of book recommendations, then funds the project with her own publishing imprint.
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What It's About

A librarian discovers income-generating ideas in making book recommendations.

Business Model
Skills Required
Writing & Marketing
Profit Potential

Words of Wisdom

Often times we are unaware of the variety of ways we can create income streams from a particular market. Michelle's story is great because she demonstrates the multiple ways she generates revenue through publishing.

Fun Fact

While Michelle was working at Marie Claire, she wrote an article titled “Does Your Guy Need A Makeover?”, which was one of the main inspirations for the original TV show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy

Notes from Chris

Episode 1068
Michelle Zaffino had what most would consider a successful career in journalism, writing for high-profile women’s magazines. And yet, she was looking for something new. She tried freelance copywriting for e-commerce, but while creative to a point, was not challenging her in the same way her previous writing had. And so she dove into writing her first self-published young adult novel and then using a company called Smashwords to distribute it.

The novel sold a few dozen copies, at least until a prominent teen-lit librarian happened upon the book, bought it, and gave it a glowing recommendation on her book review blog. With that one recommendation, Michelle’s sales skyrocketed. She made a couple thousand dollars in short order. Unsurprisingly, Michelle was fascinated by the power reviews had to influence a book’s success. When she shared her experience with other self-published authors, they confirmed that her one high-profile book review had shattered the returns they found on their own carefully curated marketing campaigns and paid ads.

Her book had the professional recommendation of a librarian—and that made all the difference.

Around this time, Michelle enrolled in a masters program at the University of Pittsburgh in Library and Information Science with a concentration in Information Architecture. For her thesis, she decided to merge the world of Library Science with digital technology, and started recording video reviews of books from her librarian perspective, calling the project “In The Stacks TV.” It didn’t take a lot of equipment, beyond what she already had: her computer’s webcam, free video editing software, and a YouTube account.

She’d post the reviews from her own library of books, and put together a website that organized those videos for people to easily find recommendations. This meant breaking them out into categories, with tags for authors and genres, and back-linking everything across the website to establish an intelligent site map.

She looked into what it would cost to set up a publishing imprint, which would simply be a business entity she could publish her writing under. This would also allow her to grow by publishing other authors or projects, without giving away any of her royalties or production costs.

Michelle was surprised to find that she could simply file for a DBA or “Doing Business As” status under In the Stacks Publishing, while still operating as a sole proprietor. The registration, filing, and subsequent announcement only cost about $150.

However, this was all happening at the same time she was attending a 3 month evening coding school to learn to code. She wanted to grow In the Stacks, and to do that she would have to build a more robust internal book recommendation program.

But she couldn’t learn how to code a program, write a new novel, work on her freelance projects that were her primary source of income, and continue creating new content on the site. That’s when she began to reach out to librarians she knew or had communicated with online, asking them to start sharing some of their recommendations.

This was the beginning of the MyLibrarian portal on her site, which offers crowdsourced librarian recommendations.

After that proof of concept, she was able to build out her book recommendation program and start developing an app that will give users those recommendations from her curated network of librarians.

That’s what’s coming next: the idea that if you aren’t able to get into a library to speak with a librarian in person, at least you can get their insights while staring at the shelves in your local bookstore.

Michelle plans on continuing to build In the Stacks publishing as well, looking to add new authors and titles. With her own books making such an impact on her revenue bottom line, it seems like the next novel idea.


  • In the Stacks TV: Get great book recommendations and learn more about Michelle and her business from her website.
  • Smashwords: Looking to self-publish your own book and need help with distribution? Consider Smashwords. This is the platform that Michelle used.


Inspiration is good; inspiration combined with action is better. Now get back to work!

Yours in the revolution,


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Quote of the Day
"It's amazing having creative and marketing control over your books, while also getting a large portion of the profits directly deposited into your bank account."
—Michelle Zaffino #SideHustleSchool

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