When it comes to the business of writing and self-publishing, many authors think about selling their books via Amazon first. That makes sense because it is one of the biggest book-selling platforms. Those keen to secure more readers and not be reliant upon one platform often look to the Draft2Digital platform to distribute their books to other marketplaces like Apple, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, and the library services.
But there are two drawbacks to being reliant upon these big stores. Firstly, and understandably, they take their cut. Any writer selling via Amazon’s 70% royalty rate is paying Amazon 30% of the income their books generate on that platform. It’s worse for those writers opting for the 35% royalty rate because they’re handing 65% of their sales income to Amazon.
However, one business aspect many writers forget to consider is the loss of data. Potentially, this can be another huge drawback. Amazon (and any other platform we use to sell our books) knows who our readers are. We don’t. Unless we encourage readers to sign up to our mailing lists, we have no way of communicating directly with these readers.
More writers are taking on Amazon and the other sales platforms, by selling direct. Not only do they keep more of their money, but it also allows them to capture their readers’ data and use it to keep in touch with them.
But isn’t setting up your own shop difficult? It used to be, but things are getting easier. Many authors are taking back control of their writing business by selling their books directly to their readers.
Morgana Best is the author of Stop Making Others Rich, as well as being the USA Today bestselling author of more than fifty cosy crime novels. She accepts that selling direct isn’t as straightforward as uploading our manuscripts onto Amazon’s KDP platform, but there are still huge benefits to be had.
‘Being dependent on retailer algorithms can be precarious,’ she explains. ‘Authors are at the mercy of the store’s algorithms or curators and sometimes capricious or sudden changes. Most retailers defer payments to authors for up to 60 days post-sale. Contrast this with direct sales where next-day payments are the norm, and customer data is entirely yours.’
Ultimately, she explains, handing over all of our sales to Amazon and the other platforms enables them to use us more than we use them.
‘When you sell on a retailer, you are relinquishing control of your customers. The retailer retains customer ownership and is able to cross-sell and upsell other authors’ books to the customer as well as re-market to the customer for years to come.’
‘Whereas when you own a store,’ Morgana continues, ‘you are in control of discounts, promotions, and bundles. You can do whatever you like.’
Belinda Kroll writes award-winning cosy Victorian fantasy and fiction and her latest book in her cosy, romantic fantasy series, A Spirited Engagement, comes out in February. For Belinda, having her own online store where she sells directs to her readers is all about having direct control.
‘I’ve always sought independence and individuality. I’ve never sought traditional publishing, as my need for individualisation and creative control makes me unable to write without owning my platform and having direct access to my readers. To me, it’s imperative to have avenues I control where I can optimise my customer’s experience, so if something goes wrong, for instance, if Amazon drops me for some reason, I can still maintain my reader relationships.’
Currently, the two biggest sites authors use to sell direct are Shopify and Payhip, which Belinda says has made things much easier than it used to be.
‘Back in 2010, when I first self-published,’ says Belinda, ‘it was Smashwords and Createspace with links from your website. Now, all you need are Shopify or Payhip, integrated with BookFunnel for ebook and audio, and BookVault or Lulu Direct for print, and you’re set.’
It’s the integrations between services that have made this easier. By linking together different web services, it’s possible to automate a lot of the bookselling process. For example, many authors use BookFunnel to deliver digital reader magnets to anyone who signs up to their author newsletter. BookFunnel’s service makes it easy for readers to download an ebook to whichever tablet or e-reading device they use. Linking your BookFunnel account to your store means once readers have made their purchase, BookFunnel helps them collect and download their book.
What’s often stopped some authors selling direct is the inability to sell paperbacks. But Peterborough-based BookVault now offers a print-on-demand service that can integrate with your own store.
‘Merely setting up a Shopify store isn’t enough–far from it,’ she explains. ‘Many authors cram too much into their product pages. Many ignore legalities, such as breaching reviewers’ copyright, and worse still, not paying sales tax.’
Morgana also believes that authors need to remember that selling direct is a business transaction that requires a business mindset.
‘Authors selling on retailers will happily pay for cover designers and editors, but baulk at e-commerce costs such as apps or complain about the cost of Shopify. Shopify costs less than two coffees a week. Authors need to adopt a business mindset. A business needs investment of time and money.’
Not only does selling direct from your own store give you more control, it also gives you more flexibility when it comes to book launches.
‘I set up pre-orders exclusively on my store,’ says Morgana, ‘and then put them on the retailers’ platforms on release day. There are no rankings or algorithms to worry about.’
Belinda has also changed how she releases her new books. ‘I’m moving to a rolling release. First, I launch the pre-order to my store, and my paid community and newsletter subscribers hear about it first. My community members receive their copies of the eBook first. A month or so later, the book is delivered to my store, in eBook and paperback. A month or so later, the book launches wide on all retailers. I’m trying to identify my super fans this way, and reward them for sticking with me by receiving earlier access.’
This means her core super fans are getting their hands on Belinda’s latest release nearly two months before everyone else on the other sales channels.
So selling direct is not about eschewing the retailer platforms, but complementing them. As Morgana explains, Amazon, Apple Books, Kobo, and other platforms are where readers often find us first. Once we’ve caught them there, then we should encourage them across to our own store in the future.
‘Authors should sell on the retailers as well as selling direct. It’s not an either/or situation. In fact, retailers are a good source of readers for authors who can then channel the readers into their selling direct store. Many authors find Facebook ads to their store prompt an increase in retailer sales.’
Selling direct is not an easy option, but the rewards can outweigh the extra work. Belinda offers some words of caution, because it’s not a decision to take lightly.
‘This isn’t passive income,’ she says. ‘You are the product, the business, the support desk, and the complaint department. So, if you’re doing this, go all in and do it for real, and be real with your readers. They’re buying from you because they want to support you. And also, when you’re selling direct, your existing audience is important. If you’re a slow writer like me or rebuilding your audience, take advantage and do your experimentation now when the risk is low or not very visible. Once you’re bigger, the “cold” audience you get from ads is where you’ll keep the business afloat.’
Morgana agrees that selling direct takes time, but it’s a business investment. ‘It’s imperative to shed the retailer mindset. Success in direct sales is established upon basics and common sense. Rather than chasing special schemes or secret methods, focus on e-commerce fundamentals. Putting in the work, coupled with established e-commerce strategies, paves the way for success. The most important consideration for authors is that selling direct and selling on the retailers are worlds apart. When you sell direct, you own a business with books as products.’
As with any aspect of self-publishing, there is a learning curve, but there’s also a lot of help and advice out there, such as Morgana’s book. Belinda also learned a lot from a variety of sources.
‘Join the Authors Selling Direct Facebook group led by Morgana Best. Listen to every podcast interview you can find from Katie Cross. Watch how Angela J Ford keeps tweaking her websites. Study online entrepreneur methods. Learn how to drive traffic to your books, and build themed merchandise around them. Drop ship so you don’t have to worry about inventory sitting around, and if you need to make a correction, then you know you’re guaranteeing the next reader will receive the corrected version.’
Taking on Amazon and the other platforms is not about competing directly with them. Instead, it’s about getting closer to our readers. Training readers to buy direct from us cuts out the middleman, which means more of their money goes into supporting us. That helps us write more of the books they enjoy reading. And isn’t that what being a writer is all about?
Morgana Best’s Store: https://authorssellingdirect.com/
Belinda Kroll’s Store: https://worderella.com/
Other Useful Resources
Authors Selling on Shopify Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/authorssellingdirect
Katie Cross podcast: https://katiecrossbooks.com/pages/podcasts
The Creative Penn podcast: https://www.thecreativepenn.com/podcasts/