The past year has given us plenty to think (and worry) about, but I’ve seen one topic gain significant popularity among authors. I’m talking about something that would greatly affect your author business now and in the future: selling direct.
So, what is selling direct?
Many indie authors currently rely on retailers (Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, etc.) to do the selling* for them. After all, it’s the simplest way to get started.
*Of course, retailers don’t typically do anything with the marketing or advertising required for authors to sell their books, so let’s not get confused here. I’m talking about the “exchanging money for goods” definition of selling.
Most of us are selling books via retailers right now.
We’re selling indirectly, and technically, we’re not even selling. We just earn royalties.
The retailers deal with the sales and associated details like the hassle of collecting taxes (and remitting them to various levels of governments), delivering the goods, handling returns, offering customer service, gaining access to precious customer data, etc.
Many successful authors have realized that they could keep a larger chunk of money (and see that money faster, without having to wait 45-60 days to get it) if they were to sell their books directly to their readers on their own site (bypassing the retailers).
Of course, authors who don’t have exclusivity agreements with retailers can do both: they can leave their books up at the retailers to continue to earn royalties AND they can create their own online store and offer books and other merchandise for sale directly to their readers.
The latter is an example of selling direct, and I’ll refer to this as e-commerce since you’re likely to do it via your website (as opposed to from the trunk of your car or at cons since that pandemic is unlikely to disappear anytime soon).
E-commerce has several advantages:
- Keep more of your money
- Access that money faster (within 15 minutes instead of weeks or months)
- Access your customers’ email addresses
- Create exclusive bundles
- Offer discount codes and other ways to reward customers
- No ads for competing products/books when you’re selling directly on your site so readers can’t be distracted!
- Collect more useful information about your customers if your site is tracking data (where they came from, which of your marketing campaigns is working best, etc.)
- Sell your own merchandise with drop-shipping services
- Sell signed copies
- Potentially connect Facebook ads to your e-commerce cart and sell your books on Facebook
But there are also a few downsides:
- It’s a bit technical to set up (but more on that at the end of this post)
- Read your contracts and adhere to exclusivity terms or rights you’ve sold. If your ebooks are exclusive with Kindle Unlimited, you CANNOT sell those ebooks directly. (KU exclusivity rights don’t affect print/audio formats.) If your audiobooks are exclusive with ACX, you CANNOT sell those audiobooks directly. Same goes with any geographical rights or format rights you may have sold, so read your contracts.
- Delivering ebooks used to be difficult. (BookFunnel solved that problem years ago.)
- Delivering audiobooks used to be near impossible. (BookFunnel solved that problem last year.)
- You MAY have to collect/remit taxes, which will depend on where you live/where you sell/how much you earn. (Talk to an accountant about your specific situation as it varies greatly from country to country. Royalties and direct sales aren’t treated the same way when it comes to collecting and remitting taxes.)
- You need website traffic (it’s NOT because you sell stuff directly that people will magically find your website and buy from you). But there are ways to build this up, including having your own mailing list.
So, is “direct sales” the magic bullet that will make you a zillion dollars tomorrow?
No, of course not.
(I hope you know by now that there aren’t any silver bullets in this business.)
While adding e-commerce isn’t going to hurt your author website if you’re not ready for it, I do NOT recommend e-commerce for every author out there.
Who it’s NOT for:
If you’re NOT getting any traction at the retailers and don’t have any fans (yet), then I recommend you keep writing books and focus on getting people onto your mailing list instead of worrying about adding something else to your plate. Stop chasing the next shiny object! Ensure your covers and sales blurbs are enticing. Work on getting more reviews. Improve your back-matter to get more people on your mailing list. Eventually, your efforts will pay off, and you’ll reach a point where adding e-commerce capability to your website will make financial sense. Focus on what matters most with your limited time and energy.
Who it’s for:
If your books and author career have already gained some traction and you have readers on your mailing list (or a way to directly communicate with your readers), then adding e-commerce to your site could help you keep more money in your pockets and do all the cool things I listed above.
But don’t just take my word on it. Read this guest article by the Alliance of Independent Authors (Alli):
Or read this 2020 post by Joanna Penn:
So why did I ramble so long about selling direct?
It’s because I’ve been working on streamlining a way to add WooCommerce (the most popular e-commerce plugin for WordPress) to my Parallax for Writers theme (which doesn’t support it out of the box). If you’re an existing Parallax for Writers author, I’ll soon be offering a one-time service to “upgrade” your Parallax for Writers theme so you can run WooCommerce. Stay tuned for more information about it. (It’s NOT ready yet, so please be patient.)
If you’re using my Elementor for Writers theme, you don’t have to worry about compatibility. You could add WooCommerce to your site any time you want. Here are some videos to guide you.