How to Sell Books Direct to Readers: The Complete Guide

Selling your books on Amazon and other retail platforms has been the go-to strategy for many indie authors. While these platforms offer incredible reach and discoverability, they also come with certain drawbacks.

For one, any reader who buys your book on these platforms is not your direct customer – they belong to Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, or whichever retailer they purchased from. This means you don't gain access to valuable customer data like email addresses or purchasing behavior.

It's just that simple.

What's more, these platforms may even advertise competing books on your product pages. So when you drive traffic to your book listing, there's a chance the reader may end up buying someone else's book instead. Ouch.

So, when selling through these retailers, you're helping them build their customer base and generate profitable data, but not reaping those benefits yourself.

That's why selling books directly to readers is becoming an increasingly popular strategy among indie authors. While it may not be the right fit for everyone, selling direct offers several key advantages:

  • Greater control over your sales process and reader relationships
  • Increased profit margins by eliminating retailer commissions
  • Ownership of customer data for effective marketing
  • Flexibility to experiment with pricing, bundles, and special offers
In this guide, you'll learn:
  1. What direct selling is and how it differs from retail platforms
  2. The key benefits and challenges of selling direct
  3. How to determine if direct sales is right for your author business
  4. Choosing the ideal platform to host your direct sales storefront
  5. A step-by-step process to implement your direct sales strategy

Whether you're considering adding direct sales to your existing book promotion mix or making it the centerpiece of your author business, this guide will equip you with the insights and tactics you need to thrive.

Let's break it down.

Why Am I Qualified to Talk to You About Direct Selling?

You might be wondering, “Dave, what makes you an expert on selling books directly to readers?”

It's a fair question, and I'm happy to explain.

As the founder of Kindlepreneur, I've spent years learning the ins and outs of book marketing. I've had the privilege of consulting with major publishing companies and New York Times best-selling authors, helping them optimize their online sales strategies.

Over time, I've become known as “The Kindlepreneur” (even Amazon has called me that publicly!). My mission is simple: to help authors like you sell more books and navigate the technical side of self-publishing.

When it comes to direct sales, I've done my homework. My team and I have surveyed thousands of authors to learn what works and what doesn't when it comes to selling books through your own website.

We've crunched the numbers, analyzed the data, and simplified it all down into a clear set of best practices. And now, I want to share that knowledge with you.

So, when I say I'm qualified to talk to you about selling books directly to readers, it's not just because I've studied the topic extensively (although I have). It's because I've been in the trenches, testing and refining these methods to help authors like you build a sustainable income from your writing.

What Is Direct Selling?

Direct selling, or selling direct, is the process of selling your books to readers on a platform you own, such as your website's online store. Unlike retailers like Amazon or Apple Books, you have full control over the sales process and customer data.

See the image below that illustrates an example of a direct sales user journey:

You see, platforms like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, Kobo, etc. are all platforms that belong to someone else. They can be a great way to increase the distribution of your book, but you are ultimately promoting someone else, and making that person/company richer.

With selling direct, you use a platform that allows you to reach readers directly, and usually takes the shape of a store on your website.

To use more common language throughout the website world, you are creating an e-commerce site, just like Amazon, except it only carries products about you and your books.

Why Sell Direct?

There are several compelling reasons to sell books directly to readers:

  1. Eliminate Cash Flow Concerns: Get paid royalties instantly, allowing you to scale profitable ad campaigns quickly.
  2. Maintain Full Creative Control: Customize your book landing pages, pricing, descriptions, and more.
  3. Enjoy Pricing Flexibility: Set your own prices and earn higher royalties per sale.
  4. Own Valuable Reader Data: Gain direct access to customer emails and purchase behavior insights.
  5. Maximize Marketing Possibilities: Easily run A/B tests, experiment with sales copy, and implement unique selling strategies.
  6. Delight Readers with Exclusive Offers: Bundle books, offer signed copies, sell merchandise, and more.

More About Delighting Readers with Exclusive Offers

One often overlooked benefit of direct sales is the ability to go above and beyond for your audience. You can provide exclusive perks and experiences that make readers feel extra special.

When you sell direct, your possibilities opens up beyond just offering standard book formats. You have the freedom to create unique bundling options that you could not otherwise create on Amazon, such as combining an ebook with a print edition book, and to expand your product line with items that complement your books and enhance the reader experience. The potential merchandise you can offer is vast, including but not limited to:

  • Apparel and accessories (t-shirts, hoodies, hats, tote bags)
  • Art prints and posters
  • Stickers, magnets, and other small novelties
  • Enamel pins and embroidered patches
  • Mugs, tumblers, and other drinkware
  • Alternate book formats (hardcover, large print, special editions)
  • Audiobook editions
  • Subscription boxes and exclusive merchandise bundles
  • Companion guides, journals, and magazines

The possibilities are endless, limited only by your creativity, resources, and what your readers will love.

Who Should Sell Direct?

While the allure of higher profits and greater control makes selling direct an attractive proposition, it's important to recognize that it may not be the optimal path for every author. Succeeding with direct sales requires a willingness to invest time and effort into learning new skills and managing additional responsibilities.

Our recent survey of over 800 authors provides valuable insights into the profile of those finding success with direct sales:

  • 66% have a backlist of at least 5 published books
  • 44% have an established email list of 1,000 or more engaged subscribers
  • 40% have been selling direct for less than a year

Number of Books Written vs Average Monthly Revenue

Size of Email List vs Average Monthly Revenue

These findings paint a picture of what many successful direct-selling authors have in common. However, it's crucial not to interpret these statistics as prerequisites for success. Rather, they show the importance of having a solid foundation to build upon when considering direct sales.

If you're a newer author with a smaller catalog and readership, don't be discouraged. While having a larger backlist and mailing list certainly provides an advantage, it's by no means a guarantee of success, nor is it a huge barrier to entry.

The key factor is your willingness to put in the actual work and effort and continually expand your skillset. Selling direct involves wearing many hats – from web design and ecommerce management to customer service and data analysis. It's a significant undertaking, but one that can yield massive rewards for those committed to mastering the process.

Assess Your Situation

Before diving headfirst into direct sales, honestly assess your current situation and resources:

  1. Do you have a marketable book or series that readers are excited about?
  2. Are you prepared to invest time into building and optimizing your storefront?
  3. Can you consistently drive traffic to your website through email, social media, or ads?
  4. Are you comfortable handling the technical aspects of order processing and fulfillment?
  5. Do you have the financial means to absorb the upfront costs of setting up your direct sales system?

If you can confidently answer yes to most of these questions, then selling direct may be a great path for you, even if you're still in the early stages of your author career. The journey may be longer, but the destination is no less attainable.

On the flip side, if you're feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of adding yet another system to your already overflowing plate, there's no shame in continuing to focus on honing your craft and growing your platform on existing retail channels first. You can always circle back to direct sales once you've built a more robust foundation.

The beauty of being an indie author is that you get to write your own rules and define your own milestones. Don't feel pressured to rush into a direct sales model before you're truly ready and excited to take on the challenge.

Are Profit Margins Better When Selling Direct?

This is a question I receive all the time from authors considering making the leap into direct sales. The short answer is yes, selling direct can absolutely boost your profit margins across the board. But, of course, you'll need to put in some extra work to set up and maintain your own sales channels, and you'll be responsible for marketing and driving traffic to your direct sales pages.

Here's a breakdown of how profit margins compare across different formats:

  1. Ebooks: When you sell ebooks directly to readers through your own website, you keep 100% of the profits. In contrast, Amazon typically takes a 30% cut of your ebook sales, leaving you with just 70% of the revenue.
  2. Print Books: The profit margins for print books sold directly to readers can vary depending on your fulfillment method: a. Amazon Fulfillment: If you use Amazon's print-on-demand service, they may charge around $7 per book for printing and fulfillment, eating into your profits. b. BookVault: Using BookVault for print-on-demand fulfillment typically costs around $5-$6 per book, depending on the size and format of your book. c. IngramSpark: With IngramSpark, the average printing cost per book is approximately $3.50-$5.00, depending on factors like page count and trim size.
  3. Audiobooks: Similar to ebooks, when you sell audiobooks directly to listeners, you retain 100% of the profits. On platforms like Audible (owned by Amazon), authors typically receive a 40% royalty share, meaning the majority of the revenue goes to the retailer.

By selling direct, you have the potential to significantly increase your profit margins across all formats. Authors willing to invest in building their own platform, the rewards of higher profit margins and greater control over their business can be well worth it.

Before Selling Direct

Before you begin selling direct, there are couple of things you should keep in mind:

  • Make sure you have all your rights: you want to make sure you have all the rights to sell direct. For example, if your book is enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, you will need to take it out of KU before you can sell those ebooks direct. Likewise, if your book is tied up in some kind of traditional publishing deal, you will need to make sure you have the correct rights.
  • Have an email list set up: email marketing is a pivotal part of selling direct, and you will want to make sure you have an email list that is set up to take emails from your store. Most email platforms will have integrations of some kind, though some are better than others. Klayvio, for example, is terrific at integrating with Shopify.
  • Prepare for a paradigm shift: selling direct requires an entirely different mindset from other forms of bookselling. It requires you to think like a business owner, to consider new forms of marketing, and to learn new skills.

Choosing Your Sales Path and Platform

The first, and often biggest, question you should ask yourself is what platform should you use to sell direct.

There are several different options, although there is one clear winner, one used by most authors who are making a living selling direct.

My Top Recommendation

Overall, Shopify is my top recommendation for authors serious about selling direct.

Get started with Shopify

That said, there are authors using all three of these options, and doing it well:

ShopifyRobust features, smooth integrations, most likely to offer the greatest returnsMore difficult to set up than PayHip and Gumroad. Monthly subscription fee.
WooCommerceHighly customizable, WordPress integration, can be inexpensiveTechnically the most difficult to setup. Pricing structure can make it difficult to estimate overall store cost.
PayhipQuick setup, no upfront costs, digital product focus. Good for the hobby author who may not want a full business.Limited features and customization
GumroadNo upfront cost, easy to use, popular with creatorsHigher 10% fee on digital sales, limited features
  1. Shopify: Shopify is the clear winner for serious authors selling direct. Despite a learning curve and monthly cost, it offers the most robust features and integrations. The app store provides everything from upsells to print-on-demand. Investing in Shopify shows commitment to your author business.
  2. Woocommerce: WooCommerce is similar to Shopify but free and requires WordPress expertise. While it has comparable plug-ins, it's more technically challenging. Shopify is still recommended for its ease of use and smoother integrations.
  3. Payhip: Payhip is suitable for hobby authors seeking a low-cost, simple solution. However, it has limited features, customization options, and a 10% fee on digital sales.
  4. Gumroad: Gumroad is recommended for authors selling a few books on the side. It's free, user-friendly, and geared towards digital content creators. Some authors make a living on Gumroad, but it lacks Shopify's full functionality.

Your Step-by-Step Direct Sales Process

Follow these steps to start selling books directly to readers:

  1. Format your books: Prepare digital files optimized for direct sales, tweaking front/back matter if needed.
  2. Set up your store: Create essential pages like the homepage, book product listings, about page, etc.
  3. Determine book delivery method: Integrate ebook delivery with BookFunnel, print book orders through Lulu or Bookvault, and audiobooks with Authors Direct or BookFunnel.
  4. Email your list: Announce your direct store to existing newsletter subscribers with clear benefits.
  5. Share on social media: Post about your new storefront on your social media profiles and author groups.
  6. Run Facebook ads: Leverage sales-focused Facebook ads with on-site conversion tracking to drive qualified traffic.
  7. [Optional] Offer merch: Consider print-on-demand merch like shirts, mugs, etc. via providers like Printful.

Now let's walk through each of the steps one by one…

Step 1: Format Your Books

Before you can start selling your books directly to readers, you need to ensure they are properly formatted and optimized for digital and print distribution. While the basic formatting process is similar whether you're selling on Amazon or your own storefront, there are a few key considerations to keep in mind.

First and foremost, we highly recommend using Atticus to streamline your book formatting workflow. Atticus is a powerful, user-friendly writing and formatting tool that makes it incredibly easy to create professional-grade books for any platform.

With Atticus, you can:

  • Write your manuscript in a distraction-free environment
  • Automatically format your book for ebook and print with just a few clicks
  • Create beautiful, customizable book covers that stand out from the crowd
  • Generate a clean, publish-ready file in minutes, not hours or days

One of the major advantages of Atticus is its ability to create multiple versions of your book optimized for different sales channels. For example, when selling direct, you might want to tweak certain elements of your front and back matter compared to your Amazon listing.

Instead of linking to your other books on Amazon in the “Also By” section, you can easily point readers to your own online store. This keeps shoppers within your sales ecosystem and prevents them from being distracted by competing titles.

Similarly, if you're offering a reader magnet or exclusive bonus content to incentivize mailing list signups, you may want to adjust your calls-to-action when selling direct. Since you'll already be capturing customer email addresses at checkout, you can focus on alternative bonus offers or simply emphasize the benefits of joining your list for future updates and promotions.

Formatting Has Never Been Easier

Write and format professional books with ease.  Never before has creating formatted books been easier.

Click here to see it in action

Step 2: Set up Your Store

Creating a user-friendly and visually appealing online storefront is essential for making a strong first impression on potential customers. Start by choosing a platform like Shopify, WooCommerce, or Payhip that aligns with your technical skills and budget.

Next, design your store's layout and branding to reflect your author identity. Ensure that navigation is intuitive and that key pages like your homepage, product listings, and about page are easily accessible.

When crafting your product listings, write compelling descriptions that highlight each book's unique selling points and target audience. Use high-quality cover images and consider including sample chapters or excerpts to give readers a taste of your writing.

Finally, don't forget to set up essential backend functions like payment processing, tax calculations, and shipping configurations to ensure a smooth checkout process.

Step 3: Determine Book Delivery Method

Once you've set up your storefront, you'll need to choose a reliable method for delivering your book files to customers. For ebooks, consider integrating with a service like BookFunnel, which securely delivers files to readers' devices and offers customer support to troubleshoot any technical issues.

For print books, platforms like Lulu or Bookvault can handle on-demand printing and fulfillment, so you don't have to manage inventory or shipping yourself. Simply upload your formatted files and set your retail price, and they'll take care of the rest.

If you're selling audiobooks, services like Authors Direct or BookFunnel can handle the secure delivery and distribution of your audio files to listeners.

Whichever delivery methods you choose, be sure to test the process thoroughly to ensure a seamless customer experience.

Step 4: Email Your List

Once your store is up and running, it's time to let your existing fans know about it. Send a targeted email campaign to your newsletter subscribers announcing the launch of your direct storefront.

In your email, clearly communicate the benefits of buying direct, such as exclusive bonus content, discounted prices, or early access to new releases. Provide a prominent link to your store and include a strong call-to-action (CTA) encouraging recipients to check it out.

Consider offering a limited-time launch discount or special offer to incentivize immediate purchases. You can also segment your email list based on past engagement or purchase history to tailor your messaging and offers accordingly.

Step 5: Share on Social Media

Social media is a powerful tool for raising awareness about your new direct sales channel. Create eye-catching graphics or videos showcasing your store and its unique offerings, and share them across your social media profiles.

Engage with your followers by asking for their feedback or opinions on your store design, product offerings, or upcoming releases. Consider running a social media contest or giveaway to generate buzz and attract new potential customers.

Don't forget to leverage relevant hashtags and participate in conversations within your genre or niche to expand your reach beyond your existing followers.

Step 6: Run Facebook Ads

Running targeted Facebook ads is crucial for driving high-quality traffic to your direct sales store. However, these ads differ from those used when selling books on Amazon.

On Amazon, you typically run “traffic” ads that focus on clicks, regardless of purchase likelihood. When selling direct, you'll want to run “sales” ads that target people more likely to buy your book. This requires installing the Facebook pixel on your website to track visitor behavior and optimize for conversions.

To create effective Facebook ads for your direct sales store:

  1. Install the Facebook pixel on your website
  2. Create compelling ad visuals and copy showcasing your book's unique value
  3. Experiment with various ad formats (images, videos, carousels)
  4. Utilize detailed targeting options based on interests, behaviors, and demographics
  5. Create lookalike audiences based on your existing customer email list
  6. Monitor ad performance and adjust bids, budgets, and targeting to optimize for conversions
  7. Continuously test and refine your approach based on data insights

While this approach requires some unlearning, the quality of traffic driven to your direct sales page will be much higher and more likely to convert compared to traffic sent to Amazon. By following these steps and continually optimizing your ads, you can effectively drive qualified leads to your store and maximize your return on ad spend.

Step 7: [Optional]: Offer Merchandise

One of the great advantages of having your own direct sales store is the ability to offer merchandise beyond just books. This can include items like stickers, t-shirts, mugs, or high-quality prints of your book covers.

To streamline the process and avoid holding and shipping inventory yourself, there are print-on-demand services that integrate with popular e-commerce platforms:

  1. Choose a print-on-demand service like Printful, Redbubble, or Teespring
  2. Integrate the service with your e-commerce platform (e.g., Shopify, WooCommerce)
  3. Create designs for your merchandise items
  4. Add the merchandise products to your online store
  5. Promote your new offerings to your email list and social media followers

We’re Here to Help!

See why Publisher Rocket users love our support team.

Check It Out Here

I've also written an entire article on these courses and what they cover. So check that out.

Need Help Building It?

If you're looking to dive deeper into the world of direct book sales, I highly recommend investing in a comprehensive course. My top pick is the Author Marketing Mastery through Optimization (AMMO) course by USA Today best-selling author Steve Pieper.

Author Marketing Mastery through Optimization (AMMO) course by USA Today best-selling author Steve Pieper

The AMMO course offers a proven, systematic approach to selling books directly to readers. You'll learn how to create profitable Facebook ads, design high-converting landing pages, set up a revenue-boosting Shopify store, and nurture your buyers with effective email funnels.

What sets the AMMO course apart is Steve's focus on conversion optimization. His strategies have helped countless authors achieve profitability and even quit their day jobs within a year. While the course may not cover every aspect of setting up a Shopify store in detail, it excels at teaching you how to understand your readers and craft messages that resonate with them.

In addition to the AMMO course, two other resources worth exploring are:

These courses offer additional insights into direct sales strategies and can complement the knowledge gained from the AMMO course.

Investing in your education is key to succeeding with direct book sales. By learning from experts like Steve Pieper who have already achieved massive success, you can fast-track your own journey to profitability and author independence.

Hiring Someone to Help You Set Up Your Store

If you're intimidated by the amount of work involved here, know that you can hire someone to help. Here is a list of service providers that you can look to potentially hire to help you set up your store:

Examples of Authors with Direct Sales Websites

And here is a list of some authors who have websites that you can look at, along with their #1 piece of advice as well.

Key Takeaway

It is my personal belief that selling direct is the best way to move forward as an indie author. I think at some point, discoverability on Amazon and other platforms will be down to all-time lows, and it will cost too much in ad spend to make it profitable, that selling direct will become a necessity, not just an option.

Plus, with the advent of AI, we know that the marketplace is about to get more crowded than ever. The best ways to hedge against that possibility is to establish your own brand, and take control of your author business directly.

There is no better way to do that than to set up your own direct sales store.

Sell more books on Amazon

Free Download

Amazon Kindle Rankings E-Book

Learn how to rank your Kindle book #1 on Amazon with our collection of time-tested tips and tricks.