How to Sell Books Direct to Readers: The Complete Guide

Selling on Amazon, and even selling wide on other platforms, has its drawbacks.

For one, any reader that buys your book is not your customer, they are Amazon's customer, or Apple's customer, or Barnes & Noble's customer, etc. You don't get any of that data.

And what's more, Amazon will even advertise other authors books on your page, making it just as likely that they will buy someone else's book when you drive traffic to that page.

Amazon wants you to drive traffic to their page, because they get valuable data.

You do not. Plain and simple.

Which is why selling books directly to readers is becoming a hot new trend in indie publishing these days.

While not for everyone, selling direct does allow authors a certain degree of freedom, and a lot more information that allows authors to get closer to their readers and begin to build that fan base.

And in this article, you will learn:
  1. What selling direct is
  2. Why you should sell direct
  3. Which sales platform you should use
  4. A step-by-step process to sell direct

Why Am I Qualified to Talk to You About Websites?

It's totally understandable to ask, why is this guy talking to me about building a website? How can he prove the he knows what he's talking about?

Totally understandable question.

Well, for one, I've been the content manager for Kindlepreneur for many years now, and in that time I've learned from the best, and built Kindlepreneur up to the point where it gets more than double the organic traffic that it received when I started.

Additionally, I've built a variety of author websites in my time, including MythBank, which is for my fiction audience.

But before Dave and I even started writing this article and all of the other related articles, we put our heads together to figure out the best approach, then surveyed hundreds of thousands of authors to learn what they do when building author websites.

When putting all that expertise together, I believe I have a good idea of the best routes authors should take to build their website.

So let's dive in.

What Is Selling Direct?

Direct Selling Option

Put simply, selling direct is the process of selling your books directly to readers on a platform that you own.

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 many different reasons why you might want to sell direct, including:

  • There is no cash flow problem
  • You maintain full creative control
  • You have additional pricing freedom
  • You collect reader information
  • Selling direct is great for A/B testing and other selling strategies
  • You can create additional add-ons
  • Let's look at each of these one by one…

No Cash Flow Problem

One of the biggest problems with advertising on Amazon or anywhere else, is that Amazon takes a long time to pay you your royalties.

That means you could be spending money on ads, and even if they are profitable, it will be two months before you see that profit. This can create a major cash flow problem.

However when you sell direct, you can get paid your royalties instantly, or nearly so. This means that as you are advertising your books, if they are profitable, you can instantly scale your ads to hundreds or even thousands of dollars, because you will be making that money back immediately.

Maintain Full Creative Control

Most of us authors got into self-publishing because we liked the aspect of creative control. Setting up your own website to sell direct is a way to increase that control even more.

This is because websites like Amazon control many parts of the marketing, such as what your landing page looks like, how much you can price your book, what you can or cannot say in your book description, etc.

When selling direct, you have direct control over all of these things. For example, I like to create a landing page to show off my books in a fancy way, something I can never do on Amazon.

Pricing Freedom

Amazon restricts the amount of royalties you get if you price your book less than $2.99 or higher than $9.99. This is a real bummer, because some books are definitely worth more than $9.99.

Or, alternatively, it becomes very difficult to make a profit from a $0.99 book, if you are only seeing 35 percent of those royalties.

However, when selling direct, you earn nearly 100% (usually minus a few small fees), which means you can price your books as high or as low as you want.

Collect Reader Information

This was what finally pulled me over into the world of selling direct. When someone buys a book from Amazon, Amazon knows a lot about them. They know their email, their buying habits, and more.

When you sell on Amazon, you know none of that.

And so we resort to freebies linked in the back of our books, encouraging people to sign up to our email list. But honestly, a very small percentage of buyers will do this.

When you sell direct, you get the emails for most of your buyers. The only emails you won't get are from those buyers who specifically opt out of email lists.

This is possibly the most powerful weapon an author can wield, the ability to gain the contact information and buying information of your customers. This not only helps you sell better, but allows you to get closer to your reader and discover what they like.

A/B Testing, Copywriting, and Other Selling Strategies

Selling direct is a wonderful opportunity for marketing-minded authors. There are plenty of opportunities for A/B testing, trying different headlines and tweaking the copywriting, tweaking sales pages, and many other selling strategies that you can't do as well on Amazon (because you don't have a way of recording the data).

Additional Product Ideas

When selling direct, you are not limited to just books. You can do things that you could never do on Amazon, such as bundling an ebook with a print book, and even creating other products that are related to your books and selling those. These products could include, but are not limited to:

  • T-shirts
  • Concept art
  • Stickers and magnets
  • Patches
  • Mugs
  • Other print options (paperback, hardcover, large print, etc.)
  • Audiobooks
  • Subscription boxes
  • Magazines
  • Etc.

There are literally endless possibilities. You are limited only by the time and money you want to put into it, and what your readers will enjoy.

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Why Selling Direct Isn't for Everyone

Despite all of the many pros I've listed above, selling direct certainly won't be for everyone. It's a lot of additional work, and you will need to learn a few more skills that you never needed as an author selling just on Amazon or other retailers.

Some of these drawbacks include:

  • Discoverability depends entirely on you
  • You are in charge of fulfillment
  • There is a lot more to learn

Let's talk about each of these…

Discoverability

Just because you build it does not mean anyone will come. In fact, without diligent marketing efforts on your part, if all you do is create a store and do nothing to promote it, no one will buy anything from that store.

You will need to be learning Facebook ads, email marketing, and more, in order to start selling direct.

Thankfully, as you gain more customers (along with their contact information), your efforts will get easier and easier. But when you are just starting out, it can be a little bit daunting.

Unfortunately, most retailers will not give you visibility without marketing as well. Amazon is already pay to play, and discoverability is a huge issue there. Gone are the days when you could just put your books on Amazon and expect to be found by readers.

Fulfillment

If you are selling ebooks or print books directly, you will be in charge of making sure that they are delivered properly to your readers.

Thankfully there are tools out there that will help with this, such as BookFunnel for ebooks, or Lulu/Bookvault for print on-demand options that integrate with direct sites.

However, you may find yourself answering more customer support emails then you used to.

Learning Curve

Selling direct requires coming up with a few unique skills. Even if you are familiar with Facebook ads, for example, the Facebook ads that you use for selling direct on a store, are a completely different type of ad. It requires a completely different skill set.

Plus, you will have to learn about how to set up your own e-commerce store, you may have to learn new email platforms, and more. It can be a lot to figure out.

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.

Picking Your Author Direct 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.

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

  1. Shopify: this is the clear winner among direct-selling platforms. It has apps for everything you could possibly want, from upsells to print on-demand integrations. It does have a monthly cost, but think of that as a cost to help you get serious about your author business. If you have no skin in the game, you won't take it as seriously. Overall, Shopify is what I recommend for most authors who are serious about selling direct.
  2. Woocommerce: Woocommerce is a platform very similar to Shopify, but has the advantage of being free, and contains many of the same plug-ins that Shopify has. However, it is far more technically challenging, and requires extensive knowledge of WordPress to get started. I personally consider myself an expert in WordPress, and yet I still choose to do Shopify because it is much easier to use, and has smoother integrations. Still, if you are up for the challenge, and don't want to pay extra for Shopify, Woocommerce might be worth a look.
  3. Gumroad: if you are an author looking to just sell a few books direct on the side, and not make it your full-time income, I might recommend Gumroad. In fact, I know of a few authors that are making their entire living on Gumroad, and that's not a bad thing. Gumroad is free to use, but has a higher fee rate of 10% from any digital purchase. It is clearly geared towards creatives and digital content in particular, and makes the entire process extremely easy. Even easier than Shopify. However, it lacks the full functionality that you can get with Shopify, which is why I still recommend that platform first.

Honestly, with the right strategy, all three of these options would work, but I do feel that Shopify makes things easiest, and has the best integrations with things like Facebook ads, and is therefore worth the time of any author who is serious about selling direct.

You will see this recommendation from almost any expert in selling direct as well. Most seem to agree that Shopify is the way to go, and so I prefer not to argue with those who have had success.

How to Sell Books Direct

Now that I have successfully covered why you should sell direct, and where, I'm going to walk you through how you can sell direct below. Keep in mind that this is a general overview, and that the entire process will require a lot of additional learning, especially when it comes to setting up your store, and using Facebook ads to drive traffic.

In this article, I am outlining five steps, with two optional ones:

  • Step 1: format your books
  • Step 2: set up your store
  • Step 3: email your list
  • Step 4: share on social media
  • Step 5: run Facebook ads
  • Optional: set up print options
  • Optional: set up merchandise

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

Step 1: Format Your Books

Before you can even start selling your books, you need to write and format those books ahead of time. This process is the same for selling direct as it is for selling on Amazon and other retailers.

However, you might want to create a different version for selling direct, as some tactics might change. For example, in your Also By section, you might want to link to books on your store, rather than on Amazon.

Another example might be your reader magnet. On Amazon, you are enticing people with a free reader magnet so they will give you the their email in exchange for that free thing. However, if you have sold them a book on your store, you already have their email address, so a free reader magnet is not necessary. So a few changes and adjustments to your front and back matter might be necessary.

Step 2: Set up Your Store

Whether you are using Shopify, Woocommerce, or Gumroad, or any other platform, you will want to set up a minimum viable store (shout out to Joanna Penn for coining that term). Some of the elements you might want for your store may include:

  • A homepage that highlights your best-selling product
  • A product page for each version of your book (the book, print, audiobook, etc.)
  • A reading order page
  • An about page

You can also use plug-ins on Shopify and Woocommerce to enhance the experience. For example, you might want an upsell plug-in, that will allow readers to add an additional book or two to their purchase, after they have made their initial purchase.

You might also consider a plug-in to add reviews to your product pages. Whatever you pick, make sure your site looks simple and professional. No need for any complex themes.

Step 3: Email Your List

Once you have your store ready, it is time to start selling. If you already have an email's list set up, this is the best place to start.

Make sure to tell your email list that you are switching to a direct-selling model, and that you would prefer them to buy from you directly (give reasons why), rather than going to Amazon.

Side note: I still recommend selling your books on Amazon and other retailers, but you might want to price them higher, adding additional incentive for people to buy your books at a lower price from you directly.

Step 4: Share on Social Media

You can now share your store on social media to your heart's desire. Feel free to tell friends and family as well. While I was often discouraged to recommend that friends and family by your book on Amazon, as it could disrupt the algorithm, on your own store that doesn't matter.

Step 5: Run Facebook Ads

Now for one of the most important steps in the process: running Facebook ads. These are not the same Facebook ads you would have used when selling books on Amazon. Those were “traffic” ads, whereas you will now be running “sales” ads. Let's look at the difference between the two:

  • Traffic ads are when Facebook specifically shows the ad to people who are most likely to click on your ad. Facebook is not interested in whether those clickers are people who are likely to buy your book. They are just likely to click.
  • Sales ads, on the other hand, are people that are specifically known to have behaviors that make them likely to buy your book. Facebook knows so much about us, that it can make this distinction. It's impossible to run these kinds of ads to Amazon, because you need to install a Facebook pixel on your own website in order for Facebook to be able to track those buyers. Since you do not own Amazon, you cannot install a Facebook pixel. But you can on your own site.

This is why selling direct requires an entirely different learning curve when it comes to Facebook ads. You will have to unlearn all that you have learned (thank you, Master Yoda).

The good news is, the quality of the traffic you drive to your page will be much higher, and far more likely to buy, then the traffic you send Amazon.

Optional: Set up Print Options

Now, you might be wondering, how do you sell print books on your own site. Typically Amazon takes care of printing and fulfilling a print order for you.

Good question.

If you have a way of printing your own books and shipping them out yourself, more power to you. However, for most authors, you will be looking at some kind of print on demand plug-in that can integrate with either Shopify or Woocommerce (Gumroad does not have this option currently).

Right now, there are two print on-demand services that integrate well with these platforms:

  1. Lulu
  2. Bookvault

Either one of these works, and both have really good print quality. I personally use Bookvault for all of mine, as I have extreme flexibility in their sizing options, and tend to be a little cheaper than Lulu. 

The downside is that they are based outside of the United States, and any orders within the United States take a little longer to fulfill. But I hear they are working on that.

Optional: Set up Merchandise

One of the brilliant upsides to selling your own store, is that you can add your own merchandise. This can be anything from stickers, to T-shirts, to high-quality prints of your book covers.

Like selling print books, there are plug-ins that will help you to do this without having to hold and ship inventory yourself.

For example, Printful, is one such plug-in that integrates with Shopify and Woocommerce. It's worth looking into more of these plug-ins, depending on what you would like to sell.

And there is always the option of carrying your own inventory, and shipping it out yourself, if you are up for the challenge.

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Learning More

I highly recommend you take a course or two on this subject, mostly because you'll be learning a lot of new skills and it helps to have someone to walk you through it.

With that in mind, there are three that I primarily recommend:

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

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.

Final Thoughts

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 store.



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