The Truth On Selling Books Direct: Insights from 876 Authors

For years, I've heard authors talking about this idea of “direct sales” – selling their books directly to readers through their own online stores instead of going through retailers like Amazon.

The appeal is obvious. You get to keep a much bigger cut of the royalties without paying the middlemen. You have complete control over pricing, marketing, the whole sales process. Plus, you can build a more personal connection with your audience.

But I always wondered…what does it really take to make direct sales work well as an author? Is it just an overhyped side-hustle, or can you actually build a sustainable business around it?

So I decided to go straight to the source. My team at Kindlepreneur surveyed 876 authors who have tried selling direct. And the data we uncovered was eye-opening.

PS: Thank you to everyone who took the survey – you absolutely rock and the community as a whole will benefit from your efforts!

There's a very clear profile of the authors finding legitimate success. But there are also some harsh realities behind the promises of higher royalties and more creative freedom.

In this detailed study, I'll break down all the stats, genre trends, platform comparisons, and visual charts from our groundbreaking survey. Whether direct sales is already your thing or you're just curious about it, you'll get an honest look at what it actually takes to transition to this author-driven sales model.

Let's break it down.

In this article, you will learn:
  1. Direct Sales Insights: What it really takes to sell your books directly and the benefits over traditional retail.
  2. Author Success Profiles: Key traits of authors who excel in direct sales, including their publication history.
  3. Top Genres for Direct Sales: Which genres sell best directly, including the unexpected success of non-fiction.
  4. The Power of Email Lists: How a robust email list can significantly boost your direct sales and strategies to grow it.
  5. Diverse Product Strategies: The range of products successful authors sell, from ebooks to merchandise, and their impact on revenue.
  6. Motivations to Sell Direct: Main reasons authors choose direct sales, from higher profits to more control.
  7. Choosing the Right Platform: A comparison of the best platforms for direct sales based on functionality and income potential.
  8. Direct Sales Strategy Advice: Tips for authors considering direct sales, emphasizing the need for a solid backlist and engaged email list.
  9. Beyond Selling Books: How direct sales can help build a loyal fanbase and offer greater creative and financial freedom.

NOTE: Caveat to the Survey & Statistics

This is a note to all my statistician readers or analytically minded folks: Please note, that I fully understand that there are outliers that can and will occur, and that perhaps by the existence of a survey, that maybe only certain types of authors would have decided to fill out the survey. However, with 876 responses, I believe we had enough significant data points to adequately develop a well represented outcome. Furthermore, the questions posed were designed to help give proper representation and we feel as solid as we can on the below findings.

Who Is Selling Direct?

To start, we looked at the experience levels of the authors selling direct:

Our survey revealed that a whopping 66% of authors selling direct have published at least 5 books over their careers. Even more notably, 44% have over 10 books under their belts.

44% of authors have written more than 10 books - Kindlepreneur author direct selling research study

Interestingly, 40% of these authors who are selling direct had only ventured into doing direct sales within the past year. This suggests direct sales is still a relatively new frontier for many.

40% of authors have been selling direct for under 1 year - Kindlepreneur author direct selling research study

This next one is eye-opening. The numbers clearly showed that authors with more books tend to make more money from direct sales consistently. Authors with 10+ books earn $2,270 per month on average, effectively a 6X return versus having 2-4 books. This reaffirms the notion that an author's sustained book sales is directly linked to the volume of books they produce.

Authors with 10+ books earn $2,270 average per month - Kindlepreneur author direct selling research study

Key Takeaway: The move to direct sales seems to be a calculated business decision, particularly for established authors with larger catalogs of works. An increasing number see direct sales as a viable product distribution channel.

What Genres are Thriving in Direct Sales?

Next, we looked at which fiction and non-fiction genres are finding the most traction with direct sales models:

Romance, Fantasy, and Mystery among most popular fiction genres - Kindlepreneur author direct selling research study

As expected, the romance, fantasy, and mystery/thriller genres dominated among the fiction authors selling direct. However, nonfiction saw an unexpected surge in popularity for direct sales.

The strong nonfiction presence highlights a promising niche opportunity. Authors with expertise in certain topics can leverage direct sales to monetize that authority.

On the other hand, children's books were notably underrepresented among those selling direct. This could point to unique challenges for that genre when it comes to direct sales strategies.

Key Takeaway: Direct sales offer an enticing revenue stream for nonfiction authors who can capitalize on their established platform and subject matter expertise. The model's suitability may vary across different book categories.

The Power of an Email List

One factor emerged as absolutely crucial for direct sales success: the author's email list. This was another truly eye-opening result: authors with an email list of over 15,000 subscribers earn $6,119 per month on average from direct sales. This is a striking 20X return versus those with email lists under 100 subscribers.

20X revenue boost for authors with 15K+ email subscribers - Kindlepreneur author direct selling research study

Our data showed around 45% of the successful direct selling authors had over 1,000 subscribers on their email lists. Not only that, but there was a clear, positive correlation between email list size and monthly direct sales income.

Powerful Insight: Authors with an email list size of over 15,000 subscribers earn over $6,000 per month on average from their direct sales. (see chart above)

Having a large, engaged mailing list provides a direct line to readers and a captive audience of fans. This allows authors to effectively market new releases, promote special offers, and drive sales conversions.

For authors relying heavily on direct sales, building and nurturing an email list is not just a marketing tool – it's an indispensable asset for sustainability.

PS: If you haven't set up an email list, you should definitely look into starting that – sooner than later.

How can Authors build their mailing list?

Strategies for List Building:

  1. Leverage Lead Magnets: Offer something irresistible for free—a novella, a preview chapter, or an exclusive story—in exchange for an email sign-up.
  2. Use Pop-up Systems: Tools like OptinMonster can help capture potential subscribers with timed pop-ups, exit-intent technology, and targeted messaging.
  3. Utilize Social Media: Promote your newsletter sign-up link across your social media platforms, pinning it where possible.
  4. Engage with Content Upgrades: Provide additional, valuable content related to your books or genre in exchange for email addresses.
  5. Network at Events: Collect emails during book signings, conferences, and readings, always with permission.

Email Platforms for Authors:

  1. Klaviyo: (Advanced Recommendation) Perfect for those looking to dive into advanced email segmentation and automated marketing campaigns, Klaviyo helps personalize your communication with readers.
  2. MailerLite: (Medium Recommendation) A popular choice for authors just starting out, thanks to its user-friendly interface and free tier for smaller lists.
  3. Author Email: (Starter Recommendation) Designed with authors in mind, with lowest price being central, but limited in its ability. However, I have a strong feeling Author Email is going to pick up on capability really soon.

Key Takeaway: Growing a sizeable, quality email list should be a top priority for any author looking to maximize their direct sales potential. An email list provides direct access to readers and drives revenue.

What Products Are Authors Selling Direct?

Of course, we were curious to see what types of products and formats the direct selling authors were offering:

While ebooks were obviously part of the mix, print editions emerged as the dominant format for direct sales. In fact, there was a positive correlation between offering a greater variety of product types (ebooks, paperbacks, hardcovers, audiobooks, merchandise) and generating higher revenues.

Among the print providers, Ingramspark was the most popular printer for paperback editions sold directly by authors. But I have a strong feeling that BookVault will shorten that gap soon.

Diversifying product offerings to include merch like shirts, mugs, and other branded items allowed authors to further capitalize on their fanbases. Providing multiple format options accommodates different reader preferences while maximizing revenue potential per customer.

Key Takeaway: Don't just sell the ebook file itself. Creating diverse product bundles and merchandise leveraging your intellectual property can significantly boost direct sales income.

The Driving Motivations Behind Direct Sales

We asked the authors about their primary motivations for adopting a direct sales model:

The three main catalysts cited were:

  1. Increasing profits by keeping more of the revenue
  2. Gaining full control over the sales/distribution process
  3. Distancing themselves from overreliance on Amazon

This trifecta points to both economic incentives (higher earnings) and philosophical drivers (independence and autonomy).

Many authors expressed a desire to move away from feeling overly dependent on Amazon's KDP program. Having more control means greater ability to execute customized marketing strategies and initiatives.

Of course, the prospect of higher royalty rates by cutting out third-party retailers was a major factor for the majority pursuing direct sales.

Key Takeaway: Priorities like earning higher royalties, artistic freedom, and avoiding overreliance on any single retailer motivated authors to transition into direct sales.

Evaluating Direct Sales Platform Options

Choosing the right platform to power their direct sales storefront proved critical:

According to our survey results, Shopify emerged as the dominant solution for authors selling direct. While Shopify typically has higher subscription fees, those using it reported earning significantly higher monthly revenues compared to other platforms.

Attributes like superior functionality, easier integration with external apps/plugins, and an overall better user experience contributed to Shopify's popularity. For serious authors invested in direct sales, the higher platform costs provided a solid return on investment.

Other popular choices were ecommerce platforms like WooCommerce, Squarespace, Gumroad, and Podia. Ease of use was a driving factor in adopting these solutions, despite somewhat more limited customization options.

Notably, authors generating lower monthly direct sales revenues gravitated more towards free options like their own basic website storefronts and PayPal buy links.

Key Takeaway: Selecting the ideal ecommerce platform is crucial and depends on your budget and desired functionality. Shopify stands out for maximizing direct sales, albeit at higher startup/maintenance fees.

The Verdict: Should You Sell Books Direct?

Our survey data provided clear insights into the characteristics and best practices of authors finding success with direct sales strategies:

  1. Having a substantial backlist of published titles (5+ books)
  2. Building and nurturing a large, engaged email list of fans (1,000+ subscribers)
  3. Offering multiple product formats and merchandise
  4. Utilizing a robust, scalable ecommerce platform optimized for direct sales

While higher royalties and greater independence is compelling, direct sales is not always an easy undertaking. It requires a deliberate strategy tailored to each author's unique goals, resources, and existing audience.

For authors willing to put in the effort, exploring direct sales can be well worth it. It represents a strong path towards increased earnings and creative control over your author business.

However, those just starting out or with limited marketing bandwidth may find the added complexities overwhelming. In those cases, continuing to leverage major online retailers while gradually building your direct sales capabilities could be more prudent.

Overall, the movement towards direct sales speaks volumes about how the indie author landscape continues evolving. Writers have more power and pathways to entrepreneurial success than ever before.

Key Takeaway: Transitioning to direct book sales opens up lucrative possibilities for earnings and creator autonomy – if you have the right foundations in place. For some, it may be premature. Carefully evaluate where you are in your author journey before diving in.

Making Direct Sales Work: More Than Just Selling Books

One overarching theme that emerged from the authors thriving with direct sales models: it's about far more than just transactions.

Successful direct selling is rooted in building deeper connections and relationships with your readers. It requires understanding their desires, providing exceptional value beyond just your written words, and leveraging an overall brand experience.

While the lure of higher royalty rates initially attracts many, the ultimate rewards extend beyond just financial. Direct sales empower authors to cultivate a tight-knit community of raving fans who become evangelists for their work.

So as you explore selling direct, remember: it's not just about finding ways to sell more books. It's about thoughtfully nurturing direct reader relationships, delivering outstanding customer experiences, and charting your own course as an authorial entrepreneur.

Done right, harnessing the power of direct sales can be a complete game changer for your author career.

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