Do you want to sell books from your author website? In this month’s Fiction & Nonfiction Self-Publishing Salon, Sacha Black and Orna Ross outline the advantages and downsides of selling books directly to readers, and they consider the implications for exclusivity with platforms like KDP Select.
- The tools you need
- How to cope with global taxes
- How to add other products and services, in addition to your books
- How to combine direct selling with selling on other platforms
- Best practices for direct selling
If you want to develop an independent sales method that gives you more money and a closer connection to your readers, this salon's for you.
Our fiction and nonfiction salon is brought to you by specialist sponsor Izzard Ink: helping you navigate the publishing world while you stay in control of your work. Izzard Ink Publishing—Self-Publishing is no longer publishing by yourself. We would like to thank Izzard for their support for the show.
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About the Hosts
Sacha Black is a bestselling and competition-winning author. She writes the popular YA Fantasy Eden East novels and a series of non-fiction books that are designed to help writers develop their craft. Sacha has been a long-time resident writing coach for website Writers Helping Writers. She is also a developmental editor, wife and mum.
Orna Ross launched the Alliance of Independent Authors at the London Book Fair in 2012. Her work for ALLi has seen her named as one of The Bookseller’s “100 top people in publishing”. She also publishes poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and is greatly excited by the democratising, empowering potential of author-publishing. For more information about Orna, visit her website: http://www.ornaross.com
Read the Transcript: Sell Books from your Author Website
Orna Ross: Hi everybody. We are live. Yes. Hello and welcome to the Alliance of Independent Authors, Fiction & Nonfiction Salon, Self-Publishing Salon sponsored by Izzard Ink.
And I'm here this evening, as always, with the wonderful Sacha black. Hi, Sacha.
Sacha Black: Hello.
Thank you for having me, as always.
Orna Ross: How are you?
Sacha Black: Yes, I’m good, thank you. I'm good. In a bit of a hollow room though, so if anyone experiences funny sound from me, I apologize. My room is a bit empty today.
Orna Ross: She's on the move again. This one's always on the move. So, you're all packed up and ready to go?
Sacha Black: Well, just about. Were about 70% packed, I would say. My office unfortunately has been packed, which is why it's hollow and terrible sound proofing, but…
What is direct selling for indie authors?
Orna Ross: It sounds actually fine. Yeah, so bank holiday here in the UK where we're calling in from and I know for our US friends too but, you are all very welcome.
We're going to be talking today about a direct selling, selling your books directly on your website. We have people calling in from all over the world at the moment, New Zealand and Marie Claire is here from Dorset and Wendy's here from Scotland. So, folks, if you have any questions as we go through, as always, just pop them in the comment box and we will do our best to get to them as we go.
So, yeah, direct selling. What is it, I suppose is kind of where we start, and it really is what it says on the tin. It is about selling your books directly from your author website. We were chatting before we came live and Sacha, you were saying you're going to get yourself organized for direct selling for the first time shortly?
Sacha Black: I did. Well, for the second time. So, I did have book sales direct probably about a year and a half ago. And then I went through a load of website changes and I just dismantled it whilst I was changing up the website. And I just failed to put it back on. So, yes, in June, that's happening.
Orna Ross: Great. Any particular reasons why you're going in that direction?
Sacha Black: I think there are a lot of influencers who are talking about this. Therefore, I think it is a hot topic. I also think that any way in which I can have more control is a good thing. And being able to sell direct to my readers, have that one-to-one relationship, because I am both the author, the seller, the communicator, between me and my readers is only but a good thing. Also, there are a plethora of other reasons like high royalty rates or commission rates, whatever the correct terminology is. So, you get paid more as well, which is only a good thing for me, and yeah, so I don't know. Have you got yours set up now?
Orna Ross: Yeah, I've been set up for years. I actually always felt that my own websites were the heart of my author business and so it's always been fairly key for me. And I know that's unusual, certainly during the era that we call self-publishing 2.0, which was the eBook and eReader era. Most people thought about Amazon as their main outfit and provider, and then there was a lot of emphasis in the community on going wide and being available in more platforms. And because Amazon, of course, only reaches a certain part of the world, 13 territories at the moment, a good spread, definitely, but there are 190 countries you can actually be selling in if you mix it up and go wide and from your own website you can sell anywhere globally.
Of course, selling is much more than distributing and well get to that in a few moments. But I’d just like to touch off that point, that important point about Amazon, first of all, because one of the big downsides of selling directly on your own website as an exclusive strategy, let's say, and as I say that I want to emphasize, we're not suggesting this should be exclusive. I've only known one author for who that was the way they did it, they just sold their books directly. For almost everybody, it's going to be one of the ways in which you offer your books for sale and then it's up to you in terms of how meaningful it is as an actual outlet.
Because, like every other outlet, they're not going to sell just because they're available there. You're going to have to bring your readers to the point of sale to purchase the book and then how you do that.
But if you sell on Amazon or one of the other online retailers, you've got their algorithms, their exposure, you know, their whole machine that they set up to sell books. And, what can happen with a book on Amazon, which can't really happen on your own site, is it gets picked up and with the algorithm and (inaudible) and everything else begins to kick in and you get access to readers that you would never have been able to reach directly yourself.
And so, you know, it's possible to have different strategies for different books and it's possible to do things in different ways. But the main thing I think to say is that having that access of selling direct is a very good way to set yourself up for a long-term sustainable income. And a lot of people and a lot of money on ads bringing their customers to Amazon, when it might make sense for them to be bringing their customers to their own site.
What if your books are exclusive to Amazon?
Sacha Black: I just wanted to add there, if you are exclusive to Amazon, then you absolutely cannot sell your eBooks from your website. So, that is one thing just to make absolutely clear. If you are in Kindle Unlimited, then you cannot sell your eBooks from your website.
Your paperback books are a separate matter, because they are not restricted in the same way by Kindle Unlimited rules.
But yes, just to be absolutely clear, even though it's your own website, it still counts as another distributor.
Orna Ross: Yeah, that's a very important point for that book that is exclusive. Of course, it's possible to be exclusive with one book and not with another, and that's absolutely fine. And then, of course, there are audiobooks which also have, depending on your outlet, you know, you will have to make a choice there as well about exclusivity versus non exclusivity.
And I guess this is a good place to say that, in general, all things being equal, ALLi would recommend that your best bet for long term, sustainable income that you can scale and count on and that you know is yours and it gives you the most control in your author business is not to have all your books exclusively with any one self-publishing platform or with any one trade publisher. Each book you have is a bundle of intellectual property that can be spread around in all sorts of ways and so, nonexclusivity is actually a watchword for independence. It's very difficult to be independent if you're completely dependent on one outlet.
Sacha Black: Thomas Jay Simms has just asked, but that's only Kindle Select, right?
Yeah. So, what we're saying is, with Kindle Select, Kindle Unlimited, they ask that you are exclusive only to them with whichever book or books you have chosen to put into Kindle Select. So, if you have published your books elsewhere, then that book is not exclusive to Amazon and therefore you can publish it and sell it directly on your website as well.
Orna Ross: Yes, exactly. So, we're not talking about just publishing on Amazon, we're talking about being in their exclusivity program.
And watching out for that word “exclusivity” in any contract that you ever come up against or any self-publishing agreement that you press the “I agree” button, because, of course, you all read the self-publishing agreements before you press the, “I agree” button, don't you?
Sell books from your author website: benefits
Sacha Black: Sorry, I was just going to say, we touched on a couple of the things that are benefits of doing this, but why bother? Why should we bother doing this? Why should we sell directly from our own author websites? What are the benefits of doing this?
Orna Ross: Well, I think the first one is the one that you brought up, you will get significantly more per book if you sell it directly than you do going through, you know, we get a generous 70% at most when we distribute on online platforms. And if we license our rights, we're getting, you know, a much smaller percentage again. So, selling directly to our own readers, we get a larger proportion of the actual sale, of the transaction, but perhaps more importantly, we develop this very close connection to the reader and they become part of our email list and the email list that any online business owns, is the most important asset that they can own.
So, you know, when you sell a book on Amazon, you know nothing about the buyer. They have all the transactional information you have none. And, you know, we see every week in ALLi, we have authors who come to us with sad stories about, you know, they were doing really well and then all of a sudden they're not doing well and they have no information as to why that is.
They can't actually do an analysis, work it out, make a change. There's just no control there. So, higher revenues and greater control and ownership of the email list. For me, they're the three things that are really important that, over time, you can build on.
So, selling direct is not a short-term strategy, unless you've got an amazing product, and well come to all the products in a bit, unless you've got an amazing something that you're selling, promoting well, big profits, and it's on a roll for you, then, yeah, in the short term, great. But, generally speaking, what we're talking about is building, you know, book by book, over the years, building a long term, scalable business solution rather than a short term, you know, I was going to say fixed, but just a short term benefit really.
Sacha Black: Although I suppose one of the shorter-term benefits of selling direct is that you get paid immediately as opposed to 60 or 90 days later, depending on which platform you’re selling on.
Orna Ross: Absolutely, which can be very significant, and I think the important thing to say about it as well is that it's not a matter of just deciding to sell direct. You decide to sell direct, and you need a strategy for selling direct. So, you need those two things to go together. So, just like in any other outlet, you're going to have to promote to get readers there. And you know, coupons you can issue, and you can use that email list and actually drive your direct sales.
Really think about them, put them at the heart of your business. The authors who do that, do well on direct. Other people say, but I never sell anything direct, and you talk to them for a while and you find that they're running Facebook campaigns that bring their readers to other outlets and then wonder why they're not selling direct.
So, you have to have your marketing plan actually working for you there in order for you to get the most benefit from it.
How do you sell direct?
Sacha Black: Absolutely. So, how do you sell direct? What tools do you need in order to sell your books directly from your website?
Orna Ross: Okay, so let's talk about that.
First thing you need is obviously a sales page, a transactional page. You know, one that's easy to negotiate. One that doesn't fall apart when the person tries to purchase a book, one that doesn't have 25 steps between purchase. And a book is a very low-cost item, so the more hurdles you have for the reader to jump over, the less likely you are to make a sale. So, I'd like to back up a bit just to say that we are talking mainly here, there's a question about postage and we'll come to that at the end, but we're talking here about selling digital products in the main.
We're not really talking about selling physical products. So, absolutely, there are authors who have built a business around that. That's kind of a whole different specialist thing. What the digital revolution has enabled is the sale of digital download products. So, the books we're talking about are in the main eBooks and audiobooks.
You can sell print through IngramSpark in the US. So, the purchase is made on your website, but Ingram will actually deliver the book for you, but that's not yet available in the rest of the world. So, it will be in time.
Sacha Black: Hint, hint.
Orna Ross: Exactly. Yes. So, yeah, it's digital books. So, the main thing is that sales page. So, indie authors should have transactional websites. I’m always banging that drum, but it's really important. If you're a trade published author, a brochure site that just tells everybody what to do and looks pretty and everything, is fine.
But, if you're an indie, give your casual website browser the opportunity to buy the book there, when they discover it.
Then, once they've made the purchase, you need an easy way to get the book to them. There are various ways, you can use the download facility if you have a WordPress site, and other websites, most of them, have some kind of a download, either plugin or tool built in.
You can use that, but a huge, huge number of Indies who sell direct use Book Funnel or similar, which is a fantastic service, really great value, which delivers the download for you and who will handle any customer service queries if things go wrong.
When I started out selling eBooks exclusively, it was such a nightmare, the tech was constantly breaking and people weren't getting their books, and I was answering emails. Nearly every day there would be an email from somebody where something had gone wrong in the transaction that was partly my tech terribleness but, I suppose, mainly it was just terrible tech. Whereas now, with Book Funnel, it's a very smooth process.
So yeah, making it really easy for them to buy, only ask for their email address. Don't ask for their street address, unless it's a physical product, you don't need it. It is of no benefit to you and it slows the transaction down. You will lose sales if you do that. Just make it all really simple.
Sacha Black: Okay. So, we've had a string of questions, which I'm just going to summarize some of the points that we've mentioned.
So, to be absolutely crystal clear, there are two ways to sell digital books on Amazon. One is to sell the book, and if you're selling just the book, the digital book, on Amazon, you can also sell the book digitally on other stores like Barnes and Noble, Apple iBooks, whatever it’s called now, and Kobo, et cetera, et cetera.
The other way to sell digital books on Amazon is to sell through Kindle Unlimited or Kindle Select, one of its many and various wonderful names that it has. If you do that, you are exclusive, which means you cannot sell that digital book anywhere else. So, if you are in Kindle Unlimited/Kindle Select, then no, you cannot sell your digital book on your website.
If you're in the first camp and you are selling your book on Amazon and on other locations, then yes, you can sell your digital books on your website as well.
So, that's just clarity on that one. The second point is lots of questions about print books and, just to reiterate, we are mostly talking about digital books at the moment, and, whilst you can sell print books on your websites, that's not really the topic of this conversation today.
The topic today is mostly about selling digital books.
And, sorry, the last point somebody asked about IngramSpark delivering. At the moment, yes, you can sell a book, a print book, from your website only if you are based in America and yes, then IngramSpark will deliver that to your reader. If you're anywhere else in the world at the moment, unfortunately that option isn't available, but we're hoping that it will be available soon. Please.
Orna Ross: Yeah. It's through a function of theirs called ARIO, which is only available to US purchases at the moment. And it's one of the great things about IngramSpark is they box a book and send it, and your reader will never know that that did not come from you. It doesn't seem to have come from there, it seems to come from you.
So that is something that we all will have in time, either through Ingram or through some other service. For most authors, the packing, you know, the packing slips and going to the post office and the postage, all of that, it's such a time gobbler that most authors are not interested or prepared to do that.
Sacha Black: Okay. So, I guess we've kind of covered with the tools.
Tools to manage transactions when you sell books from your author website
Orna Ross: Yeah, are there any other tools that you use? So, I didn't actually speak about the actual managing all of the transaction, and that's pretty important. There are some tools that are available that make that easier.
So, again, on WordPress you can use WooCommerce, which is their built-in e-commerce function. And again, lots of websites have other alternatives, lots of different ways you can pay. I mean, way too many for me to even begin to talk about them.
PayPal is obviously the main seller of digital goods for authors, and most indie authors sell using PayPal. But just going directly with a PayPal button and taking the transaction in your site gives you, again, some headaches that various companies have jumped up to kind of help.
So, if you sell directly on your website, there are tax implications in certain countries. So, digital goods have particular taxes applied to them in lots of different countries around the world on it. This is a really complex area, and different tools handle it differently. So, I'm going to take two examples. There are a number of services like Selz and Payhip and Gumroad, and others who specialize in selling digital products online. And you pay them, on top of the PayPal transaction fee, you pay a small percentage to them as well for managing it, and what a number of them do is they manage all that tax business for you. But they manage it quite differently. So, you need to check when you're working out which one you want to use, you need to check that you're getting the level of service that you want.
So, just comparing Woo with say Payhip.
WooCommerce will work out the sales tax for you in the different countries, but it will be up to you to actually allocate and make sure that your tax obligations are met. Whereas, Payhip will look after everything for you. It will do the allocation and it will do the actual payments. So, that will happen at the point of transaction.
Selz, I think, also does that, I'm not as familiar with Selz. But you need to check, is the point. Again, you need to read the agreements that you're signing up for and you need to be aware of the fact that in selling direct you have some tax implications.
Now, loads of Indies go, ahhh tax, I'm gone. I'm out of here. It's too complicated.
But I would really urge you to not think that way. It is actually not a big deal. And, especially if you do use a service like Payhip, it's really not a big deal at all. They will look after all of that for you. It definitely shouldn't stop you in your tracks if this is a way you'd like to go.
How to build your direct-selling authority
Sacha Black: Absolutely. So, we've got about five, ten minutes left. So, should we talk about some of the other exciting things that you can do because, once you have this mechanism and facility set up, there are lots of other exciting things that you can do. So, obviously we've mentioned audiobooks and we've mentioned digital books, but there are other things you can do. And I am of the opinion that it is using these other things that will really regenerate the traction and build your direct selling…what's the word?
Orna Ross: Mojo.
Sacha Black: Mojo, yeah, like authority, that’s what I was going to say.
Anyway. So, my point is, doing things that you are not already doing. So, we obviously all sell books on various different platforms, but what else could you do? Could you sell a collection of short stories? You can't really a 2000-word short story on Amazon because you can't really price it appropriately, but you could price it appropriately on your website.
Or you could bundle four or five of these together and sell some short stories connected in one of your worlds. You could also sell, or even, not sell, but deliver audio snippets.
So, you know, introductions to your audio books. You could also bundle together very, very long series. Let's say, for example, you've got 10 books or 12 books in your series, and you could sell that only from your website.
Now, one of the difficulties with bundling box sets together of lots of books, in particular on Amazon, is that once you go over the 9.99 price, you then are put on the lower royalty rates. So, obviously there are other stores that don't do that royalty change. But on Amazon it does.
So, you could bundle your entire series together and sell it from your website and get a whole bunch of cash because you are not going to be penalized on the royalty rates. Yeah. So, that's just a couple of ideas of other things that you can do. I don't know if you wanted to add anything.
It's not just about selling books
Orna Ross: Yeah, I think also, you know, authors have different business models and sometimes it's not always just about selling books. Many authors supplement their income, you know, nonfiction authors provide maybe coaching and mentoring services or, there all sorts of things that we do that maybe, you know, further our mission as authors, but are higher price products because books are actually an extremely low price product for the amount of time it takes to make them.
So, if you're somebody who does any kind of services and so on, that’s also there on your website, and obviously you're taking in those transactions. And I think every also should have a premium product of some kind that is there for the people who really love what you do and there are all sorts of things.
Once you get the sense of readers are coming to your site, which is the hardest bit, once you build traffic to your site, there is no point in having, and I will say this again, I said it earlier, but I'll say it again because it's so important, there's really not a lot of point in having a buy button on your site, but you're not going to do a whole lot with it unless you have an actual plan to bring the readers over there.
Once you're doing that, then you begin to think, oh, I could do this. You know, it can be quite creatively opening in terms of what you can and can’t sell. And I think sometimes, we're a little bit too linear in our thinking as publishers, in terms of, you know, what our readers can tolerate and what they might enjoy.
It's well worth doing some creative thinking about how you can supplement your books and maybe your book isn't actually the sale, but your book is included in a bundle alongside a service perhaps or whatever. Really, you're limited only by your creativity and your imagination in terms of what's possible once you're getting the traffic to come over to your site.
Best practices for indie authors selling direct
Sacha Black: Absolutely. So, should we just finish off with some best practices then? So, we've mentioned that once you have your sales pages set up, you do actually need to direct people to your sales pages on your websites if you want to sell books there. So, yes, talk about it, post about it on your social medias, in your Facebook groups, to your mailing list, make a point of putting your “buy from me direct” first, above all of the other sales links, if that's what you want to do.
Other things you can do are incentives. So, if, for example, somebody buys a book from you directly, you can always set up an automatic email, a thank you email to say, oh, and here’s 10% off your next buy-direct purchase. Because that obviously encourages people to then come back and buy again from you on your website.
Other things, keeping your sales pages clean, clutter-free, simple. Ensuring that the transactional process is seamless. Test it, test it again, test it again. Test it yourself, get a partner or a friend to test it for you, just to make sure that you have tested all of the integrations, all of the bits of software.
Anything else you want to add?
Tax, Facebook Ads and PDFs
Orna Ross: Fantastic. Three questions that came in at the end there. Just before we go. So, Nadia is asking, if I'm based in the UK, do I need to worry about US tax? If someone from America buys something?
Yes. That's precisely what we were talking about earlier with the services like Payhip. That’s precisely what they will look after for you.
And, for example, the European Union is a complete nightmare. If you sell books in Europe, the tax is based on where the purchaser is located, not where the actual seller is located. So, it really does become quite complex, which is why we need help with that. But yes, is the short answer.
Wendy says, do you recommend advertising on Facebook?
She says it's off topic, but curious what you think.
Yes, if you know what you're doing, and absolutely not, if you don't.
And yes, for direct selling. Facebook advertising and your own website and your own Facebook updates and Facebook presence can work together very, very well indeed.
But again, you need to do your research to understand Facebook advertising and how it works, and you need to test. See what works, keep doing what works, stop doing what doesn't work. There are lots of good courses about Facebook advertising for authors out there, and definitely don't jump into Facebook until you've done one of those.
And finally, Kathleen has asked the question, how do you deliver eBooks via your website? Do you send it as a PDF?
No. You can make it available as a PDF, but that's, in my experience, the format that is least downloaded. You make it available in epub form and if you want to, also in Mobi, which is Amazon proprietor, that's not as important now as it used to be. But you want epub, which is the publishing standard. It's the business standard for digital eBooks and you want to have an epub version for selling. So, what you do when you use book formulas, you upload a PDF and an epub and a Mobi, and all the different formats, and then it is the reader who decides which of the formats they actually want to download. So, the general rule on this, as on everything else, is to make yourself available in as many formats as possible so that they can get to the format that they want.
Sacha Black: Absolutely.
Orna Ross: So, I think that's all our questions, folks.
Thank you for being here. Thank you, Sacha, for turning out on bank holiday Monday. Thank you to our sponsors. Izzard Ink and we'll see you next time, in a month's time. This session will be here on Facebook and on YouTube as a replay anytime, but it will also be available as an audio session on the podcast next Friday.
So, until we see you next time, happy writing, happy publishing!