Online Direct Sales for Self-Published Authors

Online Direct Sales for Self-Published Authors

EBOOK DIRECT SALES

The other day, Chuck Wendig called direct sales the future of publishing.

I couldn’t stop smiling.

I couldn’t stop smiling because (and yes, I’m tooting my own horn—because I’m sick of “not to toot my own horn,” and this is pretty damn awesome) I came up with my own direct sales strategy over a year ago, and that means I’ve had a year to tweak and revise it.

And YES, this post is going to outline the whole thing, so I lose any “advantage” I might have over you, fellow self-published author. But self-published authors should never feel like they’re in competition with one another. So here we go.

PROS AND CONS OF SELLING DIRECT

We’ll brush over it, but this is not the right post to discuss the pros and cons of selling direct. Others have covered that in better detail and more eloquently than I could. This post is about how TO do it if you already know you want to.

But basically, if you’re worried about harming your Amazon sales rank by pulling sales away from their site, my opinion is that one of two things is true:

  • You’re not thinking long-term enough, and/or
  • You don’t have a big enough audience yet and should skip this for now

If you can train people to buy from you directly, you can make a living as a self-published author with a much smaller audience. Direct sales can get you close to 100% royalties on books sold. That means you need less people buying in order to make a living.

But, if your audience is too small, you MAY be better off focusing on Amazon for a while. Heck, go KDP Select. That’s how I got my start, after all. I got into KDP Select at the very tail end of the “good old days” of free giveaways, and got thousands of readers through the program. Without those readers, my ensuing career and a direct sales strategy would have been impossible to implement—or simply would have taken a very, very long time.

So with both those things in mind, let’s look at how I sell direct.

Sell Direct to Your CustomersHOW I SELL DIRECT

Logistically, how does one sell direct, anyway? Aside from the strategy you implement to do it, how do you…you know…DO it?

For me, it’s Gumroad. Gumroad is an online sales platform specifically designed to sell digital products (for example, ebooks). They have a quick, easy-to-use payment portal (very important) and you receive payouts direct to your bank account, or through PayPal (whichever you prefer).

The part you’re probably most concerned about is their fees. Gumroad charges 5% off the top, and then $0.25 per transaction.

Sell a book at $0.99: Gumroad takes $0.05+$0.25, so $0.30 total. That means you get 70% of the sale. (Note: that’s Amazon’s royalty in the “golden zone” between $2.99 and $9.99).

Sell a book at $2.99: Gumroad takes $0.15+$0.25, so $0.40 total. That means you get $2.59, or 86% of the sale. So, that’s nice.

Sell a book at $4.99: Gumroad takes a total of $0.50, and you get $4.49 (90% of the sale).

For a $9.99 book, you get $9.25, or 92.5%.

You get the idea.

Here’s my protip for Gumroad: they let you include multiple digital files in a single sale, which means you can offer both the .mobi AND .epub files for a single sale. Make sure you do this to appeal to those who don’t read Kindle.

WHY WOULD I SELL EBOOKS DIRECT?

Okay, so some of you are probably thinking, “Wait, at $4.99 I get 86%. Which is good, but not THAT much better than 70%. Does this really offset the benefits of my Amazon ranking?”

Well, that answer is up to you. But here’s the thing: when you sell with Gumroad, you get visibility. You see who’s buying what. You get their email addresses. And you can include a box in your sales page asking if they want to sign up for your email list.

People who buy from you for the first time probably won’t say yes. But people who buy their third or fourth book from you (and your books ARE good enough to keep them coming back—aren’t they?) are much more likely to say, “You know what? Just let me know every time you release a book so I don’t have to keep checking every few weeks.”

I’ll tell you one thing: Amazon doesn’t let you do that.

Also, if you’re in the business of occasional promotional sales (and you should be) Gumroad is fantastic. Mark your book down to $0.99, and you still get 70% royalties! Man, if Amazon only let us do THAT. For a writer who does about 50/50 serialized and not, 70% royalties on a $0.99 episode is HUGE.

Okay. So we know how to do it, and we see the benefits. Now, what about the sales strategy?

Here’s what I’m doing for my newest serialized fantasy piece, the Nightblade series.

Nightblade: Episode One, by Garrett RobinsonNIGHTBLADE DIRECT SALES STRATEGY

You know that permafree works great for the first book in the series. That’s so well-known in the industry now that its proliferation has made the strategy less effective. EVERYONE offers some book or books for free. But, it’s still a great lead generator.

So Nightblade: Episode One is free on all platforms, Amazon, Kobo, Nook, iBooks, and everything else that Smashwords jets it out to. I do NOT offer Episode One for free through Gumroad. What would be the point? That book should be out on the major sales platforms, bringing me new readers.

I have a strategy for getting reviews on the first book in a series. I use this on Realm Keepers to tremendous success (since I implemented it, the rate of reviews increased by about 15X). It’s very simple: if you review the first episode, I’ll email you the second episode for free. It happens on a very simple page on my website (which you can see here, simply as an example for your own site).

This is a great strategy. Reviews on the first episode are MUCH more valuable than the $0.35 I’ll make from an Amazon sale, or even the $0.70 I’ll make from a direct sale. Those reviews push more people to download the free book, and that means more sales down the line.

Plus, there’s a side benefit (I say “side benefit,” but it’s actually pretty huge) in that this generates positive reviews. If someone reads your first book and WANTS the second one, the review they leave is likely to be a GOOD ONE. After all, if they didn’t like the first episode, they’re not likely to want the second book. So that’s how I get more than a review a day on Nightblade: Episode One and not a single one of them below four stars (yet—knock on wood).

But after they get their free copy of Episode Two, the fun and games are over. It’s time to pony up some dough. Fortunately, it’s very little dough—just $0.99.

So I send them to a web page like this one.

I do NOT send them directly to the page to buy my book on Gumroad. And that’s for a very specific reason: I haven’t yet “sold” them on the idea of buying direct. They could read Episode One AND Episode Two and still not know they can buy Episode Three directly from me. They’re used to buying from Amazon (or Kobo or Nook or iBooks). I need to get them on board with buying from ME.

There’s another benefit here: If you send people to a web page on your site, rather than linking them direct to the Amazon store (or your own direct store) then you never need to change the CTAs in the backs of your books. You ONLY need to change your web page.

I don’t know about you, but I used to have to publish an Amazon version of my ebook, a Kobo version, a Nook version, an iBooks version and a Smashwords version. All of them had different links to the different retail sites. If I ever found a typo and wanted to republish the book, I had to republish all five versions and then re-upload them to each site.

Eff.

That.

Noise.

Now, it’s simple: I publish one .mobi file and one .epub file. All of them route the customer to MY site, which can then route them to the various ebook retailers. The CTAs in the backs of my books NEVER need to change again. I only need to change my website.

Let’s analyze this page for a moment.

HOW TO DESIGN A DIRECT SALES EBOOK WEB PAGE

Nightblade: Episode Three Ebook Direct Sales Web Page

We start off with a fairly book-pagey-looking book page. It’s got the title, the description, and the CTA at the end. Then it’s got those buttons.

Direct Sales Buttons for Ebook Sales

My button comes first. It matches the color scheme. It BELONGS there.

And right under that button is a little explanation. It’s very matter-of-fact, though lacking in detail. All it tells my reader is that, “If you buy this from me, it costs the same, but you help support me as an indie author.”

Maybe people won’t care much about that the first time they see it. They might bypass the button and the explanation and go get it from Kindle or Kobo anyways. But if they see it again, and again, and again, each time they’re more and more likely to want to support me. Eventually they start to feel bad, because by continuing to buy it on other platforms they sort of feel like they’re shafting the author they’ve spent so much time with and built such a relationship with.

Another important aspect of this page: the prices. You want that right up front. When I first put these pages together, I didn’t include them. Some readers contacted me and said, “Wait, how much more is it if I buy direct from you? I want to support you, but I don’t want to pay that much extra if you’re publishing one every week.” I then had to explain that it was the exact same price, but I got double the profit from the sale.

Take note of that: they DIDN’T EVEN CLICK THROUGH THE BUTTONS to compare the prices for themselves.

Here’s the conclusion I drew from this: if you don’t list the prices, your customers will think you’ve got a reason to hide them.

This is how people work. They want all the info so they can make an informed buying decision, and it’s YOUR job to make that information available to them. Doing this kind of “price comparison” makes people feel responsible, like they did their due diligence as a smart, net-savvy consumer. Which they are!

EBOOK DIRECT SALES STRATEGY SUMMARY

So in a nutshell, here’s how the system works:

  1. The first book is free, gaining me new readers every day from the big ebook retailers
  2. Customers who want the second book can get it free by reviewing the first book
  3. I get lots of great reviews for the first book, getting me even more downloads
  4. After they read the second book, route your reader to a book page for the third book
  5. Include a button to buy from you direct, and a concrete explanation of why they should
  6. Also include buttons to the other stores in case they’re not ready for direct sales yet

Ebook Direct Sales FunnelAnd that’s it! All you need to do is keep publishing new books in the series, and drive as MUCH traffic as you can to the first, free ebook. That feeds into everything else. And with every new book in the series, the customer is reminded again and again: “Buy from ME, buy from ME, buy from ME. You like me. I like you, too. We’re sharing these books together. Support me as an indie author.”

So far, this strategy is working great for me. I’m selling more direct copies of Nightblade episodes than I am on ALL OTHER platforms combined. And each week, more and more people find their way to the first episode, and then the second, and so on. By the time the first volume of eight episodes comes out, this could be my biggest book series ever.

For serialized fiction, this is one of those “magic formulae.” It may be temporary, but if it ever goes away it will only be replaced by something better.

No longer do we need to fiddle-fuck around with strategies that try desperately to work despite Amazon’s lower royalties for $0.99 titles. We can take matters into our own hands and make the same amount of money selling 6 episodes for a buck that we’d make selling a 6-episode package on Amazon. And if we offer that 6-episode package on our own website, we make even more.

And all the while we’ve got increased visibility, greater access to customer information, and a sales platform that we control completely. When people are in your system, you never need to worry about Amazon’s policy changes, or algorithm adjustments, or whether or not they’ll take your particular brand of bigfoot erotica. (Hey, I’m not judging). You’re in control of your own sales, and your relationship with your customers has never been closer.

Sounds like the future of publishing to me, too.

Garrett Robinson

Over 100,000 readers have read and loved Garrett's books, like the fantasy hits Nightblade and Midrealm. He's also a film festival favorite with movies like Unsaid, and a tech guru who posts lots of helpful how-tos for writers and filmmakers over at garrettbrobinson.com.

Latest posts by Garrett Robinson (see all)

3 comments
DavidGetchel
DavidGetchel

Awesome article! As someone who has dipped their pinky toe into both kindle and gumroad, I need to implement some of your strategies. I agree with @danamongden that it's not as convenient for people having to do a couple of steps to read on their kindle or the like.

danamongden
danamongden

I think works great for people ordering on the device that they're reading with, i.e. a phone or tablet, but it's still problematic for those of us who do most of our browsing/shopping on a desktop or laptop.  We get the MOBI/EPUB file and then need to side-load it via the USB connection.  Now, I'm a tech-savvy guy, so that's a trivial act, but I fear that for most customers, it won't be.


What I have often felt was the missing piece of the puzzle is a browser plug-in that recognizes the MOBI/EPUB being downloaded and assists the customer in getting it to their reading device.  It could just keep a process running in the background, looking for your reader device to plug-in and then load the books on to it.  Or, at least for the Kindle, it could keep track of the email address of that customer's kindle as well as the address that it's registered to (and can thus received emails from).  Thus, when the MOBI shows up, the plug-in could simply email the file to the customer's Kindle using the customer's own email address.  That's something I'd like to see the folks at Gumroad work on.

seanmichaelplatt
seanmichaelplatt

 Dude, this isn't just a great strategy, it's a super well articulated post. Great job! And awesome and one for being so far ahead of the curve. 

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