Indie Authors: Curious About Setting Up Direct Sales for Your Books?

Authors Direct Sales--Interview with Elizabeth Hunter

You’ve heard that old saw about not putting all your eggs in one basket, yeah? This is why you should consider direct sales for your books.

I mean, it makes perfect sense. You don’t want to build your plans on one contingency and then be left high and dry if things change. That’s especially true if those “things” are outside your control. And that includes the algorithms of a third party. Facebook, Amazon, I’m lookin’ at you. Gone are the days where you could just write a book and publish to Amazon for 99 cents and it becomes a bestseller.  Pretty sure Victorine Lieske was the last one to pull that off with her book Not What She Seems. She broke the internet.

But seriously, it’s becoming more and more vital to build your brand outside of Amazon and the like. I’m sure I’m not the only one to hear of authors getting their KDP account terminated and basically having no recourse to get reinstated. Amazon is not known for having good customer service for authors

But okay—those instances are outliers. Thousands (millions?) of people publish on Amazon and don’t run into any problems. Except one. I’m hearing more and more often that Amazon has become “pay to play.” And I see it every time I shop there. Run a search on the product of your choice—practically every other row is “sponsored.” It’s ridiculous. And not for nothing, I kind of think that if you’re spending money and effort on ads and building your brand, maybe it’s better to send traffic to your own website and store, not someone else’s.

For authors who haven’t built up a following yet, one place you can start is by working on your newsletter and building your audience there. But if you’re getting consistent sales, you might want to think about selling direct in addition to going through retailers like Amazon, B&N, Kobo, etc. That’s what my client Elizabeth Hunter has done. And she was kind enough to let me pick her brain.

Me: What made you decide to sell direct in addition to going through retailers?

Elizabeth: I’m an indie author, so from the beginning of my career, I liked the control that self-publishing gave me. This is another way to control my own narrative, reach my readers, and build a better community (I think) with my audience. I don’t have to rely on the whims of an algorithm; I can cultivate my own audience and run my own promotions.

Me: Was your decision based on changes in the publishing landscape / visibility on retailers / other business factors?

Elizabeth: I think it was a combination of all those things. Without a direct way for readers to buy our books, we’re completely dependent on third-party retailers. Most other businesses don’t operate like that in the online age. Most businesses cultivate ways to directly reach their customers, and I think that’s something for writers to keep in mind.

Authors Direct Sales--Interview with Elizabeth Hunter Shopify

Me: It looks like you went with Shopify. Did you build your store yourself or hire it out, and did you need to use Shopify plugins for delivering digital content?

Elizabeth: My assistant and I have been building the store, and we’ve found the themes and plugins needed to create it very user friendly. I definitely recommend taking a class or tutorial though. There is a lot of free information online, but I do recommend this class: Authors Direct Sales by Cameron Snow, who recently presented at the 20Books conference in Las Vegas. It is not cheap, but it’s very comprehensive and covers both building the store and marketing it via social media. It’s designed from the ground up for writers with no experience in direct sales.

I have also used the Payhip store for direct audiobook sales, and I like that platform too, but I found the integration to social media platforms where I advertise to be better with Shopify.

But I think if you have a reasonable amount of experience running a blog or a website and are willing to look for free tutorials online, Shopify and Payhip are both very accessible.

As far as delivery goes, I have used Bookfunnel to deliver digital content like ARCs and audiobooks for years now, and they’re a phenomenal partner for direct sales. They make everything completely seamless; they’re the only delivery channel I recommend.

Me: What was the biggest challenge you faced in building out your store?

Elizabeth: I don’t think building the store is the challenge—I think getting traffic and converting that traffic to buys is the real challenge, and I’m still learning all that.

Me: Speaking of challenges, about how many hours did you spend implementing this? How long did it take to roll out from conception to grand opening?

Elizabeth: I can’t give you an exact number because we’ve been doing it piece by piece. I have a large backlist of over fifty books, so we’ve prioritized getting my most popular series listed and putting book bundles together. The store has been live for about two months now, and we dedicate a few hours a week to working on it. We have so many things to do as indie authors—I highly recommend taking advantage of Shopify’s promotion period, which is three months, to gradually build a working store. Don’t obsess and forget to write.

Me: I know it’s early days, but are you happy with your results so far?

Elizabeth: Very happy so far. I’m not seeing a huge amount of traffic, but this is a long-term strategy, so I’m happy to go little by little. I anticipate this becoming a significant percentage of my sales within a few years.

Me: Anything you’d change / do differently if you had to do it over?

Elizabeth: I’m still in the process, so I’m sure by the time the store is fully “stocked” with my ebooks and audiobooks, I’ll have better lessons to impart. Right now I’m very much a learner.

Me: Who would you recommend consider selling direct? (i.e. what career stage)

Elizabeth: I think it’s great for everyone to cultivate direct sales, just like we cultivate direct customer reach with newsletters, but this will likely benefit an author with at least one finished series or trilogy under their belt, or someone who might have a larger body of standalone books.

Me: For anyone who’d like to check out what you’ve done, where can they find you?

Elizabeth: My Shopify store is at Feel free to come take a look and check out some of my books while you’re at it! Right now it’s still in process, but my biggest series is up and you can buy a bundle of twelve books for only $24.65, which is 50% off the retail price.

Me: Thanks, Elizabeth! This is going to be super helpful for other authors. I appreciate your time. 

So that’s it—I hope this was helpful for you and gave you some food for thought. I also have an interview with one of my authors who funded her debut novel via Kickstarter. Drop a comment and let me know if you’d like to see that in a future post or if there are other topics you’d like me to ask my authors about.

Egg Carton Photo by Rupert Britton on Unsplash, Laptop Photo by Roberto Cortese on Unsplash
Spread the word!