How to Sell Books From Your Website: Top 3 E-commerce Solutions for Authors

by Joel Friedlander on August 16, 2013 · 43 comments

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by Anne Hill (@AnneHill)

Anne is a colleague and friend who is very involved with training authors and bloggers here in Northern California, and she recently ran a terrific workshop on building your author platform at BAIPA. Although I’ve featured Anne’s writing in This Week in the Blogs, this is her first guest appearance. And it’s a great one. If you’ve ever thought about selling direct from your website, you’ll want to dive right in.



Authors have come a long way in the past few years. We understand that we have to be marketers as well as writers. We know that the best book marketing involves two-way communication with readers and not just sales pitches. Some of us even enjoy it.

But while blogs and social media have made those conversations easier to have, selling books through Amazon and other online retailers prevents us from connecting with readers at the critical moment of sale. Amazon knows more about who buys our books than we do, by design.

We get sales figures, but we don’t know anything about who bought our books. And the more we know about where our books are being sold and to whom, the better all our marketing can be.

The solution is to sell books directly from author websites—and I don’t mean linking to your book listing on Amazon. Through direct sales, we learn where our readers are geographically, what brought them to the site, and most importantly their email addresses.

Does this mean that authors have to be writers, marketers, and customer service reps too? That depends on what you are selling and which option you choose. Here are some of the best current ecommerce choices for authors.

Adding a PayPal Button for eBook Sales

It is fairly easy to sell ebooks from your website using a PayPal button, especially if you have a WordPress site or can safely edit your own web pages. This button lets people pay quickly through PayPal, and once payment is complete they are returned to a special page on your website where they can download your book.

Login to your PayPal account and click on the Merchant Services tab. You will see a prominent link to “Create payment buttons for your website.” Click on that, and follow the instructions for a “Buy Now” button.

For ebook sales, fill out the information in Step 1 and also Step 3, which lets you redirect them to a download page. Click to save your work and copy the code PayPal gives you.

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Insert that code on your webpage right where you want the PayPal button to be. Finally, create a new page on your site (if you use WordPress, make sure this page is hidden from your navigation bar). Give it the exact name you entered in Step 3, insert the ebook file on that page, and you’re done!

Sound potentially confusing? Well, yes it is. Expect some buyers (up to half, in my experience) to report problems downloading your book. I ended up emailing them my book as an attachment in those cases, which is not a bad result considering that contact with readers is one of your main goals anyway.

WordPress Ecommerce Plug-ins

If you have more than one book (or book format) to sell on a WordPress site, there are several plug-ins you can try. For non-techie authors this means paying someone to set it up for you, but if you want to be the master of your own sales universe it is well worth the effort.

The developers I know prefer WooCommerce, an open source plug-in that is supported by a worldwide community of users. The basic plug-in is free but extensions for greater functionality cost a reasonable amount.

One of the big risks of using a plug-in is that it will stop being supported by its developers while you still need it, and your site will break. WooCommerce’s active user community is a great insurance policy against this, and a fantastic support forum if you decide to build it yourself.

WooCommerce allows you to ship physical as well as digital products, and can be customized to match your site or used right out of the box with good results. Here’s a handy introductory slide show to get you started (use the right arrow button to advance slides).

Ganxy Showcases

If all this technical detail makes you want to head for the hills, fear not! There are several startups who want to make it much easier to sell your books directly.

The best so far is Ganxy, which lets you create custom showcases for your ebooks that can be embedded in any webpage, blog post, even a Facebook page. These showcases allow readers to buy directly from you (Ganxy collects 10% of the sale and you get the rest), order from any online retailers you designate, or just sign up for your mailing list without making a purchase.

Setting up a showcase is pretty darn easy. You add the cover graphic, type in title and description, enter a price, and upload each ebook format that you have available (pdf, epub, mobi). Ganxy only works with DRM-free files. You can also add a pdf preview and YouTube link for a book trailer or other related video.

When you’re done filling out the showcase, Ganxy gives you a simple piece of code to copy and paste into your webpage or other site. Voilà! Your ebook is for sale and the formatting looks great.

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Once your book is purchased directly from Ganxy, readers can download and read it on any of their devices. Ganxy handles all customer service and connectivity issues.

Ganxy also lets you create free download campaigns for in-person and email promotions. You can even print custom postcards with discount codes to take with you to events.

Can you guess how long it took me to ditch my PayPal buttons?

The Disruptions Will Continue

This is by no means a comprehensive list, and no doubt there are many more great ideas being developed. That shouldn’t keep you from getting started now, though. Selling books directly online has never been easier, and it is the best way to stay connected with your readers from the point of sale onward.

Do you have a favorite ecommerce solution I didn’t mention? Please share it in the comments!

“The more we know about where our books are being sold and to whom, the better all our marketing can be.”—Click to tweet

ecommerceAnne Hill is an author educator specializing in content and messaging strategies for people with wisdom to share. She writes about web presence, publishing and social media at Creative Content Coaching and is co-leader of the Bay Area Blogger Society. Anne is the author of Three Steps to Selling Your eBook: Platform Building for Authors and What To Do When Dreams Go Bad: A Practical Guide to Nightmares. She has co-authored and contributed to several other books, writes for the Blog o’ Gnosis and the Huffington Post. Anne teaches and speaks widely, is always working on her next book, and happily resides in Bodega Bay, CA.

Photo: bigstockphoto.com

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    { 38 comments… read them below or add one }

    Day Donaldson September 16, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    Could you write a post on where website owners can find books to sell on their sites (particular to the area they are publishing about)?

    Thanks

    Reply

    Ruth Foster August 14, 2014 at 9:15 am

    new at self-publishing–almost ready to “go to press”!
    All info. helpful!

    Reply

    Larry Diaz February 17, 2014 at 4:54 pm

    This is the exact information that has solidified all my thoughts about publishing; “I’m doing it myself!” Indeed, I had already mentioned to my wife that I thought PayPal would be the way to go. Many Thanks!

    Reply

    Nicholas February 3, 2014 at 4:15 am

    Hi. Nice blog. I am part of a non-profit organisation which looks after historical documents. We have thousands of scans of documents, proceedings (all organised in books and publications) and would like to make them available free to the public. Do you know of any display solution to achieve it? Basically it is just like selling the books but with no selling. We would like to show the titles, authors, keywords, pdf but no selling. Google Books is a great solution but it does not work for my country. thank you.

    Reply

    Gary Roberts February 3, 2014 at 9:42 am

    Hi Nicholas. Not to hijack the thread, but I work with a non-profit (the Early American Industries Association) that has been looking into much the same resource for offering journals online. If you’ld like to get in touch with me, my name is linked to my storefront from which you can contact me by email.

    Gary

    Reply

    sam j. haim October 23, 2013 at 5:03 pm

    Wow! Great 411. My ebook is in post-production. I got this lady making the cover who has produced over 8,000 ebook covers. I was crying in my soup as I read the Amazon contract for my ebook. $0.15 to download my book. Then I only get a royalty of $0.24 on a book that I want to sell for $0.99 per copy. I am sending an e-mail to gaxny right now. You guys and gals are great.

    sjh/Founder, Lionsgate Studios (est. 1989, “The Hunger Games.)

    Reply

    Anne Hill February 6, 2014 at 8:43 am

    Amazon’s “delivery fees” are one of those hidden costs that cut into an author’s actual return from uploading books to Kindle. I wouldn’t let that dissuade you from selling your ebook on Amazon, though. It is the best discovery engine around, and doesn’t prevent you from selling through other channels.

    Reply

    Pat Guide August 27, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    Very interesting article and some very informative replies.

    I have published romance novels using the Amazon Kindle program.

    I didn’t like it for a number of reasons but mainly because I didn’t know who was buying my books. Amazon Kindle keeps all that information.

    I felt out of control and insecure with Amazon Kindle. The Amazon Kindle / Self Publisher relationship is very unequal. They have all the power.

    So this is what I’ve done.

    I now sell directly to my readers via Ganxy.

    I’ve ditched my blog and email subscription list and just market my Ganxy book links via Twitter, Facebook, Google +, Pinterest etc

    I ditched the blog and the monthly email because I hated writing them and they distracted me from my working on my books.

    With regard to payment processing I’m sticking with PayPal for the moment but I’m actively looking for a better and cheaper way of dealing with it.

    I’ve looked at some Wordpress solutions to sell and promote my books but none of them came close to Ganxy, that said if a better and cheaper solution came along, I would look at it.

    I hope that this is off help and interest to people.

    All the best.

    Reply

    Gary August 25, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    While I think creating a permission-based email list is the bare minimum, it is also pretty important to give readers an opportunity to engage with each other at least and ideally with the author or his/her proxies. You can do this through facebook or google+, but then I think you’re subject to the extraneous noise that those services bring along with a certain lack of control.

    I wound up rolling my own, so to speak, and recently opened it up to others. You can check out it out at lithive.com. It lets me easily set up a beautiful microsite with promotional pages for each publication, handles one-time and subscription sales and lets me manage my reader list . It also lets me create promotions and coupons. (It does a bunch of other stuff to, but these are the features relevant to this conversation).

    Reply

    Anne Hill August 26, 2013 at 9:36 pm

    Very cool Gary, thanks for sharing this. It’s on my list of sites to check out in greater detail!

    Reply

    Greg at Silver Knight August 18, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    I’ve been building out shopping carts for authors using a “Store Front” type of shopping cart. It’s independant of the website. This is a great alternative rather than relying on plugins to keep up-to-date with your website.

    It allows for physical books as well as eBook downloads. The downloads are done over a secure connection. You can limit number of download attempts, and number of days the download link is active. These can also be reset if your customer missed out on their deadline.

    You can also have your shopping cart appear on a Facebook page.

    Some authors also sell other items such as Consulting Services, Images, Health & Fitness Products, and CD’s to coincide with their books.

    Here are a few examples:
    http://shop.totalfitness.net/
    http://shop.lipstickandsoul.com/
    http://shop.keeperoftheflamenovel.com/

    Here is a link to the web store for getting the shopping cart. Scroll down the home page and you will see the E-Commerce Solutions link next to the Merchant Services link.
    http://shop.silverknightwebstore.com/

    The annual cost for the shopping cart is about $299. This includes an SSL Certificate. You can use Merchant Services, PayPal, or both to receive payments.

    If you want assistance in setting up this type of shopping cart, send me a message from http://silverknightauthorwebsites.com/. I’d be glad to help out or guide you in the right direction.

    Reply

    Gary Roberts August 17, 2013 at 9:41 am

    Something to consider depending on how many items you have for sale, how many sales per year. Add up your Paypal percentages and see what that comes to. I reallzed that paying the Shopify fee at a yearly rate, with Shopify payments for no transaction fee credit card payments along with Paypal, gave me a better deal than relying solely on Paypal. More customers are opting for credit cards over Paypal too. Those Paypal fees add up along with the loss to overall built in services which I don’t have to spend so much time maintaining any longer. That frees me up to do publishing instead of site maintenance.

    Reply

    Anne Hill August 18, 2013 at 8:47 am

    Good points Gary, and definitely worth considering before investing solely in a PayPal ecommerce system.

    Reply

    Robert Nagle August 17, 2013 at 6:16 am

    I just wanted to add one detail which might be obvious to the people here, but is easy to overlook. If setting up a store with paypal and selling items less than $4, you need to choose paypal’s micropayment option. (google it). It charges 5% + $0.05 rather than 2.9% + $0.30.

    Reply

    Anne Hill August 18, 2013 at 8:49 am

    Thanks!

    Reply

    Greg Strandberg August 16, 2013 at 8:07 pm

    I agree with Michael and leave the selling to the big retailers.

    Still, I’ve got to say, making those buttons with PayPal is pretty simple. I have about 100 on my ESL e-commerce website, http://www.esladventure.com, and have had no problems with them.

    I was worried I’d have a lot of people emailing me saying that they didn’t get their file, like you mentioned Anne, but there hasn’t been any of that since I started the site more than a year ago.

    Reply

    Laura Roberts August 16, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    I really like the look of Ganxy, but has anyone had better luck using this format over the Paypal setup? I switched a while back, and haven’t had any sales yet using their setup, so I’m wondering if shoppers are turned off by an unknown platform (and having to sign up for yet ANOTHER site, with more passwords and login info to remember), as opposed to buying directly from me using the trusted Paypal buttons?

    Reply

    Joshua Cohen August 19, 2013 at 9:57 am

    Hi Laura,

    First of all, thanks for using Ganxy! To answer your concern, Ganxy includes a PayPal button as a payment option, and we don’t require buyers to create an account prior to purchasing (they automatically receive an account after purchasing).

    We have thousands of authors successfully using Ganxy and really appreciate any feedback! Don’t hesitate to reach out to us at help@ganxy.com if you have any other questions.

    Thanks,
    Josh

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander August 16, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    Just to add to the discussion, I’ve been selling ebooks, training programs, and other downloadable content from my site for some time. I use PayPal and e-junkie, which is a very inexpensive basic shopping cart service that integrates with Paypal. So instead of just looking at it as a “paypal button” there’s far more that you can do with these “buttons.” As an example, the entire BookDesignTemplates.com site runs entirely off PayPal through the e-junkie shopping cart.

    However, I don’t—and won’t—sell physical products like books, for all the reasons Michael N. Marcus outlined in his comment.

    Reply

    Anne Hill August 16, 2013 at 3:26 pm

    Thanks for weighing in Joel. I know others who are happy with e-junkie as well. I guess we have identified a few different variables to consider when deciding which ecommerce tools to use:

    1. Number of products
    2. Kind of products (ebooks only? books + products?
    3. Type of website
    4. Resources available vs. DIY skills
    5. Comfort level with maintenance and customer service

    Anything I’ve left out?

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander August 16, 2013 at 8:03 pm

    6. Integration with other software, often critical when it gets down to the details of setting these processes up.
    7. Kinds of upsells, discounts, coupons you want to use, because not all vendors support all types, and you may be relying on something they don’t offer.
    8. Self- vs Vendor-hosted, since some people might not want their products on someone else’s server. Difference between delivering the product directly and sending a buyer to a download page.

    Reply

    Anne Hill August 18, 2013 at 8:35 am

    Looks like the outline of a great ebook or workshop on the topic! :)

    Reply

    Frances Caballo August 16, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    I experimented with selling my books via my website but I enjoyed more sales from online retailers than my own site. People do have the option to subscribe to my eNewsletter and that’s a viable method for securing their email addresses and communicating with them. I find that most messages about my books (from people who have purchased or who are about to purchase them) are sent to me through Facebook and LinkedIn.

    Reply

    Anne Hill August 16, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    I definitely get more sales from online retailers, but when I do a book-related interview there are always some people who prefer to buy from my site. Interesting insight about Facebook and LinkedIn though, Frances. Because I have one site (Serpentine Music & Media) set up solely for publishing, I tend to get more comments there than elsewhere. I guess the takeaway here is to know where people are commenting on your books–and be there to interact with them!

    Reply

    Gary Roberts August 16, 2013 at 9:30 am

    Bearing in mind that as a little publisher, I’m up to 19 titles so this made sense for me: I started with Paypal, moved to Ecwid, ditched Ecwid when they dropped all SEO functions and finally opted for a Shopify storefront which just went live this week. Shopify now offers credit card processing at no additional fee. There is a transaction fee of 2.9% for the overall service and a monthly fee (I opted for the yearly fee at a 10% discount). It all sounds like a lot but once the storefront was done, I don’t have to worry about it. All the features are there, it’s secure, SEO, fulfillment if I need it, RSS, blogs, etc. Between Shopify basic fee and minor app fees, the storefront will cost me just under $325 per year to keep open, not counting individual 2.9% transaction fees which are really pretty minimal.

    Reply

    Anne Hill August 16, 2013 at 10:08 am

    Great to know that Shopify is a strong alternative for small publishers! I ran a very active ecommerce music distribution site for several years, and know the value of a streamlined solution. Though this will be overkill for most authors, it’s good to know the tools are there if you need them!

    Reply

    Wynn Collins August 16, 2013 at 6:36 am

    Excellent info! This is a self-publishing puzzle piece I’ve been searching for–thank you!

    Reply

    Anne Hill August 16, 2013 at 7:36 am

    De nada!

    Reply

    Jason Matthews August 16, 2013 at 5:35 am

    Fortunately I only have a 3% of PayPal customers report problems when buying directly from my websites. It appears over half of those are from foreign countries where the PayPal redirect to the download page doesn’t work right. China is a frequent example. Having detailed instructions next to the Buy Now buttons helps a lot as in “PayPal will automatically redirect you to the download page after purchase.”
    Another shopping cart application that’s good and free is Ecwid.
    A smart option is having the retailer’s icons for alternatives on the book store page. Here’s an example of selling with PayPal buttons but also having those cons handy for shoppers who prefer a certain retailer – http://your-own-free-website.com/book-store.php

    Reply

    Anne Hill August 16, 2013 at 6:09 am

    That’s good advice for using PayPal, thanks Jason. Ecwid sounds like a strong contender in the WordPress plugin space.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander August 16, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    Jason,

    Showing the retailer buttons right next to your own “buy” buttons is a great idea, since it gives people their choice of how they want to buy, and keeps them from delaying a decision.

    Reply

    Debra Butterfield August 16, 2013 at 4:02 am

    I intend to try My Book Table available through AuthorMedia.

    I recently learned my state passed a law that means I can no longer participate in Amazon’s affiliate program. To say the least I’m angry about this. Is there another option to make commissions through other book affiliates?

    Reply

    Anne Hill August 16, 2013 at 6:02 am

    Great question, Debra. Powell’s Books in Portland, OR (a pilgrimage site for book lovers if there ever was one) has a partner program: http://www.powells.com/partners/partners.html as does IndieBound: http://www.indiebound.org/affiliate

    I’m sure there are more, but these are the two that come to mind immediately.

    Reply

    Michael N. Marcus August 16, 2013 at 6:12 am

    I’m in Connecticut. We lost affiliate eligibility a few years ago. Ultimately the country will probably settle on a uniform program for taxation of Internet commerce and affiliates will function nationwide.

    Until then, you can have a friend or relative in a web-friendly state sell books for you — until that state changes its law.

    Reply

    Michael N. Marcus August 16, 2013 at 3:40 am

    I sell a few autographed pbooks from my websites — but other than that I prefer to let booksellers sell my books. I have no interest in becoming or employing a warehouse clerk or shipping manager. I don’t want complaints about damaged or delayed shipments. I don’t want to deal with requests for refunds.

    Ebooks don’t require physical handling, but here, too, I’ll let the real sellers do the selling. Amazon and its competitors get MUCH more traffic than my sites and blogs do.

    Michael N. Marcus
    http://www.BookMakingBlog.com
    http://www.CreateBetterBooks.com

    Reply

    Anne Hill August 16, 2013 at 10:03 am

    Agreed, no author wants another non-writing-related job title. It is great to have a way to collect readers’ email addresses on your site though, at the very least.

    Reply

    Annette Peppis August 16, 2013 at 12:37 am

    This is a very useful post. I’d never heard of Ganxy before, but it looks like the way to go.

    Reply

    Anne Hill August 16, 2013 at 5:48 am

    Thanks Amanda, I hope Ganxy works for you. It is pretty darn easy.

    Reply

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