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.
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).
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.
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
Anne 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.