5 Ways to Encourage Direct Book Sales
Bookstores are fantastic organisations. For readers, they’re treasure-troves full of wonder and, for writers, they’re gateways to a dream career. This is truer than ever in the digital age. Giant ebook retailers, though frequently steeped in controversy, have given millions of readers more selection than ever and awarded indie authors the chance to earn life-changing incomes from their writing. This is why we love them.
Yet the picture isn’t always rosy. After all, bookstores are businesses. Their website algorithms can shift your books by the thousands but drop them just as quickly. Likewise, their beloved staff can champion your titles one moment and disappear the next. As much as you love a retailer, it won’t necessarily work in your favour forever. So, how can you protect your income from a devastating retailer change?
Successful authors commonly advise that you diversify your readership as much as possible so that, if the money from one retailer fades, another can pick up the slack. Diversifying is a good tactic, but what happens if a few retailers stop showcasing your books at once? How can you weatherproof your business from that storm? The answer: sell direct.
Thanks to the internet, many entrepreneurial authors have opted to bypass retailers altogether. Steamy romance authors, for example, have learned that retailers can, and sometimes do, pull the plug on their exposure, so have chosen this DIY approach to ensure that doesn’t impact their profits too badly. And many genre fiction authors have followed suit. Why? You don’t get organic exposure using this method – in fact, you have to advertise to get any at all – but selling direct does afford you more control over your business, as well as other benefits. Put simply, if you manage your own readers, nobody can take them away from you.
Selling directly to readers is harder than selling on trusted retailer platforms for new authors who lack marketing experience and need retailer exposure to build an initial fanbase. But established authors using this tactic can charge higher prices, reap bigger royalty percentages and control the shopping experience so they don’t have to compete with other authors advertising on their sales pages. Reaching that stage is challenging, but it gets easier as you grow your author brand. If you want to build a fan base of dedicated readers who buy directly from your website, then read on for a selection of actionable tips that can help you get started.
Maximise Your Mailing List
As an author, your email list is likely your greatest marketing asset. Your social media presence might reach more readers and give you the potential to go viral, but it’s unpredictable. Facebook and Twitter can take away your reach just as easily as they give it to you. By comparison, building and maintaining an active list of email subscribers is far more dependable. It enables you to maintain a more consistent level of exposure, and you can reach those readers whenever you broadcast a message. As no single company controls the world’s email distribution, no one can take away your ability to reach your email subscribers.
For this reason, many authors who sell direct choose to build a powerful mailing list made up of thousands of readers. That way, they don’t have to bend to the whim of retailers or social media algorithms. Their guaranteed connection means that they can broadcast whatever message they want and direct their readers to wherever suits their business. It may take you a while to learn how to build your mailing list but, once you’ve got a handle on your system, you can use that asset consistently and cheaply forever. Accessing your readers directly, you can train them to use your website and nurture a culture of buying direct within your reader community.
One of the biggest barriers to selling direct is getting your readers to buy on your website. When they already have access to your books on retailer websites they know, like and trust, why would they buy from you? After all, their credit card details are already logged into systems provided by Apple or Barnes & Noble or wherever they normally buy books. From their perspective, giving you their details is sketchy and inconvenient. Getting them to trust your site can be a difficult obstacle to overcome at first, but discounting your books can help.
How you do this is up to you. Either you can make your books cheaper on your website as standard or you can price match retailers but undercut them with discount codes. Promoting codes in your newsletters and or on social media will help to generate awareness for your site, which will entice early adopters. You may worry that you’re missing out on the extra money you’d normally earn from readers who are used to paying full price on retailers but there’s no need for concern. This is because selling direct enables you to retain a higher royalty percentage. Retailers pay authors between 13% and 70% of book sales revenue. Selling direct, however, you can claw in 95%! Hence, discounting on your site can entice readers without cutting into your profit margin.
It’s possible that you’ve cultivated a following of readers who are happy to buy your books at full price and who aren’t interested in discounts. This occurrence is rare, but it sometimes happens to authors who target affluent readers. If this is the case for you, there is a no-discount alternative that caters to the idea of exclusivity and convenience rather than saving money: the early release. This can be equally attractive to readers and can lead to more money landing in your business bank account. What’s more, readers who like this sort of treatment don’t feel cheated even if you later run a sale on a retailer site, because they value being a part of an exclusive club more than they like to save money.
There’s a reason why retailers love exclusive content. When they can broadcast that the content is available only on their website, they can drive traffic to it knowing that shoppers can’t shop around to compare prices. As they can’t find the same product elsewhere for a cheaper price, all that matters is whether or not they want it, which makes it easier to convert them into buyers.
If you release your books early on your website then you can benefit from this advantage and attract non-price-sensitive readers who want early access. If you publish in Kindle Unlimited, you can still release them early on your website. Just make sure that you unpublish them before they go live on Amazon. If, on the other hand, you publish wide to all retailers, releasing early on your website can simply become a part of your regular publishing process, another place where readers can get your books forever.
Give Bonus Content
Some readers prefer not to buy directly from authors at all if they can help it. Given the choice, many will gladly pay more just to can get a book they want from their preferred retailer. Likewise, some will happily ignore early releases and wait until a new book appears in their favourite store to get their copy. The only way to entice these readers to start buying on your site is to offer bonus content on the books your sell directly that they can’t get anywhere else. Examples of bonus content you could offer includes:
- word searches
- audio content
- digital concept art
- downloadable colouring pages
- extra scenes
- an author commentary
- character interviews
You don’t need to post these bonuses in physical form to your customers if doing so is unviable for your business, either. To save cash, you can include digital versions in your ebook files or provide readers with a link to download the extra content via email once they’ve made their purchase. You can fulfil that extra content using BookFunnel, Story Origin, Findaway’s Authors Direct or Zapier, depending on the type of bonuses you choose to provide.
Many readers need to be coaxed to buy books directly from authors, but that isn’t always the case. This is because some readers are happy to buy books and additional content in whatever way their favourite authors ask. They simply want to support them as best they can, knowing that making a living is difficult for most writers, even when thousands of readers enjoy their work. As a result, sometimes your best course of action is simply to ask your readers to buy directly from your website.
Despite what many authors believe, the world is full of readers who want to support those who create the art they love. No doubt some superfans would donate to a Patreon account if you set one up but haven’t been given the opportunity to do so. Others would like to tip you but don’t want to commit to a long-term payment plan. These are the readers that would rather help you with one-off payments in the form of direct purchases. Ask your readers if they would like to support you and let them know why it matters. You may be surprised by their kindness.
Admittedly, building a direct readership as an author requires more knowledge and perseverance than selling through retailers, but new tools and public attitudes are constantly evolving to make this process easier. As a result, don’t lose faith if you see lacklustre early results. Selling direct is a process that will take time but it’ll ultimately gain you more control over your author career. It’s a notion that aligns perfectly with the indie mindset. Once, publishers separated authors from retailers. Now retailers separate authors from readers. Selling direct is just the next step.
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