These are extraordinary times and every day sees dramatic change due to the global sweep of coronavirus COVID19. There will be many impacts on our lives, but one thing we will all need is immediate cash flow and this can be a problem for authors.
In the UK, an emergency fund has already been launched, but with physical bookstores closing, and speaking and teaching events canceled, many authors will struggle.
If you publish through traditional publishing, royalties can take many months to arrive. You can't control the schedule of payment and you don't get any details of the customers.
If you publish independently through online publishers like Amazon, Kobo, Apple, Google, and other distributors, you will get your money sooner — but it will still be 30-60 days later and once again, you don't get any details of the customers.
If you publish and sell direct, you can receive money in your PayPal/bank account within 10-15 minutes.
Yes, you read that right. Minutes rather than months. You also get the details of the customer so you can own the relationship in the future.
[Please note, this article contains affiliate links to services I personally use and recommend. If you buy anything through my links, I receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you. I only recommend services that I believe are great for authors.]
You can control your cash flow and sell direct — but only if:
(A) You control the intellectual property rights for your book
You need to have the right to sell your own book in ebook and/or audiobook format directly to readers in specific territories. If you have signed a contract with a publisher, then check that contract first as you most likely do not have that right as you have licensed it to a publisher. However, read it closely, as you might have licensed some territories and not others, for example, UK Commonwealth and nowhere else.
If you are an indie author, and you haven't signed a contract with a publisher, and you are not exclusive to Amazon in KDP Select and/or ACX, you're good to go. [Here's my take on exclusivity vs wide for ebooks, print and audiobooks.]
(B) You have an email list or a way to reach readers
Click here for my tutorial on how to set up your email list if you haven't done this already — might as well start now!
You might also have social media channels that can help.
(C) You change your mindset
Many authors are so obsessed with chart rankings on Amazon that they forget the point is to reach readers who love our books — and for many of us, make a living with our writing.
Selling direct enables readers to support us and money to arrive in our bank accounts quickly — but you will not see a spike in your Amazon rankings. So what do you really want?
The other mindset shift is to become a true business-person. Yes, you have to sell something from your website! You also have to learn a few things, some of which might seem technical, but it's worth it for the control and (hopefully) the money. You will be on the way to becoming truly independent.
Just to be clear, I am not saying that you should stop selling through all the other channels, just that adding direct sales to the mix gives you more control. Basically, I sell my books in every format in every place possible!
If you're ready to sell direct, here are the steps to take.
(1) Format your digital files
I sell ebooks and audiobooks direct. The ebook includes mobi for Kindle, ePub for other readers and PDF versions. The audiobooks are a zipped file containing MP3s which are ordered correctly so they can be played on a device.
There are lots of formatting options for ebooks and print books (for Mac and PC) — from free services to paid freelancers.
Personally, I choose Vellum (Mac only) for my ebook formatting. Here's a tutorial on how to use it for ebook and print formatting.
Vellum does now create an ePub for Kindle, but you can convert it to Mobi format by using BookFunnel, which also has integration for delivering digital files through Payhip (and other services).
Audiobooks take a lot more work, especially if you also want to publish them to audiobook retailers like Audible, Apple Books, Google Play etc. Here's how to self-publish an audiobook, and for more detail, check out Audio for Authors: Audiobooks, Podcasting and Voice Technologies.
(2) Choose a service that allows you to sell globally
There are lots of options with pros and cons of each, but I use Payhip.com.
It's a great service that allows payment through card or PayPal, is easy-to-use with built-in marketing and analysis tools, and also deals with the EU digital tax laws, which many other services don't do. Over the last decade, I have also used e-Junkie and Selz, but neither dealt with the EU taxes in an efficient way.
Basically, if the buyer is in the EU, you have to pay tax in that country, even if you only sell a few dollars worth and even if you don't live there yourself. Payhip deals with this for you — hooray!
Payhip has a free plan which takes 5% transaction fee, and then two premium plans where the transaction fee is reduced when you pay more upfront. Your choice will depend on how much you expect to earn each month.
(3) Set up your store
Add a new digital product per book in each format. Just upload the digital files, cover and add the description and price. I use USD even though I am in the UK as USD is the most international currency. It only takes a few minutes to set each product up. There is plenty of help documentation as well.
You can sort the products into Collections as I have done with different series and my fiction and non-fiction, so your books are easier to find.
You will also need to set up your payment connections through PayPal and Stripe so people can pay you.
If you don't have these set up already, there will be some hoops to jump through because of international banking laws. So, start this process ASAP if you are new to online payments.
Once they are set up, you will need to slowly ramp up sales. If you get a massive spike when you're just starting out (and we all wish for that!) then your account might get blocked because of suspicious behavior. So get it set up, start transacting with a small group for testing and then ramp up over time.
You can also set up integrations with email providers like ConvertKit (which is the service I use and love!). Click here for my tutorial on how to use them to set up your email list.
(4) Integrate your store into your website
You should already have links to multiple sites on your book pages on your website. [If you don't have this sorted, then check out my tutorial on how to build your own author website.]
With Payhip, you can easily add a button on your site so readers can buy directly from you. You can change the text on the button, so I like to use ‘Buy direct from the author' to emphasize the personal connection.
The Other Stores button goes to my Books2Read.com links as I sell in so many places! If you're wide, it's a great service to use to get one link to share to all stores. [At the time of writing, they do not allow Payhip, but hopefully, that is coming!]
You can also add links in other places — for example, at the top of my Books page I have the following text:
Here are my bestselling books, non-fiction for authors under Joanna Penn and thriller fiction under J.F.Penn, as well as foreign-language editions and workbooks. Click on the books below to see more information and access buy links for all online stores. Available in paperback, ebook, audio, and some in Hardback and Large Print editions.
You can buy my ebooks (and some audiobooks) directly from me: www.Payhip.com/thecreativepenn
You can also get my books for free if you request them on your library app or through your local Librarian.
(5) Email your list
Your readers want to support you and a growing number understand the financial stress that creatives are under, particularly in the case of an economic downturn. Increasingly, many readers also have ethical issues with some of the big sellers and want to support creators and independents directly.
This is a snippet of the email I sent out to my list this week offering a discount on my ebooks and audiobooks if people bought from me directly.
[And yes, you too can use coupon code: QUARANTINE – just go to www.Payhip.com/thecreativepenn ]
You can also add a call to action within your email list auto-responder, perhaps with some special offer for your email list that is valid over time. I use Payhip to distribute my ebooks to my supporters on Patreon.com/thecreativepenn.
(6) Share on social media
You can share products directly from Payhip and include social coupons if other people share as well.
You can also create banners on Canva.com to advertise your products on sale — as I have done on Twitter @thecreativepenn and Facebook.com/thecreativepenn
When is it worth selling direct?
You really need to have an email list or another way to reach people online with your offer. It would also be best if you had a few books as the benefits grow if you have multiple products as you can upsell and cross-sell, and generally make more income per customer.
If you don't have either of these, write more books and build an email list so you are positioned for the future.
Because we will get through this, but the experience will accelerate online sales and marketing and those authors who can control their income will be far better placed for the next time something happens.
I started this site in late 2008 as the Global Financial Crisis hit and I was laid off. I was determined to make sure no single company controlled all my income, and over the years, I have grown multiple streams of income, most of them online, global and digital.
The negative financial experience of the GFC spurred me to change the way I lived and the way I earned. But now I feel that I didn't go far enough. Even though I have been doing direct sales for a decade, I have only ever included it as a secondary option. Now I'm determined to push it as my primary sales channel so that I can own and control even more of my book sales in the future. What do you think? How will you change your processes?
Are you selling direct to readers? Or do you have any questions? Please do leave a comment and join the conversation.
Steven J. Daniels says
Excellent advice, Joanna!
Exactly what I expect from you!
Katie Slade says
Thank you so much for sharing all that you laid out here. As a new author with a book women are loving, I’m trying to do everything I can to promote to my niche audience. I’m going to explore more of the details you have provided. Interestly, I discovered payhip last year, it’s a great service, but I still have to manually place the order through amazon. The other problem I discovered is that amazon ships a receipt showing the cost of an author’s copy, not what I want my readers to see. I’m planning to contact amazon about removing that process. I released my audiobook via Author’s Republic and they have distributed it to over 50 platforms several that you indicate. I control the rights to my paperback, ebook & audiobook. I did sign up for kdp select before realizing it locks me into an agreement with amazon. I’m going to look into changing it. A million thanks again for helping new author’s like myself navigate these waters! Best, Katie Slade