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Why All Self-Publishers Should Sell Direct

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Why All Self-Publishers Should Sell Direct

December 2013

Suw Charman-Anderson

The self-publishing process has become pretty well established by now; a received wisdom shapes every entrepreneurial writer’s secret dreams:

1. Write book

2. ???

3. Profit!

Amazon is the secret sauce that many self-publishers rely on to propel them to the authorial stratosphere, hoping that their books will become the next breakout bestsellers. But for the other 99.9 percent of us for whom the lightning doesn’t strike, Amazon turns out to be a double-edged sword.

While it gives you access to vast numbers of readers, it cuts you off from them too, divorcing you from your fan base in a singularly unhelpful way.

Amazon provides its suppliers, whether self-publishers or traditional publishers, with no more than basic sales data. This makes it very difficult to tie marketing activities explicitly to sales, which in turn makes it hard to know whether a specific campaign has been successful.

If you want to know which other Websites or links sent readers your way, Amazon won’t tell you. If you’d like to know which country they come from, Amazon won’t tell you that either. And if you want to hook your email newsletter sign-up procedure into your point of sale, well, Amazon says no.

Using a direct sales platform, however, gives you all this and more.

Ingredients for Direct Sales Success

There are many hosted direct sales solutions that allow you to sell both digital and physical goods, although it’s probably easier to start off selling just e-books. I have focused on the most common e-book formats such as EPUB and MOBI, and I provide a PDF only when I have properly typeset a book.

My e-book shop is hosted on DPD, but you might use E-junkie or one of many others that are available. When choosing a direct sales platform, you should look for one that will either give you detailed traffic statistics or allow you to hook your e-book shop into third-party analytics services such as StatCounter or Google Analytics.

This will let you find out where your buyers come from, which will help you with your marketing. For example, if I find that a lot of my buyers come from America while most of my Twitter followers and blog readers come from the United Kingdom (where I live), that might indicate that I should more often tweet late in the British night, perhaps scheduling my tweets, to develop my readership in the States.

You should also be able to connect your shop to your mailing list software. I have a monthly newsletter which I run through MailChimp, and everyone who purchases something from my e-book shop is given the opportunity to sign up for it. When I released a short story through my store in April, sign-ups to my newsletter jumped. When I released my latest novella, Queen of the May, I saw another surge in sign-ups, far more than when I was relying on just the sign-up form on my site and a link in my e-books.

Most online shops also allow you to create discount codes. Every person who signs up for my newsletter, for example, gets a code that allows them to download a previous novella and short story for free, and another code that gives them Queen of the May at a discount. I can use such codes to run marketing experiments.

For instance, I can have different codes that I release on Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, and LinkedIn, and then I can see which one produces more sales. That gives me insight into which platform is most effective at reaching my book buyers.

Getting Insights into Sales

Selling direct doesn’t mean that you have to leave Amazon or other outlets—you can just as easily run your e-book shop in parallel to your other sales channels. I chose to keep Queen of the May off Amazon so that my experiment would be as complete as possible, with every buyer going through my shop. By only selling direct, I was able to use discount codes and traffic referral data to illuminate the actual relationship between marketing activity and sales. In a way, I made my latest novella a sacrificial lamb, but the data it’s already giving me is well worth any lost sales.

I’m sure I’ll go back to Amazon again at some point in the future because it does give you access to readers on a scale that is hard to achieve on your own. But in the meantime, I am learning more about what actually works for me, for my books, and for my readers than I ever could from Amazon.

When you self-publish, you are your primary resource, so you have to use your time carefully. By investing some time in setting up your direct sales platform and hooking it up to your newsletter and Web analytics tools, you can save a lot of time in the long run by focusing only on activities that you know, empirically, will work for you.


Suw Charman-Anderson is a social technologist, journalist, and writer who helps businesses understand how to be social online. This piece was originally published on thewritingplatform.com, a site dedicated to supporting writers in the digital age. To learn more: suw.charman-anderson.com and chocolateandvodka.com.

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