Why all self-publishers should sell direct

by Suw on July 25, 2013

I’ve written a piece for The Writing Platform on why I think all self-publishers should control at least one point of sale and sell direct to their readers

The self-publishing process has become pretty well established by now, a received wisdom that 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 they will become the next breakout bestseller. But for the other 99.9% of us for whom the lightning doesn’t strike, Amazon turns out to be a double-edged sword. Whilst it gives you access to vast numbers of readers, it cuts you off from them too, divorcing you from your fanbase in a singularly unhelpful way.

Read the rest!

Derek Murphy July 28, 2013 at 5:26 am

It’s true you lose a lot to Amazon, but you’re also right about getting your work out to more people. For writers without a large following, Amazon is essential for getting readers, with the added bonus of providing social proof in the way of sales ranking and reviews (readers will be less likely to believe the reviews on your own site than those on Amazon). Plus, sales compound in a way that won’t happen on your own site, so every bit of marketing and publicity you do to push sales increases your book’s exposure… on your own website, once your marketing ends and you’ve driven your last contact to buy the book, everything stops. On Amazon, it keeps going.

Suw July 28, 2013 at 10:50 am

Weeeeell, yes and no.

Amazon is not a miracle source of readers for unknown writers. A lot of people put stuff on Amazon and it sinks without trace because they have not yet built a following. Those with small following will find that when they have done their initial push, their sales on Amazon fall off. A good example of this are my own sales of Argleton. So if you have a small following, it doesn’t really matter whether you sell on your own site or on Amazon – you’re still going to have to do a lot of work to get sales, and even more work to keep getting sales. Only a tiny, tiny number of books take off on Amazon under their own steam – James Oswald’s Natural Causes is a good example of one that did – but it is not realistic to think that every book will.

Amazon is also not the only source of readers and, in face, about half of book purchases on Amazon come from a direct search, ie people already know what they want before they arrive on site. Very few sales – about 10% – come through Amazon recommendations. The ‘social proof’ you mention is important, but that also comes from Twitter or Facebook chatter, from Goodreads or Shelfari reviews, from blog posts. There are lots of venues other than your own site where people can find out about your book. It’s hard work to build that up, but it’s hard work to get people to go to your book’s page on Amazon too.

As for what happens when your marketing ends, if you have stopped marketing your book on Amazon there is no guarantee that it will continue to sell. Many books do just drop off the radar and sales tank once marketing stops. Very few books turn into break-out bestsellers. Even traditionally published books suffer from this problem – even JK Rowling, writing as Robert Galbraith, sold only 449 copies of The Cookoo’s Calling before her identity was revealed.

If you have hooked your own direct sales into your newsletter/mailing list, then as you push your current book, you’re also gathering your fans together in one place where they are easy to continue to talk to. When your current marketing push is complete, you’ll have a list of people you can talk to about your next book, and you won’t even have to go looking for them. You can’t do that on Amazon. But this is starting to rehash what I say in the full text of the piece, which I hope you’v read as this is only the intro paragraphs.

Of course, you don’t have to walk away from Amazon. I’ve chosen to only sell direct myself, mainly as an experiment to see how far I can push things, but you can easily run direct sales and Amazon side-by-side and, to some extent, get the best of both worlds.

But the key thing is that you cannot and should not assume that the breakout sales trajectories that are so well publicised are normal. They are not, they are the exception. So if you want to maximise your chances of success you have to build your own mailing list and community, and the direct sales channel is invaluable in that. You cannot rely on Amazon handing you success on a plate.

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