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SSA #035: Selling Direct [What I've Learned]

Sep 02, 2023

Read Time: 7.5 Minutes

We've been selling my wife's books directly to readers through her 
online store for about 6 weeks or so now.

Whilst I still have a LOT to learn, I've already discovered more about this exciting part of running an author business than I thought possible in such a short space of time.

And that comes from being open-minded and putting aside any notion of knowing how to sell books, no matter how many books we've sold on Amazon.

I've adopted the mindset of "I know nothing" because I don't.

Direct sales is a totally different game from selling books on retailers such as Amazon, Kobo, Google, Apple, Barnes & Noble, etc.

So today, I'd like to share with you just a sampling of what I've learned in these first few weeks of running our own online bookstore.

A Quick Note on Facebook Ads For Direct Sales

Before we dive in, I've had a few authors ask me whether I use the same strategy I share in Jumpstart Facebook Ads For Authors for direct sales, as well as for sales on Amazon (i.e. sending people from Facebook Ads to our books on Amazon).

The answer is yes.

Everything is exactly the same:

  • Campaign Structure
  • Testing (with Dynamic Creative)
  • Advantage Campaign Budget
  • Optimization and Scaling

The only difference for direct sales is with the Campaign Objective.

For Amazon sales, I use the Traffic objective. But for direct sales, I use the Sales objective and optimize for Purchases.

Aside from that, everything remains the same.

Now, let's jump into the lessons...

Lesson #1: Average Order Value is THE Most Important Metric

Whilst conversion rates, costs-per-clicks, etc, are important, they don't come close to your 
Average Order Value.

This is the metric that will determine if you win in this space, or lose.

Don't me wrong, every sale you make, especially in the beginning, should be celebrated. But if you're spending more to acquire a customer than are earning from each sale, you're fighting a losing battle.

The key is to increase how much your customers are spending, on average, in each transaction.

If most readers are just buying one book, you're likely losing money, especially if you're running Facebook Ads to your store, as we are.

So, how do you encourage readers to spend more? There are a few ways to do that; some of which we've implemented, and others that are on our roadmap:

Use Upsells

As an example, when someone adds Book 1 of your series to their shopping cart, immediately offer them Book 2 of that series for a 10% discount, as you can see we are doing here:

Create Bundles

If you write in a series or have multiple standalone books that make sense to be bundled together, create special bundles of these books with a slight discount to make them more attractive.

For example, if you had a 5 book series, and each book costs $9, you could create a bundle of those 5 books for $39 (rather than $45). This does 2 things; it increases your average order value and gives the customer a discount.

Use a Free Shipping Threshold

Offer Free Shipping if someone spends more than $X on their order.

For example, you could set your Free Shipping threshold to $29, and as soon as a customer adds this amount or more to their cart (with multiple books), they qualify for Free Shipping.

Shipping is one of the biggest roadblocks for shoppers and why so many people don't complete their order. So, if you can offer Free Shipping, this will help increase your Average Order Value AND make purchasing multiple products more enticing.

Clearly, you'll need to crunch the numbers to figure out what your threshold is for Free Shipping, but it's a very worthwhile exercise.

Offer Merchandise

If you can sell products other than books to readers, this can dramatically increase your Average Order Value. These other products are often referred to as merchandise.

We're currently considering merchandise such as:

  • Mugs
  • T-Shirts (though margins on these can be low)
  • Bookmarks
  • Journals
  • Wall Art
  • Maps
  • Pens

We're also going to be offering signed copies of Lori's books, which will cost more than the standard versions.

You can then start using these products as Upsells, or even incentives if people spend a certain amount on their order, they could receive a free gift that would normally cost them $X.

Lesson #2: Give Readers A Reason To Buy From You Over Amazon (or other retailer)

Amazon is generally the place to buy books for many readers.

However, there is definitely a movement and has been for some time, for readers to support and buy directly from authors. These readers will likely buy from you anyway, regardless.

But for those readers who still like purchasing books from Amazon (or another retailer), how can you persuade them to buy from you instead? What makes the experience of buying directly from you different from that of Amazon?

Sure, supporting an author directly is one differentiator.

But can you offer something that Amazon can't?

For us, we're going to be experimenting with offering a free novella with every purchase, as well as a free PDF map of the world in which Lori's books are set.

Maybe you have other ideas, but I highly encourage you to think about this, as it will make a huge difference to how many readers buy from you and how many buy from Amazon.

Lesson #3: Your Product Pages Are Vital

Over the past 6 weeks or so, I've lost count of the number of times I've tweaked the product pages of Lori's books.

Just little details here and there, but they all add up to increasing the conversion rate, but also, the Average Order Value.

And remember, if you're running Facebook Ads to your store, the majority of those folks will be looking at your product pages on a mobile device (this will naturally depend on the demographics of your readers too, of course).

With this in mind, I have worked on moving as much of the most important information on the product pages above the fold (what people can see on their screen before they need to scroll down the page).

This has included:

  • Images of the book
  • Title of the book (and series)
  • Add To Cart and Buy Now buttons
  • Price
  • Shipping details

Further down the page though, I've included details such as:

  • Synopsis of the book
  • A sample of Chapter 1
  • Details of the book (i.e. size, number of pages, ISBN, etc.)

On top of this, I'm treating the product pages as landing pages, because this is where I'm sending all the traffic to from our Facebook Ads.

So I'm providing enough information on our product pages for people to make a decision on whether they want to buy the book or not, without having to explore the website further (unless they want to, which is absolutely fine if they do).

To achieve this, I've added a few simple sections to all the product pages:

  • About the Author
  • A reader quote that compares Lori's series to a series by another author
  • The total number of books we've sold
  • Reviews from readers (social proof)
  • An overview of the series (still working on this)

Readers will, most likely, make their decision to buy or not buy your book(s) on the product page.

Our job as authors (and store owners) is to make that decision as easy and frictionless as possible, by adding just enough, but not too much information to the product pages.

Lesson #4: Use Shopify To Build Your Store

Make life easy on yourself and use a platform called Shopify to build your online store. That would be my advice.

One of the most common alternatives to Shopify is WooCommerce, which is great if you want to run your online store on your existing Wordpress site.

But WooCommerce requires more technical know-how, as well as coding experience to make the store look and operate how you want it.

Shopify on the other hand, is much more plug-and-play, right out of the box.

They have a good number of free templates to choose from to create your store, or you can choose to purchase a template.

We're still using a free template, and are very happy with it for the time being. Sure, we might upgrade to a paid one in the future, but for now, we'll stick with this one.

And there are also countless Apps available to do different things on your Shopify store, such as upsells, reviews, bundles, etc.

I should also point out that Shopify comes with a monthly subscription cost of around $30 (£25). Some of the Apps also come with a monthly subscription cost, but many offer free plans as well.

WooCommerce on the other hand is free, but there are other charges and costs to consider, such as hosting, themes and plugins.

Ultimately, the choice is up to you as to which option you go with, but if you want the easiest, quickest and least stressful option, I would go with Shopify.

Lesson #5: Capture Email Addresses

The average conversion rate on eCommerce stores (which is what your book store is), is around 1%-3%, meaning that 97%-99% of people who visit your store won't make a purchase.

And if they leave your store without you capturing their email address, they're most likely gone forever.

So, if you can offer everyone who visits your store something of value in exchange for their email address, you can start building up an audience of readers to whom you can sell your books to further down the line – after nurturing the relationship you have with them for a few days or weeks.

This was something we only implemented last week, so we missed out on capturing a few email addresses, unfortunately.

Some ideas for what you could offer as an incentive in exchange for someone's email address include:

  • A short story
  • A full novel
  • Sample Chapters
  • A PDF Map of the world your books are set
  • Drawings or sketches of your characters

Think about what you offer as a Reader Magnet in your books on Amazon already, and use these if they're relevant.

For us, we're offering the first 3 chapters of Book 1 of Lori's series in exchange for a reader's email address.

Once you have someone's email address, you can then put them into an Autoresponder email sequence that builds and nurtures the relationship you have with your readers.

You can cover topics such as:

  • Who you are as an author (let your personality shine through)
  • How you became an author in the first place
  • Where your ideas for your books came from
  • Your personal life (as much as you are comfortable with)

Then you can start softly selling your books in your emails.

Selling doesn't have to be slimy or salesy though.

Just do you. Be authentic and true to who you are as a person and as an author.

A Note on eBooks and Print Books

At the time of writing, Lori's books are still enrolled in Kindle Unlimited (KU), so we can only sell the print books directly on our store at the moment.

However, we are planning to pull all the books out of KU at some point over the coming months to test selling the eBooks on the store.

Clearly, with eBooks, readers can start reading as soon as they have made their purchase. Whereas with print books, they need to be printed and shipped before they can start reading.

Whilst we're on the subject of printing, we use BookVault to fulfil all the orders that come from the Shopify store, as BookVault integrate directly with Shopify.

This means that as soon as an order is placed on Shopify it is sent directly to BookVault, who then print, pack and ship the book(s) directly to the customer. This makes it extremely hands-off for us.

So, if you're looking for a printer that integrates with Shopify, I can't recommend BookVault highly enough.

Wrapping Up...

Selling directly to readers through your own store is a huge learning curve, I'm not going to lie.

But in the long-term, removing dependency on Amazon (and/or other retailers for your income), which is where we have been with Lori's books for over 3 years now, can only be a good thing.

Even if you're not in a position to launch your online store just yet, I hope today's newsletter has got you thinking and started the cogs turning for what is possible.

There are a lot of readers out there, and selling directly to these readers, I feel, is going to become more and more important over the years to come.

To Your Success
– Matt


Join 5,800+ Authors Learning How To Sell More Books With Facebook Ads Every Single Week

Discover Facebook Ads strategies, systems, insights and frameworks to help you become a six-figure author (you'll learn a bit about life and business too). 

Plus, I’ll send you my FREE Facebook Ads Mini Course as soon as you sign up.