Most often when working with my author web design clients their books are being sold via online retailers like Amazon, B&N, or iBooks. Occasionally authors have their own solutions, especially self-published authors, like Bookbaby, Blurb, or Lulu. In either case, it’s simple to support this from the perspective of building the website because we can just create purchase links/buttons to those retailers and the ordering & fulfillment is left up to them. But occasionally an author wants to sell their books directly to readers, so I thought I’d outline some of the things to consider if that’s on your radar so you know what to expect:
To sell anything yourself via your website you need a handful of things:
An SSL certificate. This is what shows your website as “secure” in the browser. There are a variety of reasons to do this that you can read more about here, but it’s especially important if your site has ecommerce.
An ecommerce solution including both the shopping cart and the credit card processing. Sometimes the shopping cart and credit card processing are part of the same solution, and sometimes they’re two separate solutions that you need to integrate. On the simple side of things you can just create a basic PayPal “Buy Now” button. On the more complicated side, you can add simple, or more fully-featured, shopping cart solutions to your website — WooCommerce is a good example. Consider things like whether people will want to place bulk orders, or whether you want to provide discount codes, or whether your shipping options are extensive in choosing the right one for you. Also consider whether ecommerce is an option that comes with your website platform, like Squarespace or Shopify, or whether its something you need to enable through a theme or plugin like on WordPress.
A merchant account into which the money goes. Some solutions, like Square or PayPal, have a merchant account built into their services. Other credit card processors allow you to connect up a bank account into which your proceeds get deposited. Your familiarity with technology and how much integration you want to manage should definitely be part of your decision when it comes to choosing the right solution for you. Even if you hire someone to build this for you, you’ll want some familiarity with it because you’ll want to be the account owner for everything.
Are you selling only ebooks, or also physical books?
TBH, selling ebooks is easy. Most good ecommerce website solutions allow you to securely sell digital content — meaning that only the person who paid for the item gets a link to download it, and only they can use that link. You’ll essentially just need a PDF to get started with the ecommerce platform you choose.
If you’re selling physical books, this is where things can get more complicated as you’ll need to fulfill those orders. Here’s what’s involved:
Printing. You might order a batch to be printed, keep them somewhere in your house, and then fulfill the orders manually. Or, you might use a Print-on-Demand (POD) service like BookBaby so you don’t need to store or handle shipping yourself.
Order Management. If you’re not using POD, then you’ll need to communicate with your buyers things like tracking info they’ll need, and answer any questions they have. You’ll also need to use the USPS or UPS to manage the shipping of your books from where you have them stored.
Bonus. Sometimes authors will sell their books directly so they can offer a bundle with another product or an autographed copy, so you’ll need to factor that into your plans for getting those items to the buyer.
There’s a reason most authors don’t sell their books themselves. This is not to dissuade you if you’ve got your heart set on doing this yourself — and perhaps you have a very good reason — but it can be expensive, time-consuming, and complicated to take this on. Places like Amazon take a huge cut of your proceeds, but they also give your book the potential for a super-wide reach and allow people to get your book and an inflatable kayak all at the same time! Your website will need to do a really great job of attracting viewers to be able to sell enough books to make the effort worth it. That said, when you do things yourself you have ultimate flexibility and control over what happens, and you certainly don’t have that with Amazon. If you feel confident in your book marketing strategy, it’s more likely that selling yourself is a good choice for you.
Finally, if you’re not going to roll your own, and are looking to hire help to add ecommerce to your author website, be sure to check out ecommerce solutions that your web designer has done in the past. There is a very wide range of solutions, options, and simplicity/complexity out there, and it’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole of ended up with something much (much) more fully-featured (and expensive) than what you actually need. The goal isn’t to work with someone who is an expert at complex ecommerce solutions, but to work with someone who will allow you to sell your book simply, easily, and affordably, and knows what you don’t need to do that.
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