A Beginner’s Guide to Selling Your Books Online

Thanks to the internet—and a number of publishing options that include access to print and electronic distribution channels—you can sell your book almost anywhere. And the truth is that most successful authors sell through a variety of platforms. Every site, and every retailer, has its own audience looking for the next great read. Now all you have to do is reach them. Here are four ways to do just that.

1. DIRECT SALES

Visitors to your own website may represent the smallest possible market for your book, but it’s also 100 percent your audience—which translates to the highest gross profit for the sale of each book. Using a shopping cart app and a per-transaction payment system like PayPal, you can sell your books directly to readers.

Your website is also an ideal hub for creating an author platform and a grassroots following. You can use tools like regular blogging, social media, and your personal on-site promotions. Run a contest, share news, offer a one-day sale, and use your site as a promotional vehicle when you start working on your next book. Consider your website your online home, the one place where you make the rules—controlling every facet of your book sales and your online author presence.

Another big advantage is that direct sales allow you to retain valuable customer contact information as well as give you the opportunity to interact with your readers and receive customer feedback. You also get to dictate future promotions and retain complete control of the price at all times.

The downside is that this method can be labor intensive. You are responsible for packaging and shipping books to each of your customers and maintaining an order fulfillment process that is easy to navigate and efficient. You also become your own customer service center for technical issues, complaints, and return policies.

2. SUPPORTED SALES PLATFORMS

With varying costs, features, and opportunities for exposure, e-commerce platforms offer some of the greatest flexibility for selling online—not just on your own author website but through a separate online store or via social media. For a fee, they’ll manage payments, distribution, customer tracking, and sales analytics so that you don’t have to worry about those back-office tasks.

Here are a few examples of e-commerce companies and specific features of each, but visit their sites for more details.

  • Payhip: Payhip only sells digital downloads, so they can’t help with print sales. Once you upload your file, you can link their sales portal page to your own website. Then Payhip will accept payment and send your customer an email with a downloadable e-book link. You’re paid directly to your PayPal or Stripe account. They also offer some marketing features. Fees are based on transaction, on a monthly membership, or both, depending on your subscription choice.
  • Selz: Selz has the capacity to sell print books, e-books, and services through three channels: Buy Now buttons, a store within your own website, and a Facebook store. Support services include built-in payments, order fulfillment, inventory management, sales tracking, and marketing features. Fees are based on transaction, on a monthly membership, or both, depending on your subscription choice.  
  • Shopify: Shopify allows you to sell online, via social media, face-to-face (handy for book festivals or other literary events), and on Amazon and eBay. Their tools accept payments, track inventory and customer data, and ship products, and they offer customer support services. Fees are based on transaction, on a monthly membership, or both, depending on your subscription choice.
  • E-junkie: Don’t let the name fool you—E-junkie sells both digital and print books through Buy Now or cart buttons and purchase links. They offer instant fulfillment for e-books and also stamp the buyer’s name, email, and transaction ID on PDF downloads in an effort to deter piracy. They also offer marketing, inventory management, and shipping calculator features. Fees are based on a monthly subscription model.

Be sure to do a cost comparison to evaluate which platform is right for you considering your volume of sales. Once you factor in any monthly, transaction, and credit-card-processing fees, you want to make sure you’re still capturing profit. If you have more than a few books to sell or your grassroots marketing efforts are really beginning to pay off in the number of customer orders, using a supported platform like one of these could be well worth the cost. After all, it’s hard to write your next book if your days are consumed with payment processing, order fulfillment,

3. DISTRIBUTION PLATFORMS

To reach an even wider audience than you can touch through your website, in person, or through social media, consider paying to use a distribution company.

Blurb sells your print or e-book through the Blurb Bookstore (their channel), Amazon, Ingram, the iBooks Store, and Kickstarter. If you’re still in the creation phase of your project, the company also offers a wide array of tools to help you design and produce the book yourself.

For IngramSpark, you’ll need to have publish-ready interior and cover files. Fortunately, they provide templates for your convenience. Once you’ve uploaded those to your author portal, you’ll have access to print-on-demand services as well as the vast Ingram distribution network, including bookstores, online retailers, libraries, schools, and universities (see their site for a complete list)—both in the United States and abroad, through their Global Connect Program.

Finally, there are e-book services like Smashwords and Draft2Digital, which take a commission from your sales but also act as a nonexclusive publisher. They have partnerships with a number of third-party vendors (like iBooks, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble) and OverDrive (for public libraries) for distribution.

4. THIRD-PARTY RETAILERS

These days, e-book sales outnumber the sales of physical books, and sites like Amazon have millions of customers looking for a new book to read. By effectively marketing and pricing your book, you have the potential to make a significant amount of money.

Not only does selling through these vendors give you a huge advantage in terms of audience but the vendors’ sites often feature reader reviews, which may further boost your sales. Some sites also offer author pages, which can be an invaluable means of self-promotion.

Moreover, many of these large vendors offer e-book formatting services and user-friendly platforms dedicated to uploading e-books—which is handy, given that some of these companies prefer to use their own dedicated e-book file formats.

The most popular third-party retailers are as follows (in no particular order):

Each of these sites takes a commission from your sales, and it usually starts at 30 percent and goes up from there. Some authors have reported receiving only 35 percent in royalties, depending on the fee structure and the book price. This is where your research becomes crucial. Before setting a price on your book for any platform, see if you can find a reasonable price point that ensures customer satisfaction and guaranteed dollars—not pennies—per sale.

While many online vendors and DIY platforms accept ePUBs and PDFs, you’ll want to make sure you’ve selected the best possible formats for those readers (check out our guide to choosing a format here) as well as confirm that you have properly met each vendor’s distribution guidelines. Issues such as plagiarism, illegal content, and even subject matter may give some vendors reason to not sell your e-book. So be sure you check out the fine print.

Most importantly, remember that every vendor and platform has the potential to reach a different audience. You’ll want to explore how much time and effort is involved with each company and what your potential payoffs can be. Some authors focus on only one or two platforms, and they create their marketing around that. Others try to get their books on as many sites as possible, regardless of how much additional work it requires.

By doing your research, you’ll be able to find the best balance that will bring you the results—and sales—you’re hoping for.