How can you sell books direct to your readers for all formats without dealing with the pain of shipping print books? How can you automate sales with email? How can you earn 80-90% of the sales price and have it go into your bank account in days or even hours, instead of months?
Katie Cross talks about the benefits of selling direct and practical tips if you want to use Shopify.
Today’s show is sponsored by ProWritingAid, writing and editing software that goes way beyond just grammar and typo checking. With its detailed reports on how to improve your writing, and integration with Scrivener, ProWritingAid will help you improve your book before you send it to an editor, agent or publisher. Check it out for free or get 25% off the premium edition at www.ProWritingAid.com/joanna
Katie Cross is the author of over 30 books across fantasy, chick lit, and contemporary romance.
You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below.
- Why sell direct? More money, more quickly. Connection with readers and access to customer data
- How to sell ebooks, audiobooks and print books direct
- Shopify apps, including integration with Lulu for print-on-demand, and Bookfunnel for delivery and customer service
- International shipping
- Email automation and customer data
- What about the tax?
- The long game, control over your business, and a mindset shift
You can find Katie Cross at KatieCrossBooks.com and on Twitter @kcrosswriting
Thanks also to MorganaBest.com for her help with my Shopify store.
Transcript of Interview with Katie Cross
Joanna: Katie Cross is the author of over 30 books across fantasy, chick lit, and contemporary romance. Today we’re talking about selling books on Shopify. Welcome, Katie.
Katie: Thank you so much for having me. I’m super excited about this conversation.
Joanna: Oh, me too. I will have explained in the introduction that this is something I’m focusing on, but let’s start with a high-level question.
Why did you decide to start focusing on selling direct as a priority rather than an afterthought?
Katie: I think at first the desire for a little more control over my career is what drove me into the arms of direct sales.
I got really frustrated with looking at Amazon and trying to do everything I could. I had over 20 books, and I was only making a couple thousand a month.
I wanted to approach my business as more of an entrepreneur than just a creative. I didn’t know how to do that until I could actually control more of the variables behind the scenes, like the distribution, my own website layout, the product pages, that kind of stuff.
I wanted to get away from an Amazon product page that not only featured my product, but like a bajillion others and I wanted people to land on a really clean product page that I could test and make better.
That desire for control, and the ability to help my readers have a better experience is what initially led me to throwing out my own website and doing the direct sales approach.
Joanna: And I guess, for me, because I’ve been selling direct since like 2008, but I’ve only done e-books, audio courses, all the digital stuff, but you also do print. So, I wondered also on this, because I’ve always felt like, ‘Oh, my goodness, print’s just way too complicated, and I don’t want to do that.’ How did you get over that?
Katie: Oh, you know what, print is so easy. I think when I get questions, it’s almost always about paperbacks. And it’s so easy, it’s not even funny.
Shopify has third-party apps that you can download and link to, and then use on your Shopify store. And Lulu xPress has a Print-on-Demand app.
So, I just upload my books to Lulu xPress the same sort of way I would to KDP or IngramSpark.
hen anyone that orders the book, then that order goes to Lulu xPress, and it just prints and ships from Lulu xPress the same way.
I knew I wanted to do all versions of all my books on my website. So, I was immediately like, ‘Well, I need to get paperback going.’ And just did some research and talked to other people that were doing this with me, and heard about Lulu and I just set it up, and it was just minutes to getting my first paperback on the website. It’s way simpler than it looks.
I think there’s a little bit of my mindset work in that. I think we are overwhelmed by things, especially new things, and we start telling ourselves these ideas like, ‘Oh, that’s going to be too hard.’ Or, ‘I have to do it this way.’
Direct sales has taught me that there’s probably a third-party app for everything that I want to do, and I can just search for it, and plug it in, and it makes it super simple.
Joanna: Yeah. Well, let’s just stay on print for a minute, because this is…I think when I was listening to you on ‘Six-Figure Author Podcast,’ that’s when the penny dropped for me and I felt so stupid. I was like, ‘Seriously, how did I not know this?’
Katie: Oh, same. I’ve had so many of those moments.
Joanna: So, then, of course, I went to Lulu and they don’t do the 5×8 size, which is what I use for most of my books. But I found someone else called Book Vault. So, bookvault.app. And they do the 5×8. So,I’m using a combination of both. I thought I’d mention that in case maybe other people listening do the 5×8.
Did you have to change anything for Lulu?
Katie: I just contacted my graphic designer and said, ‘Hey, when we do paperback, can you just do a 5×8 and a 6×9 version across the board?’ And she’s like, ‘Yeah, no problem.’
For the novels that I published to both IngramSpark, and my website, and KDP for paperback, I have those both in 5×8 and 6×9. I just keep it all with Lulu xPress to keep it simple, but I love the 5×8. I think that’s a better size. So, I would consider going to another printer that does that too. I think that’s a great idea.
Joanna: I’m just testing it at the moment. So as a customer, if I buy one that’s with Lulu and one that’s with Book Vault does that affect the shipping?
I’m doing all this testing, and I’m trying to figure out, but, of course, I have so many backlist books, so just the thought of changing it all. So, I wanted to mention that for people listening. Okay. Well, let’s just talk about the quality of the print too.
If people were used to KDP Print, or IngramSpark, anything on Lulu that you wanted to mention?
Katie: No. I mail books to myself all the time, whether I have a reader that writes in and they want it signed, then I just have them mail it to my P.O. box and I sign it and send it back. Or if I’m just ordering books for myself, I can’t tell any difference.
In fact, I think the cover quality might be a little bit better on Lulu xPress than I’ve seen on KDP because there have been a lot of times where I order books on KDP and I’m like, ‘This is supposed to be red. It looks pink.’ And I’ll contact them and they’ll be like, ‘Well, that’s within specifications. We’re not going to do anything about it.’ So, I have like 100 pink books that I can’t do anything with.
But I haven’t done big orders over 50 or 100 books from Lulu. I haven’t done big orders like that in a while. I’ve done those big orders on Amazon before. And those bigger orders seem to have just more issues with the covers, like they just never looked as vibrant.
I haven’t had any of those issues with Lulu on smaller orders, and the interior looks great. I’ve never had a single problem. There was one time a customer wrote in and said, ‘I ordered one of your books and I got one that’s written in Indian, and it’s definitely not yours.’ It was this totally wrong book.
I just contacted Lulu for my reader, and within 12 hours they had sent the appropriate book, and I think also gave a refund. So, they ended up getting a free book out of it.
Joanna: And just to say, that happens with any of the print-on-demand services. Sometimes there’ll be some random page or it’ll be upside down. This does happen very occasionally on any service. So, that’s definitely not just Lulu.
I also wanted to ask about the shipping and the international side because, many people, if they order books from Amazon, will be on Prime, so they get free shipping.
I wondered what your thoughts were on the shipping side and how that works, especially internationally.
Katie: On Shopify, when you upload a paperback, there’s going to be an area where you specify if it’s a physical product and if you don’t click that, then it’s obviously just assumed it’s digital. But once you click that, there’s an area for specifications like country of origin and weight, and then your weight is what calculates your shipping.
I believe there’s a place in the settings on Shopify that you can say not to charge shipping, but then you have to pay for it. But I think that might have changed. It was a while ago that I could futz around with the shipping a bit more.
Now I just have it set in the settings of Shopify on a pretty standard, like cheapest rate shipping, and then they get charged based on weight.
For example, my mom is a craft person and she is able to do this. She has a sewing machine that does really cool embroidery. So, I opened up a product on Shopify for my readers to be able to buy shirts that have their names written on them with dragons that my mom then embroidered. So, we just put the weight on the shipping.
And I have a bunch of international readers, and some people from, I believe, Wales and Australia were ordering these shirts. When I looked at the shipping, it was like $50 shipping just because it’s so expensive to ship from the U.S. to anywhere right now. Shopify had automatically calculated those charges and charged it to the people that were ordering.
I wasn’t out 50 bucks when we went to ship this shirt to Australia. And it does the same thing for books. Books are like a pound, at most, probably closer to half a pound or eight ounces. I can’t remember. I’ve weighed them before. You can just put that into Shopify, it calculates the shipping, and it pulls from the customer and not from you.
Joanna:I’d also say that this Book Vault company is a brand for a UK printing that does the UK printing for Lulu.
I found that out when I went to them. And I’ve ordered various books, and the ones from Lulu also come from this same plant. So, hopefully, that’s the team for Australia. And the same with IngramSpark, they have different printing plants, different places. Hopefully, the shipping will also depend on that version.
Katie: Yes. Especially if they have printing factories, or plants, or whatever they are within that country, then they seem to ship faster.
Don’t quote me on this for sure, but I’m pretty sure Lulu, like you said, has a place in the UK because I ordered a book for reader in the UK and it shipped, like I got the notification that it shipped the next day, and he got it two days later. So, I was like, ‘That has to be in the UK for that to happen.’ I believe that there are places local to different countries that Lulu has printers.
Joanna: Have customers said anything about the print costs because they can get it for free on Amazon Prime?
Katie: I have spent a lot of time and a lot of energy training my readers not to buy me from Amazon. Almost no one even mentions Amazon to me. So, no one has complained about it.
That doesn’t mean that’s not an issue. They may just not be saying it, right? So, they might not buy from me, but I still have paperback sales on Amazon because they want that free shipping. It’s just never been something that’s come up in conversation between me and my readers.
Joanna: No, that’s great. Okay. Let’s just talk about the digital.
If people are going to sell e-books and audiobooks on Shopify, how do they get delivered?
Katie: BookFunnel. BookFunnel is amazing. It delivers e-books and audiobooks, and it has so many amazing integrations set up to kind of help make that easy. They have something that’s called Direct Actions, which you can set up link to your Shopify account so that as soon as someone buys a book from your Shopify store, BookFunnel is pinged by that SKU, and then it will send an email that delivers the link.
I have BookFunnel deliver links, and I have email set up through my email service provider, ActiveCampaign, to deliver links to get things downloaded.
[Note from Joanna: You can integrate lots of email services with Shopify. I use ConvertKit and it works well.]
And then BookFunnel also has this amazing customer support. So, whenever your reader has an issue, they can just email BookFunnel directly. Or sometimes readers will email me and I’ll say, ‘You know what? I have a friend over at BookFunnel that will get you hooked up.’ And I’ll just loop BookFunnel in.
If you guys are on BookFunnel, then Jamie is always the customer service rep. So, every time I email, I’m like, ‘Hey, Jamie, here’s my reader. They need a little help.’ And then Jamie responds to everyone. It’s actually several people, but they found out that readers really like having the same name, like it feels familiar.
If you ever use BookFunnel and you use BookFunnel support, then just address them as Jamie, and then they help deal with the problems. So, you don’t have to walk your reader through how to sideload to their Kindle, or this isn’t working. They do all of that for you.
I think they take a really heavy burden of customer support away. And on the audiobooks, something that’s really cool is they have it set up so that when you’ve bought it, if you bought it from an email address, that’s the same on your BookFunnel account as Shopify, the audiobooks will just automatically load in your BookFunnel app. So, you can buy it, wait like five minutes, pull open BookFunnel, and the audiobook should be there.
Joanna: I’ve just been testing that, and the integration is great.
You mentioned SKU. If people don’t know, that’s S-K-U. And you can just set it up, whatever you want, right? So, I just put Your Author Business Plan e-book. That was my SKU. You don’t have to keep a list of numbers or anything.
Katie: All of my SKUs are just letters of my books. I’m writing War of the Gods right now. It’s WOTG. And that’s just the SKU for War of the Gods. So, anytime someone purchases the War of the Gods te-book, that SKU goes to my email service provider and to BookFunnel.
And then to keep it really easy, I do AB for audiobook. So, for my War of the Gods audiobook, the SKU is WOTGAB. And then it’s just really easy to remember. And it keeps it as system so that if you ever have people start to work for you, it’s really easy for them to know what to expect for SKUs, and you can look at something and know right away what’s going on with SKUs that are built around a system that way.
Joanna: Absolutely. Coming back to another high level, it is complicated in a way. I feel like Shopify is actually… As you talked about at the beginning about being an entrepreneur and a mindset shift, I’ve been using Payhip and it’s super easy, but it doesn’t have all this functionality.
What needs to be the attitude going into Shopify?
Katie: I think just an openness to change. And figuring things out.
When it comes to direct sales, and you’re starting your Shopify store, and you’re trying to get all the details worked out, there’s going to be moments where you’re overwhelmed and you want to give it up, or things seem really hard or whatever. I would just sort of step back, give yourself a break, and come at it again fresh because direct sales is so new.
I’m on the pioneering edge with a bunch of other authors that are trying this out as a business model to make it work, but we’re still learning. There’s still a lot to do. And if you’re starting the direct sales game or have been doing it for a long time, like you, then I just think you need a lot more flexibility and patience because you have to figure it out. There’s not always a set path.
If you’re going into Amazon, there’s oftentimes just a set path that you follow and you just keep doing that. But when you enter the direct sales game, you might actually have to be making your own path. And that’s really hard.
So, I would keep that in mind as you start your Shopify store, and know that just because other people are doing it, you can do it differently and it might be more successful.
Joanna: How many books do you think you need to bother doing it? Because there are, obviously, set up costs and time, and in order to make good money.
How many books do you think people should have before considering Shopify?
Katie: Let’s bring a little math here for those that are listening. So, assuming you have 1 book, it’s $29 a month for Shopify. Shopify doesn’t pull from your sales, it’s just $29 a month to have an active Shopify store with the most basic theme. And then it’s a couple thousand, so you don’t need a higher theme.
So, your bare minimum to start into direct sales is Shopify…well, not Shopify. Like you said, you use Payhip. I’ve also used other places, I can’t remember off the top of my head. But if you’re going to start with Shopify, which is the most versatile, then I would say you need $29 a month for Shopify and then BookFunnel.
And if you even only had 1 book, you could do the $20 a month BookFunnel. So that’s $49 a month. And if you even did $50 a month worth of sales on your website, then you would have made it back and anything over that would be a profit.
I think this is a great question because it kind of begs the idea of, ‘How many do I need before I can do this?’ But I don’t like to put a number to this because, frankly, you might kick it out of the park on your first book, and you might be able to pull in $300 on your direct sales store that people come over to you instead of Amazon.
You might be launching your first book and you have a bunch of people that want to support you, then you can have them go buy on your direct sales store where you get 94% royalties.
I think if you’re wanting to make an income that you feed your kids, or your dogs, or your spouse, or yourself off of, then the more books, the better. But to get started, I would say, don’t wait. If you have one book, get your store started and get things set up, and you can just start playing with it and figuring out what works and what doesn’t work.
There’s also a setting on Shopify that instead of paying the $29 a month, you can take the store off of live, but you don’t have to cancel the store. They call it the Builder Plan for $9 a month.
Let’s say your listeners are going to launch their first book in September, and they want to try direct sales but they don’t want to pay for Shopify and BookFunnel up until September, they could do a builder plan and just be building their store for $9 a month, and then go full live with it in September to kind of save that money. So, you have a lot of options.
I think those who have not ever done direct sales and are just starting to publish or only have a few books are in a unique position to train their readers from the beginning to buy from them.
From the beginning, you’re teaching people to land on your website and buy from them. I think that’s a really powerful spot to be.
Joanna: Yes. I’ve done the digital direct sales for many years, and it is definitely a mindset shift because, of course, there’s no bestseller list. No one sees these sales, but, of course, it’s in your bank account.
You mentioned 94% royalties there. And, of course, that might vary by a few percent, depending on which payment method and some various fees. You don’t need to give any numbers, of course, but sort of financially better off.
How have you felt that your business has benefited from this?
Katie: One of the things that frustrated me before I started the direct sales game and that helped pull me into direct sales is cash in hand. So, when you’re running a business and you’re looking at Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4, you’re trying to figure out profit and loss, where money worked, where it didn’t.
When you’re starting to really get into those numbers and look at that stuff, it’s really hard when you have a 60-day delay. You’ll do stuff on Amazon and you’re like, ‘Yeah, it was a great month. I had a launch.’ But you’re not going to know really for a while what those numbers actually look like and it’s two months later.
I was always really frustrated with that. I had something happen in my life, and I needed some more cash in hand to pay for a doctor’s bill or something else, but I couldn’t get it because my money was tied up for 60 days.
So, one really great benefit of direct sales is that within 48 hours, I have cash in hand.
I can run a big sale, and then the Shopify automatically deposits the money into your bank account every 24 to 48 hours. You can actually see it building on the side, and then I’ll go to my account and it’ll show up there.
If your lifestyle is such that you need a little more control over cash in hand, or whatever it is you’re doing, that’s a really nice benefit, is to be able to actually look at, ‘We did this. This was the result. I have cash in hand. The numbers are here.’ I think that was a big benefit in my business from going to direct sales, being able to more directly track cash flow, and profit and loss, that kind of stuff.
The second one is just the control over what people are seeing when they land on my book page.
I always got really frustrated on either BookBub, or Amazon, or Kobo, or even Pinterest, when you’re trying to get someone’s attention on your book, there’s so many other things pulling that attention.
It is really powerful for your company when someone lands on a landing page that only features you, and it’s clean, and it’s crisp, and through testing, you can figure out what draws people in so that they know they’re in the right spot. That changes your return on investment for any advertising exponentially.
Anyone that’s listening that runs traffic ads from Facebook to Amazon pages, that also has the links that show what people buy after clicking on your link, like affiliate. It’s so frustrating, right? I would send traffic to Amazon and people were buying adult diapers and all this other stuff. They weren’t even buying my book.
They were buying all these other things, and that was extremely frustrating to me. I’m not paying Facebook all this money for these people to go buy a different author’s books. I want them to land online and know whether it’s a fit or not. So, that was another really great change.
And then numbers-wise, it looks like I do 70% of revenue through direct sales and then 30% from all the other retailers. And depending on my model around direct sales, I can say that’s super consistent.
I started direct sales at the end of 2019 into 2020, and I’m still doing it today and I will forever. That’s a pretty consistent number, 70% direct, 30% from the others. That may go up or down a little bit. Amazon is my second-biggest seller, and Draft2Digital and all of the retailers that’s on is my third. And then the others kind of dwindle from there into numbers that aren’t really even comprehensible. So, that’ what it looks like for me.
I enjoy that because those numbers lend to a great deal more stability. If Amazon woke up and one of their bots decided that I violated their terms of service that I didn’t even know existed, they could pull me down and 70% of my sales would still be unaffected. So, that security is really powerful.
Joanna: You mentioned Facebook ads there. I feel like a lot of people worry because, of course, if their book is on Amazon, or Apple, or Kobo, whatever, then there’s some built-in marketing. Or you can pay for ads, and there’s established marketing routes for these stores.
How are you marketing and getting readers to your Shopify store?
Katie: That’s a golden question. And that’s actually what I’m trying to figure out.
In 2020, 2021, I ran a lot paid advertising, whether it was Pinterest, Facebook. I didn’t really do BookBub. I tried Amazon for like five days and realized that that wasn’t a good fit for me.
This year, decided to change my business model and I stopped all paid advertising. And the gaping question was, so, how do I drive traffic? If I’m not doing paid advertising, how do I drive traffic?
A lot of it comes down to your basics.
Email list is king.
I have a really healthy size email list after all of that advertising, but I think the most important thing is I focus on my readers, and then through my readers, I come up with different ways to reach other readers.
It’s a really actually collaborative approach now where I talk to my readers and I say, ‘Hey, where did you find me? Where do you go when you’re not here? And how can we get more people to find these books?’ Because we know that they need them. And right now that’s driving it.
The strategies, the actual marketing strategies to drive people to my pages are kind of up in the air. Right now, for Q1 and Q2, I’ve been throwing a lot of spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. Whether it’s author newsletters, or BookFunnel promos, or just talking to readers, like whatever it is, we’re trying a lot of different things to say, ‘Can this replace paid marketing and still keep my lights on?’ And a lot of it is just genuine organic relationships with readers.
Joanna: Let’s talk about the email marketing there because this is what excites me. I have this vision of being able to go away. I’m walking this pilgrimage in September, so I’m going to be away for three weeks. And I have not been able to, since I started my business, I have literally not been able to have more than a couple of days off, which sounds terrible, but there’s always emails. There’s always something.
I have this vision of if I can set up a Shopify store and I have automated email sequences that sell people into other products and things within the whole ecosystem, and obviously, I need a help desk person. So, I wondered about your email automation.
Is it possible to automate this whole business? And can you tag people who buy stuff, and how are you managing all that?
Katie: Oh, absolutely. Email is king. That still hasn’t died. I think so much of my sales are driven from my email list and my established readers, and then the gathering of new ones. I have fantastic email automations that over time I’ve tested, and tweaked, and proved to the audience that I want.
What I have is I use ActiveCampaign. I love ActiveCampaign. I’ve done a lot of others. I’ve done MailChimp, I’ve done Drip. I’ve done ActiveCampaign twice and I’ve been with them for a while now, second time. And then I’ve looked into Clavio. I think they’re all really great for different reasons, but for my intents, I like ActiveCampaign the best. I’ve spoken extensively with Clavio, and with my business goals and model, even the Clavio rep was like, ‘Yeah, you’re probably best with ActiveCampaign.’
They have landing pages that you can use within ActiveCampaign. So, what I’ve done is I’ve created two, and it’s the first book of like 30 or 40 that I want readers to land on. I have one for e-book and one for audio, and they just have a link. And what I do is I have my readers share that link, or I share that link, or I have social media posts that I schedule that share that link that will then gather people.
So, if someone subscribes to get my e-book for free, they enter automation that’s like six emails in several weeks where I’m just nurturing a relationship with them. And we’re talking about dragons and fantasy books, and where I’m checking in to see if they like the book.
There’s like various things that I’ve tried in there and tested to get the best open rates and the best click rates and people actually reading. And so, that takes up three to four weeks.
Honestly, Jo, you could schedule some social media posts, have some podcasts or other authors sharing the newsletters right before you start your pilgrimage, and you could come back and your email sequence could have nurtured that relationship with those people, and sent money to your Shopify store without you having to even touch it.
Automation is the name of this game. The more you can automate with sincerity and genuineness, the more you can scale your business higher to see your profits and your ROI increase.
Joanna: Well, this is the thing. And I use ConvertKit. I did actually use ActiveCampaign a while back and I moved over to ConvertKit, which does have tagging as well, but it feels like this is possible because you control the store.
I feel like the whole automation just doesn’t network with all the other stores because there are so many variables, and so many other things that they can do, and so many different links.
Whereas if you are just doing everything through your store, it just simplifies the automation, right?
Katie: Absolutely. You could have an automation when a new subscriber gets your book, and then they buy the second book. And once that SKU goes to your email, like your email service provider maybe you have it set up so that they get a tag, and they’re sent into another automation that then sells the third book in five days. And if they finish in that time and they want the third book, then they buy from there. All the while, you’re on your pilgrimage.
Because you’re able to tag and move people around, based on the customer journey that you’ve come to know really well through direct sales because you can see the data coming in, you’re able to really customize and say, ‘I’ve noticed that about day three is when people buy the second book.’
So, at day two, you’re going to send the link to buy it so that you’re ahead of them, and then they can get tagged a certain way and that tag can push them onto a different journey within your email service provider to optimize your sales. You don’t have that feedback from Amazon, or Kobo, or anywhere else.
Joanna: Yes. And we should just reiterate this. You do not have your customer data on any other store, right? You only get your email and unless people sign up for your email list, but you don’t know what they’ve bought.
This is literally the only way to have the customer data.
Katie: Exactly. And that’s kind of a sensitive subject, that if you’re going into direct sales, just be aware this isn’t data that you’re using. You’re not going to go sell these names. It’s just when we say data, it means you have a direct relationship with them through their email, you know what they’re buying, and by knowing what they’re buying, you kind of know what they like and you’re able to send them more of what they like.
That’s really what that is. And that’s the control over the business that I wanted to have so I could actually make decisions based on what people were doing on my website.
Joanna: Yes. And, of course, with email list management and all this, we’re abiding by GDPR, and anti-spam, and CAN-SPAM, and all the different things that we have to do. We’re being responsible, of course.
[Check out a free webinar on GDPR here.]
Katie: Yes, definitely.
Joanna: Let’s just talk a bit about technicality. You have katiecrossbooks.com. And so, I wanted to ask about that.
Is that a Shopify theme?
Katie: Yes. You can actually buy a domain through Shopify. I have katiecrossbooks.com, but I log into Shopify to get to that website.
On Shopify, there’s an area under settings that says Domain, they are your host, and it’s $19 a year. That’s it. You just pay it, it will automatically charge you again whenever you buy it a year later for 19 bucks, and you can choose your domain based on what’s available. So, that’s all Shopify.
That’s not WordPress. That’s not Wix. That’s not anyone else. That’s just Shopify. And it’s the basic theme that was there when I started. I liked the layout. I liked it. So, all of that is run by Shopify.
Joanna: And you also have katiecrossromance.com.
Katie: I actually just closed that two days ago.
Joanna: Oh, okay. Right.
Katie: My readers were like, ‘Why do you have two websites?’ I had two websites because I used to run Facebook ads to both of them. So, I needed separate pixels. But since I don’t run Facebook ads anymore, I was like, ‘That’s a great question.’
I found that a lot of my really hardcore readers wanted to read anything that I had.
So, they were like, ‘Why don’t you just put out Katie Cross Books?’ So, I kind of asked around, I talked to a lot of people and they were like, ‘Yeah, I think it’s really dumb you have two.’ So, I was like, ‘Oh, wait.’
Two days ago, I finished pulling everything from Katie Cross Romance over, and I just closed it. So, if you go to katiecrossromance.com, it’s going to pop up with like a domain error, I think.
Joanna: Brilliant. Because this is my question. Obviously, I’ve got Joanna Penn with my nonfiction, and J. F. Penn with my fiction. And most people on this channel, on The Creative Penn know I do fiction. So, some people go through. But J. F. Penn is very focused on the fiction side. Now, you don’t do any non-fiction.
I wondered what are your thoughts on keeping those separate if you’re trying to manage your brand separately because you need a whole new Shopify account, don’t you? You can’t do multiple things on one account.
Katie: That’s a great question. I think it comes down to your business goals and plans. For you, where you have a non-fiction that is really far apart from your fiction, in your spot, I would probably just want a separate domain. The audience is separate.
At least mine are similar in that they’re all fiction. I just have all of my fiction on katiecrossbooks.com. It is two separate stores. I don’t think the management was more difficult because what I did on one, I just mimicked on the other. You’re still managing the same SKUs, it’s the same sort of theme and buildout.
It’ll be a little more time if you’re building two separate Shopify stores, but it’s not going to be that much more than building on the same store because no matter what, you’re going to have to put the products on both stores. And that sort of time would be the same, whether it’s between two.
So it just depends on how separate you want to keep your audiences. If you pulled your nonfiction into your fiction store, would that confuse people or would it just drive more traffic? I think that’s a great question.
Joanna: I don’t know yet what I’m going to do. As we talk at the beginning of June 2022, I’m still building it out. So, people can have a look if they’re listening in a few months’ time.
Katie: For sure. It’s a good question.
Joanna: Some other slightly technical thing. When you talked earlier, you mentioned the app store within Shopify is the thing that really, as you say, enables you to do so many things. Obviously, there are lots of different ones, but anything that you’re particularly like, ‘Yes, that. Definitely get that.’
Are there a few apps that you recommend people definitely get?
Katie: I’ve tested a bunch of upsell apps, and upsell apps are just apps that you can integrate to your Shopify store that help you sell more books. So, whether that’s when people go to purchase, a screen pops up and says, ‘You want to add this for 10% off,’ or whatever else that is, I’ve loved Frequently Bought Together.
Another one that other people that I know are doing direct sales have liked is Zipify. I didn’t like Zipify as well. It was a little bit harder for me to figure out. And I really liked Frequently Bought Together.
With Frequently Bought Together, you can create bundles because there’s a lot of power in bundles. And you can customize every product. ‘Miss Mabel’s School for Girls’ is one of my flagship novels, then Frequently Bought Together puts ‘Alkarra Awakening’ and ‘The High Priest’s Daughter,’ which are books two and three on that product page, and says you can buy all three for this price. And all they do is hit Buy, and then all three of them go to their cart instead of just one.
It’s really easy to use, really easy to customize. It’s really straightforward. I’ve really liked Frequently Bought Together.
Another one is Judge.me. It allows for product reviews and it has stars and ratings. I’ve really liked Judge.me. It’s really easy for my readers to use. I actually had a VA set that one up, but I’ve never had to like tweak anything after we got it initially set up. That one’s been really good.
It will also allow you to import reviews from other stores, but that requires some knowledge of web crawling to be able to extract the data from like Amazon, or Barnes & Noble, or wherever you’re doing it.
My former VA, her husband is this really big tech guy. So, he was really nice. He’s like, ‘Well, I’ll do the web crawling for you.’ And I was like, ‘Whoa, that’s awesome. Thanks.’ So, he crawled Amazon and was able to pull our reviews over because Judge.me allows that. I couldn’t tell you how to do it. That was great because it kind of was able to…allowed me to boost some of those reviews when we initially set it up.
So, Judge.me, Frequently Bought Together, those are my favorites. And then there should be apps that allow you to import and integrate your email service provider or the social media sites. There’s an app for ActiveCampaign that allows it to integrate seamlessly. There’s one for Facebook and Pinterest.
The Facebook and Pinterest integrations are really nice because you can choose if you want to publish a new product to Facebook or Pinterest.
I have a launch coming up in July that has a secret novella that launches with it that people will only get the link to at the end of my novel. So, it’s really secret.
The title is kind of a spoiler, and it answers a bunch of questions. I don’t want anyone to know exists, so I can turn it off so that that product doesn’t go to Facebook or Pinterest. Or if that’s on, as soon as I publish a new product, then Shopify sends that link to Facebook and Pinterest and puts it in my store, and creates a post over it.
Yesterday I had a reader email me and say, ‘Is this real? Because I just saw this come across my news feed for a second time, and I’m worried that someone’s hacked your store.’ And it was a new pre-order that I’d put up. She really wanted it to be real, but she didn’t know. And I was like, ‘Oh, no, that’s real. I just put that up.’ And she’s like, ‘Oh, good. I bought it.’
I’ve had it where I’ll put a new product out, and then I’ll navigate back to my main store, and it sold like 5 copies within 10 minutes and I hadn’t even told anyone. And then it’s just because it automatically goes to Facebook, and people see it and just start buying. So, that’s really cool functionality.
Joanna: That is really cool because I do have a store on my Facebook page, but it’s really crap and I haven’t updated it for years. I think I’m just going to go through and delete everything.
Katie: Yes. It just integrates with Shopify. So, I never have to do anything on Facebook with my store, unless it flags it as not publishable or something.
Joanna: Yeah. That is just fantastic.
Coming back to the pre-order, how do you do a pre-order on Shopify?
Katie: It’s so easy. I just put two audiobooks and two e-books up two days ago, and all I have it set for is as soon as they buy it, then my email service provider puts a very specific tag on and then they get an email that says, ‘Thank you so much for pre-ordering Litta. And you’ll get it on its launch date, which is this day.’
Then I just send them into my email list. So then the night before I launch a book, like tonight… I’m launching a book tomorrow, actually. So, tonight I schedule all these emails and anyone with that pre-order tag, I then send an email, like the fulfillment email. I send an email that says, ‘You pre-ordered Litta. Here’s the link, click here to grab it.’ And it just takes them right to the BookFunnel download page.
I send three of those fulfillment emails because sometimes the email doesn’t go through, or whatever else. So, I send three, each one six hours after the other one, just to make sure they get that email. And that’s all that there is to it.
Honestly, I love pre-orders. I have a book I put up for pre-order in April. And I literally said, ‘I don’t know when this will launch, but I know people are really excited about it. I’ll let you know more when it happens, but you can go ahead and pre-order it.’ I get sales from that all the time.
I don’t have a date. I told them, I was like, ‘I don’t know. It’ll probably be 2023.’ But people are so excited. They’re buying it anyway. So, I get that cash in hand in advance, and it keeps me top of mind. And then that reader might forget me, but then come January or whenever I fulfill that, they get an email with a new book, they start reading, remember me again, and then they’re back at it to activity. So, pre-orders are a huge strategy that direct sales enables in a really big way.
Joanna: And what about pre-ordering print? Because I did see that there was a schedule button on one of the…maybe it was Lulu, maybe it was Book Vault.
Do you do any print pre-orders?
Katie: That must be on Book Vault because I don’t have pre-orders for print that I’m aware of through Lulu. They may have that functionality. If they do, it’s not super obvious. So, I just release the paperback the night before, and then usually my readers just know if they want it in paperback, they can just order it on launch day. So, I get a slew of paperback orders on launch day usually.
Joanna: That’s fantastic. Now, tax is something that everyone worries about. I have always used services like Payhip, for example, that deals with all the tax for me. So, for example, the EU Digital VAT, the VAT is…there’s a zero threshold, and it’s different for every European country that the customer is in. So, it’s a complete nightmare. Obviously, it’s different per jurisdiction, but any thoughts on that?
How does the tax side work?
Katie: That was one of the things I worried about the most, but ended up just really not being that big of a deal.
There’s a button on your product where you can tell Shopify to charge tax on this product so that it will charge tax and take it from it. And then if you have to report sales tax in the…I’m in the U.S., then you can just pay that out later.
I work with my accountant on this and she helps me to keep track of it. So, every quarter, I just send her a certain report that I pull from Shopify for taxes, and then I send it to her and then she says, ‘We’ve kind of hit the threshold in this state. We should pay, or we should do this.’
Like you said, it really depends on where you are. It wasn’t as big a deal as I expected it to be. From what I understand and what my accountant and I do, I pay sales tax in places where I have a physical business presence. I live in Montana in the U.S. and they actually don’t charge sales tax here. So, I don’t have to charge sales tax.
But when I lived in Colorado, they did charge sales tax. So, I’d signed up with the Colorado. I had a sales tax account, and then every quarter we would just pull how many sales that we’d had in Colorado. I had it set so that Shopify pulled sales tax from people that bought out of Colorado, and then I would just pay whatever sales tax I owed at the end of the quarter, and that was all fine.
For a while, I had a business present in Colorado, Idaho, and Montana. So, I was doing the same in Idaho and Colorado, but now I just have a business presence in Montana, so I don’t. So, it’s all a little nebulous.
And I would say just talk to whoever, like a professional to kind of nail down what you should be doing. It’s something that I visit at the end of every quarter, and that my accountant I do together and we pay sales tax where it’s applicable. I don’t think I’ve ever had to like really mess with the VAT tax, or EU, or any of that kind of stuff that I’m aware of. Hopefully, I wasn’t supposed to be this whole time.
Now when I have my accountant helping me out, and then I have a tax accountant that I work with to do taxes, it’s always washed out and been just fine. And my tax lady has always been like, ‘Yup. You paid the right amount. This looks good here.’
Joanna: I think the principle there is, look, yes, you have to deal with this stuff, but it’s not that complicated. And you only have to do it every quarter, whatever. Plus, you can find an accountant to help you.
I have an accountant, and I’ve asked them and they’re like, ‘Yes, we can help with that.’ So, it’s a kind of the fear is greater than the practicality of it. And it’s like, put on your big girl pants and just deal with it.
Katie: I know. I think tax is where people fall into my traps faster. So, if you’re feeling afraid of what you’re about to do or overwhelmed, I feel like a lot of authors that come to me are like, ‘I just don’t want to deal with the taxes, so I’m not doing this.’ And I just want to gently point out, but you’re missing out on so much else.
If you could just do some research or talk to an accountant, you would figure out that this isn’t that big a deal. So, if anyone that’s listening is sort of caught in a mindset spiral of that, ‘I just don’t want to worry about that. It’s too scary,’ then I would just challenge you to look a little deeper and see if there’s something else you’re running away from here that you can figure out, and then move forward into something really awesome.
Joanna: Yes. And that’s exactly the point. And that’s where, when I learned about Lulu and Book Vault…in fact, Book Vault was at London Book Fair. They’ve only just launched.
I walked through London Book Fair, and I saw them, and went to talk to them, and I was like, ‘Okay, this is possible.’ And now it’s worth me dealing with the tax side. If I can do print as well, it is worth it for me. And that’s the question at the end, isn’t it?
Is it worth it for you? What kind of business do you want, and are you willing to put in some work to kind of change your business model completely, really?
Katie: Yes. And only you can answer that, right? But I think you owe it to yourself to figure out what you’re afraid of and then tackle that first, and then go into the direct sales game. Because it’ll be a lot easier.
Joanna: For sure. Right. Well, we’re almost out of time.
Any other lessons learned, or tips, or thoughts before we finish?
Katie: The final thing that I like to tell people when they ask me about direct sales is I just tell them, be ready for the long game.
This certainly can be a means to fast cash and a lot of money, but more than likely, it’s going to involve time, and patience, and forging your own path, because you have to train readers to buy from you.
You have to show them that you’re trustworthy. You have to prove that you’re here to write more books and that you’re going to write books, and you’re not going to make them wait for years on end to get the next book.
So, I think if you’re here for the long game and you keep that mindset, then you’re going to stick with it longer because you know that you’re training people to buy from you.
With more books comes more royalties, and more power, and more presence, and all of that stuff. And that is the right mindset to approach this, so that you’re ready for the big opportunities and the big ideas when they come so that you can pivot and do it really quickly.
Where can we find you and your books online?
Katie: katiecrossbooks.com is the fastest way to find me. And I’m sure it might be a good idea for a lot of you to just go there and look at the way I have it structured, look at the way I have it ordered, and see if you like it, right? See if that appeals to you, if that sort of a store is something that you’d want to run, and just check it out there.
And we have merchandise, we have t-shirts, we have books, and audiobooks, and paperback, and there’s lots there for you. Most of my novels are also on all of the other retailers too.
Joanna: Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time, Katie. That was great.
Katie: Thanks for having me. This was so fun.
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Author: Joanna Penn