Tips For Selling And Marketing Your Books Direct To Readers

If you sell direct, you can produce higher quality books and products, make more money per sale, get paid faster, and reach readers directly, but there are challenges to publish and market this way.

Thomas Umstaddt Jr interviews Joanna Penn on the Novel Marketing Podcast covering tips for publishing, selling, and marketing direct to readers.

You can listen to the episode here, or on your favorite podcast platform.

We cover:

  • How the tools and services have improved for selling direct, and recommendations for which to use
  • Why selling direct can be better for the author — and the customer
  • The mindset shift needed if you want to be successful selling direct
  • Optimizing ads for conversions, rather than clicks
  • Content marketing for selling direct
  • Adding a Reading Order to your website, store, and back matter
  • Integrations with social media for social commerce
  • The importance of bundles for selling direct
  • Direct-only, and direct-first products
  • Educating readers to buy direct
  • The power of authentic scarcity on Kickstarter

You can buy my books for authors at and my fiction and travel memoir at

You can buy Writing the Shadow: Turn Your Inner Darkness Into Words on Kickstarter until 25 Oct, and everywhere from Jan 2024.

You can also listen to a recent episode with Thomas on Novel Marketing and Christian Publishing on The Creative Penn Podcast. You can find Thomas and his show, and everything he does at

You can find more interviews, courses, and resources on selling direct here.

Transcript of the interview

Thomas Umstattd Jr: While most authors sell most of their books on Amazon, it’s not all roses and butterflies over there.

Amazon takes between 30 and 75 percent of the profits, depending on what kind of book you’re selling, and that doesn’t include the price of printing or audiobook production or any of the other costs.

Another downside of selling books on Amazon is that you don’t know who is buying your book.

And you have no way to contact them if you want to let them know about a new book or to get their feedback on your last book.

If only there was a way where you could make more money and connect directly with your readers.

Well, there is! It’s called direct sales.

And specifically, direct sales online.

Now, for those of you who’ve been listening to Novel Marketing, you’ll know that in the early days, I was not a big fan of selling directly online, and for most authors, I didn’t recommend it because it was expensive, required a lot of technical sophistication, and was often a money loser for authors, especially once they accounted for their expenses and their time.

But it is not 2013 anymore.

In fact, it is 2023 as we record this, and in the last 10 years —

The cost of selling directly to readers has gone down. It’s gotten easier to do and more readers are willing to buy directly from an author’s website.

And so that’s right. It’s official. Thomas Umstattd is evolving on his negative opinion of direct selling and direct selling now makes more sense for more authors.

And it’s time we talked about it on this episode of Novel Marketing, the longest running book marketing podcast in the world. I’m Thomas Umstattd, Jr., CEO of Author Media, and this is the show for writers who want to build their platform, sell more books, and make a living writing books worth talking about.

And we have a special guest on the show today. She’s a friend of the show. This is her sixth time on the podcast. In fact, I think we’re going to need to make a special page just for her interviews. She writes nonfiction for authors, and she’s a New York Times and USA Today bestselling thriller author.

She also runs the award-winning podcast that’s been running even longer than this one, the Creative Penn. That’s right. We’re talking to none other than Joanna Penn. Welcome to Novel Marketing.

Jo Penn: Oh, thanks for having me again, Thomas. I’m excited to talk to you. And of course, you were on my show just a few months ago back in June, so it’s good to chat again.

Thomas: That’s right. And I had a lot of fun. And if y’all have not yet checked out The Creative Penn Podcast, it is excellent. In fact, I would say your podcast probably inspired many of the podcasts for authors because you were doing it. You started what 2009, 2010 way, way back.

Jo Penn: Yes, 2009, early, early days. Thankfully, it’s much easier now.


You’re famously an early adopter. You don’t wait for things to get easy to try them the first time. What were your first experiences of selling directly like?

Joanna: Well, it’s interesting because I started selling directly from the very beginning.

I can’t even remember the stores I was using at the beginning. And that’s, I guess, another tip is that the tools get better.

Ebooks were PDF, downloadable PDFs back in the day, and also audio, downloadable MP3s. This was when I still used to put a tape inside my car and then there was an adapter to an MP3 player or something like, remember 2009?

Thomas: Oh, that’s how I listened to podcasts. I probably listened to your podcast on an iPod through a tape deck adapter on my car in the early days.

Joanna: Exactly. And so in those days, there were a few tools, but it was quite complicated.

And over the years, I’ve tried different things. I mean, the most recent one that worked better was Payhip. And I still recommend Payhip for people who want to have a smaller store.

And then about 18 months ago, just over a year ago, I guess I moved on to Shopify, because now we can do print-on-demand.

Selling books on Shopify minimum viable store

And I think this is the thing to me that is like, marvelous, because we’re book people. I’m looking at you now and your study, you’ve got all these books, print books on the shelves, beautiful books, and we’ve never been able to do that easily before.

So Print on Demand is amazing, and changed a lot of indie authors’ lives, but the books are not that great yet. They’re not really beautiful. Let’s face it. I mean, we just haven’t had the option to do beautiful books.

And so once I’ve researched this with direct selling, I use Bookvault. app.

There are some other services, but with Bookvault, I can do hardbacks, color printing. I’m about to be able to do gold foil and ribbons and all of these different things that we can do and integrate with Shopify.

Joanna Penn with Writing the Shadow

So I guess I have been doing it since. 2008, 2009 when I first started selling online, but it really has become my major focus with Shopify and Kickstarter, which I’m sure we’ll also talk about, in the last year.

I love Amazon. We all love Amazon. I’m a shareholder in Amazon. I believe in the company, but as a publisher — and we are author-publishers — I want more control.

It’s about more profit per sale. It’s about customer data. It’s also about faster payment.

You didn’t mention this in the preamble, but I can get paid within an hour or so or also within 24 to 48 hours. And that means I’m getting paid every single day.

And the economics change dramatically when you aren’t waiting 60 to 90 days for a payment.

So lots of benefits of selling direct, but of course, the biggest downside for many authors, I guess, is marketing. But that’s why we’re here.

Thomas: Exactly. Because You can have the greatest store in the world. And I, I would often see this and the author will spend a lot of money. They’ll hire a traditional web design firm to build them this really robust bookstore with the checkout pages and all of this. And then they don’t have any plan to get people to that store.

And when people do, all they want is a button to Amazon to do the one-click checkout, because it’s easier to copy and paste the name of the book and put it into Amazon than it is to type in your address and your credit card and all of that.

So let’s start with getting people to the website, but I also want to talk about motivating them to buy from you rather than Amazon.

What are some things you’ve found work for getting people to your website and ready to buy the book from you?

Joanna: I feel like the attitude shift is the magic that we need because it doesn’t matter, again it doesn’t matter what marketing you do to your store and Shopify has a lot of pretty easy setups, but it’s about your attitude to sales.

For fiction authors, the focus has been on selling cheap books or free books in KU for over a decade, for almost 15 years now.

That’s how we’ve trained our readers, and it has changed the brain of the author to think that readers will only buy that way.

You almost have to completely re-educate yourself and change your mindset if you want to do this successfully.

You have to understand that a lot of readers are really happy to buy on your store on the Shopify app, click through your website, through social media.

And we can talk about some of those integrations in print, audio, ebook bundles, and they will pay for shipping. So this is the thing every day people say, ‘Oh, but why would someone shop that way?’

And it’s like, well, you just have to put it in front of them, but also educate them as to why to buy from you in that they’re supporting an independent author, independent printers, this kind of thing.

In terms of marketing, the overarching thing is any marketing except for Amazon ads works for selling direct.

So pretty much you can do anything.

Thomas: Well, and I would say works better, right? So you’re doing Facebook ads. Let’s say you can pixel people.

When they visit your website and then retarget them, which I realize this is very advanced. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t worry. This isn’t the Facebook advertising episode!

It’s almost impossible on Amazon and it gets even more complicated when you try to do it and you’re playing redirect games and all kinds of nonsense. Whereas if you’re doing it on your own website, it’s easier and more powerful.

So some of the tools get better.

Joanna: Well, even better than that with Meta ads, you can optimize for conversions which we cannot do on Amazon or any third-party store, Kobo, Apple, whatever, because we don’t have access to that. But because we have access to the sale, the meta ads, as you say, can be optimized for conversions.

But just coming back to easy things.

The very first thing, if you are committed, it’s changing this mindset to be committed.

On websites, so pretty much 99 percent of authors will link either just to Amazon or Amazon first and then maybe an Apple link and a Kobo link or maybe a books to read link.

What I’ve done now and what many other people have done is to redirect everything to the store.

And what we found amongst the sell direct community is that the more you sell on your own store, the more you also sell on the other stores.

So even if you turn off your Amazon ads, for example, and redirect your marketing to your own store, lots of people will see an ad or they’ll hear about the book and they’ll still go buy on their favorite store.

So you’re not giving up those sales. You can almost amplify them, but changing all the links to the store.

Then I know you are a fan of content marketing, as am I, podcasters, bloggers, all of that. So I’m now going back through my website, I started in 2008, it’s 15 years worth of content, and I have cleaned it up a few times —

There are a lot of links in there, a lot of backlinks, a lot of really good content, and I’m changing all those links to point to the store. You don’t need to jump straight into advertising.

Content marketing has been the basis of my business for 15 years, and d it’s still the basis of my business.

Paid ads to me are the cream on top. They are not the bulk of my business.

So changing links to your books on your own store, and then obviously blogging, podcasting, doing new content.

One of my tips for podcasting is, is to make sure you can say the links out loud, so if people are interested, is my store for my nonfiction and for my fiction.

So I can say those out loud. I don’t need to do forward slashes and dashes and all of that kind of thing.

Thomas: There’s another benefit of changing all of those links to go internally. It Is really good for search engine optimization, right? Because the more links you have pointing to that internal page and the better you make that internal page, if you put book club resources there, you put a map if you’re writing fantasy, the better that page is.

And the more links you have pointing to that page, you have a good chance to outrank Amazon for your book title. Which now, it’s not just people clicking the links around your website, but suddenly it’s people Googling your book title, and then they’re buying from you, rather than going to and buying from Amazon.

Joanna: This is another tip, which is to —

Add a reading order to your bookstore site

For fiction authors in particular, reading order, even though it makes sense to us, we’re like, of course you know what book to read next. A lot of people don’t know.

Including a reading order list on your store, with links to all the books, and then what you can do is update your back matter on all of your books to point to your reading list.

And this is brilliant because it means people will go there and then they might click through and buy the other books. So Shopify has integration with Google, YouTube, TikTok, Facebook shop, Instagram, so you can actually embed your book buy links.

Well, they’re not even that they’re, they’re like a shop within all these things. So you’ll see on my Instagram @jfpennauthor , for example, you can click through and just buy the book straight away.

These powerful integrations within social media mean it’s much, much easier to buy direct.

Thomas: I love that. And you do need to make it easy because it is harder.

Right, like the actual checkout process on your website is going to be harder than the checkout process on Amazon because Amazon has got the one-click checkout. And so the more of these steps that you can reduce, the better. And I really love the book order because as an audiobook reader, Audible is the worst.

It often won’t even show the series or the series number. And for some series, the cover doesn’t really tell you what book it is. And so I’m often Googling and authors cause I want to binge their books, but I’m like, what book is next? You have 12 books in your series and they all start with the same phrase. And there’s only one word different for each one. You got to help me out.

I think whether you sell directly or not, a series order page on your website is an absolute must.

It’s a very easy page to put together. If you’re just on Amazon, put affiliate links to Amazon. It’s better than nothing. And you can always change that page later to link to your own store when you’re ready to have one.

Joanna: And you mentioned audio there. To be clear in terms of the integration, we can use Bookfunnel for eBooks and audiobook sales, and also, as I mentioned, Bookvault for print. So I don’t want people to think that I’m having to deliver any of this stuff.

It’s all delivered automatically. Once somebody buys, I don’t have to post anything.

The other thing that we should talk about is email marketing, which of course. In standard marketing, one-on-one is email marketing.

But what’s really interesting with this is the integration again, between Shopify and some of the other direct sales into our email marketing programs.

And there are some specialized ones, but for example, I use ConvertKit.

You can trigger an autoresponder based on a purchase and someone comes into your email list.

So it’s a great email list builder, which we don’t get when we sell on the other stores, but also you can offer automatic discount codes, which don’t affect your prices, but you can also track where people have clicked from in your autoresponder series, upsell people from free books, upsell people to bundles.

In fact, I should mention bundles. This is very, very important for direct selling.

The bigger the bundle, the better in terms of making your money.

So I’m selling a 12-book bundle, my ARKANE thriller series.

Some people are selling like 30 book bundles and that’s where advertising becomes even more beneficial because you might spend, let’s say you spend 35 cents or whatever, and if you can get people to upsell to a $16 or a $30 or a $50 bundle, it’s much easier to make your money back.

Change your perspective from cheap or free ebooks to bundles and an average order value of, let’s say, $15 to $100.

That is where the proper income comes from.

Thomas: Seth Godin says the problem with a race to the bottom is that you just might win.

And a lot of authors have been frantically trying to figure out how they can race to the bottom in terms of pricing. It’s like, Oh no, my books aren’t 99 cents. It’s a bundle of my eBooks for 99 cents and they’re just making pennies.

It’s interesting because Brandon Sanderson wanted to try something entirely different. He wanted to sell his book for 200. So he goes to his publisher and he says, the kind of people who are buying my books are playing video games.

And if you look at video games, there are collectible editions of these video games that are a hundred, 200. They come with figurines and there’s a certain kind of video gamer that wants the vault edition of Fallout Four with the pit boy that can go on their arm. And his publisher just blinks at him on the understandingly like, nobody’s going to pay 250 for your book, Brandon.

And he’s like, I think they are. So he works it out with his publisher. He takes the book one in The Way of Kings. And puts it for sale for 250. And that’s the cheap version. You can also get it for 500. And you know what I have right here on my bookshelf? The 250 version of his book.

Joanna: And was that from his first Kickstarter?

Thomas: That was his first Kickstarter. With 6 million, right? Yeah. Just a mere 6 million, which seemed like a big number at the time.

Obviously he made 40 million in his next Kickstarter, broke all the records and has proved to the industry that there’s a certain kind of reader, especially in fantasy, but I think they exist across all genres.

Joanna: I think in any, and especially in fiction, I mean, I think in nonfiction too, even just upscaling to a special edition hardback. This is another tip.

Do direct-only, and direct-first products.

So, for example, you can only get some of my books through my stores. They are not even available elsewhere. My Pilgrimage memoir has the hardback with color photos, really nice paper and all of that kind of thing.

Writing the Shadow has a gold foil hardback that is only in the Kickstarter.

So direct only products. And that’s what Brandon did. It’s like, you can only get this version if you buy it here and then direct first.

If you don’t want to go that far, you can offer whatever it is, even just an ebook for sale on your store first for, let’s say a month, two months, three months, take as much of that money as you can, and then publish it on the other store.

So that’s direct first or direct only products.

Thomas: That’s right. And these motivations, we’ve been kind of hitting them across the board. I’m going to list them bang, bang, bang, because when you combine them, it becomes magical.

Why would people buy from you rather than Amazon or other stores?

So motivation number one, buy from my website directly or back my Kickstarter because you’re supporting me as the author rather than Jeff Bezos.

Amazon has plenty of money. I need money more than Amazon, right? The kind of the basic pitch that kind of pitch works best if readers already love you. Or you’re connected with a cause or a religion that they’re supporting. And so if you’re political and they’re supporting your political cause or you’re religious and they share your religion, that kind of pitch works better than if you’re just some random romance author and they only care a little bit about you as a person.

And most people don’t care about you nearly as much as you would like them to. So the help me make more money pitch works, but it doesn’t work on everyone.

Joanna: I do think that what I’m talking about here is primarily for our fans. I mean, it can work for cold traffic as some of the ads are working with the bundles, but I think —

I’m focusing personally on trying to educate my existing audience to buy direct first.

So, I totally agree with you and it’s support me as an independent author and independent printers, independent businesses. Not trying to guilt anyone, just let’s have a healthy ecosystem.

Thomas: And now the other three motivations that we talked about, I think work to varying degrees on strangers as well.

The next one is early access. I think this still works better for fans because they care more to get access early than everyone else.

A total stranger may prefer to see the reviews. But if the only place to buy your book for the first three months is on your website, now suddenly the hassle of typing in my address on your website is being compared to the hassle of waiting when all my friends are reading your book and I’m not.

Now suddenly I’m like, if I’m a fan, I don’t know, maybe I do want to buy directly. from this author. So early access works bundles work, and it could be multi-book bundles, like what Joanna was talking about, but it could also be something as simple as if you buy the hardcover for 50, you also get the ebook and the audio book, which when you’re selling direct doesn’t cost you basically anything to deliver, and yet it adds a ton of value.

To that purchase, because now that paper hardback is looking a lot cheaper. And if you look at Kickstarters, most Kickstarter campaigns bundle the virtual additions into all of the paper editions, because it just makes them more appealing.

And then the final motivation is the special edition, right? This is the, you know, only can get on the Kickstarter only can get on my website with a special gold and the special color maps and that’s leather and expensive.

Because some people want something just because it’s expensive, just because it’s not what everyone else can have.

And when you offer that directly, that’s a motivation to buy directly from you.

JoannaAug2020: And I would say also —

As a creator, I really want to make beautiful books.

I really do. I want people to have them on the shelves like you have those beautiful books on your shelves there.

And I’ve never been able to do it before in an effective way. And so this is almost changing my own perspective on being a creative.

So yes, I’m an author first, I write the words first, but I’m also an amateur photographer. I buy a lot of special hardbacks. I have so many ideas for what I want to create.

I’ve started doing spiral-bound workbooks to go with my nonfiction, which you can’t do with print-on-demand through KDP print, for example.

One of the other big things is this Average Order Value idea, and that’s the same however you sell.

But for example, merchandise, again, many Fiction authors in particular have wanted to do merchandise and Brandon did it so well with his, but you can do so much more now with print-on-demand merchandise that I feel that’s something you can offer in your bundles or separately just as things people want to buy.

I feel like we’re at the beginning of the next 15 years in terms of the business model.

Like, I feel like the last 15 years have been about focusing on driving people to a big store, whichever one, and the next 15 years is about a very different motivation and a very different business model.

But a lot of the marketing tips that you share and that I share, they still work. We’re just pointing them in a different direction.

Thomas: That’s right. And it opens up the playbook more because like what you’re talking about with ConvertKit, I use ConvertKit as well.

And with ConvertKit, it’s not hard to set up an email that triggers a month after someone buys a book and only if they have not bought the next book that says, Hey, would you like 10 percent off book two in the series?

Like that’s a very easy email to send it’s automated. You set it up one time. It only goes to people who didn’t binge. So the only people getting it are people who are interested who already bought book one and an email like that. It can be very effective, but that’s a kind of email marketing approach that you can’t do if you’re selling on Amazon or Barnes and Noble’s website.

Joanna: To be clear, it’s because you don’t have their email.

And people are like, well, yeah, I have an email list. But at the moment, most of your email list is made up of people who have clicked on a link at the back of a book that’s sold in another way, and come and sign up for your free reader magnet.

I mean, that’s, we’ve been talking about reader magnets for years. And then suddenly I can get traffic to a free book on jfpennbooks. com and I have their email. So it’s no longer the same approach. The reader magnet is actually the book itself.

So like I said, the re education piece. And thinking through why we do things is almost a really important part of this whole scenario.

I did want to also mention things like BookBub. People are like, oh, well, what about BookBub?

You can do BookBub PPC ads to your direct store.

So that’s what I’m doing now. I’m testing out BookBub ads direct to my Shopify store. And that’s really, really good. So there are lots of options for paid ads as well.

Thomas: And part of the reason why it’s good is that you’re making so much more money per sale. So the click through rate doesn’t have to be as high. The conversion rate doesn’t have to be as high for the net profits to be as high.

Because you’re getting the publishers cut, you’re getting the authors cut, and you’re getting the retailers cut when you’re selling directly.

And so you’re getting most of the bites of the apple. And so you can share more of the apple with the advertiser and still have enough apple for yourself.

Joanna: Yes, but we should be transparent about costs, though.

What about costs?

I mean, obviously, I use Shopify, all of the different platforms have a cost to set up, and then obviously, Bookfunnel is reasonably cheap, but you do need to pay for certain things.

We mentioned ConvertKit. So the services have costs in them, but as you say, it’s still available. There are a lot fewer costs than there were originally and certainly I find that speed of payment and getting the customer data means that you do have to have a long-term approach.

So I hear a lot of people say,

“Oh, I started a direct store and it’s a week later and nobody’s bought anything.”

And it’s a bit like, well, if you just put your book up on Amazon, no one’s going to buy anything either.

You still have to drive traffic to it. But you definitely have to have a strategy, I think, and a determination.

But again, if you think about the snowball rolling, every day that I’m getting new sign-ups through my store, and every day there are new readers who get used to buying from me, it means that’s another person in my snowball, I guess.

And also the rising tide, I guess.

The more authors who are selling direct, the more customers are going to be used to buying direct.

So it helps all of us. I think

Thomas: that’s right. And let’s talk about this cost because I think this is important when you’re putting together your strategy and when you’re picking a tool.

So some tools have a monthly cost attached to them. So Shopify is a monthly cost or a yearly cost attached to it, which means that you need to be selling a certain number of books just to break even. on Shopify.

And so the kinds of authors who will do well with Shopify are authors more like you, where you’ve got multiple books and you’re releasing books every year, multiple books a year.

And so there’s constant attention coming to the store. And at the end of the day, with all of the attention and activity, that monthly cost It’s not nothing, but it’s not eating your lunch, right? It’s not gobbling up all of your profits. If you’re a first time author and you’ve never sold a book before to a reader ever, Shopify may be overkill, probably overkill.

Joanna: Yeah. I would say definitely overkill.

Thomas: Kickstarter will be so much better. One, because it’s got all this wonderful marketing psychology built into it.

It’s got that urgency and it’s a one time thing you sell to all your friends and your list however big it is and then you’re done and then you can be on Amazon for a while and you can kickstart the next book and you can always set up that Shopify later.

If you’re looking for a bookstore tool that doesn’t have a monthly cost attached to it, Gumroad.

Joanna: Or Payhip.

Thomas: Yeah. Pay hip as well. Those will take a slightly bigger percentage of the transaction because they’re not charging you monthly. So eventually you’re going to be like, well, I want to either start paying for Gumroad, have them take a smaller pay percentage or I want to move to something like Shopify.

Joanna: You can use Thrive Themes just on your website. You can use WooCommerce. A lot of authors use WooCommerce just directly on their website. We’re not saying this is necessarily tool-specific.

It’s more about different attitudes and different tactics you can use.

The problem is if you start as a first-time author and you just say, okay, I’m just going to go into KU. That’s what I’m going to do until I’ve built up a following. Well, then your following is. KU. Your following is free books, essentially.

So I almost feel like a lot of it is starting again with re-educating our readers to buy in a different way.

So almost, it is great if you’re starting earlier.

I’ve been training readers for 15 years to go to all the other stores, and now I have to retrain them to come to my stores.

Whereas if you’re starting now, you can just do that from the beginning.

Thomas: And readers are changing. What you said earlier, I’ve noticed in my own life. Like I used to just buy stuff from Amazon, but I’m finding myself going to walmart. com more often, and I’m more open to buying from other kinds of sellers.

In fact, this is the best thing. Just last week, we’re wanting to get socks for my daughter and her feet have doubled in size in the last. Three weeks, as often happens with four-year-olds. And I have a philosophy, like if you’re going to buy socks for children, you don’t buy one package, you buy six packages.

So all the socks match because like matching socks for children’s no good. So I’m like, I want to buy a, basically a cargo planes worth of socks. And so I check walmart. com for the socks. I check. Amazon. com for the socks and then I go to Haynes. com because they came up in a Google search Who makes the socks I ended up buying the socks directly from the manufacturer I bought the socks from Haynes because it ended up being cheaper than either Walmart or Amazon I would have never done that 10 years ago.

I would have either gone to Walmart physically or ordered from Amazon online. I would have not bought socks directly from the sock company, because I don’t care about the sock company. I don’t care that Haynes makes more money than Amazon, but the fact that they’re competitive and the fact that they let me bundle a bunch of socks together.

The fact that it wasn’t that much hassle, like putting in my credit card, isn’t that hard. So suddenly I’m doing it more as a consumer. And I think that that is generalizing across the economy overall.

JoannaAug2020: And that also accelerated during the pandemic as people learned to shop for everything online as opposed to just the things that they used to.

But it’s interesting just coming back to Shopify, what is brilliant about Shopify is if you buy once on Shopify and your details are in there, anyone you buy from who has a Shopify store, it does move towards that one click output.

And also, you know, you can trust the store with Shop Pay in the same way we trust Apple Pay and Amazon Pay and Google Pay and all the rest.

So I feel like again, these behaviors change. And this is where you need as an author to give someone a choice.

I will buy direct from authors if they tell me and they give me a link to it, but mostly you see people emailing and it’s another Amazon link.

So sure I’ll buy wherever you send me a link to But I certainly shop a lot more on Kickstarter because there’s so many cool things.

I buy short story Collections, I’ll buy whole books, I buy Games and audio stuff. Don’t assume that people’s behavior is stuck in a way that you assume they, they have been that way.

Thomas: Kickstarter is great because it also gives a psychological feeling of, I helped to make this happen. This book may not have even existed if I hadn’t have kickstarted it.

And that kind of feeling of ownership of contribution, you don’t get buying a book anywhere else, even though it’s still true, right? The author is not going to keep writing if nobody’s buying their books, but it feels more true on Kickstarter.

Joanna: And I think —

The other thing that I’ve learned about Kickstarter is the real power of scarcity.

I’m very honest, I hate fake scarcity.

I hate the kind of, ‘you must buy this before the end,’ and it’s like, ‘no, you’re just going to keep on selling it the next day,’ and that really annoys me. And I don’t like launches with my books. It’s like, here, I’ll put it out, if you buy it this week or you buy it in a year’s time, then all good.

And that’s been how it’s been working on the retailers, but with Kickstarter, there is no fake scarcity. It is true scarcity.

And I feel like it’s the first time I’ve been able to do that. So for my next Kickstarter, which is Writing the Shadow: Turn Your Inner Darkness Into Words, there is a Kickstarter special, it has gold foil on the hardback and it has a ribbon.

Joanna Penn with Writing the Shadow

And I’ve never done gold foil or a ribbon before and that particular version will only be sold with the Kickstarter.

If people are interested in that, it’s

But yeah, scarcity is so important for people to take action, but we haven’t really had that apart from these crowdfunding things.

Which obviously have been around a while, but I feel like it’s only really taking off for fiction since Brandon did his.

Thomas: We’ll have a link to that Shadow Book Kickstarter. I’m going to try to schedule this episode to go live when that Kickstarter is still live. So if you want to watch Joanna Penn do a Kickstarter for a book, this is your chance to do that.

But I’m curious, going back to the gold foil, how did you make a gold foil edition, because for a lot of indie authors, the only way they know how to make a book is with Amazon, right? They go to Amazon KDP and they have Amazon KDP make them a book and there is no gold foil option on Amazon. So how did you make it?

Joanna: I mentioned Bookvault. app earlier, they’re here in the UK and I met the guys at London Book Fair and I was like, wow, this is amazing.

JF Penn signing Pilgrimage at the Bookvault printing factory, Peterborough, UK

I went to their plant up in Peterborough and now they’re starting to do these other options. So I’m doing my first gold foil and my first ribbon because that’s what they’re going to start offering.

So it’s going to be like a bespoke publishing option.

But again, the benefit of Kickstarter is that you know the number of books you want to order. So as long as you’ve got a good relationship with a printer, who’s agreed to print the books when you want them printed, and also I’m going up to the plant and I’ll be signing the Kickstarter books.

And I rarely do signed editions. So I sign them all up at the factory and then they ship them all out.

Now, obviously that can’t be done by everyone. But you could do an unsigned edition, and they’re looking at more and more bespoke options. So again, I reckon on some of those books, you’ve got like a metal corner edge on some of those books, and they’re looking at what other options might authors want for beautiful books.

That’s why I’m excited about the possibilities of what we can do in the future for really much more affordable print runs.

Thomas: I’ve been working with a local printer near you for years, and I have gotten incredibly positive feedback from authors of how much they’ve fallen in love with their local printers because it’s amazing how much better you get treated when you’re interacting with a human being rather than interacting with an impersonal website.

It’s like, this is how all of life used to be, right? You get on the phone and you talk with somebody. You’re like, Hey, can I come meet you at the factory? Let’s take a look and talk through it.

And sometimes just a quick five-minute conversation is way better than a million FAQ pages on a website trying to figure out that one technical detail about your book.

And you may be surprised that there is a printer near you because the same companies that make direct mail also can print books. It’s the same machines. Like the book in some ways is easier and it’s way higher status.

The printer didn’t go into printing as they wanted to do direct mail. They probably wanted to do books and so they’re very happy to work with you as a local independent author.

But you do have to make that personal connection and you may have to make a phone call, which I know for my fellow millennials, that’s like, I’ll do anything to avoid making a phone call.

Joanna: I’m an introvert. I don’t like phone calls either. And like I said, this is going to be my goal, I guess, for the next few years is to really get deep into how to make beautiful books.

Because again, look, let’s face it.

We’re in an age of AI. How can you stand out in an incredibly busy market?

It’s been busy for years. It’s going to get much, much busier.

It’s not special to have an ebook. It’s not special to have a print-on-demand paperback.

How can you give your readers something special, something that stands out, something beautiful, something that’s given as a gift, something that is talked about?

We have to think of ways to stand out in these original ways. And marketing, it is about giving people. Things that they want.

It’s not about shoving stuff at them. It’s about attracting people and saying, look, you want this for these reasons? Look how beautiful it is.

It’s so funny how many people have emailed me and gone, ‘oh my goodness, you’re doing a ribbon in your book.’ They’re like, ‘oh, I love a ribbon.’ And I’m like, ‘oh, I love a ribbon as well.’ I mean, that’s book lovers for you,

Thomas: It’s not just book lovers. We got my four-year-old a CD player. And because we want to be able to control what kinds of things she listens to, we didn’t just give her a tablet with access to the internet. But the ritual of taking the CD out of the jewel case, putting it on the player and punching the buttons.

It is a delightful experience for her. Like she enjoys it. And I was like, that was kind of fun. Like there is a certain kind of person who will pay money for a vinyl because the ritual of taking the vinyl out and putting it on and putting the needle and interacting with it in that real way is valuable.

And as more things go digital, and that becomes more common, people treasure the real more and more. The younger someone is, the more they want paper.

This is a big dichotomy in our perceptions, right? We think, oh, young people, they want the high tech thing, and it’s the old people reading paper. It’s like, no.

Somebody with old eyes wants the large font on the Kindle, so they can read it more easily. Somebody who’s young prefers paper. In fact, and the younger they are, once they get into their teens and twenties, the more they prefer a hardback. They’d rather pay a little bit more and own fewer but nicer books and have them as artifacts that they can put behind their camera or put on their, in their apartment to show off.

And they long for that. And so we’re, it’s not just a money grab, right? You’re not adding foil just because it makes you more money.

JoannaAug2020: No, no. ’cause it’s beautiful.

Thomas: It’s a beautiful book and people want it. Right. It’s like everybody wins, right?

We’re making the world a more beautiful place and it’s not wrong that you’re making more money.

I’m not knocking that, but it’s not like, Oh, this is the only way to ever get this book. Because you’ll still have the ebook. It’s still available. If somebody wants the 10 ebook version that they read on that same Kindle, they read on all the other books, they can do that. But more and more people are choosing to want something better, something special.

Joanna: It’s interesting. I mean, you mentioned that demographic there. I think a lot of it is changing. So, for example, you mentioned the text size. I do a large print for the older person, which includes myself now.

Thomas: Happens to us all. Well, it happens to most of us. Not all of us grow older, some of us die.

Joanna: Oh, indeed. But like I mentioned, the library that you have behind you, that I have downstairs in my house, I try and buy hardbacks that I want to keep because they last longer and because I like to keep them and often I will listen to an audiobook and then I’ll be like, I really want to keep that.

So I’ll go buy the hardback in order to keep an edition even though I might not touch it for years.

It’s because I wanted to remember that book and we don’t remember all the digital stuff like literally we do not remember most of it.

So yeah, there are so many reasons to do this and I guess circling back to where we started around the mindset, hopefully, we’ve given people loads of reasons why you want to move away from just free or cheap ebooks and into a world where, look, let’s face it, our work could be more valuable again.

I hate it when I think how we’ve devalued our work, especially as fiction authors, over the years.

We’ve done it for very good reasons, and many of us have made really good money that way, but we’re in a new world now, and I feel like this is the first step.

Thomas: That’s really good.

I do want to get into some nitty gritty details, though, because I feel like there’s a few things that hang people up from selling directly, and one of them is fulfillment.

Right. Because if somebody buys one copy of my book, does that mean I have to take it off the shelf and put it in a box and drive it to the post office and wait 30 minutes in line, suddenly making an extra 5 doesn’t seem worth it. So how do you navigate the fulfillment side of things?

Joanna: Yes. So those are the partners I mentioned.

Who are the partners for fulfilment?

So Bookfunnel for ebook and audiobook and I use BookVault app for my store.

And so if someone orders a print book on my store, it goes to Bookvault, they print it and they send it and I get the money.

I don’t do any shipping. They now print in the UK and the US, so that’s available.

With Shopify in particular, but WooCommerce, all the rest, there are just these apps that you can plug in. So you can do print-on-demand merchandise, and print on demand books in the same way that if you order one of my books from Amazon, one copy is printed and sent to you. This is exactly the same.

There really is no issue with fulfillment.

Thomas: So book vault also does fulfillment? They’re more than just a local printer?

Joanna: Yes. They print and fulfill.

Thomas: Oh, wow. And they do it on demand or do they have a warehouse where they’re doing offset printing?

Joanna: It’s print on print on demand.

Thomas: Wow! We didn’t have this sort of thing when I was a kid.

Joanna: That’s what made the difference to me because I was not ever going to do anything that involved the post office. I was not going to do that.

So as soon as I found out that this was the missing link for Shopify, I was all in because this is just awesome.

Thomas: Yeah. Because normally, and if you’re not with a company like Bookvault, I’ll walk you through the process. I don’t recommend doing your own fulfillment. Except for maybe after a Kickstarter, you buy some local high school or some pizza and you do it in a big thing in two days, and then you’re done.

Teenagers love stuff in books. They’ll do it for one day very with a very good attitude. But ongoing it can be a real drag because now suddenly you can’t go on vacation and you’re like tied to the fact that orders can come in and there are companies that can integrate with your e-commerce platform and ship for you.

But that is an important piece and you do have to pay for that and often there’s a, an ongoing cost with warehousing, you have to pay basically rent for the shelf.

Joanna: I don’t warehouse anything.

Thomas: Right, but with BookVault, if it’s on demand, the whole supply chain gets simplified. Because the book is printed and shipped, bing bang.

And so the warehousing piece is eliminated. I may have to get somebody from Bookvault on the podcast.

What are some mistakes that you see people make?

Joanna: One is the over-engineering of the store.

So I just went with my first store, I just went with a really basic theme. Same as I’ve always done with WordPress.

It doesn’t have to be that hard, but like I built my own WordPress site 15 years ago. I built my own Shopify.

You do have to have a desire to run a business because there are things that you have to work out, but again, it’s like once you’ve built it, you do have to spend some time upskilling.

But once you’ve built it, it is a machine and then you can feed your new books into the machine.

So it took quite a long time to set up. I do have a blog post on the minimum viable store, which we can link to in the show notes, which has a lot of these things, but you have to figure this stuff out, but once you figured it out, then it’s pretty good, but definitely one thing is thinking that it’s just like Amazon and you just, there it is.

And then the other thing is really not understanding that you have to market those books, but that’s the problem for most authors. You have to think how do I get traffic to this site in order to sell books.

Thomas: and I would say another potential mistake is not paying attention to sales taxes. I know this is different in the UK where you have VAT taxes, and I think it’s a little more standardized and in the United States we have over 500 tax jurisdictions for sales tax.

Joanna: I will comment on this because this is a massive thing. People say, I don’t want to deal with the tax. And again, it’s a very common question, but the reality is most of these global jurisdictions, including your sales tax in your different states have a threshold.

You have to be doing some pretty big numbers to pay taxes in multiple state thresholds. And that’s what I said about you have to decide you’re running a business.

So yes, I deal with European digital VAT laws are pretty blooming annoying, but you can set all this stuff up and then you run a report and you give it to your accountant. But again, the thresholds are really important.

So for example, India, it’s very unlikely you’re ever going to hit a limit on the sales tax in India, and if you are, then pay all that tax, but for most of it, it’s really low.

So on that, I would say to people, you just need to do that little bit of extra research. Like I probably spent about four hours researching the tax specific situation for me personally, where I am in the UK, and then I set it up and now it’s done.

All of these things are figurable-outable —

As we have figured out everything, like you and I, we were not born podcasters, we were not born marketers, well I certainly wasn’t, my degree’s in Theology, as you know, but we have to learn this stuff, and then we implement it, and then we adjust as we go, it doesn’t need to be perfect day one, that minimum viable store is how I started, and then obviously I’ve expanded since then, but yeah, make a decision, learn how to do it.

Thomas: That’s really good.

If you’re concerned about the taxes, some e-commerce stores will become the seller of record, which means they’re the ones who handle the taxes. I know Gumroad does that. Payhip does too.

And if you’re using a tool like Shopify or WooCommerce, TaxJar is a Stripe company and they will calculate the taxes and I think they filed the tax returns.

This really depends on what state you’re in in the United States. Some states don’t have any sales taxes and some have really complicated sales taxes. If you’re in California, pay for Taxjar. It’s going to be easier than dealing with California’s sales tax laws, which just went through some sort of change. As a Texan, I don’t follow it too carefully, but Joanna is right, this shouldn’t keep you from doing it.

It is a cost and it’s something you want to budget in and there are different ways of navigating it. And maybe that you go with Gumroad and you just let them handle it or you do it yourself through Taxjar, there there’s pros and cons, but it’s not a barrier to keep you out. It’s just a cost to work into your budget.

And remember, there’s more bites at the apple, so you have potentially the room to pay for that budget. Any final tips or encouragement?

Joanna: We’ll just come back to what we said at the beginning. You have more control. Actually, you’re an independent author.

Oh my goodness, who would have thought we’d finally be independent?

You have more control. You can get more profit per sale. You get your customer data. You can get faster payment. You are more independent.

Like I said, the same day or within 48 hours, and we’re not saying stop doing everything else. This is on top of everything else.

For me, this is my primary focus, Shopify and Kickstarter, and then everything else comes under that.

And like I said, I’m a fan of all those sites, all the vendors. We love you all. But at the end of the day, we are the author, we are the creator, we are the independent business person and we have to look after ourselves.

So this is looking after ourselves, looking after our readers and thinking ahead for the next 5, 10, 15 years. Who do you want to be in control of your author business?

Thomas: And you heard it here, ladies and gentlemen, a Brit talking about self reliance. If she can talk about self-reliance and there’s no excuse, this is supposed to be an American value, but it’s really, it’s a global value. You are an adult. It’s a free country. You’re responsible for your own actions and taking responsibility of selling directly in the customer experience.

You don’t have to do it, but if you do, there are some really cool rewards that can come from that. If you haven’t yet listened to TheCreativePenn Podcast, you really should check it out. I recommend my interview on that podcast is a great place to get started, but she has a lot of interviews. She’s been doing this for over a decade.

And if you, especially if you want to go indie, Joanna is not afraid to get into the nitty-gritty details of some of the technical parts of going indie, but she also talks big-picture stuff. It’s an excellent podcast.

And of course, check out her Kickstarter. Watch what she’s doing. Even if you just back it for a dollar, it’s a really good education to watch savvy Kickstarter people run their Kickstarter campaign.

And we’ll have links to all of that in the show notes. Joanna Penn, thank you so much for joining us today on the Novel Marketing Podcast.

Joanna: Oh, thanks for having me, Thomas. This was great fun.

You can find more interviews, courses, and resources on selling direct here.

The post Tips For Selling And Marketing Your Books Direct To Readers first appeared on The Creative Penn.

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Author: Joanna Penn

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  • October 19, 2023