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Advertising and Marketing

Breaking Free: Why Direct Sales Might Be For You – Part Three

By: Ginger on July 19, 2024

Our Hidden Gems guest author for today.

By: Ginger on July 19, 2024

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If there’s one thing that the big online eBook stores have going for them, is that they are relatively easy for authors to get started on. Entering product information is straightforward, and things like billing and content delivery are handled automatically. Yet, there are a host of downsides that make authors hungry for alternatives, which is why Ginger has put together this series on Direct Sales.

Today in part three, Ginger goes into detail about what exactly authors are giving up, and taking on, when making the decision to switch to the direct sales model – and it can be significant. Authors that want to follow this path must be prepared for a variety of technical tasks, added expenses, and a setup that can take weeks as opposed to the days or even hours that they’ve grown accustomed to. But for those that follow through, the reward at the end is far more control over their books, faster payouts, and a wealth of customer information that can be invaluable.


A couple of weeks ago, I began this series on Direct Sales, explaining what it is and why I ultimately decided to make the move. Today, I’m going through what it takes to make it all work – and let me tell you, it isn’t easy!

Setting Up Direct Sales

You may recall that in part 2, I mentioned how I’d first started to make the direct sales move back in January – which might lead you to wonder why I’d only just completed my first full month of advertising recently.

Well, that’s because there’s a lot of setup involved. A HUGE amount of setup. Enough setup, in fact, to easily dissuade the casual publisher from ever wanting to open up this can of worms. 

The wonderful thing about publishing on Amazon is that it all happens right there, in the KDP Dashboard. You can upload your books, design your product page, and reach a global audience with just a few clicks. It’s easy, convenient, and Amazon even deposits any royalties you earn straight into your bank account every month (minus their 30% cut, of course.)

And while Amazon might not do much to promote your book these days – thanks to how much advertising they’ve baked into the product pages – they still have a system in which reviews can be posted, sales can be ranked, and you can feel like your book is right there in the heart of a real (virtual) bookstore.

Direct sales is very different. Completely different.

Creating a Funnel

First off, you become less of a book publisher and more of a website developer when you switch to direct sales of your book. You have to create something called a “funnel.” This is a path by which people who click on your ads on Facebook are guided into a “funnel” that narrows their experience step-by-step until they finally find themselves ready to purchase your books. 

Then, you have to design an automated process by which people can pay you for your books, and a process for delivering the books to the reader in a way that makes them easy to read. Amazon normally takes care of all of this for you. When you venture into direct sales, you have to do it all yourself.

Now, there are a lot of tools that can help you with this. I’m not going to get tactical, since you have to research for yourself which services suit your plans better, but the “funnel” normally looks like this:

  • Your ads – these are all done through Facebook, just like when you’re advertising books on Amazon. When people click on them, they get directed to…
  • Your landing page – this is a website which provides information about one or all of your books. It could be as simple as a store page on Square or Shopify, with all your books listed, or a more sophisticated sales page built using a tool like WordPress. In any event, you’ll need to decide where you want to host your landing page, then design it yourself, and verify the domain with Facebook so that you can send potential customers there. 
  • Your checkout – Assuming the people who clicked on your landing page want to buy one or more of your books, you need to provide them with a means to do so! There are a variety of checkout options you can use. Shopify has a robust and versatile version. PayHip is a site that offers transactions cheaply and easily, and Square is an option that many self-published authors love, especially since it also works well when they sell physical paperbacks at conventions or events.
  • Delivery System – If you’re lucky enough to sell a book, how does it get to your customer? Book Funnel is probably the best-known book delivery system, and it can send eBooks directly to customers with just a few clicks. Some sales platforms connect automatically with Book Funnel to streamline the process. Other platforms require a third-party tool like Zapier to automate things. In any event, this is a vital part of the process – and it’s equally important that you don’t have to do anything manually. 
  • Email Marketing – The final tool is one that will be familiar to most self-published authors who’ve started a subscriber list. Once people have purchased from you, you want them to do so again! So it’s important to use a service like Mailchimp, Mailerlite, or Klaviyo to track your customers and make it easy to nudge them when you have a new book available.

The challenge is: All of these components have to work in conjunction with each other, and that requires a reasonable amount of technical know-how. All of these services also tend to cost money, which is why it’s quite a leap to move to direct sales after Amazon has provided a lot of functionality to you for free in the past.

You’re not just building a business when you move to direct sales – you’re actually building a machine. It’s an automated process that leads customers to your eventual (ideal) destination – a book sale! The goal is to make a machine that enables you to sell books more efficiently than you can through Amazon.

Make Sure You’re Ready Before You Begin!

But before you can even start that, you have to set your house in order back on the world’s largest digital bookstore. For me, the reason I began this process in January but didn’t start making sales until May is that I had to take all my books out of Kindle Unlimited first.

Kindle Unlimited is really valuable if you’re trying to advertise books on Facebook, because Google and Apple have transpired to make it impossible to buy books directly from the Amazon app. I found I got 80% of my revenue from KENP page reads – but to be eligible for KU, there’s a price to be paid. Your book has to be exclusive to Amazon. 

Therefore, you can’t create a direct sales funnel if your books are enrolled in Kindle Unlimited. It violates Amazon’s terms of service and can get you kicked off the program if they find out you’re circumventing the rules. Given that your books will be for sale on a public website, it’s more than likely that Amazon WILL eventually discover you selling your books directly, so it’s not worth risking your account just to “double dip.” Before you begin direct sales, you have to unenroll your books and in my case, many of those enrollment periods weren’t over until the end of March or April. 

It was a MAJOR step outside my comfort zone to do this. Ever since I published my first best-seller in 2018, Kindle Unlimited has provided the bulk of my royalties. I realized I’d be taking a huge hit by doing this, and all on the promise of making more through direct sales than I would through KU. Nevertheless, risk is our business – so I bit the bullet and pulled my books.

The advantage, of course, is that I can finally go “wide for the win” on other platforms, including iBooks – but I didn’t have the bandwidth to even consider that when I first unchecked the renewal box. I think it’s a decision I can leverage in the future, but Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was my sales funnel.

And that brings me to the second reason this all took so long – I literally had to build EVERYTHING. I had to upload all my books to Book Funnel. I had to enter all my products into my shopping platform. I had to design a landing page, and customize my email lists, and basically go through the whole process of designing a website and marketing platform.

It took less than a month, but it’s still something I had to work on each and every day. I learned a huge amount – I’m practically a developer now! (Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration.) In any event, a lot of sleepless nights and busy days were spent designing my “funnel” before I could even think about switching it on.

Where the Magic Finally Happens

But once that happened, so did the magic. One massive advantage direct sales offers over sending people to your Amazon product page is that you can take advantage of a lot of ecommerce tools that Amazon doesn’t like. One of the most important is the Meta (Facebook) Pixel.

A Pixel is a special bit of code you can plug into your homepage and checkout page which tracks the behavior of the people who visit through your Facebook ads. This code can then report back to Facebook on each person’s behavior. If a customer buys a product, for example, Facebook recognizes that as a “conversion” and will try to send more similar customers to your store.

Previously, we’d been forced to rely on Traffic ads, which simply send a Facebook user to Amazon never to be seen again. Traffic ads are cheap (I was getting Cost-per-Click rates as low as $0.08 on some days) but you also get what you pay for. Using Conversion ads instead of Traffic ads delivers a much higher quality of customer, and while you pay more upfront for your ads (paying for conversions, rather than clicks) you’ll theoretically make that back by selling more products.

Likewise, selling through a third-party platform instead of Amazon allowed me to collect the email addresses of all new customers, and that was information I could use to generate a lookalike audience for my ads. 

As those of you who’ve advertised on Facebook will know, a good audience can make or break your campaign – and one of the challenges for self-published authors was the fact that the customer lists we often generated were from giving away free books. People who like free books rarely turn into customers, so it was always challenging to build a hard-hitting (and hard-buying) audience based on your subscribers.

By selling directly, you’re building a list of subscribers who ONLY purchase your books. This means lookalike audiences are FAR more likely to be filled with book-buyers, and that ultimately has a great impact on the cost and effectiveness of your ads.

But finally, and most importantly, using a different checkout system allows you to collect the money you make from selling books instantly, or within a few days. This can be the game changer, as far as I’m concerned.

If I sell a bundle of books using PayPal as a method-of-payment, I’ll get the money for that sale deposited instantly in my Paypal account, ready to be spent immediately. Through Shopify or Payhip it takes a few more days – but still two months or more quicker than getting paid through Amazon. 

This is what really made direct sales exciting for me. I’d previously struggled to scale up my advertising and now I didn’t have to. Advertising my books on Amazon at $30 a day required me to have $2,700 on hand to cover my advertising before Amazon finally paid me. With direct sales, I got that money in just a few days.

Therefore, as long as I was making a profit, I could sustain a much higher level of ad spend with a much smaller budget; and that’s where I started to realize that I could get my book sales back to what they once were without putting my family’s finances in jeopardy.

There are other advantages, too – like being able to track every click from every single potential customer. Even with Attribution Tags, you’re kind of in the dark when you send traffic to your product page on Amazon. With direct sales, I’m able to use tools to record each individual visit to my landing page – and figure out which sections might be putting potential customers off, so I can optimize them better.

This information makes it much quicker and easier to start running a profitable advertising campaign – and that’s exactly what happened to me. I’ve only been running direct sales for a month, but in that month I’ve already turned a profit.

I mean, okay – I’m not about to retire to the South of France on this profit. Not yet. However, I am motivated to keep on going in a way that I eventually wasn’t when advertising my books directly on Amazon. 

Next week, I’ll show you exactly what that profitable advertising looked like – and discuss whether or not I plan to continue selling my books directly to readers. Stay tuned!

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About the Author

Our Hidden Gems guest author for today.

Ginger is also known as Roland Hulme - a digital Don Draper with a Hemingway complex. Under a penname, he's sold 65,000+ copies of his romance novels, and reached more than 320,000 readers through Kindle Unlimited - using his background in marketing, advertising, and social media to reach an ever-expanding audience. 

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