Saturday, December 10, 2011

How to sell books from your author website with PayPal

A website is one of several ways you can increase visibility online for you and your work. Before I ever blogged, tweeted or established a Facebook page, my website had been up and running for at least 3 years. That the initial design was crappy minimal is besides the point.

If you don't already have a website, get one. Now. Find an affordable web designer or, if you have some tech savvy, build your own. Even unpublished writers should have a website. By the time you've finished your manuscript and have it out on submission, agents and editors will be searching for you on the internet. A perfect manuscript and query letter aren't enough - the decision-makers in the industry are also looking at your online presence. Some want to know whether you can market or promote your own work. Do you really want to be building a site in the midst of edits and rewrites?

Are you self-publishing your work? Your personal website is essential to helping people find YOUR book among the millions of available titles. Invest enough time in your site and it becomes one of your best marketing tools. After all, potential readers can't buy your books if they don't know about them. Once your book is available, feature it on your website. Encourage sales by adding links to where the book can be bought; offline and online locations.

You can also grow your readership and maximize potential profits by selling from your own website. If you've featured buy links for your book, why shouldn't one of those include an opportunity for you to sell your work directly? When I've spoken about this to other writers, three responses typically occur. "Wow, that seems so hard." or "Oh, I don't know to do that." I'll talk about the third one later. Let me show you how to address the first two.

What you need 

  • Inventory on hand ready to be delivered to readers as soon as they order, whether it's hardcover / paperback copies or ebooks. Nothing says 'amateur' or ticks off potential readers more than being told, "This book is not available for purchase at this time."
  • Some reviews or testimonials that inform your potential readers about the book(s) and the benefits to them for buying your product direct.  
  • The ability to process orders online in real-time. Unless you already run a secure business site that processes online transactions, you'll need to establish a merchant account. 
  • Software that can process credit card orders, safely. 
  • If you're selling more than one book, you'll need to develop a virtual "shopping cart" experience to allow for multiple orders.
  • Immediate notification of payments processed with orders that must be fulfilled.
  • An order fulfillment or completion process. Learn the shipping rates of your hardcovers / paperbacks to various locations and build that cost into your pricing structure.
  • A feedback form or visible email address that lets readers communicate with you.        

What your readers want

  • A secure shopping experience. They want to know that their credit card will be encrypted in each transaction and their address information will be safeguarded.
  • Instant or fast delivery of their orders
  • Ability to communicate with you, to provide feedback or let you know if there is problem with fulfillment.
If you've read all that and think it's daunting or not worth your time, PayPal allows you to do all these processes and met reader expectations. There are other sites where you can do the same activity, including eBay. Since I have no experience with it, but tons with PayPal, that's my focus.

Steps for selling via PayPal
  • Establish a PayPal personal and / or business account at Notice the URL; the typical http followed by 's' which indicates that this is a site to allow credit card authorizations and secure transactions. Something that will give you and your readers peace of mind. I recommend both types of accounts. The personal account allows me to pay my cover artists and editors, while a business account lets me transact sales of books online.  
  • At minimum, PayPal will need your real name, physical address, email address and a funding source for your accounts, be it a bank account or credit card. The latter allows you to process payments through your personal account and have a link to where you can transfer monies received from your business account.
  • Be prepared for low fees dependent on the number of transactions you're filling each month on the business account. A business account will also be helpful for tracking what you've earned when the tax man cometh. Yes, you should report sales through your website as income earned. 
  • Once you have completed the setup, take advantage of PayPal's tools for merchants, including shipping and tax calculators, accepting multiple currencies, tracking inventory and my favorite, buy buttons for your website.       
Configuring PayPal buy buttons for single orders or virtual shopping carts for multiple transactions takes some forethought. How do you want to sell the book(s)? Are they available in varying formats? If you have more than one book, do you want potential readers to buy one book in one transaction, or offer them the ability for multiple selections in one transaction? The Merchant Services section can help you determine the best approach. Here's how I did it.

Since I have more than one book in multiple formats, I chose to setup a virtual shopping cart with two buttons, one for ordering paperbacks and another for ebooks. Setting up the virtual shopping cart was simple:

I set multiple prices on each type of book and added comment fields for readers that enable fulfillment; e.g. for someone who wants an autographed paperback, I need to know who I'll be dedicating the book to or in the case of ebooks, the specific format my readers want. After saving each button, an HTML code was  generated, which I copied to my website:

The virtual shopping is the best experience for your potential readers, allowing them to place orders for multiple products, with totals automatically calculated. Each time an item is added, the shopping cart is updated, all in one transaction. Here's an example of how it might look to readers. Notice the exact quantities and pertinent fulfillment information is visible, and will be transmitted to the author when a transaction is completed. 
 Even better, if your readers don't have PayPal accounts, they can still complete the transaction. There's nothing to stop them from purchasing off your site. Except... 
"Readers won't buy sites they're not familiar with!"
Sad but true. The average person would rather go to Amazon or any other online retailer they're familiar with than buy from an author website. However, this shouldn't stop an author from making the option available. For instance, I recently purchased Dara Marks' Inside Story: The Power of the Transformational Arc on the recommendation of a friend. So far, it's an excellent read. I tried to buy the book direct from the author website, where it was cheaper AND shipped faster than from the Amazon affiliate site where it's offered. A problem with the author website wouldn't allow me to submit the transaction. So, guess which giant online retailer (or its affiliate) got my money that day? Money that could have gone directly to the author. 

As authors establish trust with their readers through good storytelling and a well-crafted online presence, the perception about buying direct from an author website will likely change. No reason you should be caught flat-footed when it does. 


Rosanne E. Lortz said...

It's very true that most readers won't buy from a site they're not familiar with. I had a buy through Paypal option up on my website for over a year--I think I made two sales even though the price was significantly lower than Amazon's.

Lisa Yarde said...

I've seen the same sentiment expressed in different forums and it all depends on the unknown factor - people won't buy an unknown author's work without some incentive, like cheaper pricing, recommendation from someone else. It's also about timing. I hope for as day when I'm not tethered to Amazon and can get more eyes on my work, website, etc.

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