If you have published a book and are interested in selling that book directly through your own website but aren’t sure how to get started, I have some good news – you already know the process!
Confused? Let me explain.
The other day I was considering what type of content we could create to help folks get started with selling their books directly and as I was going through best practices, i.e. do your research, know your audience, find your niche, build an online presence…it hit me. These are the exact same steps you have to go through to successfully publish your book!
Not convinced? That’s good because that was just the intro. Come along, dear reader. I will prove it!
Let’s go over the five basics for successfully publishing a book and I’ll show you how they can be applied to creating a successful ecommerce business.
Do your research
It all starts here. Before you can successfully publish your book and reach the sales goals you want – or even set your goals, for that matter – you need to do your research. You might have a great idea for a book or online store and you’re raring to get out there and put the pedal to the metal, but it will all be a waste if you don’t take the time to learn about the landscape you’re getting into. For books – say you want to write a thriller about a beloved college professor who’s also a serial killer. Good idea.
Before you dive in, here are a list of questions to help you adequately position your book in the market:
- What other books are out there that are similar?
- Have they been successful?
- What kind of reviews did they get?
- What are readers saying they want more (or less) of?
- How long did it take the authors to write the books and how did they promote them?
- What kind of social media strategies are they employing?
These are just a handful of the questions you can use as a guide through the research for your book to ensure you’re creating something that hasn’t been done before but people will be receptive to.
Okay, now let’s apply this to your online store. Maybe you want to sell all kinds of things, not just your awesome thriller novels. Here’s an idea of some of the questions you’ll want to answer before getting started:
- What other brands are doing this?
- When you’re shopping online, what websites make the experience enjoyable?
- Which are you immediately closing out of because there’s too much going on or the process is too overwhelming?
- Are you drawn to a simple aesthetic or do you like bold designs?
- How are these websites making the shopping process easier or harder for you?
- What do you wish they would do, and what do you wish they would stop doing?
Keep note of all these things and see if you can implement the pros and eliminate the cons from each experience.
Pro Tip: Sign up for email lists for the websites and brands you enjoy. See what the onboarding experience is like for new customers and if you think it could work for you.
After you spend some time online really thinking about what makes a pleasurable and unique shopping experience versus an infuriating one, you can start to design your website and optimize your customer journey.
At this point you might be thinking, “What customers?” That’s a good question. And to find the answer to that, we move on to…
Know your audience
Who is your audience? Who is your store even for? And don’t say everyone. It’s not. Think about your three favorite people. Or least favorite people. Do they all shop at the same places and do the same things? Probably not. So you need to be really clear on who you’re selling to.
Who is your ideal customer?
Back to your thriller novel. Now that you know what else is out there that’s similar and how readers have responded, you can dig a bit deeper and ask yourself questions like:
- Where are these people going to find new books to read?
- What websites are they frequenting to learn more about the latest in the thriller genre?
- What newsletters are they signing up for?
- What blogs are they reading?
- What other authors are they following and what social media platforms are they most active on?
- What conferences and events do they attend to get their fill of thrill?
When you’re working on your book, it’s helpful to create a reader persona to really understand who your audience is and how to best connect with them.
And it’s the same for your ecommerce store! Now that you’ve done some research to determine what you will be selling and how to create an optimal shopping experience for your customers, you can use the same questions outlined above, but tweaked slightly:
- Where are these people going to find new products similar to yours?
- What websites are they frequenting to buy these items currently?
- What pain points are they experiencing?
- What do they love about these websites?
- This information can be gleaned pretty easily from online reviews and sites like TrustPilot.
- What newsletters are they signing up for?
- What blogs are they reading?
- What other brands are they following and what social media platforms are they most active on?
Find your niche
Here comes the good part! Now that you’ve found your audience, where they spend time and what they like and dislike, you can hone in on what sets you apart! For books, this could be a sub-genre or obscure subject matter. For your brand, this could be unique graphics or bold designs and aesthetics.
It could be that you do a YouTube video or Instagram Live every time you drop a new product, or maybe you have a quirky mascot like a manatee riding a motorcycle that everyone loves. I’m not here to tell you what it is (however I would be delighted to see that manatee come to life) but once you have done the research on the market and your ideal audience, you’ll know what’s already out there and what you can leverage that’s unique about you and your brand to carve out your piece of the market share.
Build an online presence
Now that you know how you will position yourself in the market and who your target audience is, you need to start building your brand. This step will look almost identical for authors. At this point you should know what else is out there, and what social channels are most effective for your audience. So go there and set up shop! Start playing around with posting schedules, platforms and content until you start seeing things resonate.
For authors, one of the first things we always recommend is to build an author website and set up some form of email capture. If you’re setting up a webstore, this should be included somewhere already but building your email list from day one is imperative. From there you can start a newsletter, send out your newest blog posts, and tell your audience about sales, promos, new products, where motorcycle manatee will be this week, or anything else your heart desires.
Another great option for reaching a wider audience online is to cross promote with other brands or organizations that align with your content and vision.
Create an amazing product
You’ve done all this work, don’t blow it with a subpar product. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much research or time you put into steps 1-3 if your product is garbage. For authors, this is perfecting the content of your book and hiring quality editors and cover designers to bring it all together. When it comes time to publish, this part is easy.
Using Lulu to create your books ensures you’re getting the best quality every time.
But no matter how much time, effort, and money you pour into producing the perfect book file, you still want to order a proof copy to make sure your final print product looks just right. The same goes for anything else you want to sell. You need to test the product, test the order process, test the return process, test everything along the way from when the user hits your site to when the product is in their hands to see where the pitfalls are and how you plan to address them when issues arise.
If you’re using any of our direct sales options, we call this piece “end-to-end” testing, and it’s like your dress rehearsal before the big show. You don’t want to get to opening day just to realize your order form is missing an address field or there’s no way for customers to contact you if they need to change something.
Tell people about it!
Last on our list, but obviously not least – tell people about your store! Tell people you did a thing and ask them to check it out! If you’ve done your research, know your audience and have made a good product, this step doesn’t have to feel gross and salesy. When you’re ready to publish your thriller, you’re doing that because you know people will love it. Reading your book will bring more joy and excitement to the lives of your audience, so telling people about your book is not like selling snake oil. It’s providing another version of something they already love.
It’s the same with anything else in your store. You made this product with your customers in mind because you did your research and you know it’s better and different from everything else out there. By letting them know about your products, you’re helping them find more of the things they like and enjoy.
Whether you’re working on publishing your first book or setting up your first ecommerce store, the basic principles are the same. Taking the time to research the market and learn about your audience will never be a wasted effort. No matter if it’s books or brands, this blueprint will get you on your way to creating something amazing.
Chelsea Bennett is the Brand Engagement Manager for Lulu.com and is constantly researching and developing new resources for independently published authors. Her areas of expertise include self-publishing, Print-on-Demand technology, building an author brand, direct sales and marketing for authors and entrepreneurs. When not thinking about publishing, Chelsea can be found playing disc golf with her husband or having in-depth conversations about the universe with her cat, Batman.