Thursday, April 19, 2018

Easy Ways to Sell Signed Copies of Your Novel Online

By J. Kathleen Cheney, @jkcheney

Part of the Indie Authors Series

I’ve been in this author game for a while, and it still surprises me when someone wants a signed copy of one of my books.

Signings, both at conventions and at bookstores, are often fraught things, with no one showing up at one signing when the next week twenty people stand at your table. For some of us writers, those public appearances are quite stressful. And while there are those among us who are even brave enough to rent a table at a convention and sell from there, I haven’t had the nerve to join those ranks yet. (Jaimie Engle talks about selling at an event here.)

As it is, I’m doing only a few appearances a year, so I can’t get very many signed copies out there anyway. And what about that nice person who can’t get to your signing?

If there’s someone out there who wants it, it’s always nice to make it available to them. So I’m going to talk about selling signed copies online.

How do you let people know you’d sign a book for them? How do you arrange payment and shipping? How do you keep on top of it?

Initially, I saw a lot of authors who simply included a page on their website that basically said “Email me and we’ll arrange something”. This always bothered me, because I tend to find the interpersonal interaction a little stressful, particularly when negotiating on price and shipping is involved. I prefer a more formal structure to sales interactions, so I’ve spent a lot of time looking into my options.

Here are a few ways to get signed copies to readers who want them (other than in person):

1. Have an arrangement with a bookstore who will sell your signed copies online. 

This is easiest with a local indie store, but those are getting harder and harder to find. After I did a signing at Houston’s Murder by the Book, they offered my signed copies online until they ran out, so for a time, I could point prospective buyers to their website. If they were local, I could visit them regularly and sign more, but alas, that’s not possible.

2. Set up a simple page on your webpage where you list your prices, shipping, and how they’ll pay. 

This particular method takes the most interaction with readers. If you’re good at that, go for it.

(I strongly suggest being clear about your prices. If you give people room to negotiate, some people will haggle you into the ground. For example, don’t say: “Contact me for prices and availability, and we’ll work out some payment plan,” if you want to hang onto your sanity. A better choice might be “My Great Book will come signed for $10, plus $3 shipping in the US via Media Mail. Payment can be made via this Paypal address.” This clarity will save you headaches in the long run.)

3. Set up a STORE on your webpage, that has prices, availability, and shipping charges built in. 

This is a very different thing, and some websites can’t support it, but here’s an example of Jaimie Engle’s store.

This is what I’d planned to do for a long time. My website is a paid Wordpress website specifically because I wanted to be able to set up as store, and free Wordpress sites don’t allow sales. (Actually, here’s a good page for setting that up if you’re so inclined.)

This sticking point for me?

It was complicated. I have moderate internet and website skills and have maintained my own websites for well over a decade, but the instructions for setting up a WooCommerce sales site were a little overwhelming. I tried it from the other end, setting up Stripe (the payment site) first, but found their page equally overwhelming.

In all honesty, I could have figured it out eventually. Or I could have hired one of my code-monkey friends to do it all for me. There are plenty of people out there willing to help with this sort of problem. But I wanted to be able to update and maintain the store on my own. I finally found a third choice…

4. Set up a store on StorEnvy.

This is what I did. Now, first of all, StorEnvy isn’t the only store out there that lets people sell their goods via its site. Other sites like Shopify and BigCommerce are out there but be sure to look at their rates before making a decision. (For example, Shopify and BigCommerce have monthly fees and a low percentage per sale charge, while StorEnvy has no monthly fee, but a 10% charge. For me, since I can’t count on getting many sales this way, the monthly charge becomes prohibitive.)

I have even seen authors selling signed copies via Etsy stores. (Read Elizabeth S. Craig’s post about that here.) In addition, other countries will have stores that do the same thing, so research your options before jumping into bed with a retail site.

Initially, I landed on StorEnvy because a fellow author (Princess Alethea Kontis) directed me to her store. When I asked her about the ease (or difficulty) of setting up a store there, she correctly informed me that the store was easy to set up, save for the postage charges. (Those will be a work in progress for me for some time!)

But having had my curiosity piqued, I went to look at her page and thought…I can do that! 

Photo via: Deposit Photos. Definitely not me.

So, what sort of info do you need to do to set up a page?

1. Have a bank account into which the store can pay you. 

I have one account that all my publishing funds feed into…from Amazon, D2D, CreateSpace, Patreon…so I used that one. I set up to receive payments via both Stripe and Paypal. (I had to change my personal Paypal to business, but that only took a moment.)

2. Decide how much you want to charge for your books. 

The store takes a cut (10%) so make sure you plan for them to nip a bit of your sales. Personally, I don’t charge more for a signed copy than they would pay on various book sellers, so I put most of my books at the Amazon price. (This also avoids any potential conflict with vendors already carrying your books, although because these are signed, that makes them somewhat different products.)

3. Do some investigation of mailing prices. 

I’ve been mailing out copies to readers since 2013, so I’ve had a lot of practice with Media Mail in the US. My initial stab in the dark is (for US sales) $3 per book, with additional books at $1.50 each. Media Mail starts at a little over $2.60, but that extra padding helps pay for packaging materials and my time in shipping. Foreign sales (a terrifyingly different prospect!) have a much higher shipping rate. I put in $7.50 per book for now. While most books will ship for less than that, I’ve had the occasional shipment that went higher. If you can find a suggested list of prices for shipping books internationally, feel free to put it in comments.

Once you’ve gathered all that together, it’s time to set up a store. To start, I went to the site and clicked on JOIN. (The setup steps are available here).

And then I simply had to start adding in my products and clicking the store to ON. Voila! I have a store.

Rather surprisingly, I had sales within the first week. The books went out to people who hadn’t been able to pick up signed copies elsewhere--friends and regular readers.

Here’s my first order, ready to go out!
This gives me an easy way to ship out books to people who would like a signed copy. It’s a way to reach my readers that I didn’t have before. My first sales came via people who’d read about it on Facebook (I put the link there) but I also included a discreet little link on my webpage that will take them to the storefront as well (see blue arrow.)

So for anyone who’s wanted to sell signed copies (but doesn’t want to struggle with doing so on their website), this is an inexpensive alternative that won’t take more than an hour or two to set up.

If anyone knows of another good way to sell their signed copies online, put it into the comments. I’d love to find out what the rest of you know!

For more on selling books:

Indie Publishing Paths: What’s Your Distribution Plan? Part One (includes website store)

10-Great Strategies to Secure & Monetize Your Author Visit (includes author visits)

J. Kathleen Cheney taught mathematics ranging from 7th grade to Calculus but gave it all up for a chance to write stories. Her novella “Iron Shoes” was a 2010 Nebula Award Finalist. Her novel, The Golden City was a Finalist for the 2014 Locus Awards (Best First Novel). Dreaming Death (Feb 2016) is the first in a new world, with the books of The Horn coming out in 2017, and the sequels to Dreaming Death in 2018

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Coming May 1: The Amiestrin Gambit: The King’s Daughter, Book One

Ellis Dantreon is barely fifteen when she learns that her father--the king of Jenear--has decreed that she's to be trained as a soldier. Thrust in among the others at the newly reopened War College of Amiestrin, Ellis must earn the other cadets’ respect and trust. Not all of them are pleased at having a girl thrust among them. Ellis has to choose which ones to trust, sometimes pushing back against her instructors’ urging as she does.

But most of all, she must deal with a world far wider than the one she’s known. That world will shape her future, for the Gifted whom her meager staff have always considered myths prove to be very real indeed. Those people want very much to influence the course of a future Jenear. When it comes time for her young brother to take the throne, the seers among them believe that Ellis will decide whether her younger brother lives or dies, or if he’ll be replaced by another claimant to the throne altogether.

And hidden among the cadets and staff, some of those Gifted have arrived at Amiestrin...

Preorder: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Others

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