Selling Ebooks Online: How to Successfully Become an Independent Author

There are a number of ways to sell your eBooks – which one is the right way for you?

Should you just sell on Amazon? Should you use a self-publishing platform? 

This guide will walk you through the entire process along with the recommendations we suggest to authors.

Let’s dig in.

Selling ebooks on Amazon

Selling your ebook online on a platform like Amazon KDP seems like a great idea.

For beginners just looking to get published without any hassle, it’s probably the way to go for you.

Authors can get access to an enormous and growing marketplace immediately.

What’s wrong with that?

Shortcomings of selling your ebook on Amazon

Selling your ebooks only on Amazon means huge opportunity losses.

  1. You need to compete with every other seller on Amazon
  2. You don’t have access to customer information (that can help you understand your audience)
  3. No connection to the author – readers will buy once

We recommend authors use Amazon, but only as part of their sales strategy.

Consider leveraging a personal branded website for long-term success.

That way you’ll maximize earnings, reach larger audiences, and establish committed and loyal customers. 

So, how do you create a website for selling your eBooks?

Creating a Personal Branded Author Website

There are many platforms out there that make it easier to build a website.

Platforms like Shopify and WordPress are among the most popular – but there are many others.

One of the first steps in building your website is choosing the right platform for the job – be careful, because this can affect your entire business.

WordPress

WordPress is a website builder for users of all technical backgrounds.

It’s used by 43% of the web out there, so you can imagine it’s pretty reliable.

Using plugins like WooCommerce, you can sell digital products (like ebooks) on WordPress.

The learning curve is a little steep, but there’s a large community willing to give a helping hand.

One of the great benefits of WordPress is it’s plugin library which boasts over 50,000 powerful plugins that make your job easier.

Another great benefit is the pricing: it’s free! (before hosting & domain fees)

Shopify

Shopify is a ecommerce platform for selling, shipping (fulfillment), and payment processing.

It’s completely focused on E-commerce (as opposed to WordPress) so your experience on the Shopify platform will probably go smoother.

Can I Sell ebooks on Shopify?

Shopify’s digital download apps let you sell any digital product- not just ebooks.

You can even sell your ebooks in person using their POS app & solution.

Their app store offers over 6,000 individual apps – which go through an intense approval process – so you know you aren’t wasting your time.

From page builders to SEO optimizers, Shopify’s app store probably has the app for your job.

You can get Shopify at just $29.99/month.

once you’ve chosen the platform for selling your ebooks online, what’s next?

Start designing your author website!

We’ll use Shopify as an example since that’s our expertise.

Designing An Author Shopify Website

You can use mockup apps like Adobe XD, Figma, or InVision to get your website ideas down on digital “paper.” 

Alternatively, you can try hiring a graphic designer to design your author website.

Graphic designers will be able to use their extensive knowledge of typography, colors, and shapes to bring out your personality and highlight it to your audience.

Whichever way you decide to go, you’ll need someone to then develop the design you’ve had made.

Developing An Author Shopify Website

Once your design is ready, it needs to be programmed so people can actually visit it.

Using Shopify’s interface, you can either personally customize the Liquid templates provided – or hire a Shopify expert/developer to help bring the designs to life.

It’s typically best to hire out the work to get it done as efficiently and as professionally as possible.

You can hire an agency (like us) or a freelancer using platforms like Upwork, Fiverr, or Freelancer.com.

With the website ready, you still need to upload an ebook to Shopify.

How is that done?

How to Add Ebook to Shopify

Since Shopify doesn’t support digital products (natively), you’ll need to install one of the apps on the Shopify app store that does this for you.

As a Shopify merchant, you can go to apps.shopify.com and search digital downloads – or you can read our list of digital download apps out there.

Choosing the right one is important – make sure to spend some time weighing the pros & cons of each. Pricing isn’t the only differentiator.

Once you’ve chosen the Shopify digital download app for your shop & uploaded your ebook to Shopify, you can start selling.

Setting up an online ecommerce store for visitors to buy ebooks is one thing – selling them is another.

Next, we’ll review how authors can build a personal brand for long-term sales success.

We’ll review a few digital marketing tactics like SEO and personal branding to achieve this goal.

Personal Branding for Authors on Shopify

Developing that personal author brand will certainly give you a competitive advantage.

Rather than the generic author profile we’re all used to, your readers will recognize you as distinctive – and they’ll think of you when they think of ebooks.

Readers will buy for the experience you offer, but they need a reason to buy to begin with.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when setting up a personal brand as an author.

Genre: Identify the Genre You Write In(Primarily)

If you focus on one genre/main category, then try and pinpoint exactly what that is. 

As soon as you know this, you’ll be able to do more thorough research into who your readers are and which ones will like your ebooks.

Competition: Competitive Research

Try and identify other authors in your genre/niche.

This will further help you establish who you are as an author but it will also help you find what makes you different.

Customers: Identifying the Reader

What readers align easily with the content of your ebooks? What do they like about them in particular?

Finding the areas they spend their time (like social media platforms) will also help you understand their perspectives and ideas on your work.

Brand: eBook vs Author

As an author, selling independently and successfully means branding yourself not your ebook.

You want readers to recognize you, then go to your ebooks. That means more people will flock to your ebooks with purpose instead of doubt.

Examples of Personal Branding Challenges Authors Face

  • Writing in multiple genres – how do you brand yourself in both? It might be worth thinking what ties them together and branding yourself (the author) that way.
  • Website name – what should I choose for my personal branded website? Use a name that will be long lasting. Don’t use a name just to satisfy the present context.
  • Branded non fiction series titles – what happens when your series becomes known because of a specific title? Don’t ignore that main title – leverage it’s popularity by writing cornerstone content for it that will introduce readers to the rest of the series in a smooth way.

Without having an audience/customer base, how do you even begin to build a brand? 

let’s talk about building that audience.

Building an Online Readership Base as an Author

How do you go about attracting readers?

There are several tactics digital marketers use these days to bring in potential customers, but one of them is particularly familiar to authors: content marketing.

Content Marketing and SEO

Content marketing is a digital marketing strategy for drawing in customers.

You write content that provides value to readers, optimize it for SEO – so they can find it on google and other search engines – and slowly but surely establish a trust that will be long-lasting.

Let’s say you’re an action author. How about writing short stories?

That might not be enough nowadays – since there’s so much content – but the rough idea is getting the content out there.

Starting off in smaller reader niches might be necessary to begin with – again, because there’s so much content out there – but expanding is definitely an option later down the road.

Content marketing has many facets (and so does SEO), but we’ll try to cover the most relevant points for authors like you.

Content Marketing for Authors: Promote your eBook Online(Organically)

Initially, it might make sense to start off a content marketing campaign for a specific goal of yours.

Do you want to sell a specific ebook that you’ve released? Do you want to build a larger email list of potential paying readers?

Depending on your goal, your content will have to be adjusted to pave the way for it.

What types of content can bring in readers?

Blog Content Marketing

With a blog, you can write as much content as you’d like.

The main trick to getting visitors using content marketing is building quality content – along with a sound SEO strategy.

That content needs to have an audience searching for it – otherwise it’ll be as if it doesn’t exist and it won’t get you any readers.

If you can write great stories, write great stories (if and only if your ideal readers would like to read them) 

If you can write great poems, write those poems – and make sure to transition that piece into promoting your ebook or email newsletter.

Video Content Marketing

As a format of marketing, video is the number one player for engagement.

That means other marketing tactics probably won’t get you as much readership interaction as video.

Adding videos to your blog posts is also incredibly valuable – it increases the amount of time people spend on your page. 

That in turn, will signify to search engines how valuable your content is compared to the competition – they’ll rank you higher for it.

One driving force behind video content marketing and why you might want to integrate it into your overall marketing strategy is mobile.

Based on a Statista study, 77% of the surveyed population use a mobile or tablet device to watch videos. 

Podcast Content Marketing

Just to get an idea of the podcast listening market – we have over 100 million Americans just in 2020 that listened to podcasts every month.

It’s another marketing channel that drives very high engagement.

On top of that, it establishes very loyal readership bases.

Podcasting content can also be repurposed into blog or video form (or both).

Just like video, it’s a huge opportunity to get readers when they’re on the devices they use most: mobile devices like their iPhone.

SEO for Authors: Optimizing your Content to Get the Most Readers(Organically)

Even if you have the greatest content in the world, it doesn’t mean much if people can’t find it.

If you’re producing blog content using a blog content marketing strategy, you’ll likely want to focus on Google’s search engine best practices.

If you’re producing video content using a video content marketing strategy, you’ll probably want to focus your time on YouTube’s ranking algorithms.

What if your producing a podcast? Well, Google also started offering a podcast section so there’s an opportunity for SEO as well.

Search engine optimization for authors depends on the content they produce.

There are some fundamental ideas that drive search engines like Google.

If websites are linking to articles or webpages on your site, it means they want to promote it.

That’s a sure indication to Google that your content might be worth showing to more and more people.

Keywords and Intent: Only Create Content People Want to Search For, Otherwise it’s “Useless”

If you write a 20,000 word blog post, you might assume Google’s going to give your website a boost right?

That’s not necessarily right though – if that 20,000 word blog post is about something no one searches, no one will read it and it won’t help you get readers.

Using keyword research tools, like Google’s keyword planner, to find keywords your ideal audience is searching for is critical to understanding what content you should create for them.

There’s an important idea that should always be top of mind when you’re looking and researching into keywords: intent.

If you find a keyword you think your audience might be searching for, it still doesn’t necessarily mean they want to find a blog post about it.

Maybe your audience wants to buy something, even though the keyword isn’t necessarily obvious?

That’s called keyword intent – the intent you probably want to optimize – as an author – for most is informational. 

Google Knowledge Graph

SEO isn’t about stuffing your content with those keywords – Google might even penalize you for that.

Nowadays, Google (and other search engines) leverage technologies like knowledge graphs to get a wholesome perspective of your content and whether or not to show it to readers.

Google’s knowledge graph technology doesn’t expect keywords – it instead connects related concepts, terminology, and ideas to accomplish it’s goal: finding the best content for a user’s question/query.

So instead of just using the keywords you find, try to bring out the best quality you can in your content.

Selling More eBooks: How to Convince Website Visitors to Buy More eBooks

So, you’re getting visitors to your website but are you selling ebooks at the end of the day?

If not, think about these factors when you’re trying to sell more ebooks.

User Experience

Page load time

If your website takes 10 seconds to load, can you really blame potential customers from giving up?

That’s an extreme example, but studies show users expect websites to load in under 2 seconds.

Poor website performance can actually affect long-term customer relationships.

79% of customers shopping online claim not to return to the websites that had “poor performance.”

Design 

If users can’t see what’s what on your page, how can they even think about buying the product?

Nowadays, design is an important element of your sales strategy.

When I want to find a specific product on your website but I can’t find it, how am I supposed to make a purchase?

Making it hard for users to navigate your website can affect sales – make sure the structure of your site is intuitive for the reader.

Product details

What details can you provide for your ebook?

Do you have a preview available for readers? Is there a return policy? 

Readers won’t purchase an ebook without having the information they need to make their purchase – make sure they have everything as accessibly and conveniently as possible.

Sales copy

How convincing is your website?

If a reader gets to a product page, is it easy to see why they’d benefit and enjoy your ebook?

When that’s not the case, it can affect sales in a big way.

Make sure your sales copy is tight and fits your readership base.

Convincing one person isn’t the same as convincing another – make sure the reasons you outline make sense for them.

When you’re trying to sell even more, it can usually be dialed in on these few factors.

If you can improve these aspects of your user experience, you’ll sell more ebooks point blank.

Selling eBooks Online as an Author: Conclusion

When you’re selling ebooks online as an author and you’d like to succeed in the long-term, we think it’s best for authors to focus on marketing strategies like content marketing – with an eye on SEO.

Of course, authors need to find the right platform – like Shopify – for their needs and use case.

Take your time finding the right partners, platforms, and tools to sell more and more ebooks and establish your inner author in the digital age.