FREE GUIDE TO
DIRECT SALES FOR AUTHORS
Who Am I?
Hi, my name is Remy and I’ve been designing websites for two decades, many with a retail component. I have been working with WooCommerce for the last three years through my book cover design business. As an author, I finally got fed up with significant losses through other retailers. I’ve started offering books direct with both my romance and sci-fi pen names. I am currently helping a client start their journey to selling via their website. I am going to document the process here. It can feel like a herculean task with many moving parts, and it is. But I’ll help break it down into some clear actionables that you can tackle at your own pace.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
– PHYSICAL BOOKS –
WooCommerce Settings (Coming Soon)
Testing Your Platform (Coming Soon)
– MERCHANDISE –
– PHYSICAL BOOKS –
PHYSICAL BOOK PREPARATION
I want to make no assumptions about your reasons to go sell from your website. You may want an option to create special editions only sold through your website. You might want to include ebooks and audio. Your road to world domination might be through amazing merchandise. But because some authors are in exclusive deals with eBooks (Kindle Unlimited) and Audio (ACX Exclusive) I’ll start with the one item all authors can jump into: print sales.
STEP 1: START A BOOKVAULT ACCOUNT
Before we start, why BookVault? Currently, Ingram and Lulu offer similar PoD options with website integration. Having needed to reach out to BookVault on several occasions to ask questions about currency conversion and title setup, they have demonstrated amazing customer service. As an author, this is underhand and I absolutely love it. The downside is that they’re based in the UK but as I write this; they have expanded their paperback production into the US, which means shorter shipping times and lower shipping costs. Hardbacks as of now are only available from their UK facility. Overall, this makes them my company of choice for print.
This is a fairly easy step and doesn’t require any commitment or money. Go to BookVault and create your account. You can skip the IOSS (VAT) number if you don’t have it. This can be updated later.
STEP 2: UPLOAD A TITLE
Before you dish out money, read the points to ponder. BookVault has a pay-up-front model for uploading titles. You can pay per book title, or get a subscription that allows for unlimited uploads. If you’re a member of ALLI there is a code for five (5) free uploads a month. You do not need to upload any assets at this time. You can leave them in limbo for now. I have about 10 titles with no covers or interiors, but they’re ready to go when I have the assets.
POINTS TO PONDER
$$$$ – Cost Saving Tip. If you have an extensive catalogue, subscribe for one month to their highest tier and create all the titles at once (with or without assets.) You can then cancel it. Do what makes the most financial sense for you. You can also only do your hardbacks or paperbacks. It’s not an all or nothing system. While you’re getting comfortable, start with the titles you think will appeal most to your readers.
$$$ – Banking. Finances are something you should start considering. I STRONGLY recommend having an entirely separate business account not connected to your personal accounts. I know plenty of us have our finances tied together, but with the possibility of hundreds of micro-transactions coming and going, it’ll make tracking easier. I’ll get into this more in-depth in the future. But start thinking about your options. I currently use Square because it has a WooCommerce built in option. But there is also Stripe. I don’t recommend Paypal, but that’s because I’m bitter about how they handled disputes. You can also do it with a physical bank. Do what works for you. But consider splitting your financial self for better tracking.
Create a BookVault account.
Upload your first title to BookVault
GET YOUR WEBSITE READY WITH WOOCOMMERCE
I’m not going to lie: WooCommerce is a beast. It can be complicated and has a lot of options that don’t quite make sense for a new user. For now, we’re going to keep it simple and get it installed on your WordPress site.
STEP 1: INSTALL WOOCOMMERCE
Log into your website: www.YOURWEBSITE.com/wp-admin. (1) On the left, click Plugins. (2) At the top of the screen click “Add New.” (3) Search for “WooCommerce.” (4) ‘Install’ and ‘Active’ WooCommerce Plugin.
- Install WooCommerce
WOOCOMMERCE TABS EXPLAINED
On the surface, WooCommerce looks simple enough. There’s four major sections, Home, Products, Analytics, Marketing. Easy enough, right? Mostly. Each of these sections is crammed full of choices that can impact one another. It’s not as scary as it sounds, but this is going to be where we familiarize ourselves with how WooCommerce packages the tabs we will be using regularly. Below are the four major sections (I’ve removed any plugins so this is the default and will change as you install them.)
HOME: THE HUB
- Home – This gives you an overview of your sales along with some products WooCommerce suggests using. Honestly, I never use it.
- Orders – This shows all your orders and the stage they’re currently in. From Pending to Complete, it will help you keep track should something go awry. It’s almost entirely automated and does a wonderful job of keeping you informed. I use this heavily.
- Customers – This is a list of customers who have ordered from you. Not only does it list their contact info, but it can be used for extensive information about purchasing habits.
- Reports – This takes you to the reporting tab.
- Settings – The scariest part of WooCommerce. I will devote a section of this guide to the settings.
- Status – Should your WooCommerce break, this is where you’ll find the technical information. It’s confusing, and honestly, you won’t need to use it most of the time.
- Extension – Here you find nifty plugins I discuss later. WooCommerce has its own plugins (called extensions) that will integrate seamlessly. I use a mix of these and plugins for each of my shops.
PRODUCTS: THE CONTENT
- All Products – This gives you an overview of all your products with easy to find info. You can customize your columns to your taste. But I use this often (and then go into each item to make alterations.) The duplicate feature can be extremely helpful when starting.
- Add New – Allows you to add new products from scratch.
- Categories – Categories (and Tabs) are a method of grouping products. It could be back book type, genre, boxed sets, paperback or hardback. Even if you start with one “system” of organization, you can easily alter it later. This may take some logic mapping on paper to sort out. But the actual creation is extremely simple.
- Tags – Similar to Categories. Make sure you are using identical spellings with tags. Unlike Categories, they aren’t in a “tick box” and writing ‘Cover Villain’ is a different tag than ‘CoverVillain’.
- Attributes – Variations of a particular product. This could be paperback or hardback, or something like t-shirt color. Could be useful of tailoring items like book boxes.
- Reviews – You can have these turned on or off. If off, you can screen them before posting. Unlike other platforms, you are 100% in control of reviews on your website. I currently have mine off, but will consider turning it on as I grow my shop.
ANALYTICS: THE REPORTING
- Overview – This provides a high order view of all your sales and finances. This area is highly customizable and makes it easy to present information that matters most to you. For my analytics, I almost exclusively use this screen. I have it tailored to the areas that I need to keep an eye on (which varies between shops.)
- Products / Revenue / Orders / Variations / Categories / Coupons / Taxes / Downloads – I grouped together since they’re essentially the same concept. Each of these provides detailed analytics. I can be helpful if you need to dig into the data and see any outliers or specific areas of success or concern.
- Stock – I separated stock because if you are providing tangible goods (signed copies, book boxes, etc) this can be helpful to see inventory trends. Because I rely almost solely on Print on Demand, I do not use this tab.
- Settings – This allows you to include or exclude particular steps in the order process such as “pending” or “refunds.” You can tailor it to your data needs. You can also download all sales data from here if you’d prefer to import it into Excel, Sheets, or Notion.
MARKETEING: THE DISCOUNTING
- Overview – Serves no purpose. Never use.
- Coupons – This can be a powerful tool. You can create coupons that are based on time, product, or category. This is where you can keep track of all past, present, and upcoming coupon promotions.
- Familiarize yourself with each tab
EXPLORING THE PRODUCT PAGE
You’ll probably spend most of your time creating and adjusting products. Whether you’re connecting it to a Print On Demand service like BookVault or Printify, you’ll need to have visible products. Both BookVault and Printify will create the products and push them into your WooCommerce. But what if you want to sell an amazing product like a book box or downloadable book bible? It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with this section even if other vendors make the products for you. I’ve left BookVault as the only installed Plugin in this section.
SCREEN OPTIONS: THE LOOK
I like to customize what I see on the product page. There are sections I absolutely never use, so why leave them visible? Nothing here is permenant and can be changed at any time. This only effects the back end. Customize to your personal preferences to help speed up your workflow.
PRODUCT INFO AND VISUALS
This is the product information that the user will see. This can include your book description and is highly customizable (formatting, bullets, sizing.) On the right hand you can include a Product Image (which will be the primary image in your shop and seen in social media posts) and Product Gallery (additional image(s) of the product a user can scroll through.) I currently set my hardbound book as my Product Image and different views of the hardbound and paperback books for my Product Gallery.
MODULES: THE ORGANIZATION
By default, you will see Publish (which includes drafts, published, or scheduling the item along with password protection) Product Categories and Product Tags which allow for organizing your products. As you add plugins, they may show up in this area like the BookVault module. These are movable and can be laid out in whatever manner suits you. I rarely move them as they’re pretty efficient for my workflow.
PRODUCT DATA: THE BACK END
By default WooCommerce assumes there is a tangible product, but it can be made virtual or downloadable. Other options are Grouped Product, External/Affiliate Product, or Variable Product. For the sake of ease, I’m going to focus on a “Simple” product. This section may have more tabs if you install Plugins.
- General – Basic pricing and if the product is taxable or not. You can also schedule sales pricing here.
- Inventory – If you want to limit the quantity of an item, even if it is Print On Demand, you can do that here. You can also force a product to be out of stock.
- Shipping – Most Print on Demand vendors (such as BookVault or Printify) will calculate their own shipping. But if you’re selling products from your house, you can include dimensions here along with its shipping class.
- Linked Products – Much like other platform’s “Also Boughts” you can create linked items. They come in two forms, Upsells and Cross-Sells. You can make these visible on product pages or during checkout to help increase sales.
- Attributes – This could be used for sizes or colors if you’re handmaking products such as t-shirts. It could also be used as a way to customize book boxes. You can add as many attributes to a product as you need.
- Advanced – Purchase notes that will show on the receipt. It could be useful, but as of now, I do not use it. This section can expand depending on your plugins.
- Get more options – Extensions WooCommerce promotes. I never click this.
ADD NEW PRODUCT WALK THROUGH
For those visual learners out there, this video walks through how to add a new product. In this example I assume you have products in your posession that you want to sell (physical tangible goods and not Print On Demand.)
- Add a basic product (You can delete later)
- Adjust the product data (Pricing, Inventory & Linked Products)
MOVE TITLES FROM BOOKVAULT TO WOOCOMMERCE
STEP 1: PREPARE YOUR PLATFORMS
You are going to need to make sure your platforms are ready to be connected. This means you need to make sure you have WooCommerce, BookVault Plugin, and BookValt Account in place. Once you have these three elements, you can go to WordPress and on the left hand side, click BookVault and link it to your account (you’ll need to login.)
STEP 2: MOVE TITLE FROM BOOKVAULT TO WOOCOMMERCE
The video goes step by step on how to move titles from BookVault to WooCommerce. It includes how to create “variations” which allow a single listing of both Paperback & Hardbound. You could also include special editions at this point if you want, or keep them separate depending on how you want to organize your store.
POINTS TO PONDER
- Organization is Key. Once you’ve moved the title. You have several ways to help improve organization. Title/Tag/Category/SKU are methods that WooCommerce can use to group titles. Even if you’re unsure of how you want to display books on your website, get into the habit of including this information. Title and SKU are updated automatically by BookVault. I use Categories such as “Book.” I use Tags for “Series.” It allows for versatility when displaying my books.
- Prepare Your Cover Assets. I’m a fan of batch processing when working. Before I move my titles, I like to have 4 files for every book. Hardback (Cover with Spine Showing, Cover with Pages Showing) and Paperback (Cover with Spine Showing, Cover with Pages Showing.) Once you have them, you can upload them all at once to your Media Library on WordPress. This makes setting up your titles faster.
- Download the BookVault Plugin.
- Connect Plugin to BookVault Account
- Prepare Your Visual Assets
- Move Your First Title
WHAT IS A PLUGIN?
Simply put, Plugins alter the way something works in WordPress. They can ammend, add, or stop, a feature in WordPress. WooCommerce is a plugin (one of the most intense ones.) Some are plug & play and require little setup, while others can be pretty advances. Thanks to developers, chances are, there is a plugin that can do exactly what you want with WordPress or WooCommerce. Some plugins are free while others are one-time fees or subscriptions.
ARE THERE DOWNSIDES TO PLUGINS?
Short answer, maybe. Some plugins run behind the scenes and do not impact your website for anybody other than the administrator (you.) Other plugins (ones that might alter your storefront) require resources to run. If you use too many, they can make your website run incredibly slow. Some plugins don’t play well with others and every now and then you’ll experience a conflict that breaks your website. Because of this, I suggest only using the most essential plugins to achieve what you want. Skip the bells and whistles unless you can afford the expensive web hosting package.
Another thing to note is that not all plugins are made equal. Some are open source. Some are created by hobbyist (some of my favorite), while others are made by companies. Here’s my quick checklist to help me decide if I’m willing to use a plugin:
- How Current? When was the last time it was update? If it’s recent, then awesome. But if it’s over a year old, I avoid it. Chances are, as WordPress evolves the plugin will stop working.
- What do the reviews say? WordPress users are like readers, they love to give a solid review of what is and is not working. Check the reviews to make sure it’s still offering the functionality you want.
- Compatability. Is it compatible with your current install of WordPress? Sometimes it doesn’t need to be, so I put this on my “red flag” list, but will chance it if necessary.
PLUGINS I CURRENTLY USE
For the sake of transparency, I do not use these all on the same websites. Each of my WooCommerce websites is slightly different. I also use plugins unreleated to WooCommerce, but for the sake of this page, I’m keeping it to plugins that affect my eCommerce pages. I also include if they are free, paid, or subscription.
Divi (Paid / Moderate Difficutly) – Divi is a page layout plugin (technically a theme) that allows you to design your page. Not necessary, but can be helpful in beautifying your website. Lifetime Access costs $249.
WooCommerce (Free /Moderate Difficutly) – This is the core of your eCommerce website. It has all the basic features necessary to get started. This includes your shop, checkout, cart, and even your ToS and Refund pages. It also includes upsells and cross sells (not as clever as some paid plugins, but basic functions are there.)
WooCommerce Square (Free / Easy Difficulty) – Use whatever payment processor you work with outside of Woo. This can include Paypal or Stripe. They integrate with WooCommerce with minimal setup.
Add to Cart Button Custom Text (Free/ Easy Difficulty) – “Add to Cart” might not be the terminology you want on your book buttons. This allows you to change it to something like, “Buy Book.”
Flexible Checkout Fields (Free/ Easy Difficulty) – I use this with Cover Villain when I need extra info from a client such as a referral. It could also be used if creating custom signatures in books. Minimal setup.
Woo Stickers by Webline (Free/ Easy Difficulty) – I like a good “New Book” or “On Sale” banner to appear over my titles. Easy to set up, but you do need to create your own graphics.
MailerLite – WooCommerce integration (Free / Easy to Moderate Difficulty) – Want to include your products in your emails? Easy Peasy. However, this plugin also has the ability to create segments of buyers and can help contact patrons who abandon their carts. This gets more complicated in set up. I found it to be somewhat fussy for Mailerlite Classic users.
Bookvault (Free / Easy Difficulty) – This connects your WooCommerce to BookVault. Connecting your account is pretty painless.
Product Subtitle For WooCommerce (Free / Easy Difficulty) – If you have a big shop page with lots of books, this will help readers see which books belong to which series. Super easy and I love the look.
Woo Products Slider Pro (Free / Moderate Difficulty) – I love a pretty book layout. This allows you to create clickable product sliders. Generating the short code can be a pain, but it’s worth it for the look of the storefront.
WooCommerce Direct Checkout (Free / Moderate Difficulty) – This only gets a Moderate Difficulty because it requires a bit of redesigning your checkout if you want to include the cart on one page. It’s a different workflow, but helps prevent the customers from jumping through multiple screens to purchase.
WooCommerce Shipping & Tax (Free / Moderate Difficulty) – The scary one for last. This allows you to include tax rates for each state. You can upload a .csv file for all shipping locations. Places like Avalara have made it easy to download the .csv you can upload.
- Add any plugins you want (one at a time)
- Once you’ve added the plugin, verify your store is working
- Repeat as necessary
– MERCHANDISE –
Merchandise can be part of your master plan to go direct. It could be postcards with exclusive artwork or mugs with character art, and just about everything in between. But not all Print-On-Demand (POD) providers are not created equal. The providers with the lowest cost rarely have integration options. Sites like RedBubble do not have a native integration with WordPress and require copious amounts of copying script or sending readers to their website to make a purchase. You’ll want a POD company that has WordPress integration, such as Printify and Printful. These websites come with WordPress plugins that will make porting products into WooCommerce, and allow you to keep your readers on your platform.
STEP 1: START A PRINTIFY ACCOUNT
I am going to use Printify as my example, not because it’s any worse or better than Printful. I have accounts with both, but ultimately chose Printify because it offered specific products I wanted to sell. You should browse their catalogues to see the differences in products, variations of products, and the prices. This will ultimately be personal to your author journey.
STEP 2: UPLOAD YOUR FIRST DESIGN
To get started with your merchandise, you do not need to integrate it with your WordPress site. We’ll do this later as we bring all the individual elements together. Right now, we want to focus on getting the individual elements in place. Once you have your design, you can start building your product.
When you’re ready to integrate Printify into your website, these mockups will act as your customer images. You can all, some or create your own. At this point, I have found the mockups to be fairly close to the final product (enough that even with a designer’s eye it’s hard to spot imperfections.)
The description comes with some generic information filled in such as the size and type of printing used. I tend to delete most of this and use my own information that is unique to my product. This will also port over to your website once you integrate. If you’re not ready for this now, you can save it for later.
Here’s the most important section to examine. Every time somebody buys your product, you will be responsible for the printing and shipping costs. There are two schools of thought here: 1) Make your retail price high enough to cover both. 2) Set your retail price but also make your customer pay for shipping. I suggest the later of the two. Unless you are a wizard of shipping, it’s hard to predict shipping prices. What if your customer is in Australia? Also make sure you’re considering taxes when you set the price. The IRS will eventually want their cut of the pie.
POINTS TO PONDER
Commercial License Required. Just because you have a book cover doesn’t mean you have the rights to sell it as a poster or a t-shirt. Most cover designers (myself included) use a standard license. This allows an author to create ebooks, print books, and audiobook covers… but not merchandise. This goes the same for commissioned artwork you get of your favorite characters. What does your contract say? You have a contract… right? If you do not see verbiage that specifically addresses commercial rights or merchandise rights, talk to your designer and artist. They’re not cheap, but they’ll protect you from legal recourse.
Country of Origin. Each product on Printify has a Country of Origin and this can greatly affect the shipping. I have a single product from Canada and with most my readers in the United States, shipping is drastically higher. You can filter your products by country of origin. If most of your readers are in the U.S., you can keep shipping lower by using U.S. based companies. But don’t let it stop you from that awesome product you want, just be aware your customer (because remember, we’re making them pay for the shipping) will need to pay more.
Your Accountant Can Help. Let’s be honest, taxes are downright scary. How do I configure sales tax? How does a tax nexus work? Does my state require I tax shipping? What about those dreaded VAT taxes? This is where your accountant is your ally. When I was ready to open my store, I showed my account all my prices and what I wanted to take home in pocket from each purchase. He helped develop an equation that ensured I was seeing a profit and squirrelling money away for retirement, taxes, and my checkbook. It only took an hour, and it was money extremely well spent.
Create a Printify account.
Upload Your First Design
Order a “Proof” of your Product