How to Sell Your Self-Published Books
Finding where to sell your books is actually pretty tough. Nobody wants to work with self-publishers. Since everybody and their brother has written some type of book, it is too much work for book sellers to keep track of all the publishers out there. Instead, they want their life to be simple and only work with a few established distributors. That way they have less headaches for tracking who to order books from, where to return them, and who to pay. As a new author the only choice you have for selling your books is with the Amazon Advantage Program. Here's how it works. You send them five copies of your book and they list it on their site for free. If they sell the books they charge you a fee of 55%. If they don't sell the books then they send them back to you. You might think this is a hefty fee for selling books, but bookstores charge about 48%. So this isn't much more than industry practice. And considering that no one else will even talk to a self-publisher, then you can't complain. Oh yeah- Amazon makes you pay for shipping so that eats into your profits as well. Bummer. To get your books into the bookstores and on the other online booksellers you need a distributor. The distributor gives you a sales person who goes to the bookstores and represents your self-published book to them (along with all the other books they have). For this service they take a little less than 30% of your royalty. I use Indpendent Publishers Group (IPG) because they have a good department for technical books. Again, there aren't a whole lot of choices of distributors for self-publishers.
Amazon Associates Program
As I mentioned earlier, if you don't get a distributor you will have to use the Amazon Associates program to sell your books. This creates a whole new set of headaches. Working with Amazon is like a science unto itself.
Notice how Amazon gives 30% discounts for technical books? Well, they only do that for big publishers. Self-publishers don't get to particpate in this program. I sent them a few angry emails complaining that it's not possible for me to compete with other books that are priced the same as mine but marked down 30%. They say that they make it easy for self-publishers to sell their books, but then they screw you by not discounting your book. Since my book wasn't going to get the 30% discount I had to reduce the price so that it was more in line with the competition's books. This means that even though my book is still more expensive than the other books, my royalties would be reduced. Luckily, now that I use IPG as my distributor my books get the 30% discount. Now I will be able to price future book the same as others and get a better royalty.
Dealing with Amazon's ordering process is another headache. They wouldn't reorder until the books went out of stock. They would order some small number of books and I would ship them out. By the time the books got to Amazon they had already been presold and I was always listed as out of stock. People don't order books that are listed as being, "Available in three to five weeks." I complained to them that they need to order larger quantities of books and they replied that it takes their computers three months to figure an accurate order quantity. This went on for a couple months till one time the warehouse accidently counted two cases on the same order. Thus, I realized that I can ship them more books than were ordered and they would still take them. My new strategy was to overship some orders and not ship out other orders and keep them "in reserve". That let me ship books even when Amazon didn't order any and I was able to decrease the number of times my book was listed as out of stock. Pretty cool system!
Here's a cool idea I discovered: I can make more by selling damaged books than by selling new books. Anytime you produce something in a large quantity, a certain percentage are going to get screwed up. The same goes for books. For every few cases of books there were a couple books that had a small bend in the cover due to improper packing or some pages were smashed because a case was hit by the forklift driver. Do you think I threw those damaged books away? Nope. I use the Amazon Marketplace to sell them. Here's how this it works: Amazon charges me 55% of the cover price for selling new books. But they only charge like 10% to sell books in the Used/New section (the Marketplace). This is because when you sell in the new/used section you have to ship the books directly to the buyer and Amazon is just charging a commision for listing the item for sale. I make more money per book by selling in the Marketplace (but obviously at smaller quantities). So what I would do is list the damaged books as being a "scratch and dent sale" and knock a few bucks off the cover price. Sometimes I would autograph them to get them to sell faster. My damaged books always sold in a couple days. In addition to that, sometimes I would wait till Amazon listed my book as being out of stock (which was quite common) and if you really wanted the book right away then you wouldn't care that the corner was slightly bent. Not only did I get more money per book (even with the lower price), but I didn't have to throw any books away.
Amazon's computers have a tough time printing accurate information about your book. Just about everything that can go wrong will go wrong. One week they will show the wrong number of pages. Another week they will lose all the book info. Some other week they will lose all the reviews. For a solid month they listed my book as being out of print (and not for sale) even though they had cases in their warehouse! It gets tiring keeping on top of all the mistakes and I was always sending them emails. Luckily, they are very responsive and fix most problems quickly.
Although there are many problems with Amazon, I think the biggest is going to the post office every couple of days to mail the books. What a headache! Since the book weighs more than one pound, I can't drop them into the mailbox on the street corner. I have to physically hand each book to someone at the counter so they can ask me if the package contains a bomb or not. Even though I practically became friends with some of the workers, they always asked me if I was shipping miniature bombs. I became an expert on knowing what time the post office has the shortest wait times and which post office has faster service.