Creating a great customer experience with your self-published book
Most self-published books sell under 100 copies. The vast majority sell between 0 and 20.
And maybe that statistic is depressing to see. Certainly tough from a financial ROI perspective. It can be hard as a self-published writer to justify, "Ok, I'm going to spend hundreds of hours on this book. It might take me years to complete. I'll spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on editing, cover design, formatting, and my result after all of that is a check for $32.05? Is this worth it?"
We'll have a series called, "11 Reasons to Publish that Have Nothing to do with Money" that dives into why we believe writing and publishing are always, ALWAYS, worth doing even if it's not for a big financial gain, but I wanted to share a perspective today on why a sub 100 person audience is actually a good thing. My view is, admittedly, very optimistic but it's a strategy that I'm using on my books and I'd love to see more authors test this out.
The goal of this approach: Build 100 true fans by creating a unique and personal experience tied to your book.
You can know your customers by name
Not a chance Stephen King could name every one of his customers. But at 40, 50, 60 people, a first-time author absolutely can.
But right now, through the process of self-publishing and selling books on Amazon, the author has no insight into who is buying their books. You can see where, i.e. is it a U.S. sale, Europe, Asia, etc., but no names. No email addresses. Just a bar graph.
So while it's great to have a book available on Amazon--it's easy to order, you're not playing the role of printer or shipper, and it is a really cool feeling when you check the sales report and see, "Woah, somebody in Japan just bought my book? That's awesome!"--I wish I knew who bought the book. Authors, especially first-time authors, are very protective over their work. They feel like a parent and want to know, "Who's babysitting my kid?"
One option to try out is buy ten copies of your book. On Amazon, these author copies are really cheap. One of mine is something like $4.50. Add in shipping and that's a $50-60 investment.
From there I can make a landing page, setup something with Shopify, or just email the people who subscribe to my weekly blog and say, "Hey, here's a link to the book on Amazon, but if you'd like, for $20 I'll ship you a signed copy. Just email me back with a mailing address and Venmo/Quickpay me the amount, or send a check. Thanks!"
Make a Book Box
Just like Blue Apron or BarkBox, why not put together a box for your book? Put in two copies of your book, one for them, one for them to hand out to a friend (I'm borrowing this two copy idea from Seth Godin). Print out a couple of stapled pages about the process of writing the book, throw that in the box. How'd you get the idea in the first place? Why'd you write it? What do these characters mean to you? You could also have another printout in there called "After the Read." Point out little Easter eggs. Talk about why you wrote the ending the way you did. Did you consider any other endings? Is there a sequel in the works?
Is there any item that ties back to the book that you could throw in too? For example, my first novel, Toilet Bowl, which was all about a family business in the bathroom industry, I had a local soap maker in Michigan make "urinal cakes." I emailed a company called "Who Gives a Crap?" who sent me rolls of toilet paper that I could use. I threw these in the box.
Could you take the cover image and turn it into a bookmark? Any maps you could include? A thank you card. So many things you could do to fill the box and make a unique experience for the reader.
But that sounds like a lot of work... And I might lose money on this...
Let's dive into the numbers.
Two copies of your book: $10
Other stuff in the box: $5
It does add up. Realistically, you would need to charge $30 to make a profit (which, $30 is a reasonable price for this box. Go much higher and that's a tough sell).
But there's so many positives that will benefit you in the long-term. One you have the email address. You can keep them in the loop on upcoming projects, send a newsletter, maybe invite them to subscribe to your blog.
Whether or not they end up liking or even reading the book, the handcrafted box is a really cool story to tell to their friends. They'll probably even take a photo, share it on Facebook/Instagram. Free publicity.
Especially for first-time authors, those first 100 fans are incredibly important. This is, hopefully, just the beginning of a long journey and they are with you for the entire ride. It's a cool relationship to cultivate, these are the people who gave you a chance early. They were at your show when it was still in the dive bar. In a way, they are also your marketing team. The best way to reach the next 100 people, next 200 people, is through their positive word of mouth. So why wouldn't you spoil them rotten, give them as great of an experience as possible when buying your book.
Small Batch. Ship on your terms.
So here's the thing, you don't want to go out and buy 100 copies all at once. Yes, there's a little bit of a discount to buying in bulk and you'll save on shipping once vs. multiple times, but that's a big investment to make and we don't want to see authors using unsold book boxes as furniture in their apartment.
I would lean into the small batch idea. You're not going for speed of delivery. Not trying to race Amazon for who can ship the fastest. Maybe your process is, "On the last day of each month, I ship out a new batch of 20. If you were the 21st order, I'll get it to you the following month."
"In the mean time, here's a PDF copy or here's the Kindle version on Amazon for $0.99 so you can read it now." You also have the paperback on Amazon too, so if anyone wants just the book and they don't want to wait, they can go with that option.
Start with 20 books on hand (about a $100 investment, depending on size of book), and see how long it takes to get through this stack. Buy more author copies along with the incoming demand. No need to overstock.
But what if I get like a 1,000 orders in one month
As authors, I think we are naturally dreamers. Which makes sense, how else do you write a book (especially fiction) without having that dreamer gene as part of the DNA?
So there is always that hope/belief that maybe my book will be the big self-publishing success story. The next 50 Shades or next Wool series. Nothing wrong with that goal.
My thinking is, this would be an amazing problem to have. To not only have 1,000 orders coming in for your book but to be coming in directly to you! I would take an immediate two-week vacation from work. Call some friends. "Hey, $100 a day if you can come over and help me with these book boxes."
If you're selling 1,000 books in a month, actually not even that, if you are consistently selling between 50-100 books a month, you are in the top 1-2% of all authors. Bestseller territory. Publishers will be coming to you to buy the rights. TV and movie studios probably would too. And then you can decide if you want to take the deal or keep doing your thing.
But if you're selling 3 copies a month, 2 copies, or 1 copy every other month, there's nothing wrong with that either. Use this as an opportunity to create a meaningful experience with your book and build a fan for life.