Challenge,  publishing

Direct Sales

Been An Interesting Journey…

I came into traditional publishing as a young writer almost 50 years ago. 49 to be exact. And that traditional publishing that was in place at the time was the system I learned very, very well, until the system itself became so corrupted I could not longer stomach working in it.

Thankfully, indie publishing started up just about the time I was headed to do something else, and I fell in love with the freedom of being able to write what I wanted and publish it when I wanted and just let readers decide instead of gatekeepers.

Problem is that it has taken me years to get past some of those decades of traditional publishing training. In traditional publishing, readers were never talked about. The focus was on the trade channel and bookstores.

So I jumped into indie and my focus was on bookstores. Understandable and correct in the early days of indie.

But then as the years went by, my focus should have gone more toward reader focus, but it did not. And if we promoted something, we told the readers which bookstores they could buy it in.

We still will do this. Just not with the intensity and focus.

About six or seven years ago I listened as some really smart people were telling me the future was in direct sales to readers.

I was still in traditional publishing mind-set and my first thought when they said that was selling at conventions or touring bookstores. As a person who worked in traditional publishing behind the scenes, I knew how really silly and mostly worthless and time-consuming that was. Plus when we owned Pulphouse Publishing, we did tables at conventions and when we shut that down, I swore I would never stand behind another convention table. Ever.

But that was not what these smart people were trying to tell me. They were talking about each author having their own store or stores. They were telling me that was the future. They were right and I was missing it.

Now interestingly enough, at that point WMG Publishing owned four brick-and-mortar stores, one of which was a bookstore. Go figure.

I didn’t see exactly what the really smart people meant, but they sounded right to my gut, so we sort of tried a store with WooCommerce. We did not give it the focus it needed and it sucked so bad I never got around to even linking to it.

But I kept listening to the talk about direct sales and slowly what the really smart people were saying started to sink in as I pushed more and more of the toxic way traditional publishers think out of my mind and really turned to indie publishing and a focus on the readers.

So about a year ago, Kris and I finally got one last shove from a couple more really smart people we trusted and at the first of the year we fired up a Shopify Store at We made mistakes, but are fighting it through. And the problem with having over 1,200 titles, everything takes time.

And then last month we started a Pulphouse Fiction Magazine Shopify store and have plans for more side stores off our main store. (And we are still building our main store.)

And I am loving it. As the next years go by, more and more of what we do will go direct to readers. Of course we will still use the international distribution systems, but I am loving this new world even more.

Now I am actively trying to clear out the toxic waste in my mind left there by traditional publishing and move fully to indie publishing and the focus on readers. It’s been an interesting journey so far, but I have enjoyed the trip and I love where I have gotten to so far.


  • T Thorn Coyle

    I’ve often wondered if it was trad pub issues that meant you never tell people about your books. That strategy puzzled me. Sure, I get not only talking about your books–that gets super annoying and backfires–but the opposite doesn’t seem great, either. People do want to know! It’s part of connecting with readers.

    And you were talking merch years ago. You’re one of the people who inspired me to shift my thinking on licensing toward merch. So I set that up. It makes sense to me that it took WMG longer, because of that mass of product you have. But your subconscious was planting those direct sales plot seeds into your storyline years ago! ::grin::

    Regarding direct book sales, people like Morgana Best and Pierre Alex Jeanty are crushing it. Both have books out on the topic if folks are interested.

    • dwsmith

      Thorn, thanks, and yes, for years I thought that was the way to go, especially with the Licensing Expo needing to have product samples in meetings and such. Just never could see a way that made sense and I am sure that was my training from traditional publishing getting in the way more than not.

      For me, I don’t write for other people, including the old days of traditional publishing. I just write for me and if I can sell it, great, if not, shrug, I’ll write more for me. So traditional publishing had nothing to do with that, other than the decades and decades of writing and submitting short fiction to magazines. I think not talking about what I finish and put out is just a personal thing.

    • Vincent Zandri

      Ironically I got my first direct sale via my new website today. Just a 2.99 for a short story. But I get to keep the entire 2.99! Direct sales work! This kind of thing will most definitely shake up the establishment.

          • dwsmith

            Okay, not sure that I agree with that, Anthony. They are a big store, sure. But past that, I doubt they control much of anything. At least to the smart writers who are diversifying.

  • Jason M

    I’ve just made the same jump. My wife and I opened our Shopfiy direct-sales store last week (23 products to start, will be at 60 by Xmas).

    I’m at the cutting edge of publishing, for the first time in my life.
    Also for the first time, it feels like this is **exactly** how it ought to be. Couldn’t be happier!
    Thanks for all your advice over the last decade, Dean. I mean it.

  • Suzan Harden

    To me, one of the interesting triggers is the change in mindset of the readers. Older folks ask me if my books are on Amazon. Younger folks ask me if I have my own store.

  • Sheila

    I’m not ready for direct sales at this point. I know it will be something I do later on, but now it’s just not what I am able to deal with. Same with audio. Even print is a big maybe for me. I just have too much life crap going on, can’t focus on too many things. Some of it’s getting older, mostly it’s the Covid mess. Hopefully, that clears up! 😀

    • Jason M

      Print is an easy jump. There shouldn’t be anything stopping you from that, not even long covid. Just ask your designer for a wraparound cover, get a new ISBN, and format the text for print via Vellum or some other manner (it takes 10 seconds).

  • Michael W Lucas

    Hope it works great for you, Dean!

    We talk about “thinking like a reader,” but we keep forgetting that readers love their authors. I mean, we readers love our authors irrationally and passionately. When I put on my author hat and think about how readers feel, it’s kind of scary. (No, I wouldn’t die for Koontz–but I’d help him hide a body.) After years or decades of rejection letters, many of us resist making the mental switch to accepting people love us and want us to keep writing.

    When a reader learns that they can give their money directly to the author, and the author gets everything but the credit card fees, they try it. If your store works and the annoyance of Bookfunnel doesn’t overcome that love, you have a customer for life. It’s that simple.

    Last year, almost half my income came through direct sales of one sort or another ( The year isn’t over yet so I can’t be sure for 2023, but so far over half my income is in direct sales. Purists will note that some of that direct income is through sponsorships and my Patreon clone, not book sales–but having my own store lets me try daft things like “for $1/month, $12/year, you can pay me to exist.” And readers do it, because they want their authors to keep going.

    Disintermediation is our future. Get rid of every dang middlemen. (I have investigated what it would take to set up my own credit card processing, to capture that last $0.30+3%, and am sad to say that I don’t make enough to do that. Yet…)