Challenge,  publishing

Expanding Your Market…

Sell Dozens of Things vs One Thing…

I will be talking about this concept some in the branding series, but because I had some comments and emails on this topic, I figured I would address it head-on.

I have been talking about the future of indie publishing is Shopify stores. I got a couple of comments and four different emails pushing back on this and asking why I was feeling this way.

Answer boils down to simple math, actually.

Let’s say a writer has one series of 12 books and 12 short stories not in the series.

24 items to sell through Amazon, Kobo, D2D and the rest. Great. Not yet enough for good discoverability to kick in, but getting there.

The author has a web site. Great. Still just 24 items for sale to customers.

Now the indie author starts a Shopify store. (Gets 95% of each sale instead of 70% and gets the money instantly instead of having to wait months to be paid. But let’s forget about that for the moment.)

Now the author’s series has some great art that the author can get the expanded license for easily. And the author’s series has a cool catch phrase like “She Bought the T-Shirt… Wore It Once Too Often.”

Now without any extra cost the author can sell mugs with art or the saying, t-shirts of all colors and sizes, puzzles with the cool art from the series and branding on the puzzle, and so on and so on and so on…

All based on your books and stories.

Now instead of only having 24 products to sell, the writer is selling a hundred products. And all the merchandise is promotion for the books and the books promote the merchandise and so on.

And the products then promote more licensing for the series.

You take coffee money from 24 titles and jump that into discoverability for no cost and no work and you never touch a book or a product except to sit behind your computer writing and drinking out of your own series mug.

And that’s just one reason to have a Shopify store. Just one.



  • James Palmer

    Great point, Dean. My only problem with using Shopify right now at this stage in my writing career, such as it is, is the monthly fee, which I pay whether I sell anything that month or not, and I don’t expect to sell much if anything right away.

    On the plus side, Shopify has a ton of functionality thanks to lots of third-party apps, and you can advertise on the platform as well. I just don’t have the inventory to make it profitable right now.

    However, it’s much easier to upload one book at a time as soon as they come out than twenty books all at once, and I’m a big believer in starting as you mean to go on. Direct selling is part of the future of indie publishing, and I will be taking the plunge at some point.

    • dwsmith

      Your Shopify store can be your web site, your blog, a bunch more.

      And you are leaving all the merchandise money on the table. Not at all sure why spending $39 stops you from moving forward.

      • James Palmer

        It’s not so much spending $39. It’s spending $39 whether I sell anything or not. But I can wait until I have enough books to justify it. I don’t have to pull the trigger on anything right this second.

        • dwsmith

          Dead right on that, James. But one factor to keep in mind. Book totals are less important than books with good brands for Shopify stores because of the merch potential. Book totals are still critical, this is just a path to faster discoverability of your books is all. But yes, zero hurry. As I said before, anyone who does start a Shopify store to sell their own books in the next year or two will be ahead of 99% of all indie writers and 100% of all traditional writers.

        • Jason M

          James, keep it in perspective. Starting a business in another field will cost you bare minimum of $10K or $12K. Starting a food truck runs around $50K. A full restaurant startup can run into the six figures.
          But book publishing? My wife and I started a small publishing company last year, and we have fixed costs of about $150 per month, which includes Shopify, Bookfunnel, Google account/email, BrandCrowd for logos, and Photoshop. (Marketing isn’t included.)
          That’s a very low barrier to entry, esp for a business that can grow to five figures without too much difficulty. And it’s more fun than being tied to a stove all day.

          • James Palmer

            Oh absolutely, Jason. Starting a writing and publishing business has a lot less start-up costs than any venture that has physical plant. I pay for my monthly stuff annually (web hosting and Bookfunnel), so my monthly expenses are small to nonexistent. However, so are my monthly profits. But I can afford to ramp up slowly. Takes the pressure off. I don’t have to worry about pumping out a bestseller just to pay a bank loan.

  • T Thorn Coyle

    Dean, another aspect to this is something you and Kris have always taught:

    “Plan for success.”

    Set things up so success can build as you go. Building direct sales is part of that.

  • Brad D. Sibbersen

    You say 24 unique stories/books is not quite enough for discoverability to really kick in. In your experience, and given the crowded modern market, when do you think discoverability does begin to kick in? Fifty unique titles?100? More/less? Presumably genre, current trends, and other considerations play a part in this, and every situation is different, but I’m curious as to what you beleive a ballpark figure might be.

    • dwsmith

      Brad, see my previous answer. Around 20 or so major books. (short stories do not count much at all in this calculation, but they help in other ways.) Merchandise can help.

      • Brad D. Sibbersen

        Hmm. I’ve had about 30 (not counting short stories) for some time and discoverability is still nil. Apparently my problem lies elsewhere. Currently applying a consistant branding across most of the line so we’ll see if that helps. Fortunatekly this is proving to be lots of fun! (Not as fun as writing news tuff, but ALMOST!)

        • dwsmith

          Brad, do you have the verbs “is, was, has,” etc in your sales copy and contractions? If you do, means your sales copy is dull and telling readers your stories are dull. Fix your sales copy without passive language. No passive in sales.

          And is your sales copy all plot, like a bad movie trailer telling the reader the story before they read it. Tell the readers what the story is about, not the plot.

          Both of those might help your sales. And be clear as to the genre in your sales copy. “A science fiction epic…”

  • B Litchfield

    Along the lines of more products: say you have two 100,000 word books done. Books one and two in a series. Would you be better off publishing the work as four 50,000 words books? Or just let the finished length be the finished length and go with two books? (I get that you’d probably have to insert endings to avoid abrupt cut-off and to help sell the next book.)

    Followup question: to have enough titles for discoverability, I’ve heard everything from several to a baker’s dozen to twenty or more. What’s the number?

    • dwsmith

      Let the books be what they wanted to be and write the next thing.

      And around 20 major books (novels, novellas, collections, or omnibus) tends to be in the area where natural routes of discoverability start kicking in (from lots of major studies of normal products over the decades).

      Think of it like a giant spider web. With only two books you basically only have three sources of discoverability. One for each book and then one between the books. When that gets up around 20 or so the web can have hundreds and hundreds of ways for a reader to find your work.

  • topaz

    Thanks for the information.

    I’m trying to grasp the concept here.

    With publishing ebooks and print books on all retailers it’s “the next book is your best marketing”. Probably, because the book shows up in the “new release” lists.

    How will marketing work for a Shopify store? How will customers find my Shopify store?

    • dwsmith

      Often the best marketing for a new book or a series is a Kickstarter these days.

      And you will tell them about it, put it on your social media pages and link to it in the back of your books. Grow it slowly.

    • Jason M

      We route all readers to our Shopify store via back matter in all our titles. We put zero links to retailers: why bother? We want to corner them, if at all possible, into buying direct. The strategy should be more successful in future years, since younger readers are more open to direct sales than older readers, who are already married to Amazon, Apple, B&N, etc and stuck in their ways.

  • LM

    So in adjacent potentially not quite relevant question, but kind of is?

    I’ve been fighting deteriorating health and trying to both write and publish is a bit of a pick one each day proposition. I’ve been researching kickstarter, subscription models, and direct sales, and noting my in-very-very-very bad need of a cleanup personal website, which isn’t even currently framed as a publisher website as the last time I really tried to publish was years ago, so I hadn’t gotten there yet before my health started taking the downward spin.

    Which is to say, in light of must keep writing, and must fix up direct website, should I put off direct sales and kickstarters until after I have the direct website duck in a row or incorporate direct sales into direct website and should I even bother with kickstarter before I start regularly publishing books with retailers?

    I know some of this is personal decision zone, but honestly, it feels like there is probably a right order of focus with these things. Esp. as I’m gonna need to be patient and long-term thinking about it.

    • dwsmith

      No right order or timeline. What works for you and keeps you writing and having fun is the key. But no right order. Maybe in 10 years from now there might be a suggested order, but all this is so new, none of us know.

  • Alice Sabo

    Shopify does have a beginners tier for only $5 a month. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles but I think it’s a great start for a little cost.

  • C.E. Petit

    One more thing about setting up your store. But first, an important message from a nonsponsor:

    This is not legal advice for your situation, or an offer for such advice, or a solicitation. You can be sure of that because there isn’t an invoice, and you didn’t have to sit in an expensive-looking waiting room pondering how much some lawyer must be charging to afford the artwork on the wall, wait on hold for 45 minutes, or wait three days to hear back via e-mail.

    All of that said: Do things in order. Knowing that you’re going to set up a store instead of relying on a third-party fulfillment service (iStore, Amazon, Kobo, whatever and however many) is great… but that’s about step thirty-seven. The first dozen or so steps are all various forms of “write saleable texts.” The next dozen or so are “convert the saleable texts into ready-to-sell books with covers and appropriate formatting and all of the other stuff that keeps them from looking like MFA seminar submissions.” Then establish a separate bank account, and (probably) a separate business entity,† get your tax planning in order, get an estate plan laid out, and a few other things. Just trust me on this: It’s a paperwork pain in the behind to shift everything, like store details and formal ownership, afterward — and that also involves trusting the store vendor to do its end of things correctly. Far better to do it right with a plan from the start.

    † You may already have one that you intend to use. Whether it’s the existing one for another business is for you and your lawyer to discuss — and if you have another business, you need to discuss this with a lawyer in your jurisdiction (at least state, preferably county too, within the US; province in Canada; variable elsewhere).

  • Sarah Gowayed

    Hello, I’m children’s book author. My debut picture book just came out this March and my next comes out in September. I also write chapter books, MG, and YA. Is it too early for me to start atShopify page now? I want to start direct sales asap because my profit margins from selling in person are way better than selling through KDP and Ingram. I started my own indie publishing company.
    My questions are:

    1-Am I setting up my store too early?

    2- Should I set up my Shopify store on my author website or the publisher website?
    Sometimes I get confused as to which email list I should prioritize building at vendor events, my author email list or the publisher’s email list.

    Any advice is greatly appreciated. Thank you for this helpful article!

    • dwsmith

      My opinion… never too early to sell direct to customers… And since uou are already doing in person stuff, then even better to get those folks to your own store.

      You can switch out your publisher store or your author store. We have done it first for our publisher store. Working great.