5 ways to sell your books, illustrations, and writing services on your website

Last updated 01 June 2023

Written by Jin Wang

5 ways to sell your books, illustrations, and writing services on your website

A comprehensive guide to 5 different ways of opening and running an online shop to sell your books, illustrations, and writing services.

On this blog, I write a lot about the various ways authors, illustrators and writing service providers can market themselves online. But I rarely write about what all that marketing and promotion is contributing toward actually getting the products of your creative labour sold! The most common and straightforward approach is to link to retailers on your website or ask buyers to get in touch through a contact form. But what if you want to sell your products yourself? Or set up recurring automatic subscriptions for your manuscript assessment service?

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Table of contents

  1. Important things to consider before opening your online shop
  2. 5 ways to sell your products online, from lowest to highest cost and time commitment
    1. Retail links
    2. Marketplaces
    3. Simple Buy Button
    4. eCommerce website builder
    5. eCommerce integration
  3. Security for your online store

Think of your online store as a real store

In thinking about what you need to set up your online shop, it’s helpful to think about it like an actual shop. That is, you should think about the full experience and journey of the customer through your shop: from the moment they enter to the moment they leave. This includes considerations about:

Point of discovery

  • How do you want to be found? What first impression do you want to make on the visitor?
  • Do you want your online shop to be more like a market stall where potential customers might come upon your products while browsing similar products being sold by others?
  • Or do you want your shop to be more of a storefront, located on your own website, where you have complete control over a visitor’s experience?

In-store experience

  • What is the visual design of your shop? Is it custom tailored to make your products stand out? Or is it a generic template other sellers also use?

Shopping cart

  • Do you want visitors to be able to hold more than one item as they continue browsing?
  • Do you want visitors to be able to purchase more than one item at once?


  • How does the visitor pay? Can they use their credit card, PayPal?
  • Do visitors have the option to get products shipped to them?
  • Can visitors create an account, so they can come back later?
  • If you run a writing or editing service, you might also want to think about whether customers can enter into a subscription-based payment plan, if they want to engage with your services long-term.

Leaving your shop

  • Do you want to know more about your visitors by collecting data and analytics?
  • Do you want to enable visitors to leave feedback on items?

It goes without saying that the more features you want for each stage of the visitors’ journey, the more time and money you’ll have to invest.

It’s nice to have everything, but it’s not always what you need.

For example, a new author with one book won’t need a shopping cart. But an illustrator with a large portfolio may want to let customers hold multiple items, as they continue browsing the gallery. Then, afterwards, the customer can then buy multiple prints at once.

Another example: manuscript assessment providers probably don’t need to think about shipping costs, because they provide a service. Whereas an author with an international audience may need to calculate different shipping rates based on a customer’s location.

Running an online shop, therefore, means you will need to think about:

  • optimising features to best suit the customer’s experience according to what you’re selling and what you need, not about filling it to the brim with every possible feature, and
  • how you can balance what you need with what you’re willing to spend and how much time you’re willing to devote to setting up and running the shop.

In the rest of this article, I’ve categorised various methods, platforms, and software you can use to sell your products and services online, into five different categories. These categories are designed to represent increasing cost and time commitment with each succeeding category.

For each category, I identify how each type of selling method relates to the relevant aspects of the customer journey.

You’ll also find a list under each category linking to specific platforms you could look into and use.

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retail links
  • Cost: low
  • Time-Commitment: low
  • Features: controlled by 3rd party retailer
  • Recommended for: authors who have an existing website who want a quick and simple way to sell products, who don’t want to do the selling themselves

Retail links are the most common approach to selling books online and most commonly used by authors with their own websites. Using retail links simply means linking to third-party retailers, such as Amazon, Booktopia, and Readings, on your book’s page. It’s fast to set up if you know how to do it yourself, and cheap for web designers to do. But it does mean you outsource control over the entire customer purchasing experience to a 3rd party. One unique advantage of using retail links is that they allow you to set up affiliate links with retailers, which could bring in additional income for sales of your book. To find out more about affiliate marketing, check out my article on Affiliate Marketing and Booktopia Affiliates.

If you don’t know how to set up retail links on your website, get in touch with your web designer.

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2. Marketplaces

  • Cost: none to low
  • Time-Commitment: Moderate
  • Features: controlled by 3rd party marketplace
  • Recommended for: authors or illustrators who aren’t ready for their own website yet, looking for a cheap way to sell their products

(If you’re a writing service provider, this option is not for you, as most marketplaces sell goods, not services. However, you may wish to look into Patreon as a way to fund your writing services)

A marketplace is a third-party platform that fosters selling and buying communities. You’ll be familiar with some of these, like Etsy and eBay. Once you join these platforms as a seller, you’re entering into an established community of potential customers. This could be a pro or a con. While it’s good to have potential buyers in an established network who could run into your products while browsing, you’re also competing for side by side with other sellers like in a real marketplace.

Using a marketplace means you’re outsourcing your control over the entire customer journey. You just get to choose what products you put up for sale. This means you won’t have to spend a substantial amount of time setting up your store (though this may vary depending on the registration process of each platform, some of which may be more arduous than others). Common features of online shopping are handled for you, like shopping cart and checkout. But all of this also means you’re limited in terms of controlling the in-store experience of visitors. You won’t have options to customise the look of your online store; most of the time, you’ll be stuck with the design of the marketplace platform itself. You’ll have no room to do branding or marketing. You could link to your marketplace stall and/or product pages from your website, but that’s about it in terms of integration, if you have an existing website. On the marketplace itself, it’s just about selling.

You’re also limited by the selling and buying cultures and norms established on the platforms you’re using. How well your product sells on a platform may be dictated by what kind of customers it attracts: a factor that is out of your control. For example, Etsy is mainly used for selling crafts and clothing and is not known to be great for selling books or illustrations. And Patreon, while excellent for earning money for author and illustrator content created for the web, is less so for long-term creative projects like full-length novels.

Most marketplaces are free to use, subject to the fees each individual platform imposes. Fees usually come in the form of a small percentage of the transaction made between you and the customer.

List of popular marketplaces

  • Etsy: a popular marketplace mainly used for selling crafts and clothing
  • Amazon: a popular marketplace used to selling all kinds of products
  • eBay: a popular marketplace used to sell all kinds of products
  • ACX: an Amazon-owned service to get your audiobooks onto Audible, Amazon, and iTunes
  • Patreon: mainly used by web-based content creators or service providers

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3. Simple buy button

simple buy button
  • Cost: low
  • Time-Commitment: low to moderate
  • Features: lacking
  • Recommended for: authors, illustrators, or writing service providers who own an existing website, looking for a quick and simple way to sell products and/or services through their website

First, let’s talk about Payment Gateways

Before you set up an online store of your own (that is, you’re not selling through a third party through retail links or marketplaces), you’ll need to understand how online payment gateways work from a seller’s perspective.

If you’ve done any form of online shopping, you’ll know what it looks like from a buyer’s perspective: once you’ve made the decision to purchase, you’ll be guided to the ‘checkout’, where you can pay for your products using various options, most commonly by credit card or PayPal. This is the payment gateway.

As a seller, you’ll need to set this up before you’re able to enter into any monetary transaction with a customer. There are various companies that offer payment gateway software you can use, such as Stripe, which enables credit card purchases, PayPal, which enables customers to pay using PayPal, and Amazon Pay, which enables customers to pay using the details stored on their Amazon account.

In terms of cost, the standard practice among these companies is to charge you a small percentage + a fixed fee per transaction between you and your customers. This will vary from company to company. For example, Stripe charges 1.75% + $0.30 for every transaction made on Australian credit cards, and PayPal charges 2.6% + $0.30, for every purchase made by Australian PayPal users.

In terms of setup, it’s usually not difficult, as these companies will typically have detailed instructions to guide you. But if you aren’t confident, get in touch with your web designer.

Implementing your Payment Gateway: A simple buy button

After you’ve set up a payment gateway, you’ll need to implement it on your website and product pages so customers can use it. There are various ways to do this. The first, and most simple way, is to link the payment gateway to a buy button on your product’s page, where, upon clicking the button, customers input their information and then pay for the product. For example, here’s what a buy button using Stripe could look like. Click the button below and it’ll bring up a payment form.

This is as bare-bones as you can get in terms of setting up an online shop. If you’re using this on your own website, you’ll have control over aspects of the in-store experience, such as the design of your website, leading customers to the buy button. But you won’t have other features like a shopping cart (to allow for purchasing multiple items at once), variable shipping costs, subscription-based payment for services, and/or other features which contribute to a fuller online shopping experience. If you’re looking for these things, you’ll want to consider options 4 and 5 below.

List of popular payment gateways

  • Stripe: enables credit card payments. I use this. And I recommend using this if you’re an Aussie seller.
  • 2CheckOut: enables credit card payments
  • Authorize.net: enables credit card payments
  • Ayden: enables credit card payments
  • Tipalti: enables credit card payments
  • PayPal: enables PayPal payments
  • Amazon Pay: enables visitors to pay using their Amazon accounts
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4. eCommerce website builder

eCommerce website builder
  • Cost: moderate to high
  • Time-Commitment: relatively quick to set up, moderate to substantial time-commitment to run and maintain
  • Features: full features of an online shop
  • Recommended for: authors, illustrators, or writing service providers without websites, looking to quickly set up a website and full online store with a generic template

Generally, website builders are platforms that offer generic website templates and provide user-friendly and non-tech-savvy ways for you to customise those templates in a limited way, without the need for coding knowledge. eCommerce website builders are the same, but they also let you set up an online store on that website. With most eCommerce website builders, you’ll have control over 90% of the customer shopping experience. Most will include:

  • shopping carts to hold items and enable the purchase of multiple items,
  • subscription-based, recurring payments by customers,
  • allowing customers to create accounts to save information on your store to use on return visits,
  • sale and voucher options,
  • shipping and tax options,
  • access to customer data and analytics,
  • customer feedback options, and
  • easy implementation of payment gateways (you’ll still have to set up the payment gateway with the gateway company, in the way I describe above)

I say 90% because one aspect of the customer experience you may have limited control over is the in-store experience, as many platforms will force you to use generic templates with limited customisation. This may be something to think about if branding is important to you. For example, you may want your website’s design to reflect the genre you’re writing in, to mirror the esoteric art style of your illustrations, or to visually express the kind of writing service you provide. These visual cues could (consciously or subconsciously) push a customer over the edge in their decision to make a purchase. Using a template may restrict you from achieving these ends, even if there are many templates to choose from. Moreover, as most templates on these platforms are reusable, you’re likely to be sharing the same template with others. Using a template could make it harder for you to stand out.

The pricing for using these platforms can vary substantially within and between platforms. Within platforms, most use a tiered pricing system, for basic, standard, and advanced features. For example, SquareSpace offers $40 a month and a $61 a month plan, depending on the number of features you want, whereas Shopify offers $40, $108, and $412 a month plans.

The main benefit you’ll get with an eCommerce website builder is the relative ease of set-up to get a shop with most to all of the features of a standard online shop. Generally, you’d sign up, pick a template, add your products, and you’re just about ready to go.

What if I already have a website?
If you already have a website, you should think about option 5 and integrating eCommerce onto that website, rather than using a website builder with eCommerce integration. But I understand that the former can be more expensive. One alternative solution is to simply link your separate eCommerce website builder store to your own website. For example, you could link to product pages on your eCommerce store from their corresponding product pages on your website. This is the cheaper option, but it can be jarring for customers, as they’ll have to navigate through two websites that probably don’t have the same design. Once again, this is a branding and ‘in-store’ experience consideration worth thinking about.

List of popular eCommerce website builders
I should say that not every platform I list here can be neatly categorised into the generic description of the eCommerce website builders I provide above. Platforms can be vastly different from each another. So, a word of advice: you should look into each of these platforms a little more yourself before deciding if it’s right for you. For example, some platforms do allow you to build websites/templates from scratch, like SquareSpace. Other platforms will allow you to customise generic templates, like BigCommerce. But doing either of these things would involve a substantial investment of your time if you’re tech-savvy enough to do it yourself. Or, you can hire a web designer to do it, which, depending on the platform and the web designer, can actually be more expensive than simply hiring them to build a website from scratch and then integrate eCommerce features separately, as I discuss in option 5 below.

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5. eCommerce integration

eCommerce integration
  • Cost: variable, usually moderate to high
  • Time-Commitment: moderate to substantial both to set-up, up and to run and maintain
  • Features: full features of an online shop
  • Recommended for: authors, illustrators or writing service providers who have an existing website, or who are looking to build one, looking to add a full online shop to their website

If you already have a website, or you’re currently getting one built, it’s possible for you to turn it into a store by integrating eCommerce features into it, including:

  • shopping carts to hold items and enable the purchase of multiple items,
  • subscription-based, recurring payments by customers,
  • allowing customers to create accounts to save information on your store to use on return visits,
  • sale and voucher options,
  • shipping and tax options,
  • access to customer data and analytics,
  • customer feedback options, and
  • easy implementation of payment gateways (you’ll still have to set up the payment gateway with the gateway company, in the way I describe above)

Generally, you’d have to talk to your web designer about how to implement this option. Every website is different, and how your website is built will affect the cost and time your web designer will need to add eCommerce. For example, and without getting into specifics, if your web designer is building your website on WordPress, it will be relatively easy to install eCommerce software. On the other hand, if your website is old, the web designer might tell you the whole website needs to be taken apart and reconstructed to fit eCommerce into it. As an estimate, my eCommerce integrations have ranged from a few hundred dollars for individual authors, to tens of thousands for big commercial companies. The technicalities, cost, and time of implementing this option will therefore depend on your website and your web designer.

Before speaking to your web designer, you may want to do a little research into the following software, they’ll likely suggest these using these to integrate eCommerce into your site:

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One last thing to think about: security

One last thing you should think about is security for your website. If you’re linking to third-party retailers, using a marketplace, or using an eCommerce Website Builder, those third-party platforms will handle security for you. However, if you’re running your own online store through your own website, you need to have an SSL (Secure Socket Layer) Certificate. An SSL certificate protects your website visitors’ sensitive data when they share personal information with you. This includes, among other things, their credit card and address when they make a purchase through your website. If you don’t have an SSL, Google will label your website as ‘not secure’, which may drive customers away. A lack of an SSL will also have implications for how well your website ranks in Google searches.

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As you may have already gathered, setting up an online shop is a big commitment. This article should give you a good idea of all the things you’ll need to consider before setting up an online shop. You should take time to think deeply about exactly what you’re looking for from an online shop, what your audience needs and the resource and time cost you’re willing to spend to build and maintain it. And only after having weighed up all your options should you commit to an online shop. Happy selling!

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