Posts Tagged ‘It really shouldn’t be this hard’

Writing Stuff I’ve been Doing Lately

Friday, November 24th, 2017

I’ve been wanting to sell books directly for quite some time. I was able to sell print books from my site, but I removed the links to doing so because it was a PITA mostly because of the combination of PayPal functionality and people who just won’t look in their spam folders. . . .

The publishing environment being what it is, and given that most of the major platforms that let you sell books directly have addressed their issues with payment processing and tax collection and remittance, I really wanted to try this again.

Herewith my Tale

The important thing to understand here is that I have a low tolerance for bad instructions and almost no time to fuss with stuff. This is key to understanding why I ended up where I am. (Happily so!)

I started looking once again at all the systems that profess to allow you to sell books directly to consumers: Selz, eJunkies, Shopify, SquareSpace, and several open source systems that are free to install via my website host.

I had tried to set up Selz before and couldn’t bridge the last mile then or now. The whole interface was confusing to me, and they charge a monthly fee PLUS a percentage. And of course the cheapest plans offer so little that they are useless as options. I would have to sell a lot of books per month just to recoup the monthly fee, and I don’t even know if I will sell any. Selz was a no.

eJunkies doesn’t have a monthly fee, and they have a processing fee, which I was okay with, but then, its interface was confusing and the documentation was terrible and not specific enough. But I wanted to use BookFunnel to deliver my files and then I just got annoyed that it, too, isn’t really set up for what I wanted to do. I mean, you sell a book, and you need to deliver the buyer the format they want. Not ALL the formats. Anyway, I couldn’t confirm that I could do what I wanted so I moved on.

Shopify also did not have clear information about what they offer and JFC it’s expensive so NO.

I tried SquareSpace but, I’m sorry, the documentation is horrible and unclear, and I couldn’t even begin to figure out how to make the theme for digital products do anything appropriate for books. Abandoned.

I looked at all the shopping carts available via my website cPanel and decided to try Abante because it sounded like it would work. The instructions/documentation were written by someone who does not speak English as a first language well enough to provide clear documentation. I have some facility with interpreting the sentence structure of the country of origin, but this was frustratingly unclear. Abante even comes with a category for books so you’d think the product would be set up to actually sell digital books. I did the install, and spent way too much time setting everything up only to be unable to make the product allow me to let users select which digital version they want to have. They also don’t integrate with BookFunnel. Fast forward through a lot of frustrating googling and I realized that this product in fact cannot do this, and they apparently have no interest in addressing the issue.

Frustration is Frustrating

Yeah, I was getting pretty damn frustrated. I mean, LOTS of people want purchasers to be able to select which of a variety of digital files they actually want. People who sell photographs, for example.

So, then I looked at WooCommerce, and lo-and-behold, their documentation was clear enough, though not completely clear, and googling yielded a lot of great videos and other step-by-step explanations of how to do exactly what I wanted to do. WooCommerce is free, but you pay for certain additional functionality. I’ll skip ahead a bit and say that you could sell books without ponying up for anything, but there are a couple of useful extensions. And it happens, they were all on sale when I was getting this set up.

I installed WooCommerce on the domain I wanted to use, since it was already a WordPress site, and literally, within 15 minutes I was setting up books with the ability for customers to select ePub, Mobi, or print. BookFunnel integrates with them. When I ran into a question, the WooCommerce documentation had the answer about 60% of the time and the rest of the time google landed me on an excellent video step-by-step.

Trying to Cross the Last Mile

There were three stumbling blocks: The first is one that WordPress and WooCommerce need to address because it’s completely stupid; which is the ability to easily allow WordPress to upload additional file types. I get why they wouldn’t with regular WordPress, but WooCommerce is set up to sell digital files. The product needs to easily enable additional file types.

This is NOT easy and not documented. However, I found two plugins that offered the ability to add file extensions. Add WP Mime Types is what worked, but at first I thought it didn’t. I had to Google what exactly to enter to enable ePub and Mobi,but HERE IT IS so you don’t have to suffer:

epub = application/epub+zip
mobi = application/x-mobipocket-ebook

Just enter those two lines in the WP Mime Types plugin, and boom. Done, with one gotcha. I was expecting that when I went to select files in the WordPress media uploader, files with the extension ePub or mobi would no longer be grayed out. They remained grayed out and I was about to start cursing. Then I dragged the files to the window and then after I was done dealing with my intense frustration I looked up, and the files were there, listed in the media gallery.

WOO-Fricking-Hoo!!!

After that, it was easy to connect the ePub file to the ePub option and the mobi file to the mobi option, and set up the print option to not be a digital download, and I was essentially over the last blocker.

The next issue was how to make WooCommerce connect Book series, and that did require an extension to do this seamlessly, but in hindsight, I think it could be done, less elegantly, without the extension. I did not realize (and there was nothing in the documentation about this) that Categories of products do not actually connect to a product in the database until the product is published. I wish that weren’t the case, because you can’t easily sandbox efforts to see if you’ve made a sensible series of categories and sub-categories.

They have a sub-theme for books, which I went ahead and bought. But that is also not entirely necessary. It also took me a while to realize that you have to create a thumbnail image for each category. If you don’t, you end up with big ugly blank image markers on the shop home page. The intention is that users see an image that represents, say, All Books and others for Historical Romance, Paranormal Romance, each series, etc. Which they click on to see the various categories and subcategories, with, for me, series names being a subcategory of the series genre.

I am not a graphics person, but I managed to kludge together some images that solve the issue OK-enough. But this is something I’ll have to address as an improvement.

Payments

The last issue was payment. It was easy to set up Stripe, and I already have PayPal Standard. WooCommerce made this really really simple. No real surprise, Apple Pay isn’t working. Stripe integrates with Apple but the final hurdle is over at Apple and their instructions are unclear. So I’ll disable that for now, and work that out in the near future.

So, technically, I had everything set up in a day, and I THINK I’m ready. But a bit nervous about pulling the trigger and re-enabling my website’s shop menu tab and sending everyone to my WooCommerce set up. I need to fuss with a few more things.

Updated to add: I did figure out the ApplePay issue. I had to ftp a specific file to a specific directory and then wait for Apple to agree the file was there. So, ApplePay appears to be working.

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