An Easy and Cheap Way to Sell eBooks in Person

In a Panhandle Professional Writers workshop, the speaker (whose name escapes me) mentioned selling eBooks in person. She said everyone did it “using cards” so they would “have something to sign.” According to her, some folks collected them like Marvel Universe Series 1 trading cards. Or maybe that was just how I heard it.

We'll always return to the one true line-up.

The only true Fantastic Four.

When the time came to actually make these cards, I couldn’t find any information online about how to do it. I wanted it to be automatic, with a link or a QR code (so fancy!). Dropcards is a company making something similar to what I wanted. The prices are fair but higher than I wanted to spend. So here is my cheap, professional-looking, DIY solution involving postcards and a sign-up sheet.

It took about three weeks for my cards to show up from the discount printer, so give yourself as much lead time as you can. If you can get these done two months before you need them, you should be covered in case you make a mistake or there’s a printing error.

First, obviously, you need your eBooks. For Monsters All the Way Down, I made .epub and .mobi files. Those will cover just about any ereader device. There’s plenty of info out there on eBook creation, but it can be a bit confusing. Someday I’ll compile a list of all the tips and tricks I compiled.

Making the postcard images wasn’t difficult. Since these are going to be printed, you want them at 300 dpi. If you’re printing a physical book, your cover should already be this quality. I decided to make one side of the postcard my cover, and the other side one of the images I created for this site. The dimensions will depend on how you’re printing the postcards, and be aware that they will probably be different than those of your cover.

If you don’t want to make the images yourself, talk to your cover designer. They will probably help you out, but don’t expect them to work for free. Here are lower quality examples of the two images I used, side-by-side. You’ll probably want to leave more room for the bleed than I did.

ebook purchase receipt example

Folks are divided whether the digital edition title I made is cool or stupid and impossible to read.

On the side opposite the cover, I put ‘Monsters All the Way Down: Digital Edition.’ At the bottom, I wrote, ‘If you have not received an email containing your eBook files within 24 hours, please contact us.’ Under that is an email I set up for this purpose and my website.

Unless you have a way of doing it cheap at home, you need to find someone who prints postcards. I needed the right balance of cheap and quality, and ended up using Vistaprint. They had a discount on postcards at the time, so they won’t always be the cheapest, but it cost me $28 for 100 cards with one discount, $35 for another 100 with a different discount. I’ve also had great results printing business cards at 123print.

Here’s how the postcards look in reality.

ebook receipt in real life

They’re bigger than they look. I have tiny doll hands.

These are color, two-sided postcards printed on recycled matte. I always prefer matte over gloss, but that’s just me. If you wanted to save on cost, you could print them one-sided, and include contact information with your cover. I just preferred the look of an unmarred cover on one side.

The mistake I madeย  BOTH TI–sorry, both times I printed was that the backside was flipped. I wanted the postcard to be like a book, where you turned it over horizontally and it was still right-side up. Imagine flipping a book and the blurb is upside down. Different printing sites make it easier to avoid this mistake, but at Vistaprint I got it wrong twice. If you have any doubts at all, try and order samples or talk to someone directly at the company about what you need to do.

Print a sign-up sheet asking for the customer’s name, email, and whether they would like to opt into your email list. I charged a flat $5 to make it easier to give change, and I was able to accept credit or debit cards through my phone with PayPal. Square is another popular option for accepting cards.

If you’re as full of yourself as I am, you’ll want to to put your John Hancock on the cards if requested. I used a silver metallic Sharpie for this, since it showed up better than a regular Sharpie or my fountain pen.

I told anyone that bought the digital edition that I’d send it that evening. Sending the email right then would be even better, but I couldn’t think of a smooth way to do that with attachments from my phone. If someone has a solution other than forwarding an email (wouldn’t that look cluttered?), please comment below. I’ll post it here and give you credit.

Here’s the text of the email I sent. Feel free to modify it and use it as you see fit. Don’t forget to attach your epub and mobi files! I sent each message out individually and addressed to the recipient. If you decide to send them out in batches, for goodness sake, use BCC instead of CC so you aren’t giving away email addresses without consent.


Subject: Monsters All the Way Down eBook delievery

Dear [Name],

Thank you for purchasing the Monsters All the Way Down eBook.

Attached to this email are two different files, an .epub and a .mobi. The .mobi is intended for Amazon Kindle devices, while the .epub should work on other ereader devices.

These files are DRM-free, meaning you can read them on as many devices as you desire.

The process to add the file to your device is quite simple. Below are links explaining various methods.

You have two options to add the .mobi file to your Kindle:
How to transfer files to your Kindle by USB
How to email files to your Kindle

To read an .epub file in iBooks on an iPad or iPhone:
How To Open EPub Files Directly In iBooks

There are many options for reading an eBook on an Android device. One option is listed below:
Upload PDF and EPUB files to Google Books on Android

There are numerous other ereaders on the market. If yours is not included above, please consult the manufacturer’s website or the device documentation.

Thank you again for supporting Monsters All the Way Down. If you have any problem accessing the book files on your device, please contact me. I’d be happy to help you enjoy my book.

(Place fancy email signature here)


I also sold the eBooks through my site using a PayPal link. Since Monsters All the Way Down is now in the Kindle Select program, I’m only selling eBooks through Amazon. But I think the postcard method worked well when I needed it.

If anyone has other suggestions for selling and delivering your own eBooks, please comment below.

Putting Your Book Cover on Canvas for Cheap

My first shipment of Monsters All the Way Down arrived! Less than two weeks to the launch party in Amarillo–everyone’s invited.

book stack

My wife had a great idea, and I wanted to share it with you folks. If you want a large, attractive way to show off your book cover at signings and the like, consider printing a canvas. I was able to get a quality 20 x 30-inch version, and it looks amazing.

book mantle

I got mine from Canvas People for only $44.80. Wait for their sales if you can! I held out for 60%-off and free shipping (which I believe is going on at the time of this writing). You may be able to shop around other sites for a cheaper price–just make sure to read reviews. I’m very happy with how mine turned out.

A couple of tips:

  • Give yourself as much of a buffer as you can before you need the canvas, because it took them about two weeks to ship my order.
  • Make sure you have a print quality version of your image. 300 dpi is usually recommended.
  • Consider how you’ll display it. The cheap easels I found locally were pretty flimsy, but they have some on Amazon with decent reviews.

There you have it: an easy way to spice up your reviews, and hopefully a cheap resource you can use for other projects.

*Full disclosure: I use Amazon affiliate links every chance I get, but I am unaffiliated with Canvas People. The referral program they use doesn’t give people nearly as good a deal as holding out for the 60% sale.

The Weekend I Built a Dream Machine

Way back when we lived in our first apartment, my wife went away for the weekend. My best buddies were all busy, so I debated how to spend this sudden influx of me-time. Eat nothing but pizza? Marx Brothers marathon? Read all of Wikipedia?

I threw on a bootleg Muppet Babies DVD and built a Dream Machine.

Dream Machine animated

Thanks to David Cronenberg and Peter Weller, I’d become a bit obsessed with William S. Burroughs. This led me to a device designed by his friends Brion Gysin and Ian Sommerville. Gysin thought the dreamachine would find its way into every home, as ubiquitous as a television set.

The hardest part about building my dreamachine was finding a cheap record player that played at 78 rpm (I have a decent turntable now, but I wouldn’t use it for a dreamachine–it might damage the motor). Most thrift store turntables only play 33 1/3 and 45 rpm, which will work but doesn’t look as cool. My mom was the one to find me an old school record player–“old school” as in 1970s public education–and the rest was just elbow grease.

Everything I used to build my machine:

Basic tools: craft blade, large flat piece of cardboard, electrical tape, large t-square , card stock, screwdriver

1. 78rpm turntable

2. 34″x32″ craft butcher paper

3. Thrift-store lamp

4. Light bulb cord and bulb

dream machine base

My wife supplied me with the black butcher paper. Following plans from the internet (check the links at the bottom), I created a grid with a t-square and used my card stock stencil patterns for the shapes. The most expensive part of the whole project was getting the thing laminated for stability. I met with some resistance on that step–the folks at the Kinko’s worried my paper might get torn up in the machine. If I built another one, I’d use a sturdier material that wouldn’t need lamination.

dream machine bulb

The lamp portion came from a thrift store, and I was able to connect it to the turntable through the tonearm hole (hence the need for a screwdriver to open up the turntable). The bulb hangs from a short light bulb cord, available at any hardware store. At one point the inside of the column was coated with sparkly wrapping paper, but it has long since come unstuck. Electrical tape holds the column together and keeps it on top of an old polka record.

You use the machine by leaning in quite close with your eyes closed. The spinning column causes the light to pulse at the right frequency, which you can adjust by the height you’re looking and the turntable speed adjustment. With your eyes closed, you see fractals and other shapes, much like when your rub your eyes. Worth the effort? I think so. It’s great for getting in the mood to write. And not only is it relaxing and meditative, it makes for a great conversation piece. It’s nice to combine it with headphones and some Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream, or Portishead.

Dream Machine and me

My buddy Dustin Taylor took this photo during my author photo session.

(WARNING: Obviously, flashing lights can be dangerous for some people, such as those with epilepsy. Never turn this thing on before checking with everyone.)

Resources for building your own dreamachine:

http://www.noah.org/science/dreamachine/

http://ultraculture.org/blog/2013/11/27/build-dream-machine/

Also of interest:

FlicKer, a full documentary about the Machine available on Youtube and Amazon Prime.

Excerts from The Flicker, a 1965 film by Tony Conrad with a similar effect. This one is viewed with the eyes open.

At the time I built my machine, I couldn’t find the column to purchase at a reasonable price. It looks like now you can get them here (US) and here (UK). I’m unaffiliated with these stores, and have no idea about the quality.