With so many people selling books online today, you may think the art of hand-selling is going out of style. Brush up on your hand-selling skills with these awesome tips so you're ready for your next book-selling gig!
By Adam G. Fleming and Megan Fleming
While marketing for online sales is now the primary way authors promote their books, there is also value in doing it the old-fashioned way: hand-selling. Whether you arrange to do a book signing at an indie bookstore or you have a book table at an event where you’ve been a featured speaker, it’s a great opportunity to build your audience, unload some inventory, and make a few dollars in the process. Some authors are focused on book sales, while others consider their books a small income stream in comparison to speaking fees or other ways their book makes money. Either way, here are some good dos and don’ts to consider as you meet people in person and offer them your book:
How will it make someone’s life better? Will it educate and inform them, entertain them, or both? You need to know this, and even more, you need to believe this. If what you’ve written won’t be useful or enjoyable to others, you’ll have a hard time believing that people should buy it. If you stop believing in the product, take it off the market. This is basic book-selling integrity. Victory Vision’s founder Julie Ballard took her first book off the market because her views had changed. Or, you may decide to let your earlier work speak for itself: your readers may see your progression over time. Allowing them to buy your earlier work gives insight into your own growth and development. For instance, my first novel, Wild Buffalo Gold is still available, though some of my more recent work may be better (okay, I hope I’ve gotten a lot better). Compare the world of fine art painting: if we didn’t have early works from Monet, Cezanne, van Gogh or Michelangelo, we’d be much poorer for the lack of context and insight into how they developed their ideas and techniques. Not to mention that astute readers may find unexpected “Easter eggs” in the older work that relate to the later work. A great example is the thrilling detective work of Michael Ward that uncovered a previously overlooked theme in C.S. Lewis’ “Narnia” series, explained in “The Narnia Code: C. S. Lewis and the Secret of the Seven Heavens.”
Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in whether or not someone wants to buy your book. Some will, some won’t, that’s just the nature of the game.
I enjoy volunteering to run the concession stand at my kids’ school. For one thing, I noticed that whether people buy a bottle of water or spend thirty dollars to buy snacks for six people, I don’t care. It helps that no amount of money goes into my pocket, and I’m not dependent on it for my income. I can relax and serve people whatever they want.
Obviously, it’s much more difficult to offer your own book to potential buyers. You’ve poured heart and soul into this creature, you’ve breathed life into its lungs —it’s an extension of you. But, it isn’t you. As hard as it is to accept, if someone chooses not to buy it, that’s not a rejection of you. Remember, even people who love to read have a huge stack by their bed, shelves full of books waiting to be read. And people who don’t love to read probably won’t buy it. It’s a competitive environment and your job is to run a concession stand, not be responsible for what people are hungry for. Enjoy serving people when they want something, and don’t worry about it if they don’t. Just because you make the best popcorn doesn’t mean that a kid might be looking for M&Ms instead.
At the same time, don’t be afraid to ask passers-by to give you their attention. Who knows, you may entice someone to try something they weren’t expecting. The point is, people have reasons independent of you, personally, that lead them to buy or not buy in the moment. Don’t let it derail you.
When selling your book, you need to remember that your friends and family may not necessarily be your target audience. In fact, if they were, then the chances are you wouldn’t sell more than about 100 copies. Sure, you may have 1,500 “friends” on social media, but friends aren’t the same as fans. In fact, some of my friends are the first people to criticize my work, or let me know they don’t care. Well, if you were in the business of selling something like semi-truck accessories, there’s a good chance your friends and family will not be your customers, either.
During my most recent book release, very few of my friends and family got on board—perhaps fewer than ever before. Don’t be discouraged by this: build an audience that resonates with what you are doing. Remember, these people can also become new friends.
It’s great to have a back catalog. My most recent personal purchase was a copy of my first novel, published 11 years ago. Yes, you heard right, I bought my own book at a resale shop. There’s no cheaper way to get physical copies to offer at in-person events, so why not?
An extensive back catalog on display (which could include used copies for a good deal) gets responses like, “Did you write all these?”
“Yes,” I say, “What kind of books do you like to read?”
Listen to their answer and find something in your book or books that relates, if you can. For example, they may say, “I like to read mysteries.” I’ll say something like, “Oh, if you like mysteries, you might enjoy Wild Buffalo Gold. It’s not a mystery per se, but there is a mystery about a gold mine in it.” Sometimes that comment is enough to sell the book. If you can’t think of a connection between their interest and your book, be honest. For example, if they say, “Well, I mostly read romances,” and your book is a non-fiction book about business, you can admit you’re fresh out of romances (yes, be humorous if you can). But, before you shrug and say goodbye, you might redirect. Why? Because:
People are just as likely to buy a gift for someone else as they are for themselves; maybe more likely! Consider the previous example. A person says “I like to read romances,” and your book is a non-fiction business book.
“Romances, that’s cool,” you say. “I know several people who like to read romances. Who do you know in your life who likes to learn about leadership principles?” Give them some examples: “Your boss, your uncle or aunt, your pastor, rabbi, or imam, your son or daughter, your employees?” See if you can spark just that one person in their mind who would love your book. Who knows, you may ignite something and get a response like “Can I get a discount if I buy three of them?”
I read somewhere that when hand-selling physical copies of your book it’s a good idea to pick the book up and place it in a prospective buyer’s hand. Usually, people turn it over and read the back copy. Psychologically they find it more difficult to put back down, and easier to take it to the cash register. This is great whenever you’re at an event with a book table. You can just say “Here, have a look,” or “I’m really pleased with how it turned out!” Then put the book in their hands.
You can remind prospective buyers:
“This is the easiest way to get an autographed copy.”
“There’s nothing like a physical copy, right?”
Also, don’t forget quips that can garner discussion:
Written locally without the use of Artificial Intelligence.
What’s your favorite storybook character?
What kind of books do you like to read?
What book are you into at the moment?
What do your kids like to read? (-spouse, roommate, etc.)
Think long term. Get emails while you’re at events. Ask what town your shoppers live in:
whether someone buys today or not, you’re meeting a prospective customer. While social media channels continue to move more and more in the direction of making you pay to get your message out when it is most critical (like when you have an event you want to promote or a new book coming out on Kickstarter) you can be sure that an email campaign will be delivered. What’s the point of sending a message if it isn’t delivered? You have to do what you can control, even if the recipient chooses to ignore the message. At least they requested to keep in touch, and eventually they may remember why they were interested in the first place and actually open and read the email message.
Have a freebie ready to go. Usually offering a free ebook when people sign up for your list is great, or simply have a newsletter sign-up. No need to give them a paperback, since those cost money and you have cash tied up in overhead. Lots of authors use Bookfunnel.com to do this. When you notice that people are interested, even if they don’t buy right away (“I’m still shopping” or some other buyer’s objection) offer them a gift, ask for their email address and enter it into a database.
Your email CRM system will have places to log peoples’ addresses. I use Mailerlite for my personal mailing list and we use The Pulse Spot for Victory Vision Publishing’s. If you can at least log people in terms of city and state, you can target your email to that locality the next time you’re in the area doing an in-person event. For example, “I’ll be speaking in Chicago on Tuesday” can be targeted to every address you have, but you can also send a second reminder to everyone in Illinois.
Marketing via email with a newsletter is a topic for another blog, but it’s important to consider that marketing in person and hand-selling can be used as a bridge to the future relationship with readers.
Adam G. Fleming, PCC, is an ICF certified coach and trainer. He has trained people in coaching skills around the world and has also led other seminars as speaker and facilitator. Using both traditional and DIY methods, Adam has published 13 books in a variety of genres, and serves as the CEO and lead ghostwriter for Victory Vision Publishing, Inc. He lives in Goshen, Indiana, with his wife Megan and their four children. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Megan Fleming is Lead Editor at Victory Vision Publishing. She has a Painting degree with a TESOL minor, and has taught Art and English to both students and adults. Her love of literature and clean copy merged when she began editing full time in 2020, and she has since been able to use her experience in MLA, Chicago, AP, and APA styles. Megan and her husband, Adam Fleming, live in a small Midwest town and have four children. Megan enjoys making her own art, gardening, pursuing a master’s degree, and reading fiction in between the cracks.