It’s no secret that writers are not exactly social butterflies known for their intrinsic marketing and promotion capabilities. And guess what? They aren’t generally great salespeople either. In fact, what attracts most authors to the craft is the solitary nature of it. But if you are an author—especially a self-published author—salesmanship is invaluable to your success. We’re not just referring to increasing sales by getting people to create a buzz about your book online. We’re talking about (take a deep breath) hand-selling, which is one of the best ways to grow your readership. Self-Publishing Relief has some tips on hand-selling your book and 5 simple conversation starters to help you connect with your potential buyers.
But First: Sales Advice For Self-Published Authors From A Former Girl Scout
As a young girl, Elizabeth Sims sold exactly two boxes of Girl Scout cookies every year. (Bonus if you can guess what kind.) Though her initial foray into hand-selling wasn’t a huge triumph, later when she became an author, she was determined to master the art of the hand-sell. She learned very quickly that word of mouth is the best form of advertising and, according to her, “better than reviews.” (By the way, did you know it’s possible to garner reviews before you even sell one book?)
Along the path to success, Sims perfected (not without a learning curve) ten steps to help hand-sell her books. It took her six months, but she went from hand-selling two books to nine. It might not sound like much, but it’s actually a 350 percent increase in sales! Follow these basic steps and maybe you will share the same experience.
- A brief introduction. Make eye contact and introduce yourself.
- Place your book in their hands. If they put it down, replace it with a bookmark.
- Customize your pitch. Don’t just repeat the same thing to each passerby.
- Set up your table in a high–traffic area.
- Put on the charm. Smile and be genuine.
- Make friends with the bookstore (or coffee shop or library) staff.
- Personalize a copy of your book for the manager, owner, or salesperson assisting you.
- Forget about modesty. Don’t be shy when you tell potential readers what a great book you’ve written. Be proud and assertive.
- Close the sale. While the customer is holding your book, offer to inscribe it for them.
- Know when to quit. There’s a difference between assertive and aggressive. (There’s also a difference between between and among. Just saying.)
- Make a comparison. If you see a reader eyeing a book in the same genre as yours at the bookstore or library, introduce yourself, hand over a copy of your book, and say something like: “If you’re a [insert author] fan, you might enjoy this.” Or you could try, “I see you’re a fan of the legal thriller. So am I. In fact, [insert author] was the inspiration for my book. His [insert series] series blew me away.”
- Open the door to conversation. Don’t greet the visitors at your table with just a smile. Take notice of them. What are they wearing and how can you connect it to your book? Perhaps someone has an antique brooch pinned to their jacket or a unique hand-knitted scarf hanging over their shoulders. Is your story relevant to one of these things? Then by all means, bring it up. “Hey, I really like that brooch (scarf, ring, necklace, tattoo). It reminds me of the one in my book.”
- Identify a connection. Recognize someone from your gym, coffee shop, yoga class, local bar, neighborhood, or church? Let them know. Likely, they weren’t even aware that you were an author. (We can be furtive at times.) So tell them, “I think I recognize you from the Irish Rose Pub. Ironically, my historical novel is actually set in Ireland.”
- Engage opportunity. Perhaps you have a table at the local library or bookstore and a potential reader asks you where the new releases are located. How do you respond? Take advantage of the situation. “Well, the new releases are over there, but I also have a new release. What’s your favorite genre? Oh, mystery? Well, I just wrote this thriller, but at the heart of the story is a really great mystery. I think you might enjoy it.”
- Give away promotional items. People feel special when they receive gifts. Greet readers with swag and a raffle ticket for a free copy of your book. Or offer them something as simple as a piece of candy or pencil engraved with your name if they register their e-mail for a virtual book giveaway. (Need swag ideas?) Then say something like: “Hello, we’re celebrating the release of my new book. Would you like to win a free copy? I could sign it for you.”
Now That You Know What To Do—Where The Heck Do You Do It?
Now that you understand the fine art of the hand-sell, the only way to sharpen your hand-selling skills is to get some firsthand experience. (See what we did there?) There are many options when it comes to possible places to hand-sell your book. Here are some of the more common venues that authors use to make that face-to-face sell:
- Book festivals
- Writer conferences
- Local writing group meetings
- Coffee shops
- Multi-author promotional events
- College bookstores
- Independent bookstores
- Group author book signing events
And hey, don’t be discouraged if you’re just not a face-to-face seller. Many authors aren’t. You can still make connections using social media to interact with potential readers and buyers. There are many online forums dedicated specifically to self-published authors, but take advantage of Goodreads, Amazon, and Facebook (which has an Author Support Network with over 8,000 members). Online word-of-mouth sales generate buzz and get people talking about your book. This, in turn, gets people buying your book. (And that’s the most important part of being successful in the book world.)