I never fancied myself a salesperson. The word “salesperson” alone made me wrinkle my nose in disgust. The image that comes to mind is always the sleazy used car salesman, the annoying telemarketer, or solicitors at the door. My ex was a salesman. Need I say more?
The very thought of selling is intimidating for most authors and creative folk in general. Yes, we want to make money, we want people to buy our creations, and though we want to share with the world and would gladly do so for free, it’s nice to have food with our meals.
This past weekend Wendi and I attended the Vegas Valley Book Festival in Downtown Las Vegas. With any event, most authors don’t go into them with high expectations. If you sell one or two books, you’re doing good.
We sold twenty.
When we had our Barnes & Noble book signing last June, we sold twenty-nine.
At KABAM in Kingman last April, I sold out again.
And at my first year at the Vegas Valley Book Festival, I also sold out.
In between there were smaller book fairs at libraries where we had the same experience. Arrive with several heavy boxes full of books, leave with none.
Our peers want to know how we do it. I won’t say it’s not difficult, because it is. Making these kinds of sales takes a lot of work and it all starts with a professional looking product.
But I’m not going to talk about design today. There’s a few other key factors that secure our sales each and every time.
It All Starts With You
Yes. It all starts with you. How many times have you attended an author event and seen the authors barricaded behind a stack of books, posters, bookmarks and other promotional items? As you walk by the table, the author peeks out over their laptop, barely makes eye contact before ducking back into the bunker?
Doesn’t exactly make you want to stop and look more, does it?
The first rule of making sales is be approachable. Put a smile on your face, greet everyone who walks by your table. ENGAGE. I’ve found something as simple as “Hi, how you doing? Enjoying the show?” works nicely. They may not always stop, but they do return the greeting at the very least. Doing this opens up the lines of communication.
It’s Not All About You
You may think it’s all about you and your books, but it’s not. Have you ever watched American Pickers? Mike and Frank travel the country looking for old barns, stores, attics and other places where people have interesting bits of history for sale. Many times they’re doing what they call “freestyling”, making cold calls on folks in rural areas. When they walk up to those doors they never know if they’ll be met with a handshake or a shotgun.
In some cases it takes a while for the person to warm up to them. The one sure way to break the ice with anyone is to get them talking about themselves. People love talking about themselves. I love talking about myself. Get me started on a pet topic and next thing you know I’m telling you my life story. The same goes for the people I meet at these author events.
Ask the visitors to your table what they like to read, where they’re from, what they do, who they’re with. The more you talk about them, the more they’ll be interested in what you have to offer.
Starting out with “Buy my book” (or service, or any other thing you have to offer) is a huge turn-off. It’s tantamount to being at a party, meeting someone for the first time and within the first few seconds asking them to go to bed with you.
Build a relationship first and the rest will follow. Get over your introverted self and embrace the extrovert inside you.
Support Your Fellow Authors
I can hear you saying, “But Deb, aren’t other authors my competition?”
They are and they aren’t. Sit back and get ready for some mind-blowing enlightenment.
You may have seen a little concept bandied about the interwebs called “The Law of Attraction”. In short, it’s the Universe’s Golden Rule: That which you give is returned to you.
When you sincerely support other authors in your community, they get to know you and in turn help support you. There’s that whole relationship building thing again. You may write in the same genre and you’ll get crossover between fans.
Trust me, there’s always plenty of fans to go around. These network connections with other authors lead to more opportunities, fairs and conventions you may not have heard about, or joint ventures, or even connections in the publishing world.
The more involved you are in your own local author community, the more you’ll find how small a world it really is. Be courteous and kind, be open minded, and choose your relationships well. Word of mouth goes a long, long way and a lot faster than you realize.
Never Miss an Opportunity
Back in the day I drove carriages outside of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. I also read tarot cards for a number of years at the New York Renaissance Festival. Both of these jobs were on a commission basis. No sales, no pay for that week. I had to hustle if I wanted customers.
Selling books at events is no different. You have to keep your eyes open for every opportunity. So often I’ll see other authors packing up early to leave.
Not me. I have to stay until the very end and nine times out of ten, it pays. Literally.
A prime example of opportunity happened to Wendi and I as we were leaving the Festival last week. It had been a long exhausting day. Humid, hot, tons of people…and a long walk back to the truck ahead of us. We just wanted to get home.
So, there we were, trudging along, me dragging the hand truck behind me with a box of what remained of our stock, promotional materials and other odds and ends. As I tried rolling the dolly off a low curb, the drop proved too much and the box toppled over, spilling everything on the sidewalk.
Dammit (yes, that’s the PG version).
As I scrambled, muttering a string of epithets under my breath that would have made Diego blush, I hear Wendi say to someone over my shoulder, “Look at that, one of our books wants to go home with you!”
My first thought was, really? You’re making a sale now?
But in all honesty, had I not been tired, hungry and dehydrated, I would have done the same thing.
An extra pair of hands dug in and helped us gather up the mess and that’s how we met one of our newest Packmates, Bess. Frowns turned into smiles and as it turned out, Bess loves paranormal. I don’t know whether she felt bad for us or what, but she did end up buying our last copy of Loyalties.
Hey, a sale’s a sale.
Opportunity seized and off goes another book to a happy home.
The Big Take-Away
When it comes to sales there isn’t any big secret. Just be yourself, talk to people, have fun, look for opportunities. No matter where you go, you can make a sale if you keep your eyes open. Stop telling yourself you’re in introvert. You’re not. The world is a party and you’re there to make friends. You’ve got nothing to lose by getting to know another person, at the very least, you gain a new friend, at most, you end up making a sale.
Either way, everyone wins.