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Robert New

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Odd places to sell books

Everyone knows the traditional places to sell books – ie bookshops or online retailers, and selling them yourself at markets, author talks and amongst your friends. These work and work well, but there are other places you can make handfuls of sales, which add up over time.

Small independent shops with high volumes of ‘foot traffic’ are the key. Chain stores tend to have regulations about what they can and cannot stock, which is why independent stores are the ones to target.

Your local chemist or milk bar are good examples of such places. A diverse mix of people shop there, they already have the intent to purchase something when they walk in and can more easily be persuaded to add to that purchase. Your display of your book won’t clash with their other products (and hence, will actually stand out) and selling in such places implies the book is from a local author, so by mere location, you’re making an appeal to the community mindedness of people to purchase your book.

One of the oddest places I was able to set up a display was in a hair salon. They sold 3 books in two months. This may not seem like many copies, but if you have several such shops selling for you it adds up (and this was one more than the local bookshop too!) Importantly, these are readers you wouldn’t reach through other means and gaining new readers is crucial for authors.

All it takes is to create a simple display such as the image above and below and the courage to ask your local shops to help an aspiring writer out. I bought a few desk organisers and repurposed them to sell books. On the back of each is my phone number so the shop owner can tell me when they’ve had enough of the display or to order more books. Remember if a shop does agree to help you out be grateful and courteous, you might need them again for your next book.

For ways to increase your chances of converting an interested person to a sale see my blog post on Odd ways to increase your sales.

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Odd ways to increase sales

How can you increase the chances of making a sale?Offering a free bookmark or sample chapter is one way to improve your chances of getting someone to buy your book. This works for a simple reason, the law of reciprocity, which is well-known to marketers – the gift of the bookmark (if they take one) nominally puts the person into your debt and this produces a discomfort in the person which they can resolve by buying your book.

Evidence for the strategy comes from several studies. Here are two:

1. Disabled American Veterans organisation reports that its simple mail appeal for donations produces a response rate of approximately 18%. But when the mailing also includes an unsolicited gift e.g. Personalised labels, the success rate nearly doubles to 35%. (Smolowe, 1990).

2. Researchers Berry and Kanouse (1987) found that they could increase the likelihood that doctors would complete and return a long questionnaire they received by mail by paying them first. When a cheque for $20 was included 78% of doctors returned the survey, in comparison to 66% doctors when they were paid after completion. Unfortunately, there was no comparison to a group which was not paid at all. Interestingly, 95% of doctors who complied cashed their cheque, whereas only 26% who did not comply cashed the cheque (ie took the free money), which further demonstrates the reciprocity norm.

So giving something away does not guarantee you a sale, but significantly increases your chances of making one. For some different places to sell books, see my post Odd places to sell books.

How to Network

Networking is an important skill for an author to utilise and (for the purposes of this post) distinct from social media networking. Networking is hard simply because it’s purpose is to achieve more than just “getting your name out there.” It’s about building relationships and that takes a lot more effort than social media posts. It means going to events in the real world with people who may be unpleasant to you to your face. For the record though, the authors, publishers, producers and editors I’ve met have all been friendly and nice people. Some have been shy, some have barely let me say a word, but they’ve all been positive. Even when a rather gruff movie producer rejected my pitch, the subtext was still “not that idea, what else have you got?” rather than “you’re not worthy.” And here’s the key – all the people you need to support you as an author also have something to gain from your success, so in general, they want you to succeed.*

You also need to have something to give people you meet so they have your email, phone number and website/social media details. This can be a business card or bookmark or flyer. I was slow off the mark with this. It was only when I was talking to an author for advice to calm my nerves about pitching to movie producers at the Melbourne International Film Festival that I realised I needed one. He was walking me through the likely scenario of what it would be like, including the crucial detail that most meetings would start with an exchange of business cards. I didn’t tell him that at that point in time, I didn’t have a business card. I just hurriedly designed one when I got home and had them printed in time for the event. It was life-saving advice, as I was prepared for the day. Again this network connection was invaluable to make sure I didn’t appear as out-of-my-depth as I felt. Since then I’ve kept a few cards in my wallet and been pleasantly surprised by how frequently I’ve given them out and how useful they’ve been.

In a nutshell here’s the crucial advice I received; Hand out those business cards and collect as many as you can. Follow up with people. If someone shows interest or may be a useful connection in the future send them an email – “Thanks for talking to me at Event X, please contact me if there’s anything you’d like to discuss further…” (or similar). It doesn’t have to be an essay. The crucial thing is to invite the contact to keep in touch and let them know you’re okay with them contacting you.

So how do you meet people from your industry to form relationships? Short version, get out and get active:

1. Join a writers group – you’ll meet a dozen or so people who will pretty much be obliged to buy your book when you publish, keep you inspired and meet people who can put you in touch with others who can help you.

2. Go to writers conferences such as (in Victoria) the Emerging Writers Festival, Small Press Network’s Annual Publishing Conference meet people and learn about the industry.

3. Look out for conferences where you can be a panelist and get on as many panels as you can. Not only will you be seen as being at the same level as your panelists by the audience, you’ll get the contact details of your panel members (so you can organise what you are going to discuss, who’ll chair the panel etc.). Send them an email after – “I had fun on the panel and enjoyed hearing your views. If you’d like to stay in touch you can email/call me on…”

4. Go to you local library/libraries and offer yourself for an author talk or to be involved in any events they might be hosting.

And the hardest:

5. Spend a day going from bookshop to bookshop and introduce yourself. Ask if they can stock your book and try to get their buyer’s contact details. This has been the hardest for me and often unsuccessful, but I’ve managed to get a few. It’s worth doing so when your next book comes out you can contact the person you need to directly and direct people to said bookshop to purchase the book. Being stocked by bricks and mortar bookshops carries a certain cachet which is appealing. Equally, the bookshop benefits as you’ll promote them to interested readers.

Putting yourself out there is hard for many writers, and can be confronting when someone says no, but even if it takes some rejections to make a new contact it’s worth it. After all, who knows, the next person you meet might be the one who buys a copy of your book or gives it some visibility (see a list of ten things networking can achieve). They may introduce you to the person who’ll publish your book or turn it into a movie. You won’t know unless you network.

 

 

*If a publisher rejects your novel, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer, just that, that particular book wasn’t for them. If they give feedback on editing or story – listen to it, but don’t give up. A friend of mine just signed a publishing contract with a publisher in the UK (she’s Australian), after been rejected many times. Her persistence was the key to her success. An expression I like is that you need to be “tolerably persistent.”

10 things I’ve seen networking achieve (a list).

The following is a list of things I’ve seen authors achieve through their own interpersonal network. (nb: excludes social media which is why i’m not using the phrase social network).

  • Get 5 offers from publishers to read a book that was still being drafted.
  • Get an invitation to speak to a school group.
  • Get a spot talking at a bookshop to their bookclub.
  • Get their books into libraries.
  • Meet the editor who made their work great.
  • Get a publishing contract with a one of the bigger Small Press.
  • Get someone to sell their books on their behalf at various markets.
  • Meet a great cover designer.
  • Meet more famous authors and gain endorsements from them.
  • Make new friends.

See my post on how to network for how you can achieve some of these benefits.

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