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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.”

Next Novel: A Gender Dilemma

When I pitched some books to movie producers at the recent Melbourne International Film Festival, it was really clear they were interested in books with strong female protagonists. If your book only had women as damsels in distress, minor characters or weak characters they weren’t interested. I found this fascinating and it made me think about the character choices I’d made in the past. All my books (with the exception of Mug Punter) pass the Bechdel test, but I’m yet to write one with a female lead character.

I’ve started working on a new novel. So far it has a complete chapter outline and a working title of The Sovereign Assassin (mostly since The Royal Assassin has been used before). What’s stopped me from really getting into the writing of it are two things: one, I’m also trying to write a non-fiction book and it’s frustratingly slow work, and two, I couldn’t decide what gender to make the main character. Such a simple choice has been surprisingly difficult and was something I’ve vacillated upon, because, unlike my previous novels, it has significant consequences for the nature of the story and I want to be making the choice for the right reasons (ie not just because of a pipe dream of selling a movie option on the book). Ultimately, what swayed me was the realisation a planned epiphany which would tie together several threads in the story, would have more relevance with a female character, so welcome to the world Princess Niobe of Tantalia.

What I found interesting was once I’d made the decision to make the main character a woman, other parts of the story, some of which I wasn’t sure would work, fell into place. More than that the whole story seemed stronger. This will be the first time I’ve written a novel with the main protagonist as a female. My first novel, The Conversationist had alternating perspectives, one of which was female and I had one reviewer say I wrote really well from the female perspective, so I’m hopeful I won’t offend people with my efforts in The Sovereign Assassin.

Unfortunately, with still needing to edit Colours of Death, chipping away at a non-fiction book and an estimated length for The Sovereign Assassin of around 85,000 words, it’s going to take some time to write. Maybe, just maybe it’ll be out early 2020.

Doubling my readership in a day/ Advice for new authors.

Marketing for indie/small press authors is an interesting process. Unlike with traditional publishers nearly the entire onus is on the author. For me, I’ve recently run my first giveaway for Incite Insight. This was always going to be loss-making since I wasn’t charging for my book. I spent about A$90 on a few mailing lists to advertise that the e-book was free for five days. I had over 1200 downloads of the book on the first day, when the bulk of the advertising was sent out, and over 1600 by the end of the five days. The giveaway has so far netted me several new reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, many more ratings, and a lot more adds by unique users on Goodreads. I’ve had several new kindle unlimited borrows of both Movemind and Incite Insight since the promotion, so it seems to have generated interest in my writing in the short term at least.

Since I’d only sold 800 copies of Incite Insight prior to the giveaway, I more than doubled my readership in a single day, which felt like quite an achievement. Despite this, I wouldn’t recommend it as a strategy for a new writers for several reasons:

  • Despite the quantity of downloads, these sales don’t count towards my Amazon ranking (there is a separate ranking list for ‘free books’).
  • Unless you have something your readers can pay for after reading the free e-book, you won’t get any return on your investment.
  • You can just make it free and do your own social media post about it, you might get a few hundred downloads, but to get the quantity of downloads to make it worthwhile you need pay to advertise.
  • The return in terms of reviews and ratings was (for me at least) far less than for paid readers. While I gained a couple of new Amazon reviews from the 1600 downloads, I’d received over 20 reviews from the prior 800 sales.

However, I think it would be a good idea for the following:

  • If I was a new author, I’d wait until I had two, or better yet, three titles available. Then I’d run a free promotion on one of the titles, followed by a second one on a different title a few weeks later. This would let you gauge the impact on your sales, help you get some reviews and build some momentum for you as an author.
  • Three weeks to a month after I released a new title (ie: wait for the friends, family and fans to buy their copies), and assuming I already had another three titles available, I’d consider making the new release free to help it gain some additional reviews and awareness. The consequential sales/borrows of the e-book should offset some of the cost of advertising that the book is free. Often, your latest writing is your best, so picking up new readers whose first exposure is to your best work is a good idea (and the psychologist in me says if they’ve like the first book of yours they read, then they’ll view the others in a better light).
  • If your goal is to gain new readers, improve your target audience’s awareness of your writing, or to boost the number of ratings and reviews rather than a monetary return on investment/making money from sales, then this is probably the most cost-effective marketing you can do. It exposes your book and your name (important for branding) to hundreds of thousands of readers (depending on the mailing lists you advertise on) and gets a lot of readers you would not normally reach (people will download it simply because its free) to read your book.

For more on marketing see my marketing page.

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