Monday, November 29, 2010

How do we sell books? One at a time!

A wise author friend once said to me: "You know how I sell books? One at a time!" This is one of those truisms that should cause every author to think and yet, many do not.

I've been promoting and selling my first book for over three years now and I've learned some dos and don'ts, some of which I've mentioned in previous posts. But one thing I didn't have to learn was that everyone is a potential book buyer, and if you treat them well they may just buy yours. If authors believe in their product then they shouldn't be bashful about promoting it and soliciting sales.

Admittedly, most authors suffer from insecurities about their writing and are many are even introverted by nature. As a result they are unsure whether their work is good enough to openly promote. But after the initial validation arrives, such as being published by a reputable press, they should be unabashed about putting themselves "out there" to solicit sales. Authors shouldn't be timid about offering their book(s) to others in a nice, yet unobtrusive way. Let me tell you about some of my experiences in this regard.

Whenever I'm seated on an airplane next to someone who is reading a book, and when the occasion presents itself I venture to ask, "Is that a good read?" It has never failed to get a response and always initiates a pleasant conversation. I then ask, "What other kinds of books do you read?" This normally elicits the response, "Oh, all kinds." I then offer, "Could I give you a recommendation?" "Sure," they invariably say. That's when I give them my business card, which has the cover of my book on one side and one line reviews and where they can order the book on the other (a card I designed myself, and which several authors have mentioned they wished they'd have thought of). Often times, if I have a book in my carry-on, I sell it to them on the spot.

I once met a little old lady on a flight home from a book appearance in Birmingham, Ala. We enjoyed a nice conversation—in which I mentioned that I was a recently published author. She said she'd like to buy one but the only copy I had was in my checked luggage. Unfortunately, she hadn't checked any so we parted ways in the terminal. "Darn," I thought, "There goes a sale." About a month later I got a letter from the woman telling me that she had ordered my book from Barnes & Noble and loved it. "You probably don't remember me..." she began, and related our trip together on that plane. Of course I remembered.

Many people have never met an author face to face and getting a personalized autographed copy from one can be considered a bit of a thrill (several people have told me this). Venues where I've sold books will surprise many authors. I once used taking a bunch of mail ordered books to the post office to start a conversation, and sold one to the postal clerk. When being checked into a hospital for surgery, I sold one to the admitting nurse. I've sold books at a bowling alley, a funeral dinner, to a cashier at a restaurant, to my doctors and dentists and their receptionists, at cocktail parties, once while out for a walk, and in a hotel bar while having a drink. I always carry business cards with me and hand them out at every opportunity.

I believe in answering all my eMails and treating people with respect. I met an author via the Internet and even bought one of her books. I tried to correspond with her but she never answered my inquiry. Do you think I'll buy another of her books? Underneath it all, everyone is a potential book buyer and you never know where your next sale will come from.

After all, we do sell them one at a time.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Scammers Are Everywhere

Many years ago, when I went to college, teaching was considered to be an occupation of last resort for most men because it was predominately populated by women—and had low pay scales to boot. A student who wasn't succeeding at his studies in the "more highly regarded" disciplines such as science, engineering, or mathematics was told, "You could always teach." They were in essence advised, "If you can't do, then teach." Later, as our educational system expanded and began specializing in preparing teachers, this simple maxim was modified even further—"If you can't do, teach, and if you can't teach then teach others to teach."

The reason I bring this up is that it reminds me of what I see happening in writing today. Along with many other authors, I have been dismayed and frustrated about the state of publishing today. I've mentioned in previous posts how difficult it is for authors to get into print, and it's not because good books aren't being written. Quite the contrary, many really good first-time authors never get a chance to be published because of industry problems and their resultant standards and practices. And, if and when they do get published, no matter how famous the authors, they have to do virtually all of the promotion for their work. Perhaps it's just me, but don't you think it's a bit demeaning to watch our former president make the rounds of the talk shows, just to hawk his memoir? In eight years in office he had fewer press conferences than the number of book promotion appearances. (For another take on this, see the NYT column Cavett's Lament.)

This development has caused me to paraphrase the above teaching maxim, adapting it to the writing profession as it has devolved today. "If you can't write (or get published), then teach others to write (so they can't get published either), and if you can't teach others how to write, offer publishing services, editing and promotional help (all for a price, of course)."

Bear in mind that not all people who offer services are charlatans and many offer writers valuable help. But, it is mind boggling just looking at how many self-publishing companies have sprung up in the past ten years. And if you put yourself in a struggling writer's shoes, one who has spent countless hours, if not months or years, researching and writing a manuscript, only to be told "no-thanks" or worse by the mainstream publishing industry, you can understand why this branch of the business is thriving. Frustration abounds, and authors are driven to the point of wanting to get their name on a published book no matter the cost.

In order to pay the bills, many writers have been forced to branch out into the writing support business—providing editing and consulting services. Some even give classes or courses on how to get published—"teaching others how 'write for fun and profit.'" And there's no shortage of aspiring authors to attend these sessions.

A disturbing trend, however, is the promotion of the self-publishing option by people who make money from "teaching others how to write or get published." This has caused me to wonder how they divorce their self-interest from the those of the author? Think about it—if you're teaching writers how to get into print, and you point them to self-publishing—what have you taught them? Without some of these aspiring authors actually getting into print, the pool of students would dry up and these "teachers" would lose a significant portion of their fee-paying audience. Lately I've noticed courses being promoted such as, "Is self-publishing right for you?" This trend takes counseling others to "do what you can't" to new heights. There is no end to the potential division of the writing profession into fragments that someone can utilize to make money, from an unlimited pool of aspirants.

Writer's conferences are another disturbing market faction that seeks to cash in on the aspirations of fledgling authors. Come to the conference (for a not insignificant fee) and learn how to make a "dynamite proposal to publishers," and get to present your book idea (for an additional fee) to publishing agents. Wow, what hopeful writer could turn that down? I once wrote letters, in advance, to all the agents listed to appear at a certain conference to ask if they were accepting new clients. The answer was a resounding "NO!" They either weren't accepting any new clients, or were only interested in authors who had known track records. So, I wanted to ask, why are you appearing at a conference, and accepting fees from aspiring writers, only to tell them you aren't taking on new clients? The answer is as sad as it is obvious—there are a number of people making a living off the dreams of others.

It turns out that this isn't anything new, just a new wrinkle to a very old game.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

DeLand Appearance

Monday, November 8, 2010

RAFF ELLIS, author of the literary memoir Kisses from a Distance to present lecture.

Author/lecturer, Raff Ellis, will speak at a meeting of the Roots & Branches Genealogical Society of West Volusia County at 2:00 pm on Sunday, November 21. Meetings are held at the DeLand Public Library, 130 East Howry Avenue.

The talk is titled, The Making of Kisses from a Distance, in which Mr. Ellis chronicles the lengthy journey he took that led to researching and writing his award-winning memoir.

Mr. Ellis has also written a second book titled, I Don’t Believe in Ghosts, which is scheduled for release in December. Also a memoir, this work is somewhat unique in that it chronicles life experiences through a collection of short stories.

More information about Mr. Ellis and his work may be found at:

KFAD YouTube video

Posted by Lou Belcher at 12:34 PM - Florida Book News