Selling your work one book at a time…

I spent yesterday morning helping to sell books by regional authors for the Tallahassee Writer’s Association and spent the afternoon at the local Barnes & Noble, rubbing elbows with 19 other authors selling and signing their own books.  Here’s some observations:

  • Selling books this way, waiting for people to walk up and hopefully pick one of your books, is terribly inefficient if you want to just make money. Stressful, too, if you aren’t a hard charging selling type, like me.
  • I did sell a few, which always feels great.  Signing them is still a special honor and I try to think of something unique to write inside each book.  Guess that’s an indication of how few I’ve sold, but still it’s pretty cool.  I always wonder what’ll happen to the book once it leaves me.  Will they even read it?  Like it?  Throw it away?  The printed book is like a seed, looking for light and a fertile mind.
  • The best part of these sorts of days is always interacting with other writers and swapping stories.  We’re not really competing, even for authors writing in the same genre, but I still feel a mixture of jealously and pride whenever any of our books sell.  It’s our “tribe”, as Shari Stauch would put it.
  • I still raise an eyebrow (or both, if the money amount is high) at stories of a writer spending thousands of dollars to self publish their work.  I’m a big fan of doing things cheap, especially if you have the realistic expectation or goal that you’ll be lucky to recoup your money sunk into self publishing.  Being $6,000 in the hole before you sell even one seems really depressing, like taking out a student loan and hoping you graduate with marketable skills.  I’ve tried to be judicious about what I spend my writing hobby dollars on.  For the last book I opted to spend less than $1,000 for a solid book cover and a cover-to-cover, word-by-word very fine detailed edit job.  Money well spent but even that generates pressure to sell some of them.  Breaking even would be nice and even though I’m not one to meticulously track the money (“Dammit, Jim, I’m a writer, not an accountant!”) I’m probably breaking even over all three of my books.  Yay?
  • I suspect many writers-who-want-to-self-publish get lured into the vanity press outfits that offer a tempting package that “solves” all of your self publishing needs (except marketing – that costs extra, thank you!).  Truth is, as many know, you can self publish via Print on Demand or eBook formats for free, only paying for the actual printed books you want to sell or keep yourself.  My ~300 page books cost me less than $5 per copy at my price from the Print on Demand vendor I use (CreateSpace).
  • The writers that sold more books than others either hustled people expertly or had a steady stream of friends and family come by their table. I can usually make a sale once somebody’s shown interesting and gotten within close range but I’m too shy to lure complete strangers in. One writer even had their family decked out in t-shirts plugging her book.
  • Some writers have a solid spiel and a polished presentation, especially the non-fiction ones. Please, though, don’t try to sell to a fellow writer! In fact I offered to swap one of my books for another author’s and ended up giving away two of mine and received two books from two other local authors. Cool.
  • I finally broke down and printed out business cards.  Nothing special, just one of those web-based self-generated ones with my contact info and three book covers.  It made a difference, as I saw people pick them up even if they didn’t buy a book.  I should have done it earlier.  Maybe time to get more marketing materials, but I also keep reminding myself of the poor souls that spent $6,000 to get their books “published” with shiny new cards and book marks but no real marketing to speak of.
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