Tuesday, June 26, 2012

How to Sell Books

Last week I went to my local Farmer’s Market and nosed around a local nursery’s booth full of really wonderful looking herbs in pots. I’d never been to the nursery itself—never even heard of it despite it being in my town, so the booth was a nice introduction. They had fetching little tubs of thyme, basil, Thai basil, oregano. It was all lush and gorgeous. I really wanted some spearmint – for some reason I’ve had a hard time finding spearmint in stores to grow. Spearmint is best in cooking and baking.

They were out of spearmint. I asked after it and the lady said. “Oh, yeah, shoot, we didn’t bring the spearmint today.”

The Farmer’s Market is only once a week and I go every week because it gets the kiddos out of the house. “If you bring it next week, I will buy it,” I said. 

“Oh, sorry. We’re not coming next week. We’re done until August or so.” 

Wow, I thought. Okay, bummer. 

Then a second lady in the booth said, “Yeah, and my back hurts.” 

Woah, I thought. TMI. I’m just trying to buy some spearmint! 

I shrugged. The ladies shrugged (I hope it didn’t hurt the one lady’s back to do so). I left without purchasing anything. I also left without: 
  • An invitation to come visit their nursery and buy spearmint there
  • Enticement to visit them online or keep their name in mind
  • A personal connection
  • Incentive to ever buy anything from them again 

These ladies missed so much opportunity. Bottom line: they missed out on sales. So when you’re marketing anything, whether books or herbs, there are some simple follow up actions to take. Blasting your product out there and hoping you catch some customers like chickens pecking corn kernels amounts to spam and little else. 

Here’s what the ladies should have done: 

  • Not mentioned the aching back as a reason to not provide me with product –very sad but I don’t care, nor should I care
  • Offered to have me come to their nursery where they would set aside spearmint for me or even give me a tour
  • Taken my name or number 
  • Given me a business card
  • Introduced themselves by name 

Now let’s imagine you’ve published a book. You’re talking to someone somewhere who asks about it. You give then the finely-honed pitch – a logline even—and the person, let’s call them Bob, says, “God I would love to read that! That sounds awesome!” 

You: “Yeah, great, thanks.” 

Bob: “Can I get it on Amazon? Is it in bookstores?” 

You: “Sure.” 

Bob scratches head and smiles. “Okay.” 

You: “Great.” 

Bob: “Okay, then, thanks. Nice to meet you.” 

You: “You too.” 

Bob walks away and forgets the name of your book because Bob has a baby at home and hasn't slept in two years and can’t remember anything. Later, he gets home and he’s talking to his wife and says “Oh, man I met this great author, she was so nice! And her book sounded amazing!” 

Bob’s wife: “Really? What was it?” 

Bob: “Um….can’t remember the title, but it sounded good.” 

Bob’s wife: “Well who was the author?” 

Bob: “Can’t remember the name.” 

Bob’s wife: “Is it Jodi Picoult?” 

Bob: “No. Some author. Anyway, I’m in the middle of the latest James Patterson, I want to go read that.” 

Bob’s Wife “Okay.” (She thinks this is good news because then she won’t have to put out, and she’s exhausted from the baby to put out.)

So if you haven’t guessed already, here’s what you, the author should have done: 
  • Had business cards on hand, maybe even a small printed postcard for the book with the book’s cover 
  • Offered to take Bob’s name and email and then sign the book when he gets a copy
  • Said to him, “Yeah, it’s in local bookstores! In fact it’s in the [insert local bookstore here] – I know because I signed a pile of copies for them! And if you can’t find it or want it on your eReader, just do a search for my name at Amazon or B&N—here, let me write it down for you.” 
  • Thanked Bob, made sure he knew your name. 
  • Maybe even made a jokey joke about the book title. 

Does that seem like a lot of work? Maybe. But you’re selling books. That’s what you do. 



Amber Tidd Murphy said...


I have missed you and your point-of-view. I'm getting ready to add writerly details to my Linkedin profile.

Steven J. Wangsness said...

I like the business card idea. Gotta do that.

Sierra Godfrey said...

Well thanks Amber! It's good to see you too.

Trav.Stephen, and cards, too. Vista Print prints both very cheaply and the quality is decent.

Meghan Ward said...

This is great advice. I've also seen business cards with the book cover printed on them, so that's an option. I use PS Print in Oakland, and they're great. I'll tweet this!

Sierra Godfrey said...

Thanks Meghan. Interestingly, I bought books by author friends for relatives for Christmas presents this past Christmas. I asked one, who is especially technically savvy for some way to sign the book, and he/she had no way. The other author I don't mind saying was Samuel Park who sent me signed book cards--that is, postcards with the book cover on it, and a few reviews. It was great because he's in Chicago and there wasn't any time to send books to him to sign.

Sierra Gardner said...

I meant to comment the first time I read this post but am glad I waited because it was even funnier the second time around =) Most of what you talked about is basic customer service (so maybe those years of waitressing will come in handy after all). You need to make sure that the customer gets excellent service above and beyond what they expected and that they remember you for it. It's the difference between creating an occasional customer and a raving fan. The latter are the ones who boost your business.

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