Boots On The Ground: Selling Real Books to Real People

LA VendingLast weekend I spent 10 hours a day for two days selling my books from a booth at the Los Alamos Old Days Celebration. I shared a booth with my wife, who sold handcrafted jewelry. We were outdoors under a canopy. Day 1 was very windy, which meant constant retrieval and resetting displays. Day 2 was hot and sweaty. It took us an additional day to recover. I sold nine books. Was it worth it?

Nothing is certain with book sales today. On-line sales demand faith. You set your book parameters with the retailer (genre, category, tabs, synopsis, etc.) and then wait. If sales are slim, you might return and reset the parameters. And wait.

There is a certain amount of gratification that comes from face to face retail. The personal connection with the buyer is valuable. A positive conversation can build confidence. The sales presentation can be altered on the spot to suit the customer. The author gains immediate feedback (good or ill), and so does the buyer. The books can be signed, personalized for the buyer.

In the physical world of book retail, appearance is everything. While cover art is important for online retail, it is even more important for physical sales. It is the cover that draws the customer to the shelf or to the booth. It is the back cover material that helps sell it.

With personal sales the author’s appearance is important too. I try to wear an outfit similar to what I wore for the picture on the book. I watched people who pass by our booth glance at my book picture and then up at me. Curiosity is an excellent sales tool. Consistency in the appearance of both the book and author is important too.

There is something special about holding a book in your hands, flipping through it, feeling its weight, smelling the fresh pages. Once a customer does this, a sale is likely. My offer to sign it often seals the deal.

The greatest advantage of online sales is volume. Amazon, or Apple, or Barnes & Noble reach so many people. But profit from an eBook is small. And if you’ve contracted with an agent and a publishing house, even smaller.

Still, physical sales opportunities are few and far between for the average author. Physical sales outlets need to be nurtured over a period of time. Brick and mortar stores, signing venues, book fairs, and street fairs need to be approached, evaluated, convinced, or otherwise prepared in advance. But once established, most will then be available year to year.

I’ve found I can learn more from selling my books with my “boots on the ground”. A discussion with a potential buyer can have great value and offer insights into all facets of book production. And it is enjoyable. When I have spent months creating characters and determining their actions and lives, there is nothing more enjoyable than discussing them with people.

The personal connection helps the buyer as well. There is no better way to learn what lies between the covers of a book than to discuss it with the author.

Read On

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