How to NOT Sell Books
One author had her back to the courtyard. She looked out at the street and talked on her cell phone. No one stopped at her table. The author/illustrator next to her was engaged with his family. They huddled around his table, laughing and joking. No one intruded on them. Another author peeled an apple, ate and drank most of the day, talking only infrequently when and if someone happened to stop at her table. One guy had his head down, I don’t know, a game, something, on his lap, kept him out of the moment. Two authors entertained each other chatting all day together sharing their publishing experiences and at the end of the day moaned about what another waste of time this day had been. Another author, who assumed he was well known, stood up the entire time, behind his table, with his arms crossed his chest. If he wanted to look imposing, he succeeded. Not too many folks stopped there. Most authors had their tables piled high with their books.
This was one of my first outings and I only had one small book. But, I sold the most so the hostess bought my books to put on her bookstore shelf. I learned several things that day, but mostly I learned why authors can’t sell books. I learned to reach out to the patrons and bring them to me. Otherwise, they keep on walking. They need a reason to stop.
This is why I have eye-catching displays on my table everywhere I go. Every book I sell has its special tablecloth and things people can touch that are all part of the story I’m selling. They don’t stop to see my book; they stop to touch things that are in the story, talk to me about them and wonder about the story. Then they’re interested enough to buy the book.
One of the best marketing tips came from my favorite book, The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. Have you read this? The dog has great philosophy for living. From the dog I learned about race car driving. Maybe you knew this, but it was new to me. You drive involuntarily toward what you are looking at. If you are a race car driver you know not to look at the curve you are entering, but look beyond it. If you look at it, you’ll go there and hit the wall. Always look out, ahead. I tested this. On lonely country roads with no other cars I deliberately looked into a field. Sure enough, my car followed the direction I was looking. I tried walking down a sidewalk looking toward a front door or a mailbox. Sure enough, my feet follow my gaze every time. So what has that to do with selling books? It means when I set up my table I put it where folks can see me when they come in the door. They’ll see me looking at them and smiling, hoping to make their acquaintance, glad they’ve come. They look at me, looking at them, and smile back. Their feet bring them directly to my table. I don’t always get to choose the location of my table. But I can always choose the location of me, my smile and my gaze. I cannot engage people that I’m not looking at. I’ll not sell to someone who’s not engaged with me. I’ll not get their attention if they aren’t the focus of my attention.
Recently I heard an author tell one of his visitors that he dumbs down his work for the average reader. I don’t know about you, but I find that insulting. He also told a patron that if a book is more than 6 months old, it doesn’t sell; they shouldn’t buy it. Just for the Moment: The Remarkable Gift of the Therapy Dog came out in 2010. I’ve had a royalty check from that book every quarter since. How will readers trust you if you lie to them? You can’t sell to someone who doesn’t trust you. Your customer, your reader, must be more important than your book.
If you aren’t making eye contact, if you aren’t talking to them, if you don’t care about them, if the reader can’t trust you and if the customer isn’t your main focus, you won’t sell books, guaranteed.