How and Where to Share your Book, from Jim Elstad’s talk in March 2015

Jim walked in to our Writers’ Mill meeting with a small suitcase on wheels and something that looked like a wooden easel. It turned out he was carrying everything necessary to set up a book-table for a book-signing, book-sale, book-reading, etc. Just add courage!

Jim’s talk began with a deceptively simple question: Why do you write? Words might be personally satisfying and might fill up your hard drive eventually, but they need to be shared. If you want to write seriously, your words need to reach your intended audience, and to do that, you must take risks. Jim’s risk, with his first book, was investing in 1100 copies. Truly scary and expensive, but he sold them! (My 200 are still boxed under the spare bed!)

  1. Who is your target audience, and how can you contact them? A book of military fiction set in the South has a target audience on military bases in the South, but local veterans groups might be interested too. Expand your ideas of where to find your readers. Remember they all have relatives purchasing birthday presents for them. Then take a risk. Meet them! (And remember, trips to military bases in the South just might be tax deductible if you’re doing them to sell books.)
  2. Stand up and be counted. Go to where that audience might be and speak – radio interviews, newspaper articles, book store owners. Be an authorpreneur. Look at places you have to go, and see if you can use them as places to sell books. A teacher might try to sell children’s books to school librarians. Try your local coffee shop.
  3. Speak up in short sentences. Do you have a 30 second pitch for your book? If not, you should have, even if the book’s not been written yet. Be able to answer, “What’s your book about?” before your friend gets distracted and walks away.
  4. What can you say? “Do you read?” might be insulting, but try “Do you read novels?” If you’re trying to sell books, try to have a friend selling different books nearby, then the person who only reads children’s books can go one way while the reader of military fiction goes the other, and they both buy something.
  5. Keep writing. “I’ve got this great book… and in the sequel…”
  6. But don’t keep talking. Give everyone 3 minutes, then wrap up with “and I’m selling them for $…” If someone want to chat longer, that’s fine, but make sure you say “Excuse me just a second” and turn your attention to the next potential customer passing by. If chatty friend is interested, s/he’ll wait.
  7. Except, don’t stop talking either. Talk to everyone, even when you’re setting up/taking down your table. Everyone’s a potential customer. Grandparents might buy your book for their grandkids. Children might buy them for their aunts and uncles. But whoever you’re talking to, look them in the eye!
  8. Get onto the Internet: You should start your website/blog at least six months before your book comes out. Remember, typing onto the Internet is much less scary than talking to real people. You should aim high; get a professional to do your site because you’re too busy writing. Do what you love to do.
  9. Similarly, don’t waste time creating book covers. There are professionals out there who will make your book sell much better by creating a good cover. Set your parameters, stick to them, and pay someone to do the job.
  10. You’re probably paying for the venue where you’re selling books too. That’s life. They might want 10% of your take, or 22%, or they might charge per table, or even both. It’s the cost of selling books.
  11. What do you need for your book table? The venue may provide some things, but be prepared in case they don’t.
    1. Have a table that you’re comfortable standing behind.
    2. Have a table-cloth. If you’re selling outside, have a tarpaulin. If the table-cloth gets damaged, it will make a good spare table-cloth.
    3. Print up some posters. The venue might use them for advertising if you email them, but don’t assume they will.
    4. Have a poster that hangs over the front of the table. Have a stand for one that stands on the table.
    5. Bring business cards – print new ones for every new book
    6. Set up your table near others that are selling things. People shopping for military memorabilia might buy a military book too.
    7. And advertise. The venue might do it. They might not. You should do it anyway, in papers, etc.
    8. Dress professionally. Look like an author.
    9. Find out what the rules of the venue are and obey them.
    10. Sign up so you can accept credit cards, otherwise you will lose sales. Credit card fees might be $75 per year plus 3% of sales, but they’re worth it. Reward cards cost you more, but hey, it’s a sale!
    11. Be nice, even when things go wrong.
  12. What should go on your posters?
    1. That 30-second pitch is a good start.
    2. Picture of the book cover.
    3. Add the date and time of the sale (unless it’s a poster you plan to reuse)
    4. DO NOT include the price because you’ll probably change it.
  13. How do you avoid getting discouraged after selling two books in a day? Jim has sold 1500 copies in 3 years. That means he’s made about 15,000 pitches, and 13,500 said no. If someone says “No,” move on.

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