Real Life: book sales…
October 8, 2009 § 19 Comments
Several weeks ago, a writing friend suggested I attend the Strange Folk Festival in Illinois to be part of the “Writer’s Block.” Perhaps ill-named, it sounded like an opportunity nonetheless. The Festival was reserving two pavilions covering two dozen picnic tables for “local” writers (any writers) to come and sign and sell their books. It was free; just sign up and show up and if you didn’t, you wouldn’t be invited back next year. Also, the Festival attracts approx 10,000 people during its two-day, weekend run.
Sounded like a good op, different. I signed up.
I contacted my publisher and bought some books at the author’s discount to mule over to the fair. I packed up a huge pink shiny tablecloth, also got tons of brochures and bookmarks (from the publisher), had all kinds of $$$ change, bought some clear bags (to make a nice little package – autographed book, bookmark in the bag, sealed with a cool pink sticker), you know, for the “presentation” factor.
I thought it might work out since one of the books is the PINK PRAYER book; the second one, newly released PRAYERS FOR COPING WITH CANCER ,would come along, too. After all, October is breast cancer month so, I thought, there might be some interest. And I just wanted to see what it was like, what it was about.
HM volunteered to come along with me. He knows his way around that part of Illinois. He was interested to see what was what. We would be there from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. , a nice little 6-hour gig. He brought along his guitar. He could sit and play a little, look around. Joked about putting his hat out, you know, to maybe make some money. Ha ha. Let’s just say that if he had done so, he likely would have made more than I did.
We arrived. The organizer had made wonderful table-size name tags for each of us – about 14 authors had signed up.
And here I must explain. I am Editor of the two books I’ve worked on with Liguori. I wrangled people across the country to submit prayers. Heart felt, heart-wrenching prayers that are actually tiny tales in and of themselves, tales of triumph in some way. I wrangled some really good writers to submit essays. I wrote the preface. I edited, organized and coordinated the book, got one or two “big” names to say something.
For that, my name went on the book. It’s not all my writing. Literally, I am not the author. Also, I’m not all “churchy,” I’m not a church lady, nothing like that though my spirtiualism runs deep. I am the product of a Prebyterian upbringing, now married to a Roman Catholic who was educated through to graduation by the Jesuits. Still, had you asked, I would never have thought to produce two such books.
Please note that sometimes a successful book project happens because of connections, because of who you know. I know a senior editor at Liguori Publications. Because she reads my journalistic stuff that’s out there, she knew I like/love writing and asked if I would do these projects for Liguori. She is an excellent editor with publishing savvy. I said yes. The PINK PRAYER book has, as she promised, done amazingly well out there in the first year of its publication. The second book that just came out, will likely do the same thanks to Liguori, its professionalism and its reach.
All that aside, I stood there that beautiful fall day (and sometimes sat) two weeks ago, opting to sell the prayer books. It was interesting. It was hell. I prefer not to do it.
Here’s what I learned:
Position is everything. On my left was “goth.” On my right was “sci fi.” There I was in the middle: “prayer.”
Choose your venue. Had I been at a breast cancer awareness conference or a religious convention, perhaps people would have been less shy to browse the book, ask questions, etc. As it was, several people stopped by my table, got tears in their eyes, told a little story about themselves or family member, and walked away. I wanted to pat their hand or hug them more than try to sell them a book.
Feel the book; trumpet your wares. Like the “goth” girl on my left who told people as they approached that she had “the book they were looking for, that the death count in each of her novels was more than 60 percent.” Meanwhile, she “dressed” the part of her book, in drapey red and black clothing, scary hair, table draped in skulls. She said she did tons of these fairs, selling a few books. The money was at the conferences.
Sell other stuff, too. Like the Sassy Scribes across from me. They had a raffle for a basket of books. And they had a big bowl of (free) candy. I thought of entering their raffle AND eating some of their candy. (but I didn’t!)
Pick your book price. Think carefully. Do you want to sell and make a profit per book above what you paid considering your discount? (I thought I did. Wrong!) Do you want to price it under the internet prices on Amazon, etc.? Yes. (I did.) Do you want to get it into as many hands as possible regardless of price? Here you must give some weighty thought. In retrospect, I should have sold well under my discount price, just to get it into other people’s hands. But that would mean more people would have come to our “area” which was located at the far outskirts of the fair (unfortunately) and nowhere near the food (unfortunately!) Not to rationalize or anything, but like I said earlier “position is everything.” Very few people knew we were there. Um, no, I wasn’t going to run around the thick of the fair handing out brochures. I just couldn’t do that, say what you will about marketing.
Have someone do this sales/marketing thing for you. I was uncomfortable from the moment I arrived. Don’t get me wrong. I love to address a crowd, will give a speech to 500 strangers, will sing in a bistro with the band now and then, will give corporate presentations, will hostess parties and organize events and talk to strangers about writing and publishing, will teach workshops about writing to newbies and semi-pros and will do it with a smile and not a second thought. But this was not my thing, this picnic table in the wilderness where honestly, more people were interested in the ribbon fries than books and craft frippery. HM stepped up for me every time someone came to the table; he made them comfortable, chatted them up, did his sales thing which comes naturally. Further, it was great talking with other writers, what they were doing (all had full time jobs, too), how they whipped up bookmarks, what they had seen at other fairs, how much time they spent hawking, the profit from Amazon vs doing it this way on their own, etc. Still…
Be realistic. Having talked with the other writers that day, all but two others were self published and were there, “just to see” how it might go. Two showed up with a box of books and nothing else. Two came with all the booth-y bells and whistles you can imagine. Several claimed that at such a 2-day event, they hoped to sell two books.
I gave two books away: One to one of the Sassy Scribes who mentioned that a family member had just been diagnosed with cancer. The other book, to the woman who had organized the Writers Block thing for us. She would put it on display at the O’Fallon library. Good. I was beginning to feel that my purpose was mainly to get the word out, that people knew the book existed in case they needed it.
When the rains came at 2 o’clock, complete with hellacious lightning and thunder and the floors of the pavilion were flooding, I looked at HM, he knew “the look,” we packed up in a NY minute and were out of the there, with cheery goodbyes and sincere thank yous to the others we had met and shared space with for four hours. Goth girl, now wrapped in a blanket with her son, and the writer who brought nothing but his book he had written 10 years ago, waved cheerily and said “You’re not really leaving now, are you?” Everyone was great. Each had a story.
I’m glad I went there.
I’m glad I left.
I’m glad I am now intent on writing my own book(s) and will find a way, traditional or not, to get them out there.