The Power Of Hand Selling

Chef Michel Roux at book signing

CC 2009 Roland Tanglao

I’ve often talked about how signing with a micropress in 2004 was the biggest mistake of my career. And yet, I’ve struggled with the independent route. When my original publisher was a going concern, I managed to sell 500 copies of Northcoast Shakedown, 200 of them directly out of my trunk. So why aren’t people flocking to me after saying “Your first novel was really great!”?

Well, corky, let’s take a look at the Jim of 2005, when Northcoast debuted. In spite of the mediocre cover (which, let’s be honest here, I approved), occasionally poor-quality prints, and distribution problems, the book was one of that publisher’s consistent best-sellers. Why? It was my first, my baby. I could talk all you wanted about it. I traveled (since my dad had left me a little bit of cash and flying to New York and various Bouchercons seemed like a good investment). I gushed about writing a book. I belonged to a Toastmasters group. A little about Toastmasters.

First off, any author who wants to pimp his or her wares should join a Toastmasters club. Most writers are introverts anyway, so the fear of public speaking doubles. Toastmasters doesn’t exactly cure you of it, but it does show you how to put that fear to work for you. I used to win table topics contests, which tests members by forcing them to speak off the cuff for 2-3 minutes. It’s a fun, safe environment where you can learn to speak in front of people. Believe me, when you work their program, it’s a huge confidence booster.

But Toastmasters are innately curious about other Toastmasters. Even before and after the meeting, if you’re an author, they’re going to ask you about your work. I probably sold 20-30 copies that way, and another 30 at various district-level functions.

I went to Bouchercon. I went to Love Is Murder. I went to New York for the helluvit. (That last one likely won’t happen again for a while.) I shook hands. I commiserated. Probably what sold those other 440 copies was the fact that I went to these events, talked a little about Northcoast with an enthusiasm of a college senior snagging his first job. But I didn’t talk constantly about it or bombard people with emails and MySpace messages and…

Therein lies the difference. When I went indie, I noticed Road Rules would get a little uptick whenever I started talking to people, this despite a couple of nauseating covers and crummy formatting. Of course, it was early in the ebook revolution. People were more forgiving back then. But Road Rules was a quick and dirty little caper that’s easy to talk about. What’s not to like about “I wrote a book about two idiots in a stolen Caddie with a holy relic they don’t know is in the trunk?”

What doesn’t work?

Filling your twitter feed with “My Awesome Epic http://someshortlink #indiepub #thriller #mymomsaysitsawesome #hashtagvomit”

Yes, even I’ve done that. You know what potential readers do when they see that? They unfollow you. They unfriend you on Facebook if all you do is bombard people with fan page invites. But if you talk about your book (without more than one or two hashtags please) while talking about life, the universe, and everything else, people get innately curious. And talk about the book in person. I don’t mean like every word out of JA Konrath’s mouth is about his books and self-publishing and whatever else he is pontificating about today. I mean have a genuine conversation with people. If it comes up in conversation, tell them about it. Give them a link. Ask them (very politely) for a review. It happened at Ye Olde Day Jobbe this past week, and somehow, without mentioning it, I even sold a copy of poor, ignored Second Hand Goods.I know New York and London love hashtag vomit and excessive promos. Let me explain this in very clear terms: It does not work. It only alienates readers and kills sales. I have never bought a book off an automated tweet or twenty Facebook posts a day. I bought them because someone was blown away by something and insisted I download or get to my local Barnes & Noble/indie store/Amazon right this frickin’ minute. Sorry, social media gurus, but you’ve been getting it wrong for a decade now. Lest ye point out I’m a middle-aged IT worker who grew up before the Internet, I will remind you that my stepson, who is 20, finds Twitter annoying and useless. He also prefers print books to Kindle. So do his friends. It means you still have to go do legwork if you want to sell books. There were three million published last year. Hashtag vomit is just a means for me to whittle down the list of potential new buys.

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