This is Suzanne Hagelin’s fifth post in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writer’s Association. NIWA serves Pacific Northwest writers working to achieve professional standards in independent writing, publishing, and marketing.
Are there people who love sales? I think so, but I’m not sure how many authors are among them. Most of us are pressed into the wild realm of sales by necessity.
It hasn’t come to me naturally. Whether in person or online, it’s taken time to acquire some practical skills and a healthy sense of detachment. My emotional well-being doesn’t need to depend on making that sale. I don’t beg for sales and I don’t apologize for my books or prices. If my selection doesn’t suit someone, I’m happy to follow Thomas Gondolfi’s advice and direct them to another author.
Once the time has come to organize your approach to sales, remember that you can’t pursue all the options at the same time. I know it’s tempting, but it’s unwise to spread yourself too thin. So, where do you start? Before you can make a plan, you need to do some research.
Buy a trench coat, a fedora with the front edge turned down, and pick up some sunglasses. Next time a fog rolls in as dusk is falling, don your gear and head out into the streets, sticking to the shadows, and follow the leads…
No, it’s not that glamorous.
You need to know a few things before planning your sales approach. How are other authors in your genre selling their books? What are readers looking for—and where? Who should you turn to for suggestions? What tactics are doable for you and what investment do they require? Write down your questions as they come to you. Some of them will be really helpful. Others may become obsolete as you investigate and collect information.
Ways to research
- Search engines
- Join groups, in person and/or online, where authors talk about sales (FB has many)
- Read blogs by authors
- Get on newsletter lists by independent authors in your genre
- Go to events that carry your genre of books
You can release your book in both print and ebook form at the same time, but you’ll find that the approach to selling them is very different. Make a plan for each and whether you focus on them one at a time or juggle the two, just get started and do your best. There’s no ideal way.
There are no secrets, either, that can bypass the hard work needed to make sales. Some authors have found shortcuts to success, but it wasn’t due to brilliance on their part. They had the right books at the right time offered to the right market. Don’t count on having the same results—and certainly don’t spend money to buy this kind of ‘secret’ and become one of their sources of income.
Selling print copies of your books is a great place to start but it’s a more expensive path. So, why do it? Some people prefer printed books and some like to support local authors. Printed books with quality covers that the authors are willing to stand behind and sell personally are also more likely to be better quality than a lot of the miscellaneous eBooks out there.
This is not to say that good authors who publish only eBooks can’t make a name for themselves, but hard work is what is needed in any medium. They need to establish a reputation as a known author and set themselves apart from the glut of writings that exist.
The year I spent going to events, talking to authors and buying books, was valuable. I heard their pitches, looked at their books and table arrangements. I walked through the dealers’ rooms and saw how it all fit together. It was rather overwhelming, but it was a great opportunity for me to get to know each event, its attendees, vendors, and style, and decide whether or not I could do it.
Some advice, if you decide to follow my example and talk to authors at events:
- Look at their books and see what interests you. Buy one. I buy at least one book from another author at every event I attend. Think of it as market research. I’ve found some real gems that way.
- Beware of blocking an author’s table and dominating their time with your questions. Be watchful for other customers and considerate of the author’s time.
- Don’t expect a personal private lesson in sales or publishing or any other aspect of writing. It’s true that many authors will talk to you about these things and some are really helpful, but more often than not, the time you spend at their table is blocking potential customers.
- Don’t talk to them about your book or work-in-progress unless they ask and then keep it brief.
- Don’t offer them samples or copies of your writing or ask to put your books on their table.
Selling at Events
I write science fiction, and in my case, events were the ideal place to break into print sales. Science fiction and fantasy conventions have concentrated groups of people who like these genres and some of them are looking for books or new authors. Research led me to some events to try and I began signing up for tables in local events.
Here are some of the costs.
- Table fees and related event fees
- Stocking books and table supplies
- Printing business cards, bookmarks, signs, and such
- Time investment
- Personal cost, putting yourself out there (authors aren’t often extroverts)
- When you’re holding your first book, pitching it to your first potential customer, and facing what could feel like rejection for the first time—that’s when you need to know, not just the how-tos, but the benefits of sales.
When you’re holding your first book, pitching it to your first potential customer, and facing what could feel like rejection for the first time—that’s when you need to know, not just the how-tos, but the benefits of sales.
There are a number of benefits that make it worthwhile.
- Getting to know real people who like your genre and might like your book.
- Learning how to pitch your book.
- Forming realistic expectations about sales and being ok with them.
- Learning by trial and error is valuable and increases what you’re able to glean from others.
- Getting to know the market, finding your niche.
- Getting to know other authors, networking, making friends.
Planning for Events
Do you want to give events a shot? I highly recommend “Working the Table: An Indie Author’s Guide to Conventions”. It has everything you need to know to get started.
Choose two events nearby and submit applications for a table. Depending on how popular the event is, you may not get a spot. That’s fine. Just keep trying till you get one somewhere.
Budget. Make a budget for the event and for now, don’t assume you will make back ANY of it. Tell yourself this is research and worth the investment. I usually include the table fee, gas and parking, food and coffee expenses (if I don’t bring my own), and money to buy one book from another indie author. I have a separate budget for other expenses that cover multiple events such as printing and tablecloths. Restocking books is also something I budgeted separately in the beginning.
Schedule. Planning time for each step of the event is important. Allow for setup and teardown, traveling time, hours working the table, meals, and updating your records at the end. If you need supplies, add shopping time. If you need things printed, schedule it early enough to have them in time.
Setup. The first couple times I had a table, I staged it at home a week ahead so I could think about what I wanted it to look like. Once you get there, you find that there are things to change. This could be for a number of reasons like lighting and the tables on either side of you. Staging at home helps to identify supplies you could be lacking or unrealistic expectations of what you can achieve on your table. Setup is an art that can be learned and improved. Start simple and see what works. If changes need to be made during the event, wait till there are no customers around, before the dealer room opens or after it closes is best, and keep it simple.
Supplies. “Working the Table” has great suggestions on supplies to keep in stock and I can’t improve on it. Make a list of things you think you’ll need and keep them on hand, packed in a plastic container, ready to go. At the end of each event, make sure you have a “resupply” list where you make a note of things you’ve run out of.
Making Sales. Get an app for making sales that has the ability to charge credit cards. You should use it for ALL your sales including cash to simplify tracking. Square is a great, and their software and reporting are excellent. Some people use PayPal Here but I found their reporting cumbersome; in fact, it drove me crazy. I have both, but I much prefer using Square for sales and PP for making business payments.
You’ll need a cash box with some seed cash for making change. The easiest way to do cash sales is to include the sales tax in the price. I have one price on the books, and I tell customers that if they pay cash, I will cover the sales tax. You earn slightly less on your books and it adds a bit more work in calculating your sales but it’s worth it to avoid the hassle of small change.
Records. Square tracks all your transactions, deposits your credit sales money at the end of the day, and tracks your inventory. Keep receipts and record your expenses, and you’ll find it’s easy to keep your records up to date.
Getting Into Bookstores
Check out independent bookstores near you and see if they are open to hosting local authors. Many have information about this on their website. Some will sell your books on consignment and others may be open to scheduling a book signing. This step makes more sense once you have a following because the idea is that you will bring in customers for the bookstore and sell books for them.
If no one knows who you are yet, book signings are not the place to start.
One final word of advice on selling printed copies. Keep your expectations reasonable. If you have never sold books before, don’t expect to cover your costs the first time—or even for some time after that. Writing more books helps, but so does learning how to sell them. Your target should be long-term, establishing a reputation, gaining fans who like what they’ve read, building skills in working the table, and getting to know your market. In the long run, this is what book sales are all about. Again, “Working the Table” is a great resource.
There are a number of places where you can sell your eBooks online. Most authors choose Amazon, which pretty much created the digital reader world, and it’s certainly an easy way to go. There are a number of other options as well and it’s not hard to try several of them at the same time. This isn’t the place to discuss the pros and cons of each one, and I’m not necessarily the best person to give advice either. It’s only recently that I’ve begun to focus more on eBooks and exploring different ways to distribute them and make sales.
EBooks are closely tied to online marketing and most of the discussion about planning these sales fits better in my next post on Organizing Your Approach to Marketing.
Here are some practical tips using Amazon KDP as an example—but please don’t limit yourself to them without considering all your options. I have tested and am using several different distributors and am very glad I didn’t restrict myself to only one.
Take a small book or novella for a test drive, and do the following:
- Upload your test ePub to the KDP platform.
- Add the cover and metadata.
- Publish the book.
- Go to the Amazon page and check out how everything looks.
- Buy a Kindle copy, (the app is free on your phone or computer, so you don’t have to buy a Kindle).
- Invite a couple of friends or family members to get a copy and read it.
- Make notes on what you learn about the process and what needs improvement.
- Check out the KDP Reports section and see how your sales data is handled.
Now check out some other eBook distributors and try the same thing there. I have used Draft2Digital (which has worked well for me) and IngramSpark (which may have good distribution but is impossible to run promotions through). There are a number of other options as well.
Managing Your Own Online Sales
Author Page Online. Authors should have some means of selling books directly to their readers and that requires a website or author page of some kind. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to set up a presence online. What you do need is time and a clear idea of what you want to accomplish.
Here are a few suggestions.
- Host your own website through a web hosting service that works for you.
- A FaceBook author page
- A blogsite such as Word Press
Use your website, FaceBook page, blog, or whichever other platform you prefer to link to your online store and your eBooks. It’s not necessary to pay a lot in order to sell books from your own site.
Online Store. There are some pretty sophisticated packages out there for setting up secure, online stores, but if you’re looking for a free option that blends beautifully with your in-person sales, I highly recommend Square’s online store. It’s easy to use and free, apart from the usual fees all credit card sales charge. It has the added benefit of keeping all your sales transactions and inventory in one place.
eBooks links. You can also set up universal book links through a service like Books2Read.com and that way, you have one link per eBook and from there readers can choose their favorite distributor.
There are a few classic tidbits of wisdom that never lose their punch.
- To learn to sell books, keep selling books.
- To sell more books, write more books.
You may want readers to love you, but they don’t want to love you unless you have more books they can pick up and read.
I’m a reader and I feel the same way.
The first post in this series is “Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Mind”.
You can read the second installment here, “Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Time”, the third here, “Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Plot”, and the fourth here, “Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Publication Process”.
The sixth post, “Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Approach to Marketing”, comes out next week on Joyce Reynolds-Ward’s Blog.
USA Today bestselling author of hard science fiction, Suzanne Hagelin, lives in the Seattle area where she runs a small press, Varida P&R, and teaches language on the side.
Her Books. The Silvarian Trilogy Book 1, “Body Suit” is available for 99c in April only and the audiobook is Downpour’s current Editor’s Pick at $4.95. Book 2 “Nebulus” just released on audio, and Book 3, “The Denser Plane” is in the writing stage. The Severance begins with “Cascade” and will be followed by “Eclipse”.