These days I rarely buy books written by big name authors. Other than Stephen King, I haven’t bought a book by a well-known author in years. I tend to purchase books written by lesser-known authors (small press and Indie, for the most part). Most of these writers I have never heard of.
So, why would I purchase books from a bunch of unknown writers?
Well, the main reason is simple: I am one of those unknown writers. I’m starting to garner a little bit of a following, but I am nowhere near Stephen King status. I am, for the most part, an unknown trying to get my name out there to the reading population. By putting my work out there I am asking you, the readers, to take a chance with me, to trust that I won’t let you down when you listen to me tell a tale.
Anyone who works in the arts will tell you that this takes a lot of trust on the artist’s behalf as well. Everyone is a critic and artists get blasted hard and often, not just by the consumer, but other artists. Writing is an art. For those of us who no one knows about it’s often frustrating, especially if we believe in our work.
So, what do we do? We go onto social media and say ‘hey, here is my book, buy it, please.’ Every once in a while someone will see that bit of pleading and consider buying the book. But that’s not enough.
We do blogs or vlogs or other forms of communicating to people we try to connect with. And, like the social media thing, someone might see the blog and consider purchasing a book. [[Yes, I know a blog is social media, but when I say social media I mean Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and those types of things.]]
Hmmm…but that’s not enough. Even if you have a potential best seller, unless you have a big publishing house behind you helping you with marketing, doing these things will only help so much.
Then there are conventions and festivals.
Back in April I participated in The Cayce Festival of the Arts as a vendor. It was the first time I had been on the other side of the table. Instead of buying from someone, I was there for folks to buy from. At first it was daunting and I was nervous. What if no one bought my books? What if no one came to my table? What if no one talked to me at all? Oh, the anxiety.
I can say that my fears were unfounded, at least for that festival. People did come to my table and talk with me and purchase books. It was a very successful event. And very enjoyable. I got to talk to a lot of nice folks.
One particular woman came to my table about halfway through the day. She was older than me. She was also an editor. She came to my table and asked a question I had never been asked before: ‘Tell me about you.’ Yeah, I know it’s not technically a question, but in essence, it really was.
I replied, ‘Me, the person, or me, the writer?’
‘You, the person.’
Up to that point I had heard the term, ‘sell yourself,’ but never really thought about it. This woman—and I wish I would have gotten her name—was asking me to sell myself to her right then and there. And I did. I told her who I was and a little about my family and where I was from—which just happened to be a hop, skip and a jump from where we stood talking.
She gave a quick nod and pointed at one of my books. ‘I’ll take one of those,’ she said and handed me cash. I signed her book and gave it to her and off she went. She never asked me about the book, only about me, the person.
I learned a valuable lesson that day. As a writer, I’m not just selling my books, but I’m selling myself, my personality. Who I am. The term ‘sell yourself’ suddenly clicked with me. Again, I had heard the term, but never really thought about it. So, if I never thought about it, then how could I actually do it?
Fast forward to today. I went to the South Carolina Book Festival this morning. I was there for almost four hours. I talked to a lot of authors, both traditional and indie published. They were all trying to get people to buy their books. They were all selling their books. But not all of them were selling themselves.
I went to one table and the vendor said nothing. He looked at me and then turned around to tend to something else. I walked away. He wasn’t interested in me or my money. He also wasn’t interested in selling his books or even making an attempt. There were other folks sitting at their booths on their tablets or phones, seemingly oblivious to the many readers there to buy books.
One person stuck to his sales pitch and whenever I asked him questions, he didn’t seem to want to answer them. But he constantly tried to put a book in my hand and asked for the cost of the book, even though I didn’t say I wanted to purchase one. He was somewhat pushy.
Then there were those who said ‘Hello’ to everyone as they passed. I stopped at every single table where the person/people genuinely seemed to want to talk to the readers. They were there to sell their books. They were there to network with the readers and other authors. Many of them constantly had smiles on their faces and talked excitedly about their books.
And then there were those writers who were more interested in me, the reader. I spent the most time with them, getting to know them, the person, not the writer. They smiled. They talked. They asked me questions. I asked them questions and they answered them. They told me stories, not about their books, but about them. Those are the ones that I would purchase books from, even if I had zero interest in their books.
One woman said to me, ‘You don’t have to buy a book. I just want to talk to the readers.’ She was selling herself—and I really liked her and what she, as a person, was all about. I spent the most time with her.
This business—and really, any business—is never just about the product. It’s also about who sells the product, or who created the product. Sure, if the product is good it could sell on its own, but if no one knows about it, then it is up to the person who is selling it to do the best he/she can to do so. And in order to sell that product, the salesperson has to have the type of personality that could help convince someone to buy it.
One of the keys to selling anything is personality. If your personality is sour or pushy, then your sells may not be all that great and you could leave a bad taste in the mouth of the customer. However, if your personality is sunny and you treat your customer with respect and try to make them feel comfortable, not with just the product, but with yourself, then your chances of making a sell go up. Even if you don’t get a purchase out of it, you gave the customer something to remember you by and they may just come back to you on down the road.
Part of selling yourself is not about making the sell, but making a connection with the reader/customer. If you make a connection, most of the time you are going to make a sell. It might not be right away, but it will happen.
A lot of the books I have purchased over the last few years, I have done so after meeting the author online, usually through Facebook. Those authors I either had conversations with and came away liking them, or the things they posted on their walls showed me some of their character, showed me a little about who they are. Even through a Facebook connection, you can sell yourself, and so often we forget that.
One more thing before I go: don’t sell yourself short. What I mean is have confidence in your work and your abilities…and in yourself.
For the longest time I had difficulties talking about my writing. I’m not sure I was comfortable with people knowing I liked to write. I certainly wasn’t comfortable with people reading what I wrote. Talking about what I had accomplished as a writer always felt like bragging and I’ve never been one for bragging. It took me a long time and a lot of encouragement from Cate and other writers to start truly believing in who I was as a writer.
When it comes to selling your work and yourself, confidence is extremely important. If you are not confident in yourself, your abilities or your work, the customer (reader) will immediately pick up on that and your chances of making a sell diminish. I have confidence now that I was lacking four or five years ago. I believe in my abilities and my stories and I believe the readers will, as well.
In this business of publishing, the writing and editing and proofing and publishing is only part of the gig. The marketing is a huge part as well. Part of that marketing is selling yourself as well as your books. It’s making a connection with the people you want to read your books. I hope along the way I’ve connected with you at some point. And I hope you were happy, not just with the product you received, but in whom you received it from.
Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another…