Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Importance of Face Time

Every month or so, my bosses leave the office and journey to the corporate offices of their accounts to sell our books. Sometimes they'll sell over the phone if there are drop-ins, but this is considered a last resort. All sales calls are done in person whenever possible. Bottom line.

When selling your book—which is your primary job after writing said book—you should keep this in mind. If you've got legitimate contacts (read: people you actually know, and not famous authors you met at that party that one time) in the industry, make use of them. Meet for dinner/drinks. (Commandment #7: Thou shalt pimp thyself.) This goes for other authors, agents, publishing folk, book store staff, you name it. You're going to want to do local author events once your book drops, and there's no better way of greasing the wheels for that than by getting to know the staffs of your local stores (chains and indies) ahead of time.

Now, some of you might not exactly be social butterflies and may well say to me, "but Eric, I'm a writer—let me write and leave the schmoozing to the professionals!" And yes, if you are super painfully shy and honestly believe you will do more damage by trying to work these connections yourself, you might want to consider letting publicity handle all of this. But I have a feeling most of you don't fall into this category, so I say to you: soldier on. You wrote a great book. Now sell that book!

To quote Daniel Menaker: "And you have to understand that even though you are formally separated from the literal sales force, you are still above all fundamentally 'in sales.'" True, here he's talking about editors and the editorial team, but it's just as true for authors. Yes, you're on the writing "team." But you're also on the sales team.


  1. And there are so many different ways to sell even if you're not a sales-type personality! I think anyone could, say, make up a cool postcard (cheap at VistaPrint) with the book info on it, and hand it to a bookseller, saying "I'm painfully shy, but I'd love it if you'd be willing to learn a bit about my new book." No song & dance needed.

  2. I did the post cards -- and my local Borders still keeps my illustrated travel memoir in the "Self Help" section. And for my first-ever book event at B&N (I hope it's OK to name names) I was given a podium in the children's section and gave my travel talk in front of a poster for Captain Underpants. Then I reached out to libraries and independent booksellers and they are THE BEST -- real book lovers who know how to communicate with readers. Get them on your side and you are golden.

  3. I've always had trouble with that darn 7th commandment!

    Thanks for the pep talk, and good advice from the previous comments too. Helpful.

    Sales is my downfall and I know it. It's not that I can't do it, I just find it difficult selling myself, rather than say, someone else's product. I know we sell ourselves all the time but somehow this seems more blatant than just charming someone at a party.

    I hear authors talk about branding themselves and I shudder. So I decided I'm going to try and brand and market my protagonist, since I plan a mystery series. Hope that works.

    Now to go and smile pretty at those clerks at the bookstores.

  4. Great post!

    I've always been prepared to pimp my novel hard when the time comes, but now I'd like to ask a question of you, Eric, and your fabulous blog readers:

    How do you go about introducing yourself to local booksellers/librarians?

    I'm assuming it would be a little weird to walk in, stick our your hand and say "HI! I'm a local author and would like to make your acquaintance. I have this BOOK coming out!" :D

    Is there a smoother way that folks use/have used?

    I'm like a girl scout--I like to be prepared!

  5. Wish I could help Rebeccca. I know what you mean and it does seem a little weird.

    "Hi, I'm a writer." I can picture their eyes glazing over and hear them thinking, Oh Christ, yet another writer. They're multiplying like cockroaches in Florida.

    I'm hoping someone else comes up with some advice. Maybe Eric? He's in sales after all.

  6. Yeah, "Hi, I'm a writer," isn't the best way to open a pitch.

    When cold calling libraries and independent booksellers, it's essential to have that famous "elevator speech" handy. You know, that pitch that you've crafted in case you find yourself in an elevator with Oprah and you have 5 seconds to make her love you. Yes, you -- not your book. You have to have some story about yourself that makes you memorable -- and then you can get people to listen to you talk about your book.

    Remember when Seabiscuit came out? In all the interviews with the author (whose name escapes me at the moment, I've had lot to drink) the story about how she wrote it while suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome was as important as the story about the horse. That was a great hook. And probably all true.

    I used the pitch that I was a first time author at age 52 (last year) which is a hook because a lot of book buyers are ALSO mid-life babes like me who are writing their first books and that's who attends book events (and I love them), and secondly I talked about how I hand-made the whole manuscript. Not a single typed word in it.

    That gets the conversation rolling. Later, they can be disappointed that my book doesn't have a single vampire in it, but for now I've got their attention.

    It is also important to make sure they know ASAP that you are not self-published; apparently librarians and local booksellers get a lot of calls from self-published writers and nobody wants to talk to a self-published author. They barely want to talk to a first-time author; I'm just saying that it helps a wee bit if you can name drop FS&G or Knopf.

    Use whatever it is that sets you apart from the pack of writers in FLA. "Hi, I'm a third-generation pawn shop owner / FBI infomant / one-armed sommelier here in Dade County and I just got my first novel published. Can I talk to you about having a book event at your library?"

    Who wouldn't want to hear more?
    Is there a spell check on this thing?

  7. Vivian Swift-
    Thanks you so much for the advice. So you talk about you first, but in a conversational way. OK. Make a personal connection. I see.

    As an aside, you don't type at all like you've even had a drop! I'm impressed, and I've just had a splash of my newly homemade limoncello. Let's hope my post looks good in the morning.

    Thanks again. And no spell check that I can find either.

  8. I also think it's important to make sure you mention your publisher as soon in the conversation as possible. I understand they often get self-published authors coming in, trying to get them to carry their book, and it helps if they know you are published by a legitimate publisher.

  9. Great advice, guys! :) Especially about pitching yourself as much as your book. Thank you for the help!

  10. How true, how true, how true!

    Yes, you have to sell your book - and this does mean face time and networking (book store staff) and socializing and whatever else you can think of.

    My first book (Blood and Groom) will soon be published (November 2009) , and as a new, unknown author, it's not as if my publisher has a $10,000,000 budget to market and promote me.

    They have been great, but I need to jump in too... with everything I've got. It does not bother me to do this, after all, I wrote the book so people will read it!

    I should add that in adddition to signings, book stores and so on, I am doing what I can with libraries and literacy groups.

    Cheers, Jill

  11. Great post--and great ideas from everyone. I have the postcards for my book coming out in January, now I have to get them to bookstores. Aha! I've been mailing them to friends, aquaintances, third grade seatmates, how did I not think of handing them out to booksellers . . .

  12. Great post! I hope you all remember to reach out to school librarians. We have limited resources but want to provide as many resources as possible to students. You could drop off bookmarks or postcards to the local school or even do a short author visit. Can you imagine how much it can mean to students to actually meet an author? And, then, they'd want to read your book!