How Hard Do You Try to Sell?

By Tom Wood

At a recent book-signing event, a little boy followed his parents into the bookstore. He was maybe six or seven years old and walked straight to my table and picked up a copy of Vendetta Stone while the grown-ups veered somewhere to the right.

The silent lad continued to stare at the cover, and then began to flip through the pages, looking for illustrations, I imagine. Friendly as I could be, smiling broadly, I spoke to him in a singsong voice. “Hello there. That’s my book!”

His eyes widened in horror as if I were an ogre yelling at him. He threw the book on the table and ran off, frantically searching for his parents. Another how-to lesson learned.

Know your audience, and be careful how you speak to them.

Money Book CoverApproaching the public on how to discuss — and hopefully sell — your books is an on-going debate with some of my fellow members of the Authors Circle in Franklin, Tennessee.

We get a booth at some major events — such as the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, or the Main Street Festival and Dickens of a Christmas in Franklin — where we will have up to a dozen authors and all our books on display under a 10×10 tent.

Some toes have been stepped on, and a few feathers ruffled as we have come to define general booth etiquette. But somehow it works, and we all seem to get along well.

The general debate is this — and it’s one to consider whether you’re doing big events like these or doing a solo signing — are you an active or passive seller?

Do you sit back and allow people to browse through all the available books before them, speaking only when they zero in on one book?

Or do you actively engage them, talking a little about all of the available books? Clearly, at a group event, you can’t have everybody talking at once. We would all be shouting over each other.

Both approaches work, and both are risk/reward. If you wait for them to ask what the book is about, then they might glance at it and move on. Sale lost.

If you approach them too aggressively, they are looking for the first excuse to move on. Sale lost.

There’s no easy answer.

Speaking only for myself (there is divided opinion within our group), I think it helps to have one or two people acting as a group spokesman to say we have fantasy and children’s books here, thrillers and mysteries there, historical fiction over here and non-fiction at that end.

But that’s just me.

I asked a few of my fellow Authors Circle members for their thoughts and here’s what they had to say:

Iscah: “I think it’s wise to work with your personality and strengths, then adapt as best you can to the venue. Your best sales tool is a passive one: a good cover with an appealing (and appropriate) image, title, and description can do a lot of the selling for you. If you’re outgoing and friendly this will be a great asset as you try to engage potential customers. Just take care to read body language and let them go if they’re not interested (Aside from being polite, you may be missing other potential readers).”

Bill Peach: “I have thought about one copy of every book on the front table with backup on the side table. Let them look. If they touch or pick up a book and show interest, maybe point to the author if they are close. If the interest continues summon the author for Q and A one-on-one. Don’t push our own book while customer is looking at someone else’s book. Don’t ask any question for which there is a possible negative response.”

Carole Webb Slater: “Selling and marketing my book has been an ongoing trial and error process that has been somewhat successful. Although it reads like a novel it is not a must-read thriller! In fact my book appeals to a specific targeted group of readers.”

What do you think? Send your thoughts to Killer Nashville Magazine and I will use some of them in a future column.

Tom WoodA veteran sports writer and copy editor, Tom Wood has covered a variety of events ranging from the Iroquois Memorial Steeplechase to the Atlanta Olympic Games for The Tennessean in Nashville. After retirement, he continues his passion for writing, contributing to the Civil War-based anthology, Filtered Through Time and conducting an interview with Stephen King for Feast of Fear: Conversations with Stephen King. In the last year, Tom has begun writing Western fiction short stories, two of which have been published by Western Trail Blazer. “Tennesseans West” is his next project with four other authors involved. He is also an actor and can be seen in several episodes of the ABC series “Nashville”. He also coordinates the Killer Nashville guest blog seriesVendetta Stone is his first novel and he is working on the sequel.

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