Last Saturday, I participated in the 20th annual “Heck With The Malls” artisans’ fair in Centreville, MD, peddling my books alongside jewelry-makers, painters, woodcarvers, knitters, etc. If you’re an author, you might wonder why I would try to sell books at a craft fair (step this way, and I’ll explain). More likely, you might wonder why, in the Age of Amazon, I’d bother hand-selling books at all.
I’ll tell you, but first, let me define the term for the newbies and the non-authors. “Hand-selling” is the act of selling physical copies of books, as opposed to electronic ones (such as Kindle versions) done face-to-face, usually at events like signings, or public readings.
It can be very rewarding, but it’s not for every author. Why not? Because:
- It’s very time-intensive (you can easily spend a whole day doing it);
- There are up-front costs (copies of books, promotional materials, travel, possible entry fees, etc.); and,
- There’s a large amount of risk (bad weather or poor attendance, among other things, can scuttle your sales).
In addition, there’s the fact that, most likely, you’ll get more of your sales online, or through bookstores (if you’re fortunate enough to have them carry you), than you will by hand-selling. In the time it takes to introduce yourself and pitch your book to a prospective customer standing in front of you, you could potentially sell hundreds or even thousands of copies online (provided, of course, that you’re a big-name author with a hot new release—in which case, I should be getting sales advice from you).
So why bother? Because hand-selling books isn’t so much about moving paper copies as it is about making connections with readers.
With millions of books on Amazon, and thousands more appearing every day, the greatest challenge any author faces is discoverability. How are people going to find out about you and your work? Hand-selling is one way.
What hand-selling has going for it over all other methods of promoting one’s books is that it can’t help but be very personal. You, the author, are right there, live and in the flesh, interacting with potential readers. People can and do ignore online ads and e-mails, but it’s more difficult to blow off someone holding out their hand and introducing themselves.
Experts will tell you that talking with someone face-to-face is the most effective form of communication, and not just for conveying information. In addition to hopefully making sales, hand-selling books allows you to:
- Forge bonds with people, so that you’re not just a name on a cover, you’re a person they know;
- Distribute business cards and other promotional items that people can take with them;
- Tell about upcoming books and appearances in media;
- Collect e-mail addresses for your mailing list;
- Gain followers on social media; and,
- Build a fanbase.
In short, hand-selling sells YOU, the author. Though I had many sales at “Heck With The Malls,” those were merely gravy. More important was that I met a lot of people; handed out lots of promo cards, most of them for This Wasted Land, my upcoming novel; got some e-mail addresses; and made (and reconnected with) fans.
Are you going to make a killing hand-selling books? Most likely not. Are you going to get yourself and your work out there and make meaningful impressions on potential readers? Definitely. Try it out, and good luck!
Kenton Kilgore is forging a new direction in young adult science-fiction and fantasy. His latest work-in-progress is This Wasted Land, a modern-fantasy/horror novel, to be published in early 2017.
Kenton is the author of Dragontamer’s Daughters, based on Navajo culture and belief. He also wrote Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.
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