Safety, Common Sense, and Selling Books

So, you already know I was on a mini-vacay last week. I needed that. The stress of stress would have eaten me alive, if I hadn’t gotten out. Nothing quite like grabbing a friend, ditching real life, and hitting a neighboring state.

And, as it turns out, there was another writer in the motel.

It wasn’t me that ran into her.

“There’s one of your people in the elevator.”

My people, by the way, can mean anything from my close friends to whole groups of people I happen to belong to. And, let’s be honest, my mind shot straight to dancers, because they’re easier to pick out of a crowd, and because I actually do know dancers in KC.

My friend was a little wigged out, though, so my mind skipped from dancers to band members, and maybe a few specific individuals she might be able to recognize as “my” people. Mutual acquaintance type “my” people.

I asked.

“One of your book people.”

Okay. So, I’m lost. How could she possibly know that someone she met on an elevator was a book person? I mean, we’re pretty mellow, compared to some of my acquaintances.

Turns out the woman had gone all Bookseller of Prey on her.

She was pretty shaken, after an elevator pitch that had gone from small talk, to buy my book, to let’s-trade-room-numbers-you’re-my-new-bestie all in the course of three floors. I don’t blame her. My head was spinning, just thinking about it.

But, I was also thinking about the other woman. Was she someone I do know? Someone I will know in the future?

I’m not sure freaking out strangers on an elevator (in a motel!) is the best way of selling books. The thing about an elevator pitch is… well, at the other end of the elevator, your target winds up in an office, full of his or her trusted co-workers. You aren’t necessarily alone in the elevator, either.

And I’m pretty sure that inviting strangers back to your hotel room to get the books that you don’t have with you isn’t the safest idea, either. Remember that old joke your granny used to tell? The one where she slapped a guy because he invited her up to his room to see his etchings? (And it turned out there really were etchings?)

I don’t really care what risks you choose to take in bookselling… but make sure they are a choice. Make sure they’re a sensible choice, and make sure they’re an effective choice.

This one happens to be an unnecessary and ineffective risk. You’re taking all the risks your mother warned you about in luring strangers back to your motel room–I won’t get into those–and you’re also scaring off your risk conscious customers.

Most women–and probably most men, too– are NOT going to go knocking on motel room doors to buy a book.

Get a tote bag and carry a couple of books with you. That way, you aren’t taking a risk, and you’re not asking your customers to take that risk, either.

Lagniappes, Giveaways, and Finding YOUR Fans

I love it when people give me free books.

Aside from the obvious–someone is giving you a free book–it’s a great way to get past all those unconscious biases and read something completely out of your comfort zone and find something you wouldn’t pick up on your own.

The first strangers I remember handing out free books were the Gideons. Motel room Bibles, first–seems like I was always on a road trip of some kind as a kid–and later, the suit-and-tie men who stood outside schools and passed out teeny-tiny New Testaments in bright colors. One of my great-uncles was a Gideon, and you could always go over to his house and read the Bible. And since he was also kind of an ersatz missionary, you could “read” the Bible in more languages than I can count, some of which used a completely different alphabet.

Laugh, if you want, but it was one of my first introductions to foreign language.

Later on, when I was a Bookseller, we had a communal shelf for the Advance Copies publishers sent us, and the books rotated in and out fairly quickly. You’d read it, and then bring it back (most of the time) and add a post-it with a few notes on your thoughts. Obviously, the ones  with the most post-its were the most desirable.

Yes, there was a range. There were tech manuals in back that had probably been untouched since the dawn of the Epoch, and which were probably… just fine as that goes… and occasionally, you’d wind up with a note or two that shredded something.

But you still got that exposure to things you might not ordinarily buy or even read. Would I put out money for a History of the San Francisco Sewer system? Probably not, but if my friend liked it, and it was free…

And then, comes the world of e-books. When I got my first e-reader, it seemed like everything was free, and if it wasn’t… well, wait a week. People were fiddling around, trying to figure out the business model for e-books, and the first digital-only imprints were being born. And somehow, people still made money.

Just not the company that made that first reader. In time, their store wound up being swamped by “Free.” You could search, but you couldn’t find anything under the piles and piles of “Free.” The algorithm seemed to make no distinction between “real” books and the “books” some high school kid kicked out over the weekend. Probably because it didn’t make a distinction between giving away copies and selling them. It wound up closing.

Moral of That Story? There is a difference between attracting your own fans, and attracting the fans of Free.

So, moving right along…

The solution at least a couple of traditional publishers have come up with is offering “free” ebooks, but only through their newsletters, and off their own websites. That way, they’re focusing on people who care enough to know, instead of on the whole internet.

I get a couple of newsletters that have a regular Book of the Month type giveaway (and an associated discussion group, if you’re into that). I think they’re probably doing fairly well in terms of attracting “their” fans instead of a bunch of bargain hunters. One of them is Tor, and the other is a much smaller, University press that trades in non-fiction.

On the far end of things, I’ve heard the idea that you shouldn’t be afraid to give away all of your work (eventually) because your true fans won’t be able to wait and will wind up sending money, anyway. I’m not sure I totally believe that, but it does seem to work for some people.

So, what do you think? If you give away books, how do you make that work for you? If you don’t, what led to that decision? And if you’re in some other industry, how do you handle the giveaways?

Glitches, Progress Reports, and The Dreaded Day Job

For some reason, the blog hasn’t been automatically approving comments. All the right check boxes are checked, and some of the “please moderate” comments are definitely from people I know, and who comment all the time, but… they’re still getting flagged. I’m working on that.

I’m adding two new pages, today. The first one is an accountability/progress report for my 52 week 52 short story challenge. It has a space for every week in the year. So far, I’ve filled in two titles, and the first one probably doesn’t really count. I don’t know if it’s going to be of interest to anyone but me, but you’re welcome to  take a look and either cheer me on or give me that kick in the ass, depending on where I am.

The second page is My Writer Scout Sash. I despise that cluttered, everything and the kitchen sink look that some blogs get. And yet, I’m gradually increasing my collection of snazzy web-badges from the various events and groups I play with on line. So, my not quite regulation solution? Writer Scout Sash. A page where I can put them all, to remind myself of my accomplishments, and all the fun I’m having, but where no one else has to trip over them.

Also, some of my feeds have been picking up the wrong picture to go with the posts–or whatever picture’s available, when I don’t have a featured image–and that’s probably not a good thing. I’m contaminating brands! Worse than that, ones that don’t even belong to me. Well, this will fix that.

The Day Job is still going. The Good News is that we have a new person… and it’s not even a new hire. It’s a reliable, been-there-forever transfer.  The Bad News is that there’s already an office pool on how long it will take New Person and Supervisor Person to tear each others’ throats out.

There is no wagering on who will win said confrontation. No one will take that bet. The answer is New Person.

Momentum on the Internet; or, I Choose To Celebrate

I’m about ten views away from hitting my 5,000 view milestone with this blog. That’s taken me two years–give or take–but the first year was pretty much practice.  For the first year, or so, I only posted very sporadically. I was trying to post the Lepterians  novel, and the total number of posts was probably in the neighborhood of three or four a month.

I mention this because I really don’t know whether that’s a good record, or a bad record, or if there are people laughing at me from behind the internet while I celebrate something miserably pathetic. I know, of course, that it’s still microscopic in the grand scheme of things.

What I don’t know is how it compares to other writers’ experiences. Objectively, there’s a big question mark there.

I feel behind. I feel as though two years should amount to more than that, or that maybe, I just haven’t hit that magic formula of personality and content, yet. I feel like I need a podcast, a YouTube channel, and maybe some guy in a big chicken costume, handing out brochures on the street.

And, at the same time, I feel overwhelmed and grateful that that many people are paying attention. I’m celebrating. Of course, I am. It’s taken me a long time, and most of that time was outside my comfort zone.

So, tell me about your experiences. Are there certain milestones you celebrate? Achievements you weren’t expecting–that a-ha! moment–that I should be looking forward to? Are there things you’d do differently, if you were back where I am now, looking to do it over again?

Unexpected Milestones in Blogging

When you start doing something, there are milestones you expect. Evidence of progress that is predictable: A particular number of views, or followers, or posts. For instance, I’m approaching my 200th post. There’s nothing particularly surprising about that. You just write the first post, and then, keep going.

In addition to that kind of milestone, you have the kind of milestone you weren’t looking for until you run into it along the way. Things like the callous on my big toe. I didn’t think about it before I started dancing, but there it is. Proof I was there. A nice souvenir.

I’m talking about the milestones that come with their own aha moment and announce themselves when you get there.

Today’s milestone?

My readers started talking to each other.

Yeah. In the comments on my blog. There are people… and they’re talking to each other.

Oh!

Didn’t know I was looking for that.

In hindsight, it seems obvious that it would happen eventually. I mean, I have a blog. It has a theme (Specifically: Pretending this blog has a theme.) It makes sense that the people who read it would have enough in common that they’d start talking eventually.

Surprise!

It’s like the first time you run into someone who looks just exactly like your character running around on the street.

So… what are the milestones that took you by surprise? What accomplishments did you reach without knowing they were there?

Promoting an Online Event

I just finished hosting the most recent installment of the Storytime Blog Hop, and I think everyone who wrote stories this time is starting to look toward the next one. October. Halloween. That should be fun.

So, every now and then, I think about how to promote the blog hop…or my own blog… or an especially profound tweet…

I think about putting up posters in real life. Something catchy that would be easy to adapt to individual writers. Support your local independent authors, and a blank for the person’s name and website.

Or maybe posters that are less individual, that can be scattered across three or four continents and maybe pull in some readers. They’d have to be designed well to pull in different readers. And probably culturally brilliant, since there are so many different countries participating in the blog hop.

I’ve seen people promote things by handing out information with their Halloween candy, but of course, we don’t have that many kids left, right now. I think there were three last year, and two of them were siblings. It could work. Download codes for kids books aren’t quite the same as handing out toothbrushes, are they?

Fliers in Little Free Libraries might work, especially if there were download codes involved.

And then, the other thought that occurred to me… and I had the nerve to mention this one to another human being… is that maybe what we need is a scavenger hunt. Track down people in various categories, and invite them to the blog hop. Teacher from grade school? Old love interest? Person from Greenland? Person with a fish on their shirt?

Yes! They all want to read about my dragons. Yes, they do.

And maybe we could get readers involved somehow.

So, right now… I’m still trying to think of ideas. Because deep down inside, I’m probably a lot better at promotion in real life, when I can talk to someone face to face, than I am on the internet.