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.

IWSG: The A-to-Z Blogging Challenge

It’s time for another edition of The Insecure Writer’s Support Group, founded by Ninja Captain, Alex J. Cavanaugh.

The awesome co-hosts today are Christopher D. Votey, Madeline Mora-Summonte, Fundy Blue, and Chrys Fey!

April 5 Question: Have you taken advantage of the annual A to Z Challenge in terms of marketing, networking, publicity for your book? What were the results?

Last year was my first year doing the A-to-Z Challenge, and it was the first time that I had managed to blog on any kind of a regular basis. 2016 was a hell of a year for me, and blogging gave it structure, and a “thing to do” because “that’s what we do” that I desperately needed. Maybe you know what I mean. That moment when nothing else holds, and… there you go. A thing to do.

In a more general sense, last year’s A-to-Z Challenge was just the kick in the pants I needed to get started.  I’d done some blogging, mostly just storytelling for some friends from other writers’ sites, and my routine was spotty, at best. I was going to blog a novel (which turned out to be both a good thing, and a bad thing, and an unmitigated disaster) but, as it turns out, getting things ready to post–really, edited, didn’t misspell anything, didn’t use the same word six times ready–meant I only posted a couple of times–if that–per month.

I managed to post every day last April–or close to it–and I started to see traffic. And wow, was there a lot of it! Well, I thought there was, anyway. It was something. I don’t know if I handled it as well as I could have. To be honest, I was mostly in shock that people were reading my blog, at all.

The month of April was the best one I’d had at that point (although I’ve passed it a couple of times since then.) I had views and comments, and gained followers, and yes… I’m doing it again, this year.

My insecurity of the month: Getting ready to go to the writers’ conference: the clothes, the travel, the reservations… and most of all that damn revision. I’m so insecure right now, I forgot to be Insecure. Time for me to track down the next must-have scene in my revision and either write it or revise it. See you all next month.

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?