Monday, November 7, 2011

Book Selling: Persistence and the Personal Touch Wins Sales

When she isn't sailing, Elsie Hulsizer is in my Wednesday writers' group. On her last trip, she discovered that shoe leather marketing pays off and authors can do a lot to get the word out about their books.

I was happy when Elsie offered to write a guest blog. I hope you enjoy it. I'll return next week to resume my Tuesday posting schedule.

Personal Touch Sells Books

By Guest Blogger, Elsie Hulsizer

When my second book, Glaciers, Bears and Totems: Sailing in Search of the Real Southeast Alaska (Harbour Publishing, 2010) was published, I had visions of it being prominently displayed in bookstores throughout Southeast Alaska. I’d given the publisher a list of magazines, newspapers and bookstores to target in Southeast Alaska and the publisher had issued press releases, sent out review copies of the book, advertised on the web, included the book in their catalog, and promoted it to distributors. And of course, I had my own website and blog promoting the book. I assumed the bookstores would clamor for it. The attractive cover of Glaciers, Bears and Totems would appeal to the impulse buyer and all those cruise ship passengers wandering in and out of the stores were an obvious market.

The summer after Glaciers, Bears and Totems was published, my husband Steve and I sailed to Southeast Alaska. We planned to visit the bookstores, but I expected just to be encouraging an existing market.

I came away from our summer trip with three important lessons on selling books;

Lesson 1: Publicity doesn’t equal selling. Old fashioned salesmanship is still needed.
I came down to earth with a crash in Ketchikan, the first Alaskan town on the way north. I made my way to a downtown bookstore we had visited regularly on previous trips and eagerly scanned the Alaska shelves looking for Glaciers, Bears and Totems. No joy. Perhaps they had sold all their copies. I went up to the checkout stand with my bookmark and asked the saleswoman at the counter if they carried it.

“This certainly looks like something we would want to carry,” she told me. “But I’ve never seen it and we don’t have it in our computer. Why don’t you come back when the bookstore owner is in?”

I was dismayed. If this bookstore, whose owner knew me and carried my first book, didn’t have it, what were the chances others would carry it?

I returned two days later with a copy of Glaciers, Bears and Totems to show the owner. She promptly went online and ordered several copies.

“I think I saw a mockup of it at last year’s booksellers’ conference,” she told me. “But I was busy and forgot about it.”

With a couple of exceptions that’s how our visits to Southeast Alaska bookstores went. The owners or buyers would say they hadn’t heard about Glaciers, Bears and Totems but immediately ask how to order it and how soon they could get it.

Lesson 2. Nothing sells a book like putting it in a reader’s hands.
Since we didn’t find Glaciers, Bears and Totems on the bookstore shelves, we went into high gear to sell it ourselves. I placed signs in the window on both sides of our boat so passerbys on the docks would see it. I ordered more copies from the distributor to keep onboard, and we showed the book not only to bookstores but to boaters and other people we met. I was surprised how easy it was to sell. In the middle of a conversation, Steve would say, “My wife wrote a book about Southeast Alaska.” I’d bring out Glaciers, Bears and Totems and hand it to them and they’d buy it. Sometimes they didn’t even open it, but bought it on the strength of seeing the cover.

Once we were in a restaurant in Sitka with a box of books I had just picked up from the Post Office when I sold one copy each to the two couples at the next table. They were so pleased with the book and to be meeting a real author that they insisted on taking pictures of all of us together with the book. When we went to pay our bill, I learned one of the men had paid for our lunch.

Lesson 3. Pushiness pays as does repeated exposure to the book.
At one point I thought Steve was getting too carried away with selling. Walking by a large powerboat at the marina in Sitka one day, Steve pointed to a woman washing the boat’s deck and said loudly, “This woman looks like she needs to buy one of your books.” I was so embarrassed that I looked around for a place to hide. So imagine my surprise when I heard,
“Are you Elsie? I was just wishing I had bought your book. I heard you talk in Anacortes and didn’t buy it then.”

Our experience in Southeast Alaska was a good reminder that even in this digital age, selling books requires old-fashioned salesmanship.

Read more about Elsie Hulsizer and her books at her website.
Photo: A sign in the window of our boat advertising my books to passersby.

1 comment:

  1. What great examples of how an author can boost book sales.