In the Internet age, you can still sell your self-published books the old-fashioned brick-and-mortar way. To do so, you must convince the independent bookstore owner your book will sell by creating a niche market.
My selling strategy is low-tech because I hate high-tech. I have sold 27,000 copies of Bee Lessons, my self-published book, now in its fourth printing, via this method. When my current inventory is sold out, I will have made $50,000 profit.
The book is a lighthearted but informative collection of lessons we can learn from bees, based on my experience as a beekeeper. Sample lesson: “Bees live naturally in the wild or are artificially kept by beekeepers. Simply put, we put a box over them and let them do their thing. Either way, they devote their lives to the hive. That’s the miracle of bees–complete subjugation of the individual for the group. Lesson 1: It’s satisfying to work for the greater good.
Here’s my sales approach. In my area of Massachusetts, I visit independent bookstores and speak to the owner or manager. I do not deal with the chains. I present my book and a promo sheet, and offer the stores a free copy if they will consider carrying it.
Beside briefly touting a good read, I present a niche solution. Because my book happens to be an inexpensive $4.50 life-lessons text, I might say, “Since the bee world is primarily female, this book is a feminist paean.” Or, “It makes an inexpensive little gift.” Or, “It can be an add-on sale.” In other words, I give them a hook on which to make the purchase.
A month later, I follow up with a call: “Did you look at my book? Do you have any interest in carrying it?” If I get a no, I counter with a one-sentence argument: “Your next-town neighbor has sold more than 50 copies.” For those who say yes, I offer books with either a 12-unit display (made out of cereal boxes covered in wrapping paper) or a 25-unit display (made out of shipping boxes), but I will sell the shop any quantity.
Everywhere we travel, I pitch my book. I have won great independent stores such as Malaprops in Asheville, N.C., Moby Dickens in Taos, N.M., and Nantucket Bookworks in Nantucket.
In my spare time, I make calls to independent bookstores, funky gift shops, bee-supply houses and nature museums around the country. I hear of these through friends or from reading in newspapers and magazines. I make a call to the buyer, send a free book, and follow up a month later.
I have made good accounts of Winterthur Museum in Winterthur, Del.; Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Harrodsburg, Ky.; and Ohio Honey Co. of Kirtland, Ohio.
I also seek publicity. I send a copy to reporters with a letter stating why my book is worth writing about. Two examples show the power of publicity. A Boston Globe reporter received my kit and included the book in a “new products” blurb. A short while later, while soliciting the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Mass., the buyer was about to dismiss me when I shoved the Globe blurb into his hand. The piece called Bee Lessons a funky offering. The buyer, in arguably the funkiest area in the country, said, “All right, we’ll try a display.” That resulted in the sale of 1,100 books, and 300 copies of my subsequent book.
A freelance magazine writer called and came out to interview me, and a photographer followed later. The publication this time was American Profile, a Sunday supplement that reaches 9 million people. After the article came out, I took a Sunday phone call from a woman in Attapulgus, Ga., asking to buy my book. I took 20 calls that first day and several a day for the next four months. In all, I sold $3,500 worth of books because the article had included my phone number.
My book is small and it’s easy to send a free copy (66 cents), but each of you out there can take sales into your own hands and carve out a niche and a market for your book.