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Outside of Cyberspace

With todays technology being a designer, artist, author… has become easy, not just in regards to production but also in regards to distribution. Nowadays we sit in front of our mean machines and create, then upload it and sell it all around the world through cyberspace. Yet many, especially newcomers, will quickly realize that is isn’t as easy as they thought. I know, I was shocked by how hard it is to make a sale. And, in most cases it has nothing to do with the quality of the design, rather with the fact that it’s hard to get word out that you even exist.

When you take a closer look at the distributers you chose, you’ll see most of them have thousands, some even millions of designers trying to make a sale. As much as internet and cyberspace gave us opportunity, it also gave us competition in equal measure.

I know my family laughs and snickers every time I get an email letting me know I made a sale, because I whoop, clap my hands, and do a little happy dance each time. They tease me about it, because after all, it’s just five, ten or twenty dollars. The thing is, those sales are still quite rare, for I’m one in a see of designers, each unique with their own style and ideas. I could now launch into a collection of ideas of how to promote your business online, but I’m not. What I’m going to say is something my mom used to say to me when I was little… “get out of the house!” Or in this case more correctly… “get out of the cyberworld!”

For those who don’t know me, I’m a typical introvert and most of the time rather antisocial. Yet, about two years ago, I decided to try out taking part in a mini mall around Christmas time. What I expected was lots of awkward moments where I would be forced to talk to people, and no sales. What I got was, a lot of awkward moment that I overcame and talked to people and several sales.  In those two days of mini mal I sold more then I had sold in six months online, and back then I only had my books, some bookmarks, and some Christmas Cards. I made enough to pay for my table, food, drink and had some profit.

Encouraged by that experience but sadly incapable of figuring out how to find more of those kinds of events I tried again this winter season. This time not only with the two days of mini mall around Christmas, but with going to a bazar every month.

Now, the thing about going outside of cyberspace is that you need merchandise to present and sell. Meaning, unlike selling online, you have to make an investment. Since I have not much of an budget carrying a large inventory is hard. Yet even with just a small inventory I managed to make a profit during those five bazars. It wasn’t much, but what was even more interesting was that my online sales went up as well. It’s called word to mouth. When people see a friend wear one of your shirts, they might like one as well. If they see your art on the wall of their mother, they might want some of yours as well.

But there is more then just those kind of events, but let’s start with them.

If you’re not as shy and hesitant as me, go out and use your outgoing personality to ask around about bazar, flea markets, farmer markets (something I will do this year) and arts and crafts sales. Depending on the art you’re doing a comic con might even be of interest and a good stomping ground to make an impact with your art.

If you like me, don’t have a large budget to show a large inventory, just order a handful of shirts, prints, mugs or whatever you want to sell. That way you have examples of how they look. Then assemble a catalogue or if you have the means let a slide show run on your lap top to showcase all your designs and offer that customers can order them.

As to how to find those events, I found the once I participated in by flipping through the newspaper. Others like the bazar I found by accident as I went into the bathroom of the place hosting it. Talk to people, would be my guess is helpful as well.

 

Now, those events are often just once or in certain intervalley during a season. Yet you want to sell all year long, right? I know I want to. So… what else can we do outside of cyberspace?

Take a walk through your town, or if it’s a 500 soul town, take one through the next largest one. I bet there are shops that for example sell gifts, at least on the side. Maybe a clothing store, or one specialized in interior decorating, hell even our computer store sells T-shirts on the side. So don’t shy away from a place that doesn’t seem to fit, in the end it might. Take a selection of your shirts, prints, posters, mugs, and such and show them, ask them to sell them for you or in consignment. Some might order them themselves. However, consignment sales are more likely in the beginning.

If you sell canvas prints, photo prints and such check around if there is an arts council or gallery around and ask if they would display your art, maybe even sell it for you. If you have library, coffee shop or tea house ask there as well. Floral shops often sell gifts and decoration on the side, check them out as well.

There are tons of opportunities outside of cyberspace, take advantage of them wherever and whenever you can. I often, actually almost always, have a small selection of merchandise in my car. Stored safely away in a box.

If you can afford it, bestow a shirt or mug or bag to a friend, family member or co-worker. If they like and wear it, others will see it and ask where they can buy one.

If you have ideas of your own, that I didn’t have, feel free to add them in the comment section. Who knows maybe we’ll even see each other one day of one of those events mentioned.

Getting the attention of stores

Even in times like these where internet and digital is everywhere, many readers still prefer a physical book. And I have to admit, I get it, the feel of the paper, the weight of it, it is simply a totally different experience then with an e-reader. Lucky for us as Indie authors and thanks to POD services like Lulu and Createspace offering that option to our readers isn’t hard or expensive anymore.

However, aside from offering a physical book, many readers especially the generations 40 and still prefer to buy books in stores as well.

Statistics say that most spontaneous buys happen in stores while most sales online are informed. Now, we all think our stories are just as good as one ending up on the bestsellers list. We all love our books, they are our children and we are proud of them. But just like with real children we often don’t want to see and admit the flaws. Which is the reason we need people to take a chance, those people are usually spontaneous buyers. Ergo, store buyers, that are interested because of the title or cover. But how do you get them into stores, and in what stores can you get them?

Well, the first thing you think of as an author is a bookstore of course. I tried writing to bookstores, in the beginning, sending them a long, well… very long letter. Explaining what my book was about, who it targets, what the price is that I can give them and so on. Two to tree weeks later I called all those stores, thinking they had enough time to read and consider. Only to find out that most hadn’t even read beyond the first few lines. At some point, I got tired of that answer and asked why they didn’t read further. The answer was, “it’s just too long, if I’m interested I can look up all that stuff on my own, I rather have a pitch or a blurb, if it wakes my interest I get either in contact with the author or check if my wholesaler can get it.”

One of then, one I talked to in person was so friendly and explained it a little bit more in detail.

Do you know how many books get published each day now that it is so easy to accomplish, several thousand. We get between 10 and 50 letters a day with offers, pleas, and bargains to add someone’s book to our inventory. Yet we don’t have endless space to simply add everyone. Neither do we have the time to read all those letters, and take them long into consideration. If the letter doesn’t catch me in the first paragraph, I throw it away, so I can move on to the next.

Now that might have been a little harsh and blunt, but honest and that I can appreciate.

I tried the same approach with other kinds of stores, thinking they might not be so busy that they can’t read my letter, and it was a fine letter. Now, again a few weeks after sending them, I called those I send it to, only to find that almost nobody read it. “have you any idea how much spam mail we get, how many offers for products? Sure we sell books, but we are mostly a (grocery store, pharmacy, drug mart) Those offers are what we need to take time, a letter about a book is just too much.”

Did you notice the similarities? Too long, takes too much time, doesn’t catch my interest right away.

For the time being I gave up on trying to get my book into stores, simply because I couldn’t think of a different approach. Until a few days or weeks later I saw a so-called blurb or snipped card on Twitter. Of course, I had seen them before, but that day I thought, ay… that looks like a postcard. And that got me thinking.

blurb 10

This is such a card, this one isn’t formatted yet for a postcard, but it’s enough as example. Usually, I use it on Twitter of Facebook, but after those calls and talks, I decided to try a different approach. Instead of a long letter, I designed postcards. The front similar to what you see here, only instead of where to buy I put the book information, like how many pages, what kind of paper, what size of book, ISBN and ASIN. The result was a front where you had all the important info nicely compacted. The cover, a snipped that I believed represented something good from my book, and all the important info. On the back of the postcard, I entered the address of who I wanted to reach (obviously) and wrote my contact information. Including a little “thanks for your time”

Now you’re asking, “did it make a difference?” and the answer is, yes and no.

Yes because:

I send out around 100 postcards to bookstores, supermarkets, drug stores, corner stores and so on. Just as I did before. This time, I got 43 responses.

No because:

Out of those 43 responses I had only 7 direct sales, 23 books altogether. However, the rest, at least, gave me a response, telling me that they either were still fully stocked and would get back to me when they had room for a new book or that they would contact their wholesaler about it.

 

However, since then I talked to several who had responded, sadly not about sales, and they all told me they were happy with my approach. So I thought I share it with you, and if you need help designing those postcards, you can always employ my help.

Marketing

You wrote a book, you published your book, now what?
I was at that point not too long ago, and it was the only time I missed publishing the traditional way, when I realized my work had just begun… bummer…
I grew up in my parents business, so basically anything to do with business I heard, saw and experienced from the cradle throughout my life. Only it seems when I decided to go Indie my brain decided to hide, or go into denial about the work involved of actually selling the book. … Stupid brain…
However, I have some experience of bringing my book to the readers, or so I thought. When I was published in 2006 with a small press in Germany, I went around to the book stores talking them into ordering it. That was easy enough, especially since my husband was the one driving me around.
I sat down and made a list off all the marketing avenues I could think off… it was a short list…
1. Going to all the book stores and talk to manager
2. Promote on Twitter
3. Promote on Facebook
4. Talk to newspapers

That was pretty much all I had, and I thought that was plenty, much more than I did for my books in Germany, and I sold quite a few there.
What I didn’t realize was that we don’t have that many book stores in Manitoba that are selling new books. We have a lot that sell used books, but new ones, not so much. Just a handful, which is sad from both reader and writers point of view.
Twitter is a good way to get the word out, but if you don’t have a budget it’s hard to reach the people that will buy, it’s more like blowing a grain of sand into the Sahara. Same counts for Facebook, yet both avenues can’t be ignored. Twitter and Facebook are not so much your sales platforms as your self-promotion platform. A way for potential readers and gained readers to stay in contact and informed.
Having a website is very important as well, a place to promote yourself and your work. You will find that a lot of marketing isn’t just about your book, but you are selling yourself as well… it’s like prostitution just without the sex.
So all that was left on my list was talking to the newspapers, especially the local newspapers are often willing to write something about you and your book. Unless you have written a romance/erotic novel like me and live in a church rich town. But even then they might help out by (as ours did) taking a picture of you at some trade show and mentioning that you published a book that you sold there.
Now, since my list was at its end, I needed to find new ways of promotion. But where, and how?
I started in this business almost ten years ago, but that was on a different continent and I had a break of several years in between, and now I knew that what I had learned back then, was no help here. I was at a loss, at first.
Do you know the phrase, copying is the greatest form of admiration… well that’s my marketing advice, check out what others do and copy them…
There are lots of groups on Facebook and Google+ that can give your ideas of how to promote your book. What will work for you, you will only know by trying.
There are sales groups on Facebook you can join, either to promote you book for online sales, or to offer direct sales through you to a cheaper price. Other portals like eBay work as well, but remember that if you do offer direct sales you need to have some books at home to actually send out. I usually keep a stack of ten to twenty at my place.
Reviews are important as well, get as many reviews as you can and the best ones you can feature either of the title page, and/or on a blurb page in the beginning of the book. Link from your webpage to those reviews, and use them in Twitter to promote.
There is a lot you can do online, create a page with Goodreads for example, promote your book there and collect reviews. If you can do some promotion like a giveaway, or send out a coupon code for anyone who signs up to your mailing list. Yup… forgot that one, create a mailing list, so people can sign up and get the news first.
How big you go is depending on the budget you have or are willing to invest. If you can invest, you can hire companies to do your promotion for you, but I have no firsthand experience how effective it is.
In the physical world you can go and talk to book store managers/owners. But book stores aren’t the only ones selling books. Keep your eyes open and if possible always have a standard letter, and/or reading sample with you. Pharmacies, corner stores, Co-OP’s , grocery stores, gas stations, many of them sell books as well. If you have recreational facilities like hotels with a gift shop, shops at beaches and national parks, near camping grounds, or retreats have often books as well. The thing is many only work on commission, meaning you have to take the financial risk.
The same with going on trade shows, art’s and craft’s sales, or conventions if there are any in your area. Those only get interesting when you either have something else to sell with your book, or when you have more than one book to sell. However if you can, you can always team up with other authors and share a booth/table with them. That reduces the costs and it doesn’t look so empty.
I am sure the things I told you about aren’t all the things you can do regarding the marketing of your book. I, myself are still exploring and learning new ways every day, trying to find out the most effective and low cost way of getting the word out. In time I’m sure I will find more ways and write about them as well.

Can you believe that?

Since Waiting in the Wings was republished after being professionally edited by 3Pediting, I tried to get local stores to sell it for me. Not that I had much success with that but besides that I got the most ridicules excuse this week. You know I can life with, “sorry but I don’t want to take the risk.” Or something like, “sorry but your just not known enough to make me any money.” I get that, I grew up in business and know the risk they take, by placing me in their inventory. But I got the most amusing and ridicules excuse a little while ago.
I live in a small town of around 2000 people, out in the prairie, where you find more churches then schools and kiddy places together. It’s a quiet town, peaceful, and yet there is always something going on it seems. Anyway, it’s your average town, and the population is mixed in age.
One of the businesses I talked to, that serves mostly customers in the age group of 30 to 90 looked at my book. They sell from several other independent authors from the area. I left them a copy so they could read through it, and came back a little more than a week later.
The store owner then informed me very nicely, …drumroll… “I didn’t read it, I just opened it to one side and well… it was quit sexual. I since most of our customers are pious, God fearing folks, and many of them older, I think they might be offended. You know they are just too old for something like this.”
I was quiet torn when he looked at me apologetic, because for one the upper range of customer age in statistics is around 54 years of age. I also know that the main age range of his customer is around that age, it was one of the reasons I hoped to sell there. The other reason was, I had 10 books on my backseat destined for delivery in the old folk’s home. All of the people who had ordered one over the age of 75.
When I delivered them I had to bite my tongue not to tell them what the store owner thought of them.
Here a link to one of many statistics https://www.rwa.org/p/cm/ld/fid=582
To fellow authors, I don’t know about you, but I think I’m going advertise more in old folks homes, so far I had my best sales there.