How Author Newsletters Help Sell Your Books – with David Ebsworth

The Assassin's Mark book tour logoI’m delighted to welcome David Ebsworth to Off The Shelf today for a stop on his global tour promoting his latest historical novel, The Assassin’s Mark, which was one of the best books I read last year. Dave’s going to tell us today how he uses his author newsletter to keep readers informed about his work and to prime them to buy, recommend and generally spread the word about his historical novels.

But first, a little more information about The Assassins’ Mark

Anyone who knows Dave will recognise that he’s a bit of a globetrotter, whether whizzing around the internet or in real life, carrying out meticulous first-hand research for his novels and reaching out to new audiences for his published books. (Well, that’s his excuse!)

David Ebsworth, Debbie Young & Helen Hollick at Foyles

Dave at his talk at Foyles, Bristol about The Assassin’s Mark, with me (centre) and historical novelist Helen Hollick

I was lucky enough to attend one of his author talks about The Assassin’s Mark at Foyles in Bristol last summer, and his detailed, passionate account of how he came to write his novel and the history behind it was full of infectious enthusiasm.

I thought I had a reasonable knowledge of the events of the Spanish Civil War, having studied it at school and read Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, but Dave uncovered the most extraordinary facts that played a central part in his novel. Who knew that Franco organised tourist bus trips around the battlefields while the war was still going on, in American-style yellow school buses? The hero of The Assassin’s Mark, a British press reporter, goes along for the ride, and soon he has a murder to report on.

For more about the novel, read my review here – or visit Dave’s website, www.davidebsworth.com.

But now back to the subject of how to use author newsletters to sell your books, with Dave’s providing the perfect case study…

My introduction to Dave actually came via a recommendation for his newsletter from our mutual publisher SilverWood Books, when I was researching my book promotion handbook, Sell Your Books! Publishing Director Helen Hart suggested I check out Dave’s newsletter as a model of direct author marketing.

Having read one issue, Dave won me over, and I immediately became a subscriber. His newsletters are so pleasant to read that I open and read every issue all through, immediately on receipt – and not many messages in my inbox get that treatment! 

So, Dave, over to you to share your top tips about author newsletters…

How long have you been writing a newsletter and why did you set it up in the first place?

Well, thanks for hosting this, Debbie. I set up the newsletter in January 2012. My first book, The Jacobites’ Apprentice, was due to be published and I had started looking at ways to market the novel. Helen Hart at SilverWood had advised me to subscribe to the free newsletter called The Book Marketing Expert produced regularly by Author Marketing Experts. Apart from all the other excellent book promotion and publicity tips offered, it struck me that a newsletter of that sort was exactly what I needed myself – mainly because I was sold on the idea that I needed  a more intimate and “one to one” contact with friends, family and supporters than I could achieve through a blog.

How often do you send it and is there any particular day or time that seems to work best for you?

The newsletter goes out on the first of every month, come rain or shine, at about 7am (UK time). It took me a while to realise that there wasn’t really a “best time” for this since lots of my readers are scattered across time zones from India to the USA, so I simply picked the hour that suited my own work schedule best.

How do you manage the mailing list – do you use MailChimp or something else?

I get a lot of stick for this, but actually I manage the whole list myself. There’s nothing wrong with MailChimp at all, but I like to be able to reassure subscribers that I use no third-party provider whatsoever and that the addresses are all “blind copied” so that nobody but myself sees them. With all the fears that exist just now around online security, I feel happier doing it this way. So I simply type up the newsletter, mail it to myself and BCC it to a batch of recipients – normally around 40 at a time so I don’t fall foul of any spamming controls. It takes 2-3 minutes for each batch, no more than that. And the whole process takes me less than an hour.

What software do you use to format the newsletter, or is it a simple email?

It’s a simple e-mail. I use Comic Sans or similar, and just add a bit of colour to some of the headings. Then, after I finish circulating, I also post to my website. You can see it here: http://www.davidebsworth.com/page4.html

Copy of The Assassin's Mark with matching bookmarks

More great marketing materials from David Ebsworth

After you’d initially set up your mailing list and newsletter format, how much time do you spend per month managing it?

It varies. Subscribers end up on the list in two main ways. First, whenever I do an “event”, I always make sure (of course!) to have my Visitors’ Book with me and I specifically invite people to write down their e-mail addresses. That bit’s easy. I just add them when I get home – only a few minutes work.

But second, I monitor my presence on Goodreads a lot. So, whenever I arrange a Giveaway on Goodreads, lots of readers “add” the book to their own lists. Last time, there were around 600 who “added” my second novel, The Assassin’s Mark. There’s a facility to message each of them, although you have to be careful that this also does not fall foul of the anti-spamming guidelines. So I just send a brief thank-you for adding my book and ask whether they’d like to also receive my newsletter. From my experience, around 10% say yes.

It’s a very time-consuming process, and the Goodreads in-house security system will only allow you to send a limited number of messages each day. I just stick at it until the job’s done – maybe an hour each day for a few weeks. But obviously that’s only a couple of times each year.

How do people react to your newsletter? Do they email you back with a reply? Do you notice a boost in sales or website hits after you’ve sent one out?

Because it goes out as a personal e-mail, with only me and the recipient showing on the address lines, it seems to encourage responses. People will “chat” with me about something in the contents, exactly as with any other e-mail. And I often have a genuine “call to action” in there somewhere. I usually struggle, for instance, with titles for new books so I’ll ask subscribers to “vote” for various choices – usually with very positive results. I can’t honestly say that I’ve seen any boost in sales from the newsletter (I’m not that good at monitoring sales figures anyhow!) but certainly an increase in website hits.

What are the three biggest benefits for you of running a newsletter?

First, it helps me to both drive and monitor my activity. In other words, it gives me a chance to list both what I’ve done over the previous month, as well as what’s coming up in the following few weeks. If I struggle to fill the newsletter, I know I’m not working hard enough! Second, it helps me to spread the word about forthcoming events on a one-to-one basis. Third, it’s my favourite way to engage with readers and supporters – once again, at a very personal level.

What is the most surprising result you’ve ever had from one of your newsletters? The most gratifying? The most negative?

I have to be honest and say that I can’t think of a single negative result since I’ve been running this. The most surprising, gratifying and amusing, I suppose, was the response to a “call to action” I made about Goodreads listings. I guess everybody knows about Goodreads, and that the site has a Listopia section. So you can look up the books that readers have voted to include, for example, as “Best Historical Fiction”, “Best Romance” and so on. I’d not really looked at these very much but somebody drew my attention to the fact that my second novel, The Assassin’s Mark, was showing on the “Best Books about the Spanish Civil War” and at number 10. Well, that was OK, but I thought we could do better, so I invited my readers to look at the list and, if they wanted, to vote for Assassins.  

As a result, it’s now number 1 – ahead of both George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway. This doesn’t mean much in terms of pure book sales, but it’s a wonderful tag line, isn’t it? “The Assassin’s Mark – Voted by Goodreads as the Best Book ever written about the Spanish Civil War”!

How much has the mailing list grown or fluctuated since you set it up?

I had just 25 subscribers when I started, and the list has now grown to almost 600. And I’m pleased to say that I’ve only ever had one person unsubscribe.

What would be your three top tips to any author setting up a newsletter of their own?

First, keep it simple but informative – no waffle. Second, try to make it entertaining – a modest amount of humour goes a long way. Third, make sure you engage with readers through realistic “calls to action.”

What are the most popular elements of your newsletter? Do you run any subscriber-only offers? Do you give subscribers sneak previews of events and releases?

Anecdotally, I think the most popular elements are the “calls to action” since I think readers quite like to feel close to their authors. To “know” them, almost. And I certainly give subscribers sneak previews of events. But I’ve only recently started to think about subscriber-only offers. Mainly this is because I have badly neglected Twitter as a marketing tool, but have recently been persuaded to use this a bit more. So I’ve brought in some help from an organisation called PubShelf who are beavering away to boost the number of my followers. At the moment, I’m putting on an extra 100 followers each week, but I really need to drive these towards my books – or, better still, to my newsletter. As a result, my website www.davidebsworth.com now has its own Giveaway page. A series of tweets will direct people there to receive free copies of exclusive short stories (my own, naturally) and all they need to do to receive them is sign up for the newsletter. Simples!

Why do you need a newsletter as well as a blog?

Because I’m hopeless at maintaining a regular blog, of course! Seriously, I have huge admiration for those authors who manage to maintain their weekly or bi-weekly blogs but I’m just no good at it.  I tried – really I did! And, to be fair, I do still blog as often as I can, both on my website and on Goodreads. But the newsletter is simply more manageable for me. And, as I’ve already said, I feel as though it gives me far more two-way personal contact than I’ve ever experienced from the blog alone. There must be a thousand-and-one ways to improve on this model but, so far, this one has worked very well for me.

Thanks, Dave, for that detailed and inspiring account of how you’ve made such a success of your author newsletter. There are lots of inspiring ideas there, and you make it sound relatively painless and easy, provided the author is prepared to invest the necessary time. Good luck with the rest of your book tour, and I hope it brings you many new subscribers, as well as book sales! 

If, after reading this interview, you’d like to sign up for David Ebsworth’s newsletter, please feel free to drop him an email – you know he’ll be glad to hear from you! 

To read my review of The Assassin’s Mark, click here.

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1 Simple Tip for Planning Your New Year of Book Promotions

2014 Date Book

Date books available from card shops for only pence/cents

Set your new book promotion year off to a great start with this cheap and easy tip that will cost you only pence/cents.

Invest in a simple “date book” – the kind of pocket-sized planner that most card shops display by their tills at this time of year. These small lightweight notebooks provide a handy at-a-glance chart of each month’s calendar, with a square about 2cm x 2cm for each day.

One day’s square allows just enough space to insert  a single key event, such as a new blog post on your author website, a guest post on someone else’s or a special price promotion. Inserting your key activity each day will allow you to see at a glance how your promotional plan is panning out:

  • Looking back each month will help you plan future activity
  • Spotting future gaps will prompt you to fill them
  • Seeing each page fill up with constructive activity will keep you motivated as the year goes by

Useful for Many Things

If using just one date book sounds too restrictive, try investing in a separate date book for each type of book marketing activity. Having snapped up half a dozen when I was out shopping just after Christmas, I’ve already found a use for them all:

  • 1, 2 & 3: planning the posts on the three blogs I run (this one, my author website at www.youngbyname.me and the self-publishing advice blog for the Alliance of Independent Authors, for which I’m commissioning editor)
  • 4: keeping track of my invoicing (something I was always behind on in 2013)
  • 5: monitoring URL renewal dates for the author websites that I manage for other authors
  • 6: monitoring my progress up the Amazon reviewer ranks (they update the listings once per day (I started the year at #1,514 on the UK site)

I’m also planning to buy another to keep track of my progress on Twitter (where you’ll find me at @DebbieYoungBN, by the way):

  • number of followers/following each day
  • number of retweets received
  • number of new tweets made
  • schedule past posts for retweeting

I plan to do this via a series of colour coded dots. It’s either that or learn to write as small as a fairy to fit it all in!

Date books show a month at a glance

Use separate date books for different projects

My eighth date book will enable me to schedule various self-publishing projects I have planned for the new year – writing time, editing time, publication date and book launch. These projects include The Author’s Guide to Blogging (to be published by SilverWood Books in the spring) and some collections of short stories, flash fiction and travel memoirs.

Keep It Simple

This may not be rocket science, nor is it high technology,  but I do believe it’s a simple way to monitor my progress, keep my spirits up and maintain momentum – and much more sustainable than setting up a series of spreadsheets or online calendars to do much the same thing.  When we have so much high technology at our fingertips, at work, at home and on the move, it’s too easy to aim for the complex and fail, when sometimes simple tricks may be just as effective and considerably less stressful.

So here’s to a less stressful 2014 – and I wish you a very successful New Year of book promotion!

Throughout 2014, new book promotion tips will appear on this blog every Wednesday. To receive every tip in your email inbox, complete the subscription box at the top right of the homepageTo receive a monthly newsletter including these tips, plus more news and giveaways, email me a message with “OTS Newsletter Request” in the subject line. 

1 Cheap & Easy Way to Promote Your Self-Published Book

Sample ID photos of a book cover

These tiny prints cost less than 5p each

Self-published authors often feel bogged down with the investment of time and money required to promote their books, so here’s a simple, low-cost tip that will cost you only a few moments and pence/cents.

Simply load a jpeg of your book’s cover image onto a memory stick, and next time you’re out shopping, stop by at one of those instant-print photo machines commonly found in retail pharmacies and supermarkets. Plug in your memory stick, select the jpeg of your book cover, and choose the print option which offers ID photos. For the cost of a single photographic print at standard snapshot size (6″ x 4″ or 10cm x 15cm), this will give you an array of 8 tiny images, each the size of a passport photo.

Tiny Photos Make a Big Impression

Take them home, cut them up, and voilà! Appealing little images of your book cover to carry around in your purse or wallet, for the next time your book crops up in conversation with a friend or stranger. Handing over this tiny picture is a terrific visual way to help them recognise and remember the name, author, title and visual appearance of your book – enough to find it in a bookshop or online, and much more appealing and unusual than an ordinary business card with a string of URLs and phone numbers on it. The shiny finish and quality feel will discourage them from binning it, and most likely they’ll show it to someone else, to share its novelty value. You could even sign it on the back with your best author signature, if you like, or add a sticker with your contact details.

Diabetes book on Kindle with ID photos

Hoping to publish a paperback soon

I think they’ll be particularly handy when promoting a book that exists only in digital format, for which you can’t show them a physical copy, as in the case of my latest book Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabetes (though I’m hoping to launch a paperback soon).

Once the recipient has bought your book, they might use the little photo as a bookmark – or else pass it on to any small child who has a doll’s house. It’s the perfect size for a doll’s house coffee table or bookshelf!

Two More Quick & Easy Book Marketing Posts:

How To Sell More Books With a Memorable Book Launch

Debbie Young, author of "Sell Your Books!", at her book launch

At the launch of my own book

I love attending book launches and sharing the excitement of the author as he or she unveils shiny new books before an appreciative audience. Even better when the author dreams up a quirky way to make the event especially memorable, persuading more of their guests not only to buy more copies, but to keep spreading the word about their book days, weeks and months later.

This summer, two book launch events particularly stood out for me, in completely different genres – and I’ve been telling friends about them ever since. By chance, both were staged in the same venue: the smart upstairs events area in the Bristol branch of Foyles.  Smart, but neutral – and thanks to clever planning by the two authors concerned, the tone was entirely different for each launch, and totally appropriate to each book.

Acquiring a Taste for the Spanish Civil War

A guest eating tapas

A reader acquiring the taste for a Spanish thriller

Cover of The Assassin's Mark by David EbsworthHistorical novelist David Ebsworth transported his audience to 1930s Spain to get us in the mood for the story of his thriller, The Assassin’s Mark.

Spanish music was playing as we arrived, and we felt even more welcome when we spotted a mouth-watering display of genuine tapas, which looked as if it had been personally imported from Spain.

Smiling all the while, and in front of an intriguing display of genuine artefacts from the era, which he occasionally passed around the audience for a bit of hands-on involvement, David talked at length and off the cuff about the historical and political background to his story. The novel takes place in the unlikely but true-to-life setting of a yellow tourist bus visiting the battlefields of the Spanish Civil War. Spanish food and drink feature quite often in the story as the motley array of bus passengers make their fateful journey, and plying his audience with the same was a great way of involving us at a sensory level. David’s enthusiasm was so infectious that by the end of the talk I was almost ready to buy a ticket for the next trip!

Suffragette Rally

Mark Evans, Helen Hart and Sarah Newman join the chorus

Rallying readers to buy the book

Cover of The Bristol Suffragettes by Lucienne BoyceHistorical novelist Lucienne Boyce took a more formal approach at the launch of her non-fiction account of The Bristol Suffragettes.

When we took our seats, we discovered on each chair a songsheet for the lyrics of the Suffragette movement’s anthem – a hearty rallying cry. Before her prepared speech, wearing a purple and green Suffragette rosette on her chest, Lucienne led us all in a rousing chorus of the song, aided and abetted by Foyles’ Events Manager, who had gamely dressed in the Suffragettes’ official colours of green and purple to add to the sense of occasion.

Although Lucienne’s talk was much briefer than David’s, it was powerful. As we sat comfortably in the middle of modern Bristol, her words took us back to the turn of the previous century when normal Bristol citizens might have found their daily business, in just such a shop as Foyles, disrupted by protesting Suffragettes, hurling missives and making their voices heard. Apparently not even Winston Churchill was safe from their protests when he arrived at the nearby Bristol Temple Meads railway station.

Within moments, Lucienne had completely changed the way we looked at our surroundings, and with the innovative walk map of the Suffragettes’ Bristol provided inside each book, she equipped us to continue the tour after the launch event was over and the singing had stopped!

Inspiring Other Authors

Each author’s creative approach to their book launch, ably assisted by the very helpful Foyles’ team, helped ensure a long queue for book purchase and signing after the event was over. Both events set a great example to other authors in the audience who had their own launches to plan.

Both of these authors’ books were published by SilverWood Books of Bristol. Many thanks to SilverWood Books for the use of their photos here.

What’s the most interesting and creative book launch you’ve ever attended? Please share your experience via the comments form below, and if you’d like to email me any pictures, I’ll add them at the foot of this post. 

For more ideas about how to plan an effective book launch, see Chapter 9 of Sell Your Books!

PS Lucienne Boyce will be putting in another appearance at Off The Shelf on Saturday, as part of a blog tour of her historical novel, To The Fair Land. She’ll be talking about creating atmosphere not only at book launches, but within the pages of her novel too.

One Simple, Affordable Tool for Marketing Your Self-Published Book: The Bookmark

WP_20130908_002 Here’s an easy, low-cost tool to help you promote your self-published book all year round, wherever you go: the promotional bookmark.

It may seem like an old-fashioned approach, but there’s a reason it’s still a popular device – it works!

How to Create an Effective Promotional Bookmark

If you’re using an assisted publishing service, you may be lucky and find that your chosen service provider will create bookmark artwork as a side-order when they’re setting up your book cover design.

If not, or it you’re taking the complete DIY route with your self-publishing project, it’s straightforward to create bookmarks yourself using online print services such as Vistaprint or your local high street printer. These services generally offer templates which you can adapt to match your book’s design, so it’s only a matter of moments to cut and paste key details from your book jacket and author website.

SavedPicture-201399215338.jpgApart from the obvious details to include – book jacket image, title and author name – add teaser text to whet the reader’s appetite. This might be a potted version of your book jacket blurb, an intriguing quote or celebrity endorsement, or a great review. Add useful information to encourage prospective buyers to make further connections with you (author website address, Facebook page, Twitter handle, etc).

WP_20130908_013 (2)Your bookmark should match or complement the cover and style of your book, so it’s easy to see they’re a matching pair. Ideally it should have the same finish as your book cover – matt, gloss, textured etc. Having seen the bookmark, the reader should be able easily to spot the book in shops, online or in the library.

Although you may be tempted to go for cheaper card or less colourful printing to keep down your costs, I reckon it’s worth paying for a decent quality out of respect for your book. Produce something that’s pleasant to handle and striking to look at, and the recipient is far less likely to throw it away (much less readily than a plain business card too), so it will stay with them, acting as a silent salesman for your book, long after your encounter is over.

Use Your Bookmarks Wisely

Once you’ve got your bookmarks, use them wisely! Unless you are printing them by the thousand, they will be a significant investment per item. Expect to pay around 50p each for decent quality in a small print run. So don’t dish them out like sweets. Instead, use them in a measured way as your book’s calling card.

  • WP_20130908_007Keep a supply always to hand, e.g. in your handbag, pocket or ereader case, (or even in your own reading book, if you read in public places). Then, if you strike up a conversation about your book with someone at a dinner party or on a train, for example, it’s a winning move to present them with your bookmark as a parting gesture.
  • They’re also a useful give-away to provide to your local independent bookshop, should you manage to persuade them to stock your books. Offer a dozen or so bookmarks for the counter to help draw initial attention to your book, and replenish them should the sales justify such generosity.
  • Bookmark for The Prince's Man by Deborah JayEqually, offer a handful to your local public library. It makes a great starting point for a discussion as to whether they have a copy of your book on their shelves, whether they’d like to order one from you, or whether they might like to invite you in as a local author to give a talk, on World Book Night, perhaps, or for their next literature festival.
  • If you ever sell your books at local markets or craft fairs, fanning out a few bookmarks on display is a good way to add visual interest to your table, and it’s a starting point for conversation. People may ask you whether the bookmarks are free, and that gives you the chance to start talking to them about your book and gauging whether they’re a potential buyer.
  • At your book launch event, offer the bookmarks for sale at a price to cover your costs, and you may sell some to shoppers who want an added extra not normally available for sale, or to those who aren’t sure about buying the book, or don’t have enough money with them, or who simply want to support you without buying the book itself.
  • WP_20130908_006If you have friends or relations who have already read and enjoyed your book, take advantage of their enthusiasm by giving them a small supply of bookmarks. They’ll usually be happy to pass them on to acquaintances who they think might be interested in your book . (People always like to have an excuse to tell others they know a real live author!) They’ll feel good about being able to give away this smart little object while making their recommendation. Few people will turn it down and with the bookmark as an aide-memoire of the title and author, they’ll be far more likely to actually go on and buy the book than if they just heard about it in a conversation.

As you can see, though the humble bookmark may at first seem a very humble marketing device, if used wisely, it can also be a powerful marketing tool, opening doors and raising awareness wherever you go.

WP_20130902_029

Oh, and it also comes in handy for marking your place when you’re reading!

If you’ve already produced a bookmark that you’re proud of, send me a jpeg image of it in use, and I’ll add it to this post to show it off for you!

RELATED POSTS 

How to Build A Great Relationship with Your Local Bookshop

How World Book Night Can Help Indie Authors Raise Their Profile

How to Sell More Self-Published Books: Seize Handselling Opportunities

Author M C Beaton at a library event

Another happy customer: international bestseller M C Beaton handsells a book to my mum in the local library!

It’s all too easy, in this age of internet bookselling, to focus only on your online sales figures, allowing  allow handselling opportunities to pass you by. But if you look out for them, you’ll be surprised at how many of these there are.

What’s more, readers who buy from you in person may be more likely to:

  • tell their friends about their purchase
  • appreciate your book more because they’ve met you in person
  • be better ambassadors for you than readers who you’ve never met

Although handsold copies may be a tiny proportion of your total sales, they will help you build your success and your fan-base, so make the most of the opportunities to sell YOUR books!

What is Handselling, anyway?

By handselling, I mean books sold directly by the author to the purchaster at any face-to-face encounter e.g.

  • at a formal event such as a book launch or book signing
  • at a stall you’ve set up at your local literature festival or community fete
  • at just about anywhere you happen to be – on a bus, at a party, in the office, in a shop

If you think selling a book by hand sounds difficult, bear in mind the example of my dear late friend Lyn. She actually sold her house while at the hairdresser’s to a lady she’d never met before. Yes, not a book, but her HOUSE, worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. Simply by chatting to a stranger. She’d only gone in for a haircut, but she got chatting with the lady in the next chair, and the conversation turned to houses. Realising that this lady was looking for exactly the kind of house that she was trying to sell, Lyn sealed the deal. If she could handsell a house, can handselling books really be that difficult?

Finding Opportunities for Handselling Books

Handselling her books, with  a beautiful smile

Artemis Cooper, handselling her books (no extra charge for a friendly smile)

Formal events provide the most natural handselling opportunities. I’ve written before about the sales potential of a well-managed book talk:

There are many unstructured handselling opportunities, if you keep your eye open for them. Last November, when I was distributing posters for our PTA’s Christmas Fair, the proprietor of a nearby craft centre asked me what I did for a living, and I told her I was a writer. When I told her about my newly-launched handbook for authors, Sell Your Books!, I didn’t expect it to be of interest to someone in her line of business, but she revealed that she had an aunt who was writing a book. I suggested that my book would be the perfect Christmas present, especially if I signed it. Ker-ching! I fetched a copy from the car. (I also sold three copies at the PTA Christmas Fair itself.)

I  always carry at least two copies of my book in my car – one a well-thumbed display copy and the other, untouched by human hand, for selling at the cover price (and at a better margin than I earn online). I have been known to make a sale in a car park, feeling (unjustifiably!) like a dodgy trader in counterfeit watches.

Great Examples of Handsold Books

I thought I was good at opportunistic sales, but my efforts were put in the shade last week by reports from some authors I was chatting to on SilverWood Books’ excellent Facebook forum. Although this is a private forum, a benefit available only to authors who currently use the company’s assisted publishing services, I have their permission, and SilverWood’s, to share here their impressive examples of handselling.

Cover of The Assassin's Mark by David Ebsworth

Tempting the postmistress

Historical novelist David Ebsworth reports:

“Posting off my latest orders at the Post Office this morning, the nice lady behind the counter finally plucked up courage to ask me what sort of books I’m writing. Turns out she’s a historical fiction fanatic and she promptly bought my “carry around” copy of my latest novel, The Assassin’s Mark.”

When she’s finished that one, I bet he’ll sell her a copy of his previous novel, The Jacobite’s Apprentice.

Novelist Sandy Osborne is a well-known and recognised local figure due to the extensive local media coverage of her first novel, Girl Cop, launched in the local Waterstones in January. At that event, she broke the branch’s record for most books sold by an indie author, and continues to capitalise on her local following by carrying fliers wherever she goes.

“I hand people the flier and tell them with a big smile that I’ve got a copy of the book in the car if they’re interested!” she advises. “I’ve sold copies to my holiday rep and the beautician who does my eyebrow shape!”

Cover ofThe Adventures of Eric Seagull by Caz Greenham

Just what the pharmacist ordered

Caz Greenham is making great headway selling the first in her planned series of children’s books, set in the seaside resort of Brixham, Devon. Not content with securing pre-publication orders from Brixham’s hotels and tourist attractions, she is also building up a considerable following in her home town of Bristol. Offering free talks to nearby schools has provided her with obvious opportunities to handsell copies to children and parents. Less obviously, she has also sold three copies to the lady behind the counter in her local  bank!

Of course, it’s not always convenient to carry physical copies of the book around, particularly if yours is a heavy book, a large format, or only available as an e-book. In that case, carry a business card or bookmark bearing the book’s details.

Caz Greenham had this technique sussed very early on: “”I sold my first book, via Amazon, to the pharmacist at Asda. After introducing my book with chit-chat and a SilverWood bookmark, he flipped open his phone, went to the Amazon page, and hey ho – he ordered The Advenures of Eric Seagull for his little boy!”

The Etiquette of Handselling

Effective handselling really follows the same rules of etiquette as promoting your book via social media. It is NOT the done thing to shriek “Buy my book! It’s wonderful!” to everyone you meet, but to engage people in pleasant, natural conversation. If the opportunity then arises to drop your book into the discussion, do so. If the person you’re talking to makes buying signals, e.g.  asks what your book’s about or how much it costs, tell them what they want to know, without applying any pressure or showing £ or $ signs in your eyes.

Then, if you have a copy to hand, that’s the time to produce it. Allow them to hold it and to flick through it – it’s known in the trade as “puppy-dog selling“. As with puppies, once readers have picked up books, they start to bond with them and are much more likely to buy. (My salesman husband once persuaded me to adopt a kitten, against my better judgement, by passing it across for me to hold. Inevitably, the kitten came home with us.) Feel free to ask the enquirer, in a casual tone, whether they’d like to buy the copy now, and offer to sign it as an extra incentive. That could be the deal clincher that makes them buy now, rather than waiting till they’re next online or in a bookshop (where they may be distracted from your book by other matters and may forget all about their intention to purchase).

If you don’t have a copy of your book to hand, have other sales aids ready instead:

  • a bookmark with an attractive image of your book’s cover, with ISBN, price and blurb
  • your business card showing your author website and Amazon page
  • a postcard of the book’s front cover – likely to be put on the kitchen noticeboard or kept for correspondence

I’ve even been handed a promotional pen with the name and details of a book on it. This probably wasn’t a cost-effective tactic, probably costing as much as the author’s margin on the book, but hey, I’ve remembered the book’s title two years on! Giving me the branded pen was a testament not only to that author’s determination to sell his book, but also to the persuasiveness of online firms such as Vistaprint, from whom it’s very easy to order suitable promotional materials at reasonable cost. Beware, they can be addictive! Been there, got the t-shirt… literally!

If the discussion ends without a sale, don’t be downhearted – at least you’ve tried. The person you’ve been speaking to will probably still be impressed that they’ve met a real live author  and will probably tell their friends about your encounter. Even in these heady days of self-publishing, many people are in awe of anyone who’s written a book. This means your meeting will have raised your profile and got people talking about your book, making future sales more likely – and that’s still a great result!

Where’s the most unusual place in which you’ve handsold a copy of your book? Do tell!

If you found this post helpful, you might also like:

A Case Study of a Succssful Book Launch with Girl Cop author Sandy Osborne

How to Build A Great Relationship with your Local Bookshop

Why You Should Sell the Author As Well As the Book