Book Peddlers

By Brian Kaufman

If you’re writing a novel, you almost certainly want to see it published. Before the contract is signed, you’ll struggle with the writing process—the elements of craft, from plot to setting. Once your book is edited, you’ll wrestle query letters, a synopsis, and another round of edits if your book is accepted for publication. Then comes the day you’ve dreamed of—your publisher sends you the finished book. It’s alive, born into the world, and it will sell, and readers will love it. Right?

Years ago, I had a friend who published her mystery book. She’d workshopped, edited, and finally published her novel. She held a book signing at Barnes and Noble and sold some copies. After, she had drinks at a local restaurant to celebrate. “This was my dream,” she told me. And that was that. She’d reached the end of her writer’s journey. She moved on to arts and crafts.

Most of us have different goals. A published book does not make you a successful author. What it does make you is an entrepreneur.

You are a small business, and your product is your book.

Like any small business, you will face challenges:

  • Most businesses fail in the first two years.
  • Those businesses that succeed depend on word-of-mouth.
  • Small businesses don’t break even right away.
  • Successful companies build a client base.
  • Entrepreneurs study their market.
  • Salespeople often network for weeks or months to get new customers, knowing that repeat business will make it all worth it.

Why would entrepreneurship be different for an author?

Like any small business hoping to grow, you don’t begin as a national chain. You start local. This means, in part, selling your books by hand. What do you need to peddle your art? I have a “selling kit” that I put together, consisting of a plastic tub and lid, along with the following items:

  • Business cards
  • A business card holder
  • Tablecloth
  • Plastic book display easels
  • A framed price list
  • Gargoyle bookends
  • Square Credit Card Reader 

I use the gargoyle bookends as part of a visual display. I’ve published eight novels (the ninth coming in August), and I put one each of my books between the bookends, which feature gargoyles guarding castle turrets. That’s appropriate for many of my novels. You might consider what display would highlight your work.

Many people don’t carry cash or a checkbook. For their convenience, you need a way to take credit card payments. I bought a Square card reader on Amazon to use with my iPad. The reader is a fast, secure way of taking payments with limited fees and no long-term contract. This allowed me to set up pricing in advance.

I found the Square intuitive and user-friendly (as in, this old man could use the reader without help). However, Square is not the only option. You might also consider Venmo, the CA$H app, and several other payment processors. Choose what works for you and for your customers.

One final part of my setup involves my attire. In 2018, I published a baseball novel (The Fat Lady’s Low, Sad Song). I wear a baseball jersey I had made with the fictional team name (The Colorado Miners) and my imaginary player’s name (Westfall) on the back. 

Thus armed, I am ready to sell books. But where?

You may have participated in WHWA’s book sales. There are several places besides writer’s organizations or conferences that bear consideration. Here’s a partial list:

  • Critique group meetings
  • Flea markets
  • Coffee shops
  • Local music events
  • Group author signing events
  • Craft fairs
  • Gift bazaars
  • Libraries
  • Festivals and Conventions (with tie-ins to your book’s subject)
  • Local gift shops
  • Local museums and tourist attractions
  • Businesses (with tie-ins to your book’s subject)

You’ll utilize your own table setup for some of these options. For others—coffee shops, for example—you’ll negotiate product placement with a manager or owner. Ask to speak to the manager and offer to sell on consignment. Many places have already got local art and crafts on display. Those establishments are an excellent place to start.

Sometimes you’ll pay table fees for the right to sell. (For example, the January fantasy and sci-fi convention in Colorado Springs charged me $40 for the right to peddle with other vendors over three days. They supplied the table.) For any browsers who look but do not buy, I send them away with a business card, which lists my website and most recent publications.

One last selling opportunity involves unplanned hand sales. I carry a plastic tub in the back of my car. The tub holds copies of most of my books. In conversation, I’m sometimes asked what kind of books I write, and further discussion reveals a potential sale. When asked where my books can be found, the answer is, “In my car.” 

If the thought of “selling” makes you squeamish, you’re not alone. But bear this in mind—any professional salesperson will tell you it’s easier to sell a product you believe in. And you love your books, right? Besides, I don’t begin talking to someone to sell a book. But if the topic comes up, I’m ready.

Pricing is another issue. My primary goal is to get my book into people’s hands, and the price I charge reflects that. Coincidentally, I had an easy time setting my Square Card Reader to just three products (one, two, or three books). In addition, I get publicity copies from some of my publishers and have been known to give away signed extras.

Now, a word about taxes. You must collect and pay sales tax if you sell books in Colorado. And last July, Colorado added a .27 cent delivery fee for any product delivered by car. 

This might seem complicated, but if you’re awaiting publication, you can put your plan together a bit at a time.

And if you’re published and behind the eight-ball? Get to work.

 Important State Revenue Information 

Writing IS A Business

Published by Writing Heights Writing Bug

A blog by writers for everyone interested in books, reading, writing, and just about everything in between.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: