Let me give you a little lesson on selling. I'm at RadCon, my third convention, and two hours before it opened I have made my first sale. In about an hour I'll be giving a talk on how to pitch your book in one sentence which will lead directly to a sale, usually. By "usually" I mean, it needs a little help. And by "little help" I mean, you need to come up with what works for you, but if you think you can sit and do nothing and your books will sell themselves, you're mistaken.
The first step is simple. Ask for money. If you don't believe me, go read Amanda Palmer's book The Art of Asking, then come back and finish reading this post. Here are a couple sample conversations I have with people.
— Give me your money.
— Huh? (At this point the person is trying to see if I'm being serious or not.)
— You have money in your pocket. I see it. You can give it to me.
— Haha! (They see me smile and think I'm kidding and laugh nervously.)
— I'm not kidding, by the way. I'm dead serious. (At this point I step closer with a big smile.)
Here a couple things happen. Most of the people get the humor and laugh, releasing their tension. A few get really uncomfortable and either flee quietly or look paralyzed. If they are frightened, I offer them a free writerly hug, which usually makes them feel better and lets me lure them to my table. Only once have I freaked out a person to the point of her running off. I felt terrified and like a complete asshole. I ran after her to apologize, which was a mistake, because she got scared even more. I know, I'm an idiot. I have learned my lesson and am gentler now. Anyway, for people who didn't get scared, I do the next thing.
Show interest in the person. Forget about selling, make the person feel special. The conversation goes like this:
— So what kinds of books do you read?
— Oh... (Here the person starts telling about all the books he or she likes. It's important to shut up and to listen.)
— I'm asking because I don't want to sell you something you won't enjoy. Life is too short to read books you don't like.
— Oh! (At this point the person checks if I'm being serious or not, and I am. Life is too short.)
— Fantasy? Horror? What books do you like?
Here we exchange our reading lists, and if they match, I start pitching my books, depending on how dark the person's taste is. Every pitch should be one sentence, like a hook, to make them ask more. For example, for Rosehead I say, "It's about a rose garden that eats people."
PUT THE PRODUCT IN THEIR HANDS.
This is the oldest selling technique there is. I dunno who came up with it. It's simple. You make the person feel as if they own what you're trying to sell. This is why car dealerships offer car rides. Obviously. Like you didn't know this already. But with books it's a little different. I say the following.
— Here, read the beginning and tell me what you think. It's a rare opportunity for you to tell the writer, "You suck." You can also hit me on the head, if you want to. (This produces a laugh, and I hand the book open on the first page. Typically after this the person reads quietly for a few minutes.)
This is the part that is critical. You can sell books by not really selling them, but by being honest. Or human. See what reaction the person has to your writing. If they don't like it, let them walk. Don't get upset. Don't take it personally. Take "no" as an answer. Take it with grace. It's your writing that they don't like, not your newborn. Thank them for their time, do another couple jokes, hug. Usually, if you are nice, they will come back and bring a friend who they think might like your writing. Happens to me all the time.
If they do love it, however (you can see it written on their face), name the price. And here comes the most important part.
TAKE THE BLOODY MONEY.
Make it easy. Have change handy, have a PayPal or Square or some other thing you can plug into your phone and take a credit card. And name the price.
— Fifteen bucks. (That is what I usually say with a smile, or whatever the price of the book is.)
Here it can go two ways. They either have the money, or they don't.
If they don't have money, I hand them my bookmark that has my email and website address and tell them that all my ebooks are free. I have gotten many donations from these people later, people who have read my books for free.
If they do have money, I take it and sign the book and give them a hug and ask them to email me with feedback. We chat some more, and I joke some more. Sometimes people tell me they don't like to buy things at the beginning of a convention and will come back. Most of the time they do, because they remember me.
How do you make this work for you?
COME UP WITH YOUR OWN METHOD.
Use all of the above steps, but make it fit your personality. The reason I can be a bit obnoxious and a bit forward is, I'm a girl (which lets me get away with reaching out for hugs and not get charged with sexual harassment), I'm cute (which lets me get away with being too forward and too bossy), I'm white (which makes me privileged), I'm Russian (which excuses my insolence). I know these things and I use them to my advantage. It sucks ass that we still have labels and stereotypes based on gender and the color of skin and sexual orientation and a whole slew of other things. But that is our reality. Be aware of your advantages and limitations and work within them, yet every time push against the limits a bit more. And more. And more. Help people see you as an artist, not a label. Help them see through your shell, show passion. They will buy your book because they will see excitement in your eyes, whatever color they are.
Yes, I know. I'm a dangerous idealist and I've been called it before. I don't give a fuck. I believe that love can move mountains and that there is a reason for everything we do, and if we dig deeper, we all just want to love and be loved, and even our labels stem from it. We're scared shitless and think that if we categorize everyone around us, we'll know whom to avoid so as not to be hurt, which is a whole another blog post.
MAKE THEM LOVE YOU.
In conclusion, this is what you do. In those few minutes of real interaction with people you have, make them fall in love with you. Talk to them. Reach out. Be yourself. They will buy your book because they like you.