First, let me frighten you. Let me frighten you REAL GOOD.
What I'm about to tell you will sound like a lot of work. Let that sink in for a minute. A lot of work. Try 18-hour workdays with 6 hours of sleep. Now try 19-hour workdays with 5 hours of sleep. Crank it up to 20 and sleep only for 4 (my case at the moment). No weekends. No days off. Nada. (Don't piss your pants yet. This is not forever. Only in the beginning.)
This ain't a recipe to free bags of gold, what you're about to read. It's a guide and a restructuring of your conventional thinking as to what selling is and isn't (I'm talking to writers here, primarily). You can apply the below to selling anything, not just books: socks, vodka, couches, raw human hearts. It's a step-by-step explanation of how I raised my book sales (paperbacks sold off my lovely website here) from 1 a day, to 6 a day, to 10, to 14, to getting too overwhelmed with orders and running out of cash to replenish the stock, to keep up with 20 sales a day (I was forced to slow it down, so I could develop a system that will allow me to scale).
I know how to get to selling 100 books a day. I know how to get to selling 1,000 books a day. I know how to get to make my millions (so we all have a huge borscht party—if you've been a loyal reader of mine, count yourself invited). And now you will now it too.
It's no secret, these secrets I'm about to tell you. They've been around for as long as the concept of trade and money has been around. So buckle your seat belts, hamsters. The wild ride is about to begin.
Secret #1: Selling is caring.
Yes, you read that right. Selling isn't begging: "Please, please, pleeeeeaaase buy my book." Selling isn't demanding: "Buy my book! Come on! Buy it! Buy it!!!" And selling isn't fooling: "If you buy my book, you will be dying for more! It's the best book out there! It'll heal your pancreas!" No.
Selling is caring.
Not like this: "Check out my book! It's the hottest romance out there!"
But like this: "I reserved a signed copy for you. Where would you like me to send it?"
Let me explain.
Secret #2: Make your reader feel loved.
What I mean by "selling is caring" is exactly that. Whoever your reader is, your job is to make them feel taken care of, make them feel soft and fuzzy.
Make them feel loved.
You must switch your brain from "I'm writing" to "I'm selling" when you interact with your readers. It's often a hard thing to do for writers. Their big ego gets in the way. So I'll describe a scenario here that you can see me do if you go to my Twitter or to my Facebook or to my Instagram and scan through my conversations to see how I converted strangers to friends to customers to loyal fans. Sometimes within minutes.
But before I dive into this, let me throw the next secret at you.
Secret #3: Every interaction is a sale you make or lose.
Digested this? EVERY. SINGLE. INTERACTION. With anyone. Anywhere. In person. On the phone. Online. Everyone you talk to every day is a potential sale. That's a lot of sales, isn't it? That's what you're after, isn't it? Okay, let me show you how it's done.
So, back to interactions. You can apply this to talking to someone in line while at the grocery store or talking to someone who comments on your Facebook post. Ready?
Let's go back a century. Let's pretend you're a baker. Let's say you have a quaint little bakery shop right at the intersection of two main streets, not too far from the town center, a convenient location. Let's say you have a bell at the door that dings when someone comes in.
Ding-ding! Someone opens the door, steps in. What do you do? You smile, walk up to the new customer, great them. What do you say? You say, "Good afternoon! How are you on this fine sunny day?"
Now think about that last phrase. What does it do? It shows you care. This is Step 1 of selling. Notice it's not pleading ("Pleeeease buy my cake.") and it's not demanding ("Buy my cake now!) and it's not fooling ("If you buy my cake, your erection will last four hours!"). It's caring ("How are you?").
Secret #4: Help your reader let go of their fear.
Remember, your customer is scared of you. They're scared you'll fool them, take their money and give you a stale cake. Your job is to make them feel at ease, relax them, and have them let go of that initial fear. How? Again, by caring.
The fine line here is, do you actually care for a stranger, or do you pretend? Both, and neither. You care because it's your job to care. But you also care, because you make yourself care (if you're in a foul mood, for example). It's like one of those things when they tell you, smile to feel happy. And if you know the customer—let's say this customer has been shopping at your bakery since she was a little girl—you care because you know her and she knows you and you're practically family. So you see, you do care, and your customer feels it. Think of every interaction you've had recently when buying something that made you feel good. You felt cared for, yes?
Back to selling. This is the opener, to make the stranger into a friend, and you do it EVERYWHERE.
Secret #5: Make every stranger into a friend.
Let's say someone replied to your tweet. You've never seen this person before. It's a new follower. A stranger. What do you do? You can ignore them, and that would be a lost sale. Let's say you make $5 on a paperback sale, so by not responding you just lost $5. Ouch. That hurts, right? Good. Now you're feeling it. So what do you do?
You tweet back (and this is why it's so time consuming—at first there is only you, and you can talk only to so many people in a day) and make that person feel cared for. By asking how they are (remember the "ding" sound of the bell? this tweet is the ding, and your job is to greet the new customer who stepped into your bakery).
What do you say? Ask questions. Ask the person what they're working on. What are they reading? Or writing? or both? Ask what you'd want someone you follow (and admire) ask YOU. Now, if you're a fan of Stephen King and you tweeted to him, and he said, "How are you?", you'd have a heart attack and give him all your money, right? Or even better. Let's say you wished a good writing day to J.K. Rowling, and she wished you one too! Mamma Mia! She actually wished ME a good writing day?? Exactly. (The first example happened to me, not in those exact words though, but the second one didn't yet. One day it will.)
Secret #6: Not every stranger is your customer.
Next, you make small talk to make the customer feel better and to qualify them. Are they your customer? They might not be. Did they come in here to rob you or to actually buy cake?
"How can I help you today?" you ask. "Perhaps you'd like this fine chocolate cake with blood frosting? I got it fresh out of the oven just an hour ago, and the blood is my very own neighbor's." You the baker now take out the chocolate cake and show it off. Perhaps the customer tells you they came for the lemon pop-tarts. Perfect. You have qualified them. They are the snacky-type eater, so you show off your pop-tarts. (And even if you don't have the lemon ones, you can sell the others you have instead, and I'll show you later how the reader doesn't care about which book they buy—don't roll your eyes yet.)
In book selling, that question would be, "So, what are you reading right now?" Notice, you're not selling anything here. You're asking to see if the person is a book reader or not.
Secret #7: Every non-customer knows many potential customers.
If they're not a customer, guess what. They know a lot of people (their mom, dad, sister, neighbor, murdering mentor, etc.), so next you can ask if they know someone who reads books. This is why it's important to make strangers into friends. Because everyone knows a lot of people who read books. Just like everyone knows someone who would love to buy your lovely chocolate cake or pop-tarts. So even if they don't buy from you, if you made them feel relaxed and not afraid of you, and if you became friends, they will happily tell you who would absolutely love your cakes (or socks, or dead possums, or livers) and even give you their name.
Secret #8: Turn your loyal customers into sellers.
I'm jumping ahead here, but your most loyal customers are the ones who can also help you sell and scale your sales, if you provide an incentive that makes them feel good. So, a free book for every book their friends buy. Or their name in the book. Or plain cash. Anything you can come up with, offer, and see if your customers tell you it's valuable to them.
But back to selling.
Let's say your customer says she doesn't want cake, she doesn't want pop-tarts, she's just browsing. So you've got a non-customer who's not willing to talk. That's a red flag. Why is she in your bakery? Simple curiosity? That's perfectly fine, but it'll suck out your time. So be polite, but direct your attention to those who are actually here to look at your cakes. Meaning, if the person tweeted at you to see if they can get a reaction out of you, ignore them. After one answer, no matter what they say, move on. (I'm not talking about trolls here whom you must ignore from the start and block immediately—shove them out of your beautiful bakery and lock the door on them so they'll never come back).
Your time is valuable. Your time is money. Do you know how much it costs you to aquire a new customer? You should. Calculate it. Then put a price to your time. Then you will know that if you spend 1 hour on Facebook and sell 10 books, and from those books you make $50, that means your hour was worth $50. Is it above or below your self-appointed price? If it's below, you're selling your books cheap and yourself short. Raise the price, or become more efficient with your time.
However, our customer is getting lonely here. Let's get back her.
Secret #9: Selling is secondary, feeling is primary.
You must develop a skill of reading people. Read their emotions. It's easier to do it in person. It's very hard to do it online. But with time you'll manage.
There is a moment of trust that you will feel between you and your new friend. (Notice, I call them "friend" because only at this stage can you develop trust—that's why there is no point in shouting at strangers, "Buy my book!" They won't, because they don't trust you). This is when they reveal to you a personal detail that they wouldn't have revealed if they didn't trust you. Like the name of their child. Or their favorite fan moment with some other famous writer. Or the way they torture their enemies—the special tools they recommend. At this moment you move them from a friend to a customer. How?
You say, casually, into the moment of silence right after the trust moment, "So which book would you like me to send you? I'll reserve a copy for you. Signed and kissed, too." This is my hook. You'd have to come up with something of your own, but the gist is the same. Notice, I don't ask a question that would prompt someone to tell me YES or NO. A YES or a NO will kill the sale. It kills the conversation. I let them feel like they already own my book. Why, it's practically theirs! I already have it kissed and signed to their name, and am only waiting to ship it! Who could resist that?
Note: I don't say how much it costs. The book. I don't ask for money. I assume they will pay me later. And that is how I do about 50% of my sales. I send the book ahead of time, and I tell my customer, "I trust you." And when they donate later, they almost always donate more than the book was worth. Because they feel grateful I trusted them as they trusted me (this is the happy sale exchange, by the way), and they felt obligated when I shipped them the book, so they want to give back. It's human nature. (By the way, I didn't invent this. There are restaurants, I believe, where you pay what you want. And more and more online business adapt this idea.)
Guess what you did here?
YOU MADE THE CUSTOMER FEEL GOOD.
Guess what you sold here? Your book? Nope.
YOU SOLD GOOD FEELING.
At this point they don't even care what your book is about. Or if it's any good. (Remember how I told you it doesn't matter if you don't have lemon pop-tarts?) They're just happy to buy! Because it's not buying, it's having someone care about you and you feeling cared for. That's all.
Secret #10: Make them feel special.
Now that you have moved the person from friend to an almost-customer, move your conversation to a private space. Like in your bakery you would walk your customer behind a curtain to a special display of special cakes made from the milk of the dragons, here you ask for an email and move the conversation to email. You do it for two reasons.
- You're giving away something of your privacy (your private email) in order to have your customer feel less scared about giving away something of their privacy (their private email).
- Your goal number one as a writer for marketing and selling your books is building your email list. Period. Twitter can explode. Facebook can die. All those sparkling internet places one day can go belly up. But if you have your private email list, it's worth gold.
Note: please never ever ever sign up people without their explicit permission to your newsletter. That will burn one customer who will burn another 200 they talk to. You can't afford that. I don't know how many times I've been bugged by unsolicited email campaigns where I marked them as spam and put the name of the author in my black box (that's where I slowly murder them later, after I catch them).
All right. You have moved the conversation to your email. Here is where you shut up and let your almost-customer talk. Really, they will talk themselves into a sale. You only listen, and when it gets too quiet for too long, ask questions.
This is the part where honesty matters most. You're in a business bind. You assume the almost-customer will buy, and so you're giving your time to let them make the decision. Very few people walk away from this. Make it easy. Send them links where they can buy your book with one click, with any payment they choose. And if they can't ("I don't have a credit card! I'm getting paid in a week! I can't figure out your shopping cart!"), seize the moment. Say you will ship it now, and they will pay later. And ideally, offer them what's convenient to them: PayPal, check, whatever. This is hot. You must close them fast. Why?
You're selling a feeling. The moment they feel bad or uncomfortable or stupid ("The shopping cart is not working!"), you lost the sale.
So you must close your almost-customer while they feel good. Make it easy to buy, and they will.
Secret #11: Under-promise and over-deliver.
Okay, let's say you did it. Your almost-customer became your customer! They bought a book from you! You made the sale! Congratulations! Now what? Now you under-promise (I will ship you the book in 2 days) and over-deliver (you ship the book in 1 day). This impresses them.
And if you fuck up, you apologize and send a free gift.
Also, it'd be a good idea if your books were as good as you painted them. Meaning, that cake you showed off? It better taste good. Your books are your product. So everything about them must be EXCELLENT. Excellent packaging. Excellent cover. Excellent formatting. Excellent story. No plot holes. No character flaws. No spelling mistakes. Nothing that would break your customer's smooth reading experience.
How would you feel if you bit into the cake at home, felt something hard on your tongue, and pulled out a human tooth? Not your own, mind you. Right. Unless you're into those kinds of cakes, I bet you'll never return to that baker, would you? Didn't think so.
Let's say you shipped the book. Whew. You're done. You can rest now.
Secret #12: The real sales are the repeat sales.
It's with repeat sales where you make real money, and it's with repeat sales that you make your customers into loyal fans who will eventually sell for you, and every one of them is worth more than a million diamonds.
It took you significant time (which is worth money) to convert that one stranger to a friend to a customer. It's expensive. And you only made $5 on one sale. You've lost money. But now you must follow up with your customer. Ask them how they liked the book when they're done reading it, and then ask them what they want to read next. Note, not what they want to buy next (avoid the word buy at all costs in all your conversations), but what they'd like to read next. It's from these repeat sales that you'll make a profit and a living.
But what if you only have one book? Not good. Until you have at least a few, you'll have a hard time selling only one. So before you jump into this game, write a bunch. You have to have a portfolio of goods to sell from.
Have you ever walked into a bakery that sold only one cake? One kind of cake? Only one?
You get the point. The customer wants to pick and choose. Let them. Offer a selection. Some writers offer a selection of books by other writers when they run out of their own. That is wonderful, but that doesn't let you hook your customer on your writing style, on your stories. So by all means recommend other books (I do it all the time) to your readers, but always have something new to offer. Every season there must be a new cake. Or at least every year. Longer than that, and the fickle reader will leave you and go elsewhere.
This is why your email list is crucial. If you can't publish, say, 4 books a year, you keep your readers entertained while they wait for your next book (my case). By the time my newest novel TUBE launches on February 6th, 2018, it'll be almost 3 years since I started writing it. 3 years! Holy hot cakes! I've lost a bunch of readers because of this. Ouch, it hurt. But I also took my time to learn the craft, and I'm getting faster now at plotting, so I'll speed up soon.
One solution could be writing shorts, or participating in anthologies, or boxing up several old books into the updated edition with an updated cover and re-publishing it. Again, think bakery. You've got dough left over from the previous day. Make a bunch of cookies! Whatever it takes, ship new product regularly. If you won't, the road to your bakery will quickly grow thick with wild weeds, and soon your customers will forget about you altogether.
Secret #13: BE KIND.
Yes, maybe a dirty bum walked into your bakery and smudged your floors. Be human. Be kind. Offer a cookie. This dirty bum is a human being. Give love. Care.
When I walk to the post office to ship books, I always say hi to the homeless person who sits in front of it. They change. Sometimes I can give some cash to them, sometimes I can't. Once I had a bit of time and stopped to chat with an old, decrepit man who seemed to be falling apart, held together by rags and wrinkles. He smiled so wide, his eyes shone, when I asked him how he was. In five minutes he told me his life story, about his family and his kids, and his knowledge of literature was impressive. It turned out he was a literature major once upon a time. I didn't have my book to give him, but I gave him my bookmark. We laughed. I may never see him again, but we were both happy in that moment, talking about books. And who knows, maybe he told his kids about my stories (he was going on a train to visit his son and grandchildren—you bet we talked about trains too). I didn't make a sale, but I also did. You see how this works?
Repeat after me.
SELLING IS CARING.
SELLING IS CARING.
SELLING IS CARING.
There are, of course, more little things here and there that I didn't touch upon. Like how do you scale this (no normal human being can survive for long on 4 hours of sleep). What tools do I use to make my system streamlined (here are 10, but there are more). How long it will take me to get where I want (about 5 years, according to my calculations). And so on. If you want part two of this post, comment, holler. Let me know.
The demand was so high to write this post, I pushed my other posts out of the way to write this one first. And yet it's impossible to put everything in here (and for you to remember it all), so I want you to walk away thinking about two things:
- Selling is caring. It's your customer's show, not yours, so shut up and listen and ask questions. Care.
- You will get there if you simply do the work. It's all about execution. Anyone can do it.
In closing, let me recommend to you How to Sell Anything to Anybody by Joe Girard, the best book on sales out there, in my opinion, written by a car salesman who outsold everyone in the world. Look him up in Guinness World Records.
And if you're up for me training you on how to sell your books in your particular situation, or asking more advice in private (I have a special room in my dungeon where I conduct these conversations), email me and promise me either your firstborn, or your family jewelry, or your house, or a bucket of gold, and we shall talk business. I will make you feel good, and you in turn will sell more books. Sounds like a sweet deal, doesn't it? You will love my cake, I know it. I dare you to try it.