Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Bright colors, dull sales

We visited our son in Austin for a few days—a 1300-mile round trip—and I packed copies of my novel in the car, hoping to do a little business along the way. I already have two retail customers, and I’d hoped to add to my client list.

Seeing our son was more important, of course. He showed us around the city, we ate too much, and we spent a couple of hours at the Zilker Botanical Garden, which is beginning to show some beautiful colors.

My gift shop customer in Johnson City still has a dozen copies of my book from her last purchase. Business is generally slow, she said. They just aren’t getting much foot traffic at this time of year. She still sells copies now and then, but she is hoping that business picks up a lot in spring when everything is abloom at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

My restaurant customer still has a ton of copies of When Pigs Fly left, including four at a prominent counter display. My wife and I ate lunch there on our way home, and we watched as two fellows stood and looked at the book. One of them picked it up and flipped through the pages, appearing to be on the verge of buying. His friend said he was pretty sure he’d heard of it. Then the man picked it up again, flipped through the pages again. Then, oblivious to the urgent brainwaves I was transmitting (“Buy it, already!”), they left without the book. I like to think they’ll be back.

One of the loveliest towns along the route to Austin is Fredericksburg, where I found a small, independent bookstore. I walked in and introduced myself and my book. The lady said that business is very slow now, but the book looked interesting. She suggested I come back later and speak to her husband, so I left the copy with her to examine.

Later, the man said my book’s pricing wasn’t too bad for a self-published book. But he has a deep-seated prejudice against “dot-com” publishers and everything they publish. I said I understand fully, and that’s why he’d be dealing only with me. And yes, the irregular quality of the books can be an issue, but my book has gotten great reviews. No, that’s not it, he said. It’s the discounts. I told him what I was offering, ten percent better than iUniverse. Fine, he said. but there is also the problem of non-returnability. But you’d be dealing with me and not them, I said, and I will accept returns.

He was still skeptical, so I told him he could hold onto the book, read it, and judge it on its merits. He seemed to think that was fair. I don’t expect immediate business from him in any case, but I hope that we will eventually do business.

Monday, February 18, 2008

“I’ll think about it”

My neighbor’s pyracantha
A booksigning at Coas is always fun. The owner lets me plunk down behind a table right by the door, brings me a cup of coffee, then leaves me on my own for two hours or so on a Saturday morning. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve sold books there—five, maybe six—and I never sell fewer than five copies or more than six. This past weekend I arrived early, sat down, and started smiling at people. It was going to be a good day. After all, hadn’t my good friend Dave sold 35 copies of his novel the week before at this same table? His book even costs more than mine.

People stopped and smiled, then moved on. Or didn’t stop at all. A couple of previous customers said hello. My friend Joan staggered by to say she was getting over pneumonia. Another showed interest but claimed to have no money. One nice fellow spoke to me for ten minutes because we have the same last name. An elderly gentleman asked if this was a book he could read to his granddaughter. I said no, and he left. A gangly mountain-man type wearing boots, dusty denim, a broad-brimmed hat, and a long beard half-glanced at me and shook his head as he left the store. They allow all kinds in here, his look seemed to say.

This is no way to get rich...

After a while, he seemed to have a point. What was I doing here, wasting my time, selling nothing for the first hour? Several people looked at my book, said “I’ll think about it,” and disappeared into the store. That usually means they have no intention of buying my book, but they are too polite to come out and say so. My only consolation was going to be the sight of all the pretty women walking by.

Then the unexpected happened: One of those folks who said they would think about it came back to the table with a copy for me to sign. She actually had thought about it. Such a relief; I hated the thought of striking out. And along came three New Mexico State students to chat me up, and two of them bought copies. But the most satisfying sale was to a woman who said she would wait to buy it used. She never paid list price for a book, she said. She much preferred to buy books for a dollar, which you can easily do at Coas. I said oh, that’s fine, but she kept talking until she convinced herself to spring for a copy then and there. (Today she wrote me an email to say she just finished the book and how delighted she was with it.)

So I sold five for the day, but also met a couple of prospects for editing manuscripts, and one for building a website. Not bad. I can’t always judge a booksigning just by the number of books signed.

Later in the day, I proofed a novella in exchange for a purchase of eight copies of my book. This is no way to get rich, but life is good.