08 June 2013

The Most Effective Hand Selling Technique For Authors I've Ever Seen

My first public signing as an author, independent or otherwise, happens at the end of the month.

I don't know what the rules are Stateside or elsewhere, but in Canada, when you're an independently published author and you want to market your book, there's only one show in town: Chapters-Indigo, our big happy national chain of bookstores, kind of like Barnes and Noble, only more awesome! 

(And I'm not saying that just because I work there on weekends and some evenings).

As such, it's rather fortuitous that our fearless leader Carrie Bailey decided to go with this topic this month, and also rather serendipitous that I found myself, two weeks ago, shadowing a fellow independent author who had what I and Mercury astronaut Gordo Cooper like to call "the right stuff". 

What is the right stuff?  You can see Carrie's recent entry for some great techniques, but I'd like to share what I learned from this writer.

Toronto author Yahaya Baruwa is the twentysomething author of his novel (and the first of a trilogy) called Struggles of a Dreamer, having migrated here in his teens from Nigeria to seek his fortune.  Unhappy with the cookie-cutter templates offered by such print on-demand companies as Lulu and iUniverse, Yahaya decided to start his own publishing company dedicated to his own project.

At one point, Yahaya was selling his book door to door in affluent neighbourhoods in Toronto and its suburbs.  He has also marketed an infomercial-style YouTube commercial for his book, offering a free can of Tim Horton's coffee with every book purchase. 

Yahaya has faced every kind of rejection you can imagine: doors slammed in his face, being told off, having his work criticized to his face.  He does his signings predominantly alone, requiring him to travel with his books and banners to faraway places such as my own store out in Milton, about 40 miles away from the eastern side of Toronto.

He has hired teams of marketers to either go door to door or promote his book in their own businesses and social circles, taking 50% as profit for each book they sell (an idea I toyed with a long time ago, but didn't actually implement...kinda kicking myself now for all the lost potential sales I could have had).

For his efforts and entrepreneurial spirit, Yahaya Baruwa has earned close to six figures in revenue over the past two years from Struggles of a Dreamer alone, making him arguably the most successful independent author in Canada.  And he's just getting started.

A Highly Effective Technique

Yahaya's sales technique, which I told him I was shamelessly emulating for my signings for "Convergence",  is the most effective model I've seen.  I had the chance to shadow him during my shift at the store during his signing.  Here's my takeaway:

1. Positioning

- Get your table at the front of the store.  Set up eye-catching props and signage, but nothing too gimmicky.  Yahaya set up his banner on a stand and a small sign on his table in front of his books.  That's it.

- Look good.  Guy Writers, wear a blazer and dressy jeans.  Girl Writers, wear.....whatever you'd normally wear to a professional kind of job, I don't pay attention to such things.  (Probably one reason I'm still single...but I digress).

Wear comfy but good looking shoes, with insoles if you, like me, are heavy on your feet.  The comfortable shoes rule is important because you should also...

-  Be standing the whole time.  Yahaya had no chair.  It kept him out of the comfort zone of sitting at the table, using his books and props as a fortress to hide from his potential customer base.  Do the same thing.

2. Approach

- Build up your energy before you start.  Could be through meditation, creative visualization, or smoking some crack cocaine (this still being Rob Ford's Toronto and all...for now), but make sure you're in a positive, outgoing, energized mood when you start.

- Meet the eyes of every customer who comes in.  Smile and say hello.  Ask them: "Would you like to hear about my book today?". 

- If they say "no", and most of them will, don't just take it and feel rejected.  Instead, brand yourself in their minds.  Yahaya's method is particularly good.  "That's no problem.  Would you at least remember the title of my book: 'Struggles of a Dreamer'"?  Nine customers out of ten will say yes.

This kills two birds with one stone: you're able to shake off the rejection (which, admit it, is your biggest fear) AND you brand yourself in the process.  

The branding component is especially effective.  Days after Yahaya's signing, I was telling a co-worker at my full-time job about it and she said, "Wait, is this the guy who wrote 'Struggles of a Dreamer'?"  Turns out she had seen him at another store, declined to buy his book, and was asked the same question.  This shit works, y'all!

- If they say "yes", pause your sales pitch and introduce yourself. Shake their hands, get to know their names.   Personal connection and energy is what separates a shitty salesman from a good one.  People like feeling empowered, and few things empower a customer more than a real connection.  And I'm serious: be authentically interested.  Who are these people who have just said "yes" to your book? Don't you want to know? 

-  Prep your elevator pitch for your novel.  You should already have this ready in the form of your cover jacket description.  If you find that what you've written is a little too wordy to be spoken, then reduce it until you're comfortable rolling it off your tongue (and, um, consider doing the same with your cover jacket description in the next edition).  Should last no longer than twenty seconds to say it all out loud.

- Emphasize the now.  Yahaya tells his customers "I'm in the store for today only, and if you buy my book, I'd be more than happy to sign it to you."  Really, if you like reading, how often do you get the opportunity to have the author stand right in front of you to sign it?  It's quite a privilege, even if we ourselves as authors don't think so, and it's a great nudge to buy now.  After all, he's only here for one day.

- Know when to STFU!  Yahaya makes his case in under thirty seconds, then does one of the most critical things in the process:  he hands them a copy of the book....then says nothing.  This is an old rule: you negotiate, then you shut up.  As my Dad says about buying a car: "whoever talks first loses".

Everyone likes to buy, no one likes to be sold. At this point, you've done all you can do: ball is in the customer's court to buy or not buy.  If they say no, take your book back, thank them for their interest and for meeting them, then move on.

(And, of course, ask them to remember your title). 

And if they say yes, thank them for the sale, sign their copy - making sure to spell their names right, for Valen's sake - and shake their hands before directing them to the cashier. 

Understanding What's At Stake

As a bookseller with Indigo, I've seen a lot of independent authors come in.  They don't do well.  They fiddle with their phones, they don't interact with customers (or do so poorly), no eye contact.  They don't smile.  Some of them even get up from their signing tables and parade around the store.  That's why the average independently-published author sells only two or three copies of their books in any given four-to-six hour sitting. 

By contrast, Yahaya brought 50 books with him and sold 40 in a single visit.  The only reason he didn't sell all 50, in my view, was because he showed up in the afternoon and we had to close the store.  At an average of about $10 profit per book (minus Indigo's cut), Yahaya made $400 in a day, or a little under what I make in a week working for 40 hours for someone else at a non-writing job.  

And it's a good book.  I'm really enjoying Struggles of a Dreamer, which I find to be very reminiscent of all the great things I loved about Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist, but told with multiple levels of narrative that, though it took a little while to adjust to at first, I'm now very much enjoying.

Guys and gals, if you set up a signing event, don't waste your time or your venue's time by screwing it up being timid.  Even if it's just for those few hours, you need to evolve yourself into an effective author salesman.  No one's asking you to push something that other people won't want: all you need to do is let your passion for your own story that you've written find an outlet through effective technique, and you'll win.  It takes practice and rehearsal, but you can do it.  

Yahaya Baruwa isn't all that much different from me: in many ways, he's just an ordinary guy with a dream. If he can do it and he's an ordinary guy, why can't you? 

My signing's on Saturday, July 13th, from 12:00pm to 4:00pm at Indigo Milton, 1180 Steeles Ave in Milton, Ontario, about 40 minutes outside of Toronto.  This will be the first of many.  If you live in the area, feel free to stop on by and watch me demonstrate my shameless adaptation of Yahaya's highly effective technique. 

Visit www.strugglesofadreamer.com to see Yahaya's book and learn more about him.

And, of course, once I get everything nice and updated, visit www.jodyaberdeen.com to find more information on my novel, "Convergence".   

Stay tuned for Part II, which I'll write after the signing itself...

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