Selling Books Directly – How to Do It and Why You Should


Some authors are highly successful with direct sales – i.e. copies they sell personally – as well as getting local booksellers to stock their books. There are a few simple things that anyone can do that would help with direct sales. You don’t have to be a car salesman to effectively move your books. We’ll return to this point shortly.

First, there are several benefits from selling directly:

  • Author copies are very reasonable for paperback books from CreateSpace, which allows you to discount the book and still make a significant royalty. Any discount you offer from the list price works as an incentive – like being on sale – for readers to buy your book.
  • You may sell some books to customers who wouldn’t have bought the book otherwise. This widens your exposure. The more people who read your book, the better your prospects for reviews and word-of-mouth sales.
  • People often buy on impulse. Once that moment has passed, you may have lost your chance. If you tell someone about your book, by the time they get home and log onto the computer, they might change their mind or forget about it. When you sell directly, you can avoid this delay.
  • Selling directly is a very personal form of marketing, and you combine the marketing and selling into a single step. Readers often enjoy the chance to meet and interact with the author, and this improves the chances for them to buy your book. You have the chance to charm them.
  • Nobody is as passionate about your book as you are. Therefore, you are your own best salesman. There is no salesman at all when customers shop online. When you sell directly, you have the opportunity to let your passion show through. (Instead, if you don’t show much interest in your own book, it will be difficult for readers to imagine enjoying your book.)
  • Holding a book in your hands is different from viewing the cover, blurb, and Look Inside online. A professional looking paperback or hardcover book can make a positive impression. People do buy books because they seem interesting (that’s why they have books lying around the house that they’ve never even opened, but intend to read someday).

Don’t view yourself as a salesperson. Think of it as marketing. You’re the author. Let your passion for your work show naturally (don’t overdo it). You’re trying to help people in your target audience discover your book, and by offering a discount (if you choose to do this – and check if you’re beating Amazon’s price, since that may be discounted, too), you’re helping them save money.

Here are some tips for selling books directly:

  • Put the book in the customer’s hands. Be discreet about this, and be insistent. Your goal is to get the book in the customer’s hands and keep it there. When the customer tries to hand the book back to you, you want to have your hands full or busy or to be positioned in such a way that the customer won’t simply hand you the book in return. But you have to be natural and smooth. If the customer succeeds in returning the book (setting it on a table, for example), at some point you want to naturally pick it up and try to put it back in the customer’s hands. If the customer gets the book out of his or her hands, the customer is more likely to walk away without buying it.
  • Offer to sign the book for the customer. This is a way that you can create a perception of added value to the product. It’s another incentive for the customer to make the purchase. If you succeed in getting the customer to hold onto the book, after the sale is made, get out a pen and ask the customer how he or she would like the book to be signed. Once the transaction is complete, you don’t have to worry about the customer letting go of the book temporarily. Don’t mention signing the book too early – you might be able to use it to help close the deal later.
  • Smile. Be confident (it’s very important that you appear to believe in your book – otherwise, why should the customer?). Be courteous. Let your passion show through naturally. Talking about some aspect of the book you love is a great way to take your mind off your nervousness and quench those butterflies. Let a little creativity show. Charm helps.
  • You can have too few books, but not too many. Keep a stack of nicely packaged books in the trunk of your car (well, maybe not in extreme heat or humidity). Whenever your book comes up in the topic of conversation, you want to have a copy handy. Being out of stock is a good way to lose sales.
  • Format your book so that the cover and interior look professional. The more professional your book appears and the more the cover fits the genre, the better your chances of making the sale.
  • Strive to have the voice of a confident author and not the voice of a desperate salesperson. If you don’t want to feel like a salesperson, the first step is to realize that you aren’t really a salesperson and shouldn’t feel that way. You’re the author. People have the chance to meet the author in person and get a signed copy.
  • Don’t be a pressure salesperson. Create a relaxed ambiance.
  • Very often, the customer wants to buy a product, but is kind of stuck in limbo. If you see this hesitation, that’s the moment you’re waiting for to say the magic words. Maybe they are, “How would you like me to sign this?” Don’t ask, “Would you like to buy this book?” If it’s a yes-no question, you give the customer a chance to say, “Not today.”
  • Every salesperson understands the value of add-ons. “Would you like a bookmark to go with that?” (Bookmarks are also helpful marketing tools, especially since they may actually get used by readers.) “Your daughter might enjoy this children’s book I’ve written.”
  • If your list price is $12.95, consider selling it for $10 in person. Round numbers make it easy for customers to pay and help relieve the issue of making change. Come prepared with denominations that you may need to make change. At a large event, you want to be setup with PayPal on a laptop, for example.
  • Offer a discount for buying multiple books. For example, $8 each or $20 for the trilogy. (Look at your cost – don’t forget shipping you pay to get the books – and potential royalties first – don’t just make up numbers.)

You don’t have to sell just paperback or hardcover in person. You can sell an e-book directly, too. Transfer the file directly. Once you figure out how to transfer the file successfully a couple of times, you’ll have the confidence to pull this off at the point-of-sale.

Where and how should you be selling your books directly?

  • Readings and signings. You can’t set these up if you don’t try. Try to be professional. Prepare a press release kit. Some managers are just trying to gauge whether you’re an amateur or a professional. If you’re not having luck with bookstores, look elsewhere: local stores (antique stores, perhaps) that sell books, coffee shops that might like to sell some coffee to anyone who shows up, have a picnic at the park – be creative (arrange a zombie race and have your signing at the end of it). Work to populate these events so you don’t wind up with zero audience. Schedule your event on your AuthorCentral page, then add a photo of it there afterward.
  • Anyone you interact with who shows interest in your book. Remember to always have a stack of neatly packaged books nearby (e.g. in the trunk of your car). Print out a nice looking coupon with a discount code and your CreateSpace eStore in case you don’t have a book handy, or at least have a business card or bookmark with your website on it. However, you’re more likely to sell a book that you have handy than get a sale later from a website.
  • Booksellers. Not just bookstores and libraries. You may have better success in local shops that sell a few books. Start small and try to work your way up; you’ll gain experience with each attempt. A press release kit may come in handy. You prefer to sell copies directly (they’ll want a hefty discount, which should be okay since author copies are low cost), but they may prefer to do consignment (this gives them less incentive to sell, and your copies may be bruised or lost – plus what happens if the store goes out of business?). Consignment is better than nothing; there is a little risk, but all investments carry risk. They can order your books from Ingram or CreateSpace Direct, but selling your author copies may be the best option.
  • Seminars. Whenever you give a presentation, you want to have a table stacked with books when it’s over. You can arrange a workshop where you teach some valuable skill that relates to your book, you may get invited to give a seminar, you might volunteer to teach a skill at a senior center, etc. Where there is a will, there is a way.
  • Relevant stores. For example, if you wrote a grammar workbook, look for teacher supply stores, educational stores, and any other stores that sell workbooks. Schools may also have an interest. Look for home school teachers, too. Look online, too. For example, for workbooks, there is a website called Teachers Pay Teachers. If you didn’t write a workbook, think about what other kinds of stores sell such books. Try going to the store in person, first. If you contact them by mail, you want to prepare professional documents like those in a press release kit.

When people look on your AuthorCentral page or blog and see that you’ve been giving seminars on this topic or have a schedule for signings and readings, it looks impressive. It’s the sign of a serious author.

The more people in your target audience you interact with, the more people who may buy your book and the better the prospects for reviews and referrals. So the more people you meet through direct sales avenues, the better.

Plus, when you look at what makes people buy books, personal interactions is one of the main factors that applies to authors who don’t have big names. The other big factors include being on the bestseller list, referrals, and top search results. The most accessible factor for most authors is personal interactions. You have to aim for this (and if you succeed, it may help your book benefit from the other factors).

People like to buy books from authors they’ve met and interacted with where they enjoyed the interaction. By trying to sell books directly, you have a chance to make a big impact.

People you interact with personally are not just more likely to buy your book, they are also more likely to review it and refer it to friends. So you have every reason to try to meet people in your target audience and try to interact with them. You can do it. 🙂

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

5 comments on “Selling Books Directly – How to Do It and Why You Should

  1. I use almost every technique you listed, and I sell a lot of hard copies. My book lists for $12.95, and I sell it for $10 in person. People love to meet authors and get signed books. I learned early on that you have to engage the people as they walk past, or they will avert their eyes from you. (I do that when I see a bake sale. LOL) A simple, ‘Can I tell you about my book?” opens the conversation. I sell at market days, festivals, holiday events, even a record convention. You have to be creative. Another tip – it’s best to be the only person selling books at whatever event you choose. Book fairs create too much competition for the book buyer’s dollar. People also love to buy books as stocking stuffers, and people have a hard time saying ‘no’ when you ask, “Would you like to buy my book?” Great post!

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