Recent events (record sales numbers for our company) have helped confirm that practices I’ve shared with self-published authors selling their own work apply to both small-scale and larger-scale situations. You must, of course, have successfully gauged the sale-ability of your book, designed a pleasing cover, applied a price that works for both you and your potential customers, and have at least ballpark accuracy in predicting your audience. With those factors in place, it’s time to sell.
The key to it all is foot traffic: the greater the number of people who see your book, the greater number of books you’ll sell. And it doesn’t have to be bookstore traffic. Think about it—in a bookstore, your book can easily be lost among thousands of titles. But in a mom-and-pop grocery (I sell in several), you’ll have a number of advantages: there are few or no books competing with yours, there’s a good chance of cover exposure (even right at the checkout, which is great!), and there’s never a shortage of foot traffic because everyone uses convenience stores for snacks, beer, gas, milk, newspapers, etc.
I’ve had some people scoff at the notion of selling books in such businesses, but for the past decade, they have accounted for a few thousand dollars worth of our sales every year. During years when a new book catches on, that figure has exceeded $10,000 (retail value). It’s important to realize that every single sale and every bulk sale is important. Each should be appreciated.
When you’re seeking foot traffic, several variables apply, and some are quite important. For instance, whenever possible, have your book displayed with the front cover exposed rather than just the spine (like on a library shelf). A stark difference in sales numbers results when the cover is allowed to sell itself.
A for-instance from my own experience demonstrates the contrast. One store carrying ten of my titles for many years experienced a drastic reduction in sales that lasted for about eighteen months. The only change was that so many authors had added their books to the store’s offerings (mine were the only ones early on) that the owner decided to purchase a book display unit, which sounded great. The problem: the books were lined up with only the spines showing, and my sales there plummeted by more than 75 percent. About six months ago, the owner suddenly began ordering more frequently, and while making the first delivery, I saw why: a change in their display exposed the cover of every book the store carried. Since then, the sales rate has continued to climb.
My most recent book (released in November) proved the value of foot traffic on a larger scale. Like mom-and-pop stores, pharmacies are used by virtually everyone, and there’s no better place to sell books if you’re a local or regional author. Not only do they enjoy steady, high levels of foot traffic, but they also offer an exclusive sales aid: folks there for prescriptions often browse while waiting for their meds.
My books have sold well for years in several independent pharmacies, and at those locations, the new book caught on like wildfire. However, we drastically increased the book’s exposure when a regional pharmacy chain decided to carry it on a limited basis. This multiplied the effect of foot-traffic exposure, and sales boomed like never before.
From past discussions with regional authors, the consensus was that selling 1000 copies in a book’s lifetime indicated success, 2000 was considered outstanding, and 3000 or more was rare territory. A book’s “lifetime” might last for decades, but the bulk of sales usually come within the first few years.
We’ve enjoyed great luck in the past, but at the end of a very hectic first month of sales, more than 1000 copies of the new book have been purchased. With all the important factors in place—price, cover, sales predictions—increasing our usual levels of foot traffic made all the difference.
Another positive in small stores and pharmacies: the owners are much more apt to consider your request to display a book’s cover, or to try placing it at the prime selling point—a checkout counter—once in a while. At bookstores, that’s probably not going to happen. If it does, you might be asked to pay for the privilege.
If you’re selling on your own, don’t overlook the great options of mom-and-pops, pharmacies, and country stores. We love adding to their bottom lines, and they’ve helped keep us in business for more than a decade … locals supporting locals.