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The Beauty of Hand-Selling Books

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by Gail M. Kearns, President, To Press & Beyond —

Gail M. Kearns

In 2015, my co-authors and I set up Mise en Press to publish our cookbook titled The Gourmet Girls Go Camping Cookbook: Amazing Meals Straight from Your Campfire. I had been a self-proclaimed book sherpa and president of To Press & Beyond for more than a decade, helping other indie authors get their titles published and out into the marketplace. Now I found myself on the other side of the fence, so to speak, both excited and a bit uneasy, the feelings many first-time authors undoubtedly contend with when it comes to marketing and PR of their titles.

When our books arrived from the printer just before Christmas 2016, we had already sold more than 200 copies through friends and family via our website and Amazon. Not to disappoint our first customers, we made sure to fulfill those orders in a timely manner because we knew many had been purchased to give as gifts, and that gift would keep on giving.

After the holidays, we had five months to come up with some solid marketing ideas before the traditional camping season officially started Memorial Day weekend. Thankfully, we had the benefit of living in California where people camp year round, so we took full advantage of that. But what would give us the most exposure all around? I remembered my mentor Dan Poynter’s sage advice: “Where will your books sell beyond the bookstores?”

Immediately we began to think outside the box and how we could hand-sell The Gourmet Girls Go Camping Cookbook.

Here are some of the initiatives we took, and I believe books in other genres can benefit from hand-selling along these lines as well.

1. Think locally when it comes to retail.

The Gourmet GIrls Go Camping Cookbook by Gail M. earns, Lindsey Moran, & Denise Woolery

We started by making a list of all the local gift shops and independent bookstores that might be interested in carrying the cookbook. We drove up and down the city streets to be sure we had covered every prospect. In the end, many of these stores became continuing sales venues.

Note: Expect that your local indie bookstores will take your titles on consignment. Gift shops and other retail outlets may pay upfront when presented with an invoice. Some will want a 50/50 split, unlike the bookstores that will take a 60/40 split.

2. Consider media in your area.

Make a list of your local newspapers and magazines. Pitch the appropriate editors. Request not only a book review but also an interview or feature. Don’t forget the freebie newspapers and magazines you find sitting in stands outside your gym or favorite coffee house. Radio and TV shouldn’t be overlooked, either. We were interviewed twice on a local radio show and appeared on the local TV show “Literary Gumbo.”

3. Take a copy of your book with you when you attend meetings of organizations you belong to.

I took our cookbook to a meeting of AWC (Women in Communications) and placed the book on the table I was sitting at. Halfway through the presentation, a woman reached over and asked to look at the book. She was the senior editor of Santa Barbara Magazine, the wonderful glossy publication Oprah has been featured in. The next day, I dropped off a book at the editor’s office and, several months later, The Gourmet Girls Go Camping Cookbook was included in a short article on glamping.

4. Set up local events.

Our next target were wineries in the area. What could be better than wine paired with some of the recipes in our cookbook? We scheduled cooking demos and book signings at wineries throughout the summer. This was a great way to get the word out and make more sales. Plus, the wineries asked us to sign books and leave them for future customers.

5. Participate in local business expos and conferences.

We got exposure at the Santa Barbara Business Expo that had a section featuring local authors. The expo touts entrepreneurs and business owners with the ultimate goal of supporting thriving business development. On our table, we featured our event one-sheet, where we publicized our presentation topics, from how to set up your camp kitchen to booking the Gourmet Girls for an ultimate camping experience.

6. We considered approaching online venues as hand-selling, also.

Join online organizations that are a good fit for your subject and market through them. We joined Sisters on the Fly, a group of 9,000-plus women campers and outdoor enthusiasts, many who own vintage style trailers. Our cookbook has a vintage look, so we took out an inexpensive ad on their website to give our book even more exposure.

Gail M. Kearns and her co-authors “set up camp” at local events throughout the summer, giving cooking demos & signing books at wineries.

Once word gets out locally, you never know what doors will open. I received an unexpected call from a local business that had found our book online. They were interested in carrying our book and including it their gift baskets for the holidays.

When hand-selling, be sure to follow up on consignment orders and definitely check in with your gift store accounts. They may be out of stock but haven’t had the time to contact you to reorder.

Relevant to this, around the holidays, a well-known cookbook author was holding a signing at a local cheese shop for her new book. I attended because I love her books and am always eager to support other authors in the community. Our cookbook had been on the shelves for a few months already, but when I checked I saw there were no copies available. I bumped into one of the owners who said, “I ran out of your book a month ago and haven’t had a chance to call you.” I replied, “I can drop off six more tomorrow.” She nodded, “Great!”

That’s the beauty of hand-selling in a community that’s primed to become a great market for your book.

Gail M. Kearns began her career in publishing in 1995 after working over 20 years in the motion picture industry as a production coordinator and development executive. Currently, she is president of To Press & Beyond, a full-service book shepherding agency that guides projects from inception to completion, providing a wide range of services including ghostwriting, copywriting, writing for the web, and implementing innovative plans for marketing and PR.

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