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3 Steps to Parlaying Random Encounters Into Book Sales (Without Being Pushy)

Stacks of colorful books next to a shopping cart [1]

We’re pleased to introduce today’s guest Nicole Waggoner, author of the novel Center Ring [2], and award-winning teacher of upper-level English and Literary Criticism courses.  Beyond her literary acumen, Nicole has an uncanny gift for connecting with random strangers on and offline and parlaying her new friendships into book sales.  She’s here to tell us about how she does it — in a way that is not only subtle and anything but “sales-y,” but also wins people’s hearts.

You can learn more about Nicole and Center Ring on her website [3], and by following her on Facebook [4], Instagram [5] and Twitter [6]. Welcome, Nicole.

3 Steps to Parlaying Random Encounters Into Book Sales (Without Being Pushy)

Imagine you’re standing in line at the post office. You’re tired, but definitely not as tired as the lady with two fussy kids directly behind you. You’ve been there, and it’s not pretty. So you offer to let her cut in front of you.

The next night you’re in line at the movie theater concession line, waiting to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. You strike up a conversation with a man who also has tickets to see the movie. You share some laughs over the franchise’s reincarnation.

You may think these random encounters may sound like nothing but inconsequential connections, here today and gone tomorrow.  And it may seem they have nothing whatsoever to do with writing or books.  But quite the opposite: for me, each one has turned into an opportunity to sell books.  

As a recently published debut author, I know the feelings that accompany the many stages of the publishing process all too well. After years of hard work and waiting followed by the uncontainable excitement of getting to hold a final copy of the novel in your own hands at last, the biggest, most nerve-wracking question sets in: will anyone actually buy it?

You may not think that connecting with random strangers would make for a great sales strategy, but this grassroots approach has worked like a charm for me. Without realizing it at first, I built up a method for steering unplanned conversations toward Amazon shopping carts without being predatory or feeling in the least bit slimy.

Over time, I honed it and began to call it my “Simple, 3-Pronged Intro-Pitch-Sale” approach.

Here’s what it looks like:

Step 1 – Be where your (potential) audience is.

As authors, we are natural-born recluses. But spending too much time in our sacred, solitary writing space is not exactly the best way to gain exposure. On the other hand, even in this age of social media , getting out there and mingling with real-life people whose real-life interests might dovetail with the themes in your book can have an amazing multiplier effect.

For instance, I write about women and the complexity of our juggling act as mothers, professionals, friends and lovers. Finding my audience means spending time in coffee shops, mommy hang outs and young professional haunts. If I were writing a sci-fi novel, I might be better off hanging around a comic book store.

Once you’ve put yourself in the middle of the action, make the most of it. Make eye contact with the people around you.  If you’re comfortable with it, try greeting everyone that comes near your station. Aside from getting to pat yourself on the back for using good manners, greeting people can lead you to a deeper conversation.

Be sure to have a paper copy of the latest book you’re reading on hand.  This is a great conversation-starter about all things literary.  Once conversation’s underway, mention, at the right moment, that you’re a writer. More often than not, your new stranger-friend will ask what you write. Give him or her a VERY abbreviated synopsis of your book — we’re talking under 30 seconds and high-level. I simply say, “I write about women and how we juggle our roles…” then wait for the isn’t that the truth expression on their faces.

Boom. You’re in.

Step 2 – Keep your pitch flowing with the conversation.

If the person you’re speaking with seems interested, that’s the time to share a little more information. For example, I might describe a couple of characters I think she or he will relate to, or explain more about what I’m working on or thinking about at the moment.

Make sure to leave your new acquaintance time to respond and share. Ask for his or her reaction to your material and learn about what they might be interested in. I may not have thought that the Star Wars screening was a goldmine of potential-reader interactions — and was there for my kids not myself —  but when the man in line with me started drawing connections between one of my characters and his wife and sister in-law, I saw that as a perfect opening.

Step 3 – Seal the deal with a business card or bookmark.

Once you’ve established a rapport and potential interest, offer your business card, bookmark or whatever piece of marketing collateral you carry with you that provides all the essential information to help them connect you to your book. My card has my social media contact information and author page URL, and a picture of my book cover with the Amazon URL.

It’s really like magic.  In my experience, most people pull out their phones and like my author page while we’re still hanging out. Even more surprisingly, over half of the people I’ve spoken with have gone onto Amazon immediately and put the book in their cart. I’ve never asked any of these people to buy my book or to like my page, they’ve always done it voluntarily.

It always helps, too, to have hard copies with you in your tote and to be prepared to take an electronic payment through a service like Square.

In addition to the movies and the post office, I’ve sold books to strangers I’ve chatted with while watching our kids play side by side at the zoo, who’ve been seated near me at a restaurant at lunch hour and much, much more.  Recently, while I was leaving a restaurant, a woman complimented me on my brief case. T I thanked her and told her I really liked it because of how easily it attaches to carry on luggage during travel.  Then I mentioned I was a writer and that I write about a group of sisterfriends. The fact that they were four women catching up over wine was the perfect intro to give my ‘hook,’ since my novel, Center Ring, begins when one character walks into a girls’ night out with a secret to tell. They each bought a book on the spot and one has since bought two as gifts from Amazon.

Remember, though, that there’s a fine line between positioning yourself for organic opportunities and aggressively pushing for sales. You should always be in the mindset of someone who is just out and up for a casual chat and never cross over into the territory of stalking people. If you say “hi” to the person who just entered your local coffee shop and that person gives you a terse “hello” in return, maybe that’s not the right moment or the right person.  And if the person you’re speaking with seems the least bit indifferent, let it go.

So next time you’re on a plane and you meet a friendly flight attendant who asks about the cover of the book you’re holding, let him know it’s yours, or if it’s not, let him know you’re a writer. You’ll be amazed at how easily this will pique his curiosity.  And who knows, you might wind up in a situation like I did on a recent flight where he decides to start a reading group and ends up buying copies for the whole crew!

Have some tricks and tips to share? The floor is yours.