The Art of Throwing Your Books at People

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So, you’re a published author. Congratulations, that’s amazing! Now comes time for a whole new world of anxiety! What’s my Amazon ranking today? How many eBooks are selling? How many Goodreads ratings do I have? Is that enough? Oh, Gods, I don’t have context for any of these numbers!

Yeah, fun times are ahead. Either fortunately or unfortunately, there’s very little an author can do directly to move those numbers. And trying too hard with over-promotion can actually hurt your relationship with your existing audience, (I have probably been as guilty of this as anyone in the early going here).

But never fear. There is an exception. With very little effort, you can become your own best-selling bookstore!

With most book contracts these days, an author will get a predetermined number of free copies of their book from the publisher to distribute to friends and family, use in promotional giveaways, etc. The number varies, but twenty is a good starting point. The great part about selling these copies is they didn’t cost you a penny, so every dollar collected goes straight into your pocket and adds to the money you’ve already made off of the advance, even if the book never earns out.

I ran out of my author copies very quickly and had to replace them if I was to keep selling. In the case of my publisher, I was able to set up a vendor account and reorder new copies just as though I was a bookstore. I also received them for a 50% author discount, or again, what the publisher would have charged a retail bookstore. So each copy cost me $4. Once you reach this stage, there’s always the risk you’ll be stuck with copies you can’t sell, so I’d advise keeping your reorder quantities low until you have a handle on how often and how many books you can expect to sell. No more than twenty. There are advantages to ordering your own as well. First, they count as sales as far as the publisher is concerned. Second, you actually get paid on them twice, once with the mark-up you charge your customer, and again from the royalty you earn from your publisher. In my case, for each of these books I sell directly, I’ve not only made $4, but another 10% of the cover price goes towards paying off my advance and speeding up the day my books earn out and I start getting royalty checks. So win, win, there.

In the last eight weeks alone, I’ve sold more than sixty physical copies at $8 a pop or both for $14, and an unknown number of eBook and audiobook downloads, (not including another 100+ copies I’ve sold working my publisher’s booth at C2E2 and Emerald City Comic Con in that same time). This has meant almost a month’s rent in cash, just because I had books available when people asked.

I have some advantage in this other authors may not enjoy in that my comedy career frequently puts me in front of new audiences. Instead of selling T-shirts or comedy albums as people are filing out, I sell books. The advantages are numerous. Not only are people who buy a book walking away with a memento, but they’ve now had a personal interaction with me. We’ve shaken hands, and they’ve shelled out money for something I’ve created, strengthening my brand as both a comedian and an author, and increasing the odds that they’ll come back for more of both in the future.

However, even if you don’t perform regularly, there are still plenty of opportunities to move some paper yourself. Here’s some of the tips I’ve learned in the process:

1. Always have copies on you:

You never know when you’re going to run into a potential customer. In the last two months, I’ve sold books at bars, coffee shops, a writer’s group, the gym, and even a grocery store. It’s impossible to know when a casual conversation might naturally turn to discussing your own work. When it does, you have to be ready for the chance someone shows interest. Keep a couple of copies in your car, or in a bag. Always have at least one handy.

2. Keep cash on hand:

Along with having copies around, always make sure to have some cash on your person to make quick change. I keep about $20 in my wallet now, broken down into a ten, five, and ones, so I can handle it if someone pulls out a Tubman ($20).

3. Get a card reader:

Seriously, do this right now. Many if not most people these days, myself included, have moved beyond cash and instead use cards for all of their daily transactions. Limiting yourself to cash limits your opportunities to sell. But fear not, there are cheap and easy solutions out there. For example, I use a Square card reader that plugs right into my smart phone and lets me accept any major credit or debit card. The hardware and app was free, and they only charge a reasonable 2% fee on each purchase. There are readers available that can take chip cards now, and the app had advanced to the point that it can take and store transaction even if you’re not connected to the internet. PayPal and several other companies have similar services available.

4. Always project abundance:

This next bit doesn’t apply to the grocery store or gym, but does apply to anywhere you’re going to set up a display or table, like a library or school appearance, or a book club or writer’s group meeting. In these situations where you’d expect that quite a few people may be interested in buying your book, always bring more copies than you realistically expect to sell. I don’t mean a combat air drop, just a few. Why? Because selling out of your supply feels like a great accomplishment until you realize that it probably cost you additional sales. This is a lost opportunity cost, and it sucks. Further, when people look at your table, they should see an ample supply. It may be counter intuitive, but that abundance tells their brain that the product is appealing. Think about it. What’s more visually attractive when you’re out shopping? Fully stocked shelves, or empty racks? Which are you going to be more likely to spend your money on?

5. Bring cards:

It a truth of the modern literary marketplace that there is a small but significant fraction of consumers who no longer buy physical books, preferring instead either eBooks, or a growing number of people who consume all of their books on audio. Don’t let these potential sales slip through your grip. Make sure to always have a supply of business cards or other mementos with links to your website, email, and titles of your books to hand out when physical copies aren’t an option. That way, your potential reader will walk away without having t remember the specifics of your name or book title. It doesn’t guarantee a sale, but it increases the odds that they’ll hit up the Kindle or Nook store and add you to their download queue.

6. You don’t have to be a used car salesman:

In addition to my time spent shouting at people on stage, I was also in sales in a past life, selling everything from sports cars to Medicare Supplements. It’s brutal work. So I can tell you honestly, this is nothing like that. You don’t have to be a larger-than-life personality, or a shameless huckster, to sell your own books. People don’t need the hard sell here. Average, ordinary conversations can very organically lead to people asking you for a copy. As long as you can be at least mildly comfortable talking about your work, odds are good you’ll never really have to try and close the sale. The reader will usually do it for you.

So, that’s what I’ve learned over the last two months. I hope it was useful. Now, go forth and hand sell. Make money! Become famous!

Oh, and buy my book.

Follow Patrick on Twitter @stealthygeek.

 

Bernie Sanders Has Hillary Right Where He Wants Her

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Bernie Sanders is on the verge of an unprecedented political upset that will propel his vision for America forward for the next eight years. He has the potential to completely transform the political landscape for a generation or more. Bernie has Hillary right where he wants her.

Wait, calm down. I’m not talking about the primaries. Oh hell no. His campaign for President is fuckin’ toast, you guys. Has been since March 14th, at the latest. Since 1972, no candidate who trailed in the Democratic primary after the first 10% of pledged delegates were awarded has come back to win the nomination. Proportional delegate allocation makes it far too steep a hill to climb. We’re way past the two thirds mark at this point. He’s down by three million votes and more than three hundred pledged delegates, to say nothing at all of the Supers. It’s not happening. Stop kidding yourselves.

No, the victory I’m talking about goes much deeper than a single office, and will have a much longer-lasting impact. If you’re savvy enough to make it happen.

Despite coming up short in the primary race, Bernie has accomplished something extraordinary. Something that hasn’t happened in my thirty-six years living in this country. For the first time in my life, a populist movement has coalesced around a truly left-wing, liberal candidate and his socialist policies (yes, yes, democratic socialist. I’m not using it as a slur). Candidate Obama in 07/08 primed the pump for this movement in many ways, even if President Obama, faced with the realities of politics in DC, had to back away from many of his loftier goals in order to accomplish anything in the midst of historic levels of partisan gridlock.

Eight years later, along came Bernie Sanders. Suddenly, free college education, a living wage, universal single-payer healthcare, and serious attempts to manage income inequality are on the forefront of voters’ minds across the country, and across the political spectrum. Bernie has managed to pull the political conversation, indeed the social consciousness of the country to the left for the first time in a generation or more. He has expanded what is considered “acceptable” political discourse into territory that the American population has not explored in any serious way since the beginning of the Cold War.

Some of that is simply a result of the passage of time. Millennials are the first generation to grow up never knowing a world without the U.S.A.  sitting squarely at the top of the economic, military, and cultural pyramid as a lone and unopposed superpower. They didn’t grow up seeped in anti-communism propaganda and all of the negative associations that go along with it. The old “Red Scare” rhetoric about the existential threats posed by communism sounds like an old-timey news reel to the Reddit and Snapchat crowds.

Further, Millennials are the first American generation  who are projected to do worse on average than their parents, both professionally and economically. Despite being the most highly-educated generation in history, they face massive college debt, slim job prospects, soaring home prices, zero job security, and the chance that the very concept of  retirement will become effectively extinct before they ever reach it.

Given these social conditions, it was probably inevitable that a candidate like Sanders and the socialism he expounds would eventually get a second look from young Americans. Especially considering the rapid globalization of both education and employment introducing a new generation to the democratic socialism of many highly successful European countries.

Regardless, whether due to the force of his message or simply being in the right place at the right time, Sanders has made his big splash. Now, taking the next step means converting that momentum and enthusiasm into real action, and once again, Sanders is in exactly the right place at exactly the right time to make it happen.

First of all, a really quick civics lesson, because a lot of people seem to have forgotten. Presidents do not write laws. They only sign and enforce them. Granted, it is tradition for the President to set policy agendas for their party, but the nitty-gritty of authoring bills, finding co-sponsors, guiding them through committee, bringing them to the floor, and securing enough votes for passage, all of that happens within the twin houses of our legislative branch. Only at the very end of the race does the President show up to sign or veto a bill.

Which is why I say Bernie Sanders is exactly where he needs to be. When the fog of the primaries clears, Sanders will return to his place as Vermont’s Junior Senator with two years left on his current term, and easily on pace to secure another. He will walk back into the capitol building in January, 2017 with an enormously elevated profile. He will have very little trouble finding partners among a new crop of Democratic Senators eager to add their names to any bills he wants to introduce, and equally enthusiastic freshmen representatives in the House looking to hitch up to his wagon.

From his new position of leadership within a party he only recently became a member of, Sanders will have the opportunity to steer the direction of the Democrats in the trenches, crafting bills and using the considerable public attention and pressure his grassroots supporters can bring to bear to get them through the Senate.

Sanders’ natural talents swing closer to campaigning and building momentum among like-minded people than they do in actual administration or the kinds of ugly compromises that are a necessary part of governance in a democracy. Which is why he is most valuable going forward in his existing position in the Senate, where popular momentum and public pressure are the lifeblood of passing bills. Sanders can deliver both.

Let the President try to make nice with the howling loons on the other side. Let them get their hands dirty with the ugly realities of political expediency. Sanders will be most useful as the untarnished, uncompromising icon of a new progressive movement.

However, for any of this to work, Sanders needs a crop of fresh faces in the Senate and House to partner with. This means his supporters need to shift their focus to the down-ticket races. So far, this has been a real problem. In Wisconsin, for example, Sanders carried the primary by fifteen points, much to exuberant celebration by his supporters throughout the state. However, a significant percentage of those same supporters either didn’t bother to vote in the Supreme Court race on the same ballot, or actually voted against JoAnne Kloppenburg, Sanders’ preferred candidate, contributing to her loss to Bradley and ensuring the state court would remain extremely right wing for the next ten years. A hyper-focus on the White House race ended up having real, damaging, and lasting effects in Wisconsin.

This has to change, and fast.

Political power is about so much more than a single office, a lesson we should have learned over the last eight years watching Obama spar with the most mindlessly obstructionist congresses in history. We delivered him to the White House, but failed to deliver him the allies he needed in the House and Senate to implement his policies, especially in the midterms. Even before the 2010 elections, Obama’s veto-proof majority in the senate was stripped away by Republican Scott Brown’s victory in the special election to replace the seat vacated by the late Ted Kennedy. By 2010, they had retaken the House. In 2014, they took the Senate. This trend cannot be allowed to continue.

Helping Sanders win means continuing to support him after his campaign for the Presidency ends, whether that’s next week, or next month. It means staying engaged, staying informed, and turning out for the election in droves. And yes, it means voting for Hillary Clinton. I don’t care if you don’t like it. The fact of the matter is the only way ANYTHING Sanders wants to accomplish actually gets passed is if the person sitting in the Oval Office has a (D) behind their name when it comes time to sign the bills into law.

And for the love of God, do not fall to the delusion I’ve been hearing from so many Sanders supporters recently, that Donald Trump could win the White House, but be neutralized by giving the Senate and House back to the Dems. THAT. WILL. NOT. HAPPEN.

An electorate that turns out to elect Trump is not an electorate that will hand the Senate to the Dems. In the modern era, when the White House changes hands between the parties, the winner gains seats in the Senate and House. There are no exceptions. But don’t take my word for it, here’s all of the data. Do you see a pattern here?

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Yeah, it’s that bad.

Trump winning the general election means the GOP extends its majority in the other two houses as well, not to mention stacking the Supreme Court with anywhere between one and as many as four new Justices, ensuring a rightwing, regressive court for the next twenty years.

Which is why the time for protest votes is in the primaries. If you’re in Indiana tomorrow, or any of the other remaining states and territories, by all means, vote on your principles. Even if Bernie loses the nomination, which he will, strong showings in the remaining contests will only elevate his platform’s standing at the convention and force more concessions out of the party and the Clinton campaign heading into the general. But once the inevitable happens and Bernie drops out, do America a favor. Shut the hell up, and get to work turning people out for November.

You are on the verge of a great political upset, even if it doesn’t take the form you had originally expected or hoped for. The White House was never the finish line. Politics is never a sprint. Real, lasting change takes time, discipline, and dedication. It’s a marathon, and the race has only just started.

#FeelTheSlowBern

Follow Patrick on Twitter @stealthygeek.