Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

How to hand-sell an eBook

hand-sale: A sale made or confirmed by mutual shaking of hands.

It’s easy to imagine how an author hand-sells a physical book. If you frequent bookstores you’ve probably seen one sitting behind a table with his or her books stacked up around them along with possibly those tall pop-ups proclaiming the arrival of their latest bestseller. In those scenarios, the author attempts to engage people passing by or else is approached by a potential reader, at which point a pitch is delivered. If the author delivers a good one and the person stopping by is agreeable, a sale is made.

This obviously can’t happen quite the same way when you’re talking about an eBook or in the case of online encounters. In the latter case, there’s no face-to-face. I’m sure most salespeople will tell you how critical that component is.

So how exactly do you hand-sell an eBook?

The same way you’d sell a physical book: one at a time.

I’ll give you an example.

I’ve had two separate instances where someone has read The Hall of the Wood and enjoyed it enough to leave a review. In both cases, and so you don’t think I intrude into the lives of everyone who leaves a review for one of my novels, I had some other connection to each reader either via my web site or Goodreads. Given the generally positive review each person left, I contacted each of these readers separately, thanked them for the review, and offered to send them a copy of my other novel with no strings attached. Both readers were happy to receive the book and went on to write really nice reviews. (You can argue that I’m not really selling anything in these cases since no money changed hands, but sometimes selling can be a longer term prospect where, in this case, good reviews result in future sales. Both readers left 5 star reviews, so I'm not complaining.)

Another way to hand-sell an eBook is via forums. This one can be a little tricky because you have to be careful to follow the rules. Most forums, including those on Goodreads, Fantasy Faction, Kindleboards, and elsewhere, have fairly strict rules governing where you can post information about books for sale. But, as long as you comply, they’re one of the best ways to hand-sell. I’ve had numerous experiences where a quick post about a lowered price has resulted in one or more sales of my novels.

Regardless of how you do it, the point is to make it personal. Establish a one-on-one connection. I’ve found most readers are happy to hear from me as long as there is some previous relationship and even sometimes if there isn’t. In those cases, I’ve always approached the person with humility and courtesy. I always thank people for reviews, even if they’re unfavorable (and they don’t give away the ending of my book—not going to let that one go, sorry). I also never put any pressure on them. Readers love to read, so it’s usually an easy pitch. But I never imply any sort of obligation.

What are some of the ways NOT to hand-sell an eBook?

This should go without saying, but blasting a message of any sort to a mass, unsolicited audience is not the way to do it. That sort of practice is called spamming. Spamming doesn’t sell anything. It just annoys people.

As for Twitter… It’s a little different because most of the people who are going to see your tweet are people who follow you. However, many people go crazy with the hashtags. So if someone is watching that particular tag, they’ll see your tweet regardless of whether they follow you or not. A lot of people think selling via Twitter doesn’t work. I agree, and in fact I routinely unfollow people who do nothing but sell. But there isn’t enough evidence to give a definitive answer either way. I do know, however, that sometimes I’ll click-through on a fellow writer’s sell tweet just to see what their sales rank is and, most of the time, it isn't very good. This tells me that mass tweeting to sell something on Twitter doesn’t work. Further, you risk alienating yourself from your followers and your readers because the constant “sell” message just gets kind of annoying after a while.

Conclusion

Hand-selling anything is an experience where the seller must establish some personal connection with the buyer. This isn’t always easy and it most certainly isn’t a way to sell lots and lots of product, at least not right away. But cultivating a few loyal readers can balloon into more sales down the road through word of mouth. This sort of organic growth only happens through an attention to detail and perseverance on the seller’s part. I’ve found the act of hand-selling my eBooks is far more rewarding than having someone buy it anonymously. That doesn’t mean I won’t take the sale, though, either way.