Book Promotion: A Handselling Case Study

Headshot of Ann RichardsonAs part of a mini-series of posts to give you ideas on how to sell copies of your books in the run-up to Christmas, London-based American author Ann Richardson describes how smart handselling tactics are helping her promote and sell more copies of her latest book, Celebrating Grandmothers, in venues near her home.

My grandfather, who died before I was born, was a failed entrepreneur who ended up as a door-to-door encyclopaedia salesman in the 1930s.  I think of him often these days as I have discovered that a good way to boost sales of my most recent book is by what seems to be called ‘handselling’.

How I Handsell My Books

cover of Celebrating GrandmothersCelebrating Grandmothers is a narrative book about what it is like being a grandmother.  Who buys it?  Grandmothers, of course, but also many others buy it as a gift.  The pre-Christmas period is great, as people are looking for an original present for a grandmother, and my book is a solution to their problem.  Grandfathers may be looking for a present for their wife, young people for their grandmother, and parents with young children for their mother or mother-in-law.

It takes a lot of courage, but yes, I go up to people in the street and show them my flyer, and while they are looking at it, I pull out the book and say ‘this is what it looks like’.  As the cover has an eye-catching picture, they often say ‘ooh’, take the book and leaf through it.  Many say they will look at my website later (and then don’t), but a fair number buy it then and there.  I always carry change for £10 in my pocket, so the transaction can be completed without a lot of fuss.

How to Select Your Target

The key question is who to approach.  First and foremost, youngish-looking older women, asking if they are a grandmother.  They are invariably so surprised by the question that they ask ‘why’ and then I tell them. Very old women are not so interested, because once grandchildren are grown up they no longer identify with the role. If they aren’t a grandmother, I ask if they have a sister who is.

Another obvious group are pregnant women.  Of course, I approach women pushing prams or pushchairs, although the hazard in London is that they are a nanny and/or foreign and their mother doesn’t speak English or, indeed, they don’t speak English themselves. Men with pushchairs are better as they are invariably polite, unlikely to be a nanny, and more often buy on the spur of the moment.  I avoid older men, because with so much divorce, many lose touch with grandchildren and you don’t want to touch a raw nerve.

Aim for Relaxed Individuals – and  a Relaxed Author

And what have I learned? You need to get people on their own, rather than two or more together.  They shouldn’t be rushing about, on their phone, dealing with troublesome toddlers or looking like their minds are completely elsewhere. I must be in a good mood, as otherwise I can’t muster the necessary enthusiasm.  It helps if it is a nice day as people are more willing to stop and chat. But all in all, people are surprisingly nice, some even complimenting me for selling in this way.  And best of all, every sale feels wonderful.

Try Quiet Shops

Book on shelf in Limone Delicatessen

“Would you like books with that, sir?”

Finally, shopkeepers are also worth approaching, if they have no customers.  They may well want a copy, but my greatest surprise was a lovely woman who runs the Limone delicatessen in Highgate.  She offered to put a flyer in her window and then added, why didn’t she keep a couple of copies in case people wanted one?  They are placed just behind the counter, so I couldn’t ask for greater visibility.  She has sold five copies in three weeks and refuses to take any payment on the grounds that she likes to help people and ‘what goes round comes round’. I wish her all good things.

OVER TO YOU Do you have any tips on handselling opportunities to share? Have you any anecdotes about book sales made through unlikely outlets? We’d love to hear them!

Top tips on #handselling #selfpub books by @CelebratingGran Click To Tweet



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6 Responses to Book Promotion: A Handselling Case Study

  1. Mohana Rajakumar (@moha_doha) January 4, 2016 at 7:40 am #

    Ann: You’re super brave! I still procrastinate trying to get bookshops to host me for a live event and that’s usually by email or phone.

  2. Barry Knister December 10, 2015 at 10:02 pm #

    Ann– I commend your moxie as a pitch artist. But maybe you’ve been away from the States too long to realize how few things people buy with cash these days. They use plastic or apps. If you aren’t pitching your wares with a Paypal equivalent, I don’t see your approach working very well here in Detroit. But I would be happy to be proved wrong.


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