The art of the hand-sell

Hand-selling books isn’t for introverts so if that describes you, stop reading now. This article will make you anxious.

Whether you’re hand-selling to bookstore employees so they will, in turn, hand-sell your book or you’re hand-selling directly to readers, you need to be your best extroverted self. That’s because hand-selling your book requires confidence and courage supported with planning and preparation.

You’ll be hand-selling your book at bookstore and book signings at other venues, at book fairs, or when you speak to groups.

When hand-selling, you have one goal: To sell as many copies of your book as possible.

That takes work. Here are a few tips for better hand-selling.

1. Prepare in advance

Whether you’re pumping up the in-store sales team or selling directly to readers, plan in advance what you should say to different types of people. After all, what will get a man to buy a book isn’t necessarily what will work with a woman.

According to her article on WritersDigest.com, when mystery writer Elizabeth Sims puts her book in the hands (tip!) of a man at an event, she says something like, “Moms love this book” or “Is there a woman in your life who might need a gift soon?” When speaking to women, she offers a carefully thought-out one-sentence story description.

Tailoring your pitch to the audience will make a difference in sales, but if you’re like most, you need to think about what will work best for each in advance.

2. Be assertive.

Make eye contact. Smile. Say “Hello.” Ask a question.

Think about it: When you’re walking past anyone selling anything in a store or elsewhere, even when you do your best to pretend you don’t see them, if they say “hello” to you, it’s pretty hard not to stop and say “hello” back, isn’t it?

When hand-selling, you have to take the first step.

You also want to be aggressive about the number of people you connect with, too, as in, “all of them” if possible.

When novelist David Hagberg did a mini-tour of 33 bookstores in 16 cities to connect with the sales staff and sign books already in stores, he spoke to as many floor managers and sales clerks as he could.

Getting aggressive applies to where you’re positioned in the store, too. There’s no question that you want to be in the front of the store by the main entrance, but fantasy author Duncan Lay pushes to be outside the store, not in it.

“Going inside a store means you don’t get to talk to passers-by,” he says on his blog.

3. Stand up.

Be sure to wear comfortable shoes because you need to stand the whole time.

This is so important.

It’s nearly impossible to make eye contact and get people talking to you if you’re not at eye level with them. Unless your goal is to connect with children, you need to be standing to make eye contact.

Stand, don’t sit.

For more tips on book signing success, read “How to sell out at a book signing without being a celebrity,” “Your book signing event tool kit,” and “Author book signing tips.”

Have you mastered the art of the hand-sell? What works for you? Please tell us in a comment.

Tip of the Month

I always share a “Tip of the Month,” a free resource or tool for authors, on the last Wednesday of the month.

One of my goals for 2016 was to get better at pre-planning this blog’s content.

hand-sell 2I wanted a system for collecting and cataloguing blog post ideas and for making sure I had the right mix of topics that will help.

The solution? An editorial calendar.

Rather than re-invent the wheel, I downloaded and customized HubSpot’s free editorial calendar template. The 10 minutes or so that I spent customizing it so it fit my needs were well-spent. Pre-planning and scheduling has helped me find content holes, saved me time, and made me more productive.

Download the HubSpot blog editorial template today, even if you don’t have time to work with it now, so you’ve got it later when the rime is right.

Subscribe to the free Build Book Buzz newsletter and get the free special report, “Top 5 Free Book Promotion Resources,” immediately!

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  1. Not very encouraging for introverts. Many authors are introverts. We can’t help the way we were made.

    1. Idelle, many introverts learn how to be extroverts for situations like this. And some don’t. And that’s okay. The world keeps spinning…their books keep selling.


  2. Prep, talk to everyone and stand up – all great tips. Rather than aggressive you may want to encourage authors to be more assertive. It’s goes down a lot smoother!

    The extroverted part is easy for me. It’s the motivation/organization that I find most challenging. Any suggestions?


    1. Thanks, Reina. Yes, assertive is a better word — thank you!

      As for organizing, I like to use grids/tables. A hole in the table tells me that there’s a missing piece — maybe it’s my follow-up or their commitment.


  3. Hey Sandra, I’m glad you found my article helpful! Nice post. Idelle and Reina, I’m pretty much an introvert too, but having a few planned-out sentences goes a long way in public situations like handselling. As for organizing and motivation, I make lots of lists and break things down into micro-tasks. Also I review my priorities fairly regularly and make changes if need be. That helps for me.
    Elizabeth Sims

    1. Thanks for such a helpful article, Elizabeth. I hope readers click through to it because you’ve included lots of specific information that will demystify the process.

      Thanks for stopping by!


  4. love this Sandra! I lack the needed confidence to hand sell after meeting with a few unsuccessful attempts. This is a great road map to pump me up again.

    1. I’m glad it’s helpful, Cat. It always helps me to learn how others have tackled it when I’m trying something new or know that I need to learn how to do it better. Good luck!


  5. I purchased 400 books for a book tour in WI, MN, IA and had two events before I managed a fall in London which disrupted life completely. Still waiting for surgery to get me back on my feet so I can do the in-person events!! We did a costume party for Halloween at one of the events because there was a scene in the book about a Halloween costume. It was very well attended and I sold quite a few books. The other was in an independent bookstore with great results and a huge crowd. I did a short presentation at each, but for the most part engaged the attendees in their experiences with fantasy. Lots of giveaways.

    1. Good for you, Peggy! That’s great! Sorry about that disruption, though. It’s no fun.


  6. Hi, Introvert here. What you are describing is not introvert vs extrovert, it’s shy vs outgoing, which is really different. Introverts can be very outgoing, and extroverts can be very quiet and shy. I’m an introvert who can be very outgoing when needed, the difference is that an extrovert will get energy from the interaction, where as I would need to have some alone time to recharge after a shift at work. Otherwise, really helpful article. Thanks!

    1. Megh, that’s SO helpful! Thank you! I’m going to make a note of that so I don’t make that mistake again.



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