Saturday, December 09, 2006


Writers should know how to sell their books.

They should also know when to sell their books. And when to sell their peers' books.

As a writer, you will have countless opportunities to meet potential fans and try to interest them in your writing. Booksignings, book festivals, conventions, conferences, library talks, and speeches all offer opportunities to pitch and sell.

But, sometimes, your kind of book isn't the right kind of book for the person you're speaking with. They may only read historicals, or hate books about serial killers, or enjoy cozies with mystery solving cats, or only read female protagonists, etc.

That's a perfect opportunity to pimp your friends.

The situation arises all the time. You're chatting with a potential buyer, discussing the types of mysteries she reads, and your book clearly isn't her cup of tea. But over the course of the conversation, you realize she'd really like X written by your good friend, so it is your duty to put that book in her hands and talk it up.

I do this all the time, and have sold many books written by many of my peers. I've also gone into bookstores and faced out friends' books, and recommended them to the booksellers, insisting they give it a read.

People genuinely respond to recommendations. When you sell your books, there's obviously self interest involved. But when you sell other books, you come across as selfless and helpful.

I go so far as to approach people in bookstores who are buying a book, and telling them about other books they'd like that are similar.

For example, any time I see someone buying Clive Cussler or Tom Clancy, I pimp James Rollins and David Morrell. If people are buying John Sandford or James Patterson, I pimp Tess Gerritsen, PJ Parrish, MJ Rose, and Rebecca Drake. If someone is holding a Lee Child, I tell them about Barry Eisler, JD Rhodes, Harry Shannon, and Mark Terry. If someone has a Robert B. Parker, I mention Harry Hunsicker and Jeff Shelby. If someone has a historical, I steer them to Tasha Alexander. Chick lit readers get Melanie Lynne Hauser. Evanovich gets Karen E. Olsen and Brian Wiprud. Hiaasen gets James O. Born, Bob Morris, and Tim Dorsey. Grisham or Turow get David Ellis. YA gets Alexandra Sokoloff and Wayne Thomas Batson. And so on, with dozens of other writers that I know and like.

While on tour with the Rusty Nail 500, I tag-teamed many stores with many authors. While we pitched to booksellers, we'd invariably run into some customers.

What I did a lot of, during these tag-team drop-ins, is pimp the author I was with. Not that I didn't want to sell my own books, but sometimes I had a feeling the reader would like my companion's books more. Or sometimes I'd be Mr. Selfless, and try to help my friend sell their books. Or sometimes I'd pop my head in while my friend was doing their pitch, and reinforce it, assuring the customer it is a worthwhile purchase.

On many occasions, my friends did the same thing for me.

This holds true for any occasion when there is more than one author present. Yes, we all have an overwhelming desire to sell ourselves, but sometimes it's damn cool to pick up your buddy's book and tell someone, "You'll love this, trust me."

I can't count the number of times I tag-teamed a bookstore and a customer wound up buying both of our books.

As you forge lasting friendships with peers, you'll soon fall into a natural rhythm and be able to sell their books automatically, without even trying.

This isn't a competition. We're all in the same boat, and helping each other is smart business. It reminds me of an old church sermon about heaven and hell.

Hell is a huge banquet, with every possible delicious food imaginable. But everyone seated at the table is miserable, because the only way to eat is with forks that are ten feet long, and no one can feed themselves.

Heaven is also a huge banquet, with delicious food. And heaven also has forks that are ten feet long. But in heaven, everyone is happy, because they're feeding each other.

Feed each other. Pimp your peers.